Coast-to-coast canoeist paddles through Nelson

Mike Ranta stopped at Lakeside Park on his way across the country to talk about his adventure.

Mike Ranta takes a break at Lakeside Park on Tuesday. Ranta is canoeing his way across Canada to help fundraise for the legion and youth centre in his hometown of Atikokan

Mike Ranta sat on the end of his red and white canoe and soaked in a sunny afternoon. Just getting to Nelson had already been plenty of effort, and Ranta has a long way to go before his journey is complete.

Ranta is canoeing across Canada to fundraise for his hometown legion and youth centre in Atikokan, Ont., which describes itself as the canoeing capital of Canada, as well as to raise awareness for veterans in need.

“It’ll be a cool Canadian adventure,” Ranta said during his pitstop at Lakeside Park on Tuesday. “I can’t think of a more Canadian way to say thank you to our veterans than to canoe across Canada. It’s the way we built our country, and [I’m] able to shake these guys’ hands as I go from legion to legion.”

It’s the second time Ranta has paddled — and walked when there’s no water — his way across the country. He previously did it over seven months and 7,500 kilometres in 2014 while raising $10,000 for the Atikokan youth centre. But he didn’t quite complete the trip from Vancouver to Cape Breton Island, with poor weather conditions forcing him to stop near Tatamagouche, N.S.

This time Ranta is determined to go the distance.

Ranta, wearing a homemade birchbark hat and a beard that makes him look like a Heritage Minutes character, set out from Vancouver on April 1. His trip has already nearly ended twice, first by strong currents on the Fraser River and again by a stump that got caught on his canoe that took Ranta for a ride.

The days are already long enough without the risk of capsizing. Ranta paddles 12 to 15 hours a day, and caps his walking with the canoe on a cart at 12 hours a day.

Luckily he’s in good company. Spitzii, an eight-year-old Finnish Spitz who was also along for the 2014 trip, rests at the front of the canoe as Ranta speaks. “He’s as brave as he is handsome,” said Ranta. “He’s an amazing pup. Definitely my best friend, hands down.”

Another person close to Ranta provided the impetus for his trip.

Ranta’s brother, Kevin, served in Bosnia with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in the 1990s. Kevin returned to Canada suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which he still copes with. “Him and his unit are having all kinds of issues. It seems like there are a lot of roadblocks in the way of these guys getting help,” said Mike.

Ranta’s patriotism stands out on the water. His canoe is decorated in painted Canadian flags and covered in signatures from veterans he’s met along the way. He points to one such signature from a man named K.K. Davis, who turned 100 last Christmas.

“A lot of people out there really need help,” said Ranta. “The gist I’m getting out of a lot of Canadians who I’ve talked to is we’re kind of getting sick and tired of our government throwing money at all these places to clean up other people’s backyards and we’re not cleaning up our own. We’re not taking care of the very people who give us our way of life here. It’s disappointing. It needs to change.”

His break over, Ranta said goodbye and pushed off into the water. He pointed out a nearby Canada Goose to Spitzii, who barked at the bird for good measure before the pair drifted toward the orange bridge onward to the Atlantic.

Follow Ranta’s journey at mikeranta.ca.