By Jeff Bell
Times Colonist staff

A four-year, cross-Canada canoe trip is set to begin today for Pamela Harrison MacDonald and husband Geoff, from the beach at Oak Bay’s Turkey Head.

The 31-year-olds, married less than a year, know their 12,900-kilometre trip will be a daunting challenge. With their trusty Alaskan malamute Taq along for the ride, the MacDonalds will start by wending their way up the coast to Bella Coola, then onto the Kimsquit River.

The MacDonalds are prepared for the uncertainties of nature, and plan to make protection of life and limb a top priority.

“We want to give ourselves a big margin of time so we don’t rush and make decisions that aren’t safe,” Pam said, as she and Geoff relaxed on the shore.

As for Taq, at 45 kilograms he provides plenty of ballast and will have to stay in his designated spot to keep the canoe level.

“We know that he loves water and he’s a good swimmer,” Pamela said. “We’ve had him in fresh water on rivers and lakes, but we just haven’t had him in the ocean.”

Geoff said Taq will be introduced to a lot of new animals — seals, for example.

Bears are also an unknown for Taq, who came out on the losing end when he encountered one of the stuffed variety.

“He freaked out when he saw it,” Pamela said. “He didn’t know what to make of it.”
“He’s a bear alarm,” Geoff added.

Geoff, a geologist, and Pamela, who has a commerce degree, financed their trip by working in Calgary’s oil-and-gas industry for three years. After leaving their jobs, they have spent recent months living in Provost, Alta. putting the finishing touches on their plans.

Starting in Victoria gives them the chance to see part of the coast, Geoff said, and Bella Coola is their destination because it is near low mountain passes that will allow them to portage through the Coast Mountains. They’ll have to go overland for 48 kilometres, but will able to do much of it with a canoe cart along logging roads. Another portage of up to 80 kilometres awaits this summer in the Rockies.

Geoff said he and Pamela are aware of the history behind cross-Canada treks, notably the one taken by explorer Alexander Mackenzie, but they will be carving their own path.

“We’ll touch on his route, but we’re not specifically taking any particular routes of any explorers. It’s a route we chose on our own, and it involves as many regions of Canada as possible — the Pacific coast, the mountains, the Prairies, the boreal forest.”

The couple plans to visit friends and family, and hopes to inspire some of them to come along.

“We’ve got lots of help along the way,” Geoff said. “We don’t have a specific crew, but we hope that some of our friends will join us for small portions of the trip.”

The journey will end in St. John’s, N.L.
Asked about particular challenges they will face, Geoff said B.C. will be as tough as any stretch of the trip.

“I’d almost say British Columbia is one big challenge. We’ve got 300 miles of the Fraser to go up.”

That’s “up,” as in against the current.

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