LITTLE CURRENT – Longtime friends Kristin Bickell and Natalie Hastings have successfully completed ‘The Attempt,’ a daunting 348.4-kilometre journey around the whole of Manitoulin Island by canoe that took them nearly two weeks.
“The whole experience was pretty intense physically but more so it was mentally challenging. The challenges we faced changed day to day,” the duo told The Expositor in a post-trip interview.
“Mother Nature is boss and she reminded us of that many times. The Island’s shorelines are rugged, the surrounding water is intimidatingly big, and the smallest amount of weather out there can make for challenging paddling conditions,” they added.
The pair have been paddling together since 2013. They said the water has a strong hold on both of their lives and that love has borne a youth paddling wilderness training program as well as annual women’s adventure trips. A windsurfer they met remarked that she has seen few women completing a trip of this magnitude; some of her comments were greatly inspiring according to Ms. Bickell and Ms. Hastings.
The idea of a Manitoulin circumnavigation first crossed their minds as a possibility in the spring of 2018 and the two soon began to make plans for the endeavour.
“We needed to continue to challenge ourselves and we knew there was no better way to do it than on the vast shores of the island we love so much,” the two had written in a Facebook post announcing the event in mid-August.
With a 17-foot Old Town tripper canoe and only a two-week window to complete their trip due to family and work commitments, they would be forced to push through anything that Mother Nature could throw their way. They borrowed the canoe from Chris Taggart, someone they bill as a “local paddling legend.” He acted as a mentor and source of invaluable knowledge before their trip.
They could not have asked for better weather on the first day of the journey. They set off from Little Current on the morning of August 25 and paddled 37.3 kilometres to a point seven kilometres east of Gore Bay, with a stop on Clapperton Island for dinner.
The weather was slightly less kind on day two with strong currents and high winds hindering their progress. They made it 26.1 kilometres to a resting point at Beer Point on Barrie Island.
They made up for it the next day by travelling the remaining distance to Meldrum Bay, 40.5 kilometres under dark skies, and the next day only resulted in a distance of 9.4 kilometres due to storms passing through.
Day five saw 26.9 kilometres of paddling from the northern tip of the Mississagi Strait to northeast of Greene Island. The waves were fierce and gave the two a good soaking but they pressed on regardless.
The next day, however, brought even bigger surf to the south shore of Manitoulin and they only managed to paddle eight kilometres before choosing to undertake an exploration hike for roughly 18 more kilometres, finally returning to “wherever,” a location name that serves as a testament to the mounting effects of mental and physical exhaustion after nearly a week straight of paddling.
Day seven was massively productive—the pair paddled 45.9 kilometres to Portage Bay under sunny skies and calm waters. The two described it as though Huron was an entirely different lake and they marvelled at the rock formations they could see through the crystal-clear water. At their end point they met a friend who offered an ice-cold beer refreshment break. This was only one of many people who offered the duo support along their way, with many people bringing fresh foods, offering places to stay and keeping them up to date on the weather conditions.
“It made us feel like it wasn’t just us two alone out on the water. We had lots of good vibes sent our way and people looking out for us. We definitely don’t regret creating The Attempt’s Facebook account for this reason. It was awesome for us to have positive words of encouragement from people near and far that we knew and have never met before,” they told The Expositor. One of their supporters reached out from her home in Hawaii and managed to get the paddlers some shelter at her family’s camp in South Baymouth.
Day eight brought them 24.2 kilometres to a terminus at Providence Bay, where they recharged with some Lake Huron Fish and Chips and restocked their supplies. The next day saw 29.5 kilometres of paddling to South Baymouth and offered them their first proper tailwind since they began.
Day 10 was a landlocked day. More strong winds and waves meant they had no choice but to ride out the storm in the town of South Baymouth. It did, however, offer an opportunity for important recharges such as doing laundry and restocking their supplies.
Although the weather dried up on Day 11, the winds remained fierce. Despite their plans to go farther, they settled on a nice 6.9-kilometre distance to a beach just west of Thomas Point before the waves proved to be too intense to paddle safely. As a tribute, they named their landing site Safety Beach and spent some time working on nature art.
Day 12 saw a massive 54.3 kilometres of paddling over 12.5 hours with a terminus at Cape Smith in Wiikwemkoong. They remarked at the unique rock landforms of the area.
Day 13 proved to be the final day of the challenge. After paddling 39.3 kilometres, they managed to safely arrive back at the beach from where they first set off in Little Current. They described that return as a surreal experience.
“We are grateful that we have the supports to take on something like this. Two weeks is a long time to be away from family and the kind of work that we do. A trip like this makes you realize what’s important at home but also that it makes a world of difference to get out there and experience something different and out of your comfort zone,” they said.
Hundreds of loyal fans followed their progress and cheered for the two through their Facebook page. Island media producer Robert Maxwell captured some shots of the pair with his drone for an alternate perspective. When they arrived on land for the final time, no shortage of well wishes and congratulations poured in online.
Ms. Hastings and Ms. Bickell said despite the challenges, the trip felt worth the trouble.
“We got to see the Island in a way that was better than we could have ever imagined. It can be easy to forget that we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world and that all of this is within arm’s reach,” they said.
The two added that they hope their trip will inspire others to take on a challenge they had been dreaming of, perhaps not necessarily of the same magnitude as paddling nearly 350 kilometres in two weeks, but to pursue their dreams regardless. They said they learned the value of being able to laugh at oneself because that can make the tougher moments of life much easier to bear. They also learned that the raw power of nature is nothing to be trifled with.
“This trip was humbling and gave us a friendly reminder of our significance in the grand scheme of things,” they said.