In the early days of May, residents of the Elk Valley may have seen a red canoe with a small golden dog curled up inside it being portaged or paddled along road and waterways. The canoe, and its pilots, Mike Ranta and Spitzii the dog, are on a cross Canada Journey to show support and appreciation for this country's veterans.
The trip started in Vancouver on Apr. 1 an will hopefully come to and end for the paddler on his 45th birthday on Sept. 29, in Cape Breton. The Free Press caught up with Mike Ranta and Spitzii on day 34 of the planned 108 day trip at the East Kootenay Motel in Fernie to talk about his trip and why he stops at every Legion possible to personally thank each veteran and get them to sign the wooden Canadian flag he travels with.
“I am going from Legion to Legion, when they are open of course, to try to get as many veterans to sign my canoe as possible,” said Ranta. “This way I not only get their signature to look at and draw some energy from, that good positive energy, but also to shake their hand and personally say thank you to our men and women.”
Another planned stop for the cross-country paddler is Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., where he hopes to speak with a fellow canoe enthusiast, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his trip and his message.
“He seems like he is a guy that shows a little bit of love and compassion toward his country. Our last government was really detrimental to our veterans, shutting down all those offices and pretty much kicking a lot of them to the curb and making laws so they cannot speak up for themselves. It was not Canadian,” said Ranta. “How can we call ourselves Canadians when the very people who protect our way of life are the ones who are suffering the most. We should be stepping up to help these people. They do not do it for the money; they do it for the love of our country. To me that is incredibly special.”
Although the practised paddler has only ventured across British Columbia, he has been impressed with what he has seen thus far.
“I cannot say enough about B.C. It has been a beautiful province. I am getting to the end of it and I know I am going to miss it,” he said. “Everyone has been so courteous and so kind, the generosity and hospitality have been second to none it is a beautiful part of our country and everyone should be very proud at the way they carry themselves out here.”
B.C. has also brought more walking than expected. According to Ranta, there has been more river swelling than he anticipated for this time of year.
“There has been a lot of walking, I anticipated some for sure but some of the rivers were swollen really early and there was a lot of driftwood coming down from previous fires,” he said. “It did hinder my paddling abilities to get into some of the rivers no doubt. All in all it has been a beautiful trip.”
One of the toughest stretches was when he bypassed Balsam Pass, as he says it is very narrow. However, Ranta isn’t taking the easy way out.
“I opted for a little tougher route, going through the TransCanada Trail. I didn’t know how tough it was until I got there and realized it was snow covered. I had to drag my canoe on its belly for the better part of eight kilometres. That was an all day adventure, an excruciatingly tough day, especially with the rain and sticky snow.”
It is all worth it for Ranta. People that have stopped to offer food and drink or to speak with him have all seemed to understand why he is doing the cross Canada trek.
“I think everyone can understand why I am doing it too. There are a lot of stats out there that are really appalling to me as a Canadian. Five per cent of our homeless people are veterans and some of the cutbacks that have been made have been taken from the most vulnerable veterans and it isn’t right,” he said. “We are Canadians. We take care of our own, especially those who take care of our very way of life. It is high time we stood up to take care of them when they come back from these high conflict places. When they have issues we need to show them we have love and compassion, we need to show them we are there for them and they are not expendable so, to speak.”
When he gets service, Ranta posts regularly on his Facebook page - Mike Ranta’s Paddle. He also has a website, MikeRanta.ca where he has a live location track so people can follow his journey. Unfortunately, the paddler’s Spot locator has just broken, so pinpoint locations may be tough to see. The website also has videos, stories about the trip and donation information.