Choosing the top highlights of a standup paddling pilgrimage across Canada is like trying to pick a favourite child out of a large brood.
After all, the trip last fall sampled 19 bodies of water and covered more than 10,000 kilometres of road in 30 days.
The cross-country quest with photographer and standup paddleboard (“SUP”) instructor Pam Martin was twofold — celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in grand style, much of it on water with an Atlantic to Pacific trip, and do it in throwback fashion, often sleeping in a vintage camper van from Wicked Campers.
All 19 waterways were cherished, but for those SUP enthusiasts looking for an adventure this summer, here are five regions worth checking out:
MEETING OF ST. LAWRENCE AND SAGUENAY RIVERS
The hours perched on fragile pockets of air amongst the giants at play where the St. Lawrence and Saguenay meet stood tallest because the experience made us feel the smallest.
The minke whales, up to 10 metres in length, emerged as close as 30 metres away and their haunting blow sounds provided a dramatic soundtrack as the light faded and we fought a strong retreating tide in the St. Lawrence-Saguenay Marine Park at Tadoussac on our inflatable boards.
A visit to Tadoussac’s Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre, which tells the story of the minkes and the endangered belugas, which also frequent these waters, completed the experience.
A paddle in Alberta’s Rockies on glacier-fed Moraine Lake was memorable for the majestic setting and the conditions. The air was -8 C and water just 8 C when Calgary guide Jodi Boyd led us to the mountain scene from Canada’s $20 bill, a magnificent backdrop.
Tourists zipped tight in parkas shouted “Crazy Canucks” and “courage” as we struggled to stay atop the iced-over boards and out of the compelling turquoise water.
Meanwhile, the gently flowing Bow River in Banff an hour’s drive away provided the best wildlife encounter — combative elk bulls going antler-to-antler for mating territory a mere five metres from our boards.
For sheer, drop-dead beauty, western Newfoundland topped the list on two sun-blessed days as we paddled in Bonne Bay at Norris Point near Gros Morne Park and in the Humber River near Cornerbrook.
We launched right behind our accommodation at Norris Point, the quaint but luxurious Neddies Harbour Inn, and enjoyed a sublime afternoon with mountains and tablelands flanking us.
Gros Morne Adventures provided sound advice for this paddle and at the Humber River, Marble Inn owner Joe Dicks is the local authority on outdoor adventure.
Dicks runs Explore Newfoundland, which partners with noted comedian Shaun Majumder’s ‘Ome Sweet ‘Ome for group trips to secluded settlements for paddling and cabin and glamping adventures.
The Humber, accessed directly from the inn, was glorious with mountains all around, a slow current and marshy areas to explore before wine on the dock and a soak-and-swim at the riverside sauna.
The overnight crossing on the MV Highlanders ferry from Port aux Basques to North Sydney led to the Margaree River in central Cape Breton, where Jeremy Smith of CB West Paddle Boards guided us through settings that brought Dutch masters’ works to mind.
The half-metre deep Margaree moves swiftly over a multi-coloured stone riverbed that created a kaleidoscope effect as we looked down to dodge boulders and skirted shallow areas. Salmon leapt to greet us and eagles soared overhead.
The Tatamagouche, our other Nova Scotia stop, was a sedate paddle on the easy-on-the-eyes Waugh and French Rivers and a charming overnight stay at the Train Station Inn.
Jimmy LeFresne bought the decommissioned station at age 18 “when my friends were buying cars,” and he has converted old railcars into comfortable accommodation plus added an estimable dining car.
NICOLA VALLEY IN B.C.
Nicola Valley is cowboy country worthy of a western movie backdrop. Dorothy Jordan of Nicola Valley Paddle Company led us away from notions of a downwinder under wicked conditions on Nicola Lake to the pristine, startling blue of Kentucky Lake in Kentucky-Alleyne Provincial Park.
The western theme continued on backroads as we steered around cows from the 130-year-old Douglas Lake Cattle Company, which boasts about 7,000 cows and 450 bulls producing close to 7,000 calves annually, and at the Quilchena Resort hotel. That’s where bullet holes in the saloon bar speak to exuberant cowboys of yesteryear.
Jordan’s GiddySUP adventure, which couples a morning paddle with afternoon horseback riding over the region’s rolling hills, also showcases the area.
— John Kernaghan and Pam Martin were the guests of Go Western Newfoundland and Destination Cape Breton Association
On the web: www.canadaonboard.ca