By Matthew Timmins
Wednesday, July 16, 2008 2:08:00 MDT PM
photos@thecrag.ca 

They said they wanted to discover the country the way it was found by the explorers. They knew they had a challenge ahead of them; bears, snow, floods and 488 kilometers of paddling up the Fraser River haven’t stopped them yet.

On Tuesday, Geoff MacDonald, Pam Harrison-MacDonald and Taq, their Alaskan malamute, came through Banff en route to Canmore in their canoe for the evening. They are in the middle of a trip across Canada by canoe – one they started in March 2007 that they expect will take them four years complete.

The couple, who call themselves from Calgary now, have just completed the mountain passes, which took longer than they expected, and are now paddling down the Bow River, the first time they’ve been traveling downstream since they started their trip in Victoria, BC.

The trip that they have been planning for 10 years started going north along the coast of BC, paddling along the shore of the ocean until they headed inland, portaging to the Nechako River, then to the Fraser River, onward to the Columbia River and now to the Bow River. They take a break over winter, picking up again in the spring exactly where they left off.

This winter they stayed in Provost, where Pam’s family is, repairing gear and planning the next leg of the trip. “It’s so extensive that there is not physically enough time to know every area with a lot of detail,” says Pam of their trip. The married team travels with a tent, and along with other gear, their 110-pound dog.

“He’s our camp protector slash comic relief. His odour keeps everything away,” says Pam of their canine pet. “When we start loading the boat, he sits right beside it.”

“His favourite pastime is chasing cats and black bears. He loves chasing black bears,” adds Geoff. They said they make lots of noise when they walk, and if they bear still doesn’t go away, Taq looks at them with a ‘can I?’ look, and they let him chase them away.

“With permission he’ll chase them,” Pam says. “We don’t do it recreationally. Only if they won’t leave the area that we’re in.” No bears have stood up to him so far.

As for cooking, all their meals were cooked on open fires until now. Geoff bakes fresh bread on the fire, and Pam makes dehydrated fruit rolls from food they pick up when going through town. They also carry a satellite phone to keep in touch with their family and friends every few days, and have a website where they put up photos, updates and people they meet along the way can put up photos.

“Something that’s really important to us is to not lose contact with family and friends. With such a long trip, our purpose is not to go into the woods and hide for four years,” says Pam. Pam and Geoff explain that one of the most important things for someone planning to do such an adventure is to do your own research. Geoff says that it’s important not to let people tell you can’t do something.

“People like to project their fears on to us,” he says. “Nature gives you windows to do things, and if you’re patient enough, most things can be done safely. But you’ve got to be patient.” The couple says they have had hundreds of people tell them they are going to die going through different areas.

“There’s been a handful of people already who have told us about Bow Falls. And obviously we know about Bow Falls, I mean if you’ve ever been to Banff you know about Bow Falls.”

“They’re like, ‘you’re paddling down the Bow River?’ But that has Bow Falls on it?’ We’ll go around it!” adds Pam.

The couple hopes to make it to Ontario by the fall, before taking another break for winter to plan the next part of their route. But right now, they are happy to be near Calgary and close to family, and past the mountain ranges.

“We’re excited to be over the divide. We carried champagne to the top of Ball Pass. A big bottle of champagne and we popped the cork and celebrated. And it rained. But we didn’t care!”

To follow Geoff and Pam’s journey you can visit their website at https://www.canoeacrosscanada.ca

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