Along with this feat, we carried out a fundraising and awareness campaign for AIDS research. This 9000 kilometer trip from Saint John, NB to Vancouver, BC required a fast, durable canoe that could perform in any paddling conditions imaginable. We decided to go with a Clipper Ultralight Tripper in Expedition layup and throughout our trip were time and again ecstatic that we had chosen this incredible canoe. Our secret to success was simple: Take the trip one day at a time and stay consistent. Consistent meant putting in 12-14 hours of paddling a day, every day, until we got to the Pacific, and the end.
On April 18, 1995 we paddled out of the Bay of Fundy and headed upstream of the Saint John River. The river was in full spring flood which required that we hug the shoreline all the way up. The Tripper tracked well as we paddled up small rapid sets for several days, averaging 40 km per day. Its durability was apparent immediately as the hull withstood a steady beating from the rocks submerged just beneath the murky surface. I got to know the Tripper very intimately on two occasions as we were forced to portage around two 32-km stretches of ice pack above dams on the river. I carried the canoe on both portages and found its balance and lightness to be ideal for “humping” over land.
After a portage (80 km) via Canadian Boat Walker, provided by Western Canoeing & Kayaking, to get around the frozen water systems in northern Quebec, we accessed the St. Lawrence Seaway at Riviere du Loup and paddled down to Montreal where we had the honour of lunching with canoe fanatic Pierre Trudeau. The St. Lawrence was our first taste of big open water and the Tripper (with spray skirt) was high, dry and stable as we made our way through a couple of days of eight foot swells and a few more days of vicious headwinds with 3- and 4- foot chop.
The next section of our trip took us through the relatively calm water of the Ottawa River, the Rideau Canal, Lake Ontario and then the Trent-Severn system on up to Georgian Bay. We hopped about 70 locks in the canals and the Tripper really grooved in the flat water. Georgian Bay gave us some good big water days and further tested the strength of the Tripper’s hull as the waves would throw us onto and occasionally strand us on some of the thousands upon thousands of granite shoals characteristic of the area.
By mid-June, we found ourselves paddling on the legendary waters of the north shore of Lake Superior. Although we had three days of dense fog, we were blessed with dead calm water and paddled from Sault St. Marie to Thunder Bay in 10 days. With the fast-tracking Tripper, we averaged 65 km per day and our confidence was riding high.
After Superior, we made our way through the tripping nirvana of the Boundary Waters and Quetico and then on up through Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River. I spent much of the time here with the canoe on my head again as we portaged from lake to lake along dirt trails, including the 14-km mosquito-infested Grand Portage of Voyageur lore.
The wild, unpredictable waters of Lake Winnipeg and Cedar Lake were next. The wind blew hard every day on Winnipeg and would switch directions several times a day. We faced at least 5-foot, steep waves daily and sometimes 10- and 12-footers. I remember several hours where I’d be in the front of the Tripper being pounded by huge waves as they crashed down on my and I’d think to myself “The boat’s going to sink. It can’t take much more of this crazy water!” To my great relief, though, the Tripper always passed these tests with flying colors.
By early August we were off Cedar Lake and paddling up the Saskatchewan River which would take us through the prairies, via its North Arm, to Edmonton. The word that comes to mind when I describe this river is “relentless”. The current is steady, strong and unforgiving. After five and a half weeks of paddling against the flow, we made it to Edmonton. En route, my partner separated both his shoulders, we suffered several bloodlettings at the hands of mosquitos, and at one point, had to pull up 35 straight kilometers of heavy rapids. The Tripper was great as usual and handled as well as it had going up the Saint John. The only difference was aesthetic as the canoe had gained a solid interior mud coating from this muddiest of all rivers.
After a 400 km portage from Edmonton, we accessed the Fraser River 40 km from its source and rode it down to Vancouver. Although we portaged around the unrunnable sections of the river like “Hell’s Gate” and “Bridge River Rapids”, we still paddled a lot of big whitewater. The Tripper was extremely stable in the 5- to 8-foot standing waves we faced and gave us all the maneuverability we needed in the trickier sections.
On October 14, 1995, we pulled into Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver. Our Tripper didn’t look much different than it had 9000 km ago and never required any structural repairs on the trip. We put the canoe through hell but it still performs like heaven. I honestly believe it could do the same trip again. Best canoe I ever paddled.