By: Jenny Ford

Geoff and Pamela MacDonald with son, Jude, and Taq pull away from The Forks to continue their journey across Canada Sunday. They have paddled 7,000 km.

Geoff and Pamela MacDonald with son, Jude, and Taq pull away from The Forks to continue their journey across Canada Sunday. They have paddled 7,000 km.

It’s a cross-Canada journey that has seen the MacDonalds paddle down hundreds of rivers, cross countless portages, welcome a baby (and another’s on the way) and pick many a tick off their Alaskan malamute Taq.

The MacDonalds, who have been canoeing across Canada since 2007, finally made it to Winnipeg at The Forks on Sunday, after what they said was the most difficult leg of their journey.

“It’s been the most difficult,” admits Geoff MacDonald, 37, a geologist from Calgary, citing the wicked winds on Lake Winnipeg and the swollen Assiniboine River.

The couple had to turn back to Winnipeg from Lake Winnipeg because of the brutal conditions.

Geoff and his wife, Pamela MacDonald, 36, began their canoeing challenge in 2007 in Victoria.

“I wanted to go on an adventure and explore Canada,” said Pamela, a business analyst. “Geoff had canoeing experience and said that was the best way to explore Canada.”

They quit their jobs, she said, canoed in the summer and worked on contract in the winter so they could continue their adventure once the ice thawed. Now Geoff has a permanent job, but one where he can take the summers off to cross Canada with their 21/2-year-old son Jude.

“When he was a baby, we paddled around his naps,” Geoff laughs.

Now, it’s about keeping his toy chest in the canoe. On Sunday, Jude reached for a blue truck before he was ready to get in their red canoe on the Assiniboine.
Having a baby along for the ride, and another very soon as Pamela is more than five months pregnant, has changed how they travel.

This summer they said they started their journey in Saskatchewan in May, finishing, they hope, on Aug. 1 in Kenora, Ont. They attempted to canoe through Lake Winnipeg, but whipping winds were too intense to handle, so they turned back, paddling along the Assiniboine to Winnipeg.

“It’s been fast and friendly,” said Geoff about the Assiniboine.

Flooding has been a challenge, said Pamela, portaging around a bridge, for instance, because the river was so high.

They’ve met a lot of people along the way, stopping off to knock on doors to refill their water jugs and sometimes, she says, just look for company.

“Today we stopped at a farmer’s house and they invited us in for iced tea,” she said.

But their greatest adventure, Geoff and Pamela agree, was crossing the Continental Divide in 2008, a 100-kilometre portage through three mountain passes.

“We busted open a bottle of champagne at the last pass and saw the water running down the hill for us the rest of the way,” Pamela said.

Their paddling adventure is far over.

“It’s not always easy. Some days there’s bugs and it’s cold,” said Geoff. “But we love being outside and we love the adventure.”

“At the beginning,” Geoff said, “we never thought we’d work this trip into our lives so much.”


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2012 0

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