The Orillia Today:  Across the country…with a paddle!

Two people with a dream and one gentle-natured dog are exploring Canada’s rugged majesty from the inside of an unlikely vessel.

Geoff MacDonald and his wife, Pamela Harrison MacDonald, recently embarked on a coast-to-coast canoe expedition that will span 8,000 miles and last three to four years.

“We are pretty lucky to have each other,” Geoff, a native of Orillia, said of the couple’s shared passion for the outdoors.

The MacDonalds, both 31 and nearing their first wedding anniversary, spoke to a local reporter during a recent stopover north of Nanaimo, B.C.

Just two weeks had passed since the couple set off from Victoria, navigating through the Gulf Islands and into the Strait of Georgia for the first leg of an ambitious voyage that will conclude in St. John’s, Nfld.

“Mainly, it is for the adventure,” Geoff said of their inspiration for the trip. “We love to be outside, and we want to see a lot of Canada.

“It’s a great way to do it – a challenging way, but a great way to be out in nature,” he added.

Stowed neatly inside the hull of the 18-foot craft are their belongings, including a two-person tent, a small wood stove, and an assortment of dried fruit, veggies and cured deer meat.

Crab, salmon, cod, and flounder are there for the taking as well, says Geoff, who looks forward to supplementing their diet with freshly caught fish.

Though early on in the journey, the experience has already generated its share of memorable wildlife encounters.

In one small bay alone, the couple were greeted by dozens of bald eagles, sea ducks and more than 50 seals and sea lions.

The mountain vistas aren’t too shabby either.

“It is beautiful, stunning, really,” Geoff added.

Where others would have chosen the relative ease and comfort of a bicycle for such a journey, the couple says traveling by water allows them to bypass heavily populated urban areas in favour of the smaller communities that border the country’s many lakes and rivers.

That and the fact that their year-old travel companion, an Alaskan malamute named Taq, “would be pretty tough to put on the back of a bike,” Geoff added with a laugh.

Though both are outdoor enthusiasts, it was Geoff who floated the idea of a cross-Canada canoe trip a decade ago.

“Immediately I was drawn to it,” Pamela recalled. “I thought, what a wonderful idea.”

Working in Alberta’s lucrative oil and gas industry for three years allowed the couple to squirrel away enough money to make their dream a reality.

Maps were purchased and a route charted with the understanding that, no matter how well prepared, they would always be at the mercy of Mother Nature.

“We did as much research as we could to understand the weather and geography and water, but it obviously changes on a dime when you are out there,” Pamela said. “You have no choice, nature makes you flexible.”

Neither were they daunted by the prospect of spending every waking hour together for three or more years – much of it in close quarters.

“It’s not as though we’re joined at the hip the entire time,” Pamela added, noting that she and her husband do enjoy some alone time while on land. “We are good communicators, and we also have the dog to mediate.”

The MacDonalds are aiming to arrive in Alberta by summer, traversing the sunny province for the remainder of the year.

In winter, the couple will travel on snowshoe-clad feet, with Taq hauling their equipment on a sled that has been stored en route.

They plan to visit with family twice annually.

“It is not only the nature and beauty of the water and the ecosystem, it is also the wonderful people we have met along the way,” Pam added of the experience to date. “That’s another part of Canada we look forward to.”

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