Are you thinking of going South for the winter? Many Winnipeggers like to travel to Mexico, preferably on a non-stop junket, but twenty-five year old Winnipegger Jamie Michaels got there another way. He canoed all the way from Winnipeg to Mexico in the summer of 2009 with two high school friends.
“We left from the Forks on August 2, 2009,” explained Michaels.
“We took the Red River south where it is formed by the Bois de Sioux River and the Ottertail River, which continues to a series of lakes, which we followed until we got to the Laurentian Divide near Breckenridge, Minnesota.
“Then we portaged a bit to get to the Minnesota River which eventually feeds into the Mississippi River. In all, we portaged about 50 miles.
“We took the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans. From there we went to Texas and then we took the Gulf Coast all the way to Matamoros, Mexico.
“It took us 6 months. We arrived at the end of January 2010.”
Michaels emphasized the route involved crossing the Laurentian Divide 0r Northern Divide, the continental divide that cuts between northern midwestern United States and southern and eastern Canada, determining the direction of water flow. Water north of the divide flows to the Arctic Ocean by rivers to Hudson Bay. Water south of the divide makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean through the Gulf of Mexico to the south.
“It was especially difficult canoeing on the rivers above the Divide that flowed north, when we were trying to paddle south, particularly because we hadn’t done any real preparation for the trip,” said Michaels.
When asked how he did prepare for his voyage, Michaels answered, “I bought a series of maps and a canoe. So, I guess I prepared poorly.
“I had been canoeing before. I may have canoed at summer camp on a few occasions. I canoed recreationally. But, this was a big jump up.
“We had a 23 foot custom canoe that held 18 gallons of water and close to 100 litres of food. With those kinds of supplies we could have run for close to one month without stopping to fish. We carried a lot of dried food, freeze dried food, cans, pasta, rice…the Voyageur staples.
“We would make over-night camps wherever was most convenient based on the river system we were paddling with the exception of certain cities where we stayed in longer term camp sites. You don’t go paddling right through New Orleans. You stop there for a week, meet people and enjoy the sites of the city.”
When asked what his parents thought about his planned adventure, Michaels said, “My mom went through the traditional mother reaction cycle: horror, guilt, horror, and then pleading. But when it was over, she was very proud of me. She just hopes that I never attempt anything like that again.”
When asked why he embarked on this trip, Michaels answered, “With a trip of that nature, you deal in contrasts. The best days are the best days of your life and the worst days — when you have hypothermia, you find a racoon in your tent and you are covered in fear — are really bad days. But you go on a trip like that to experience the contrasts of life.”
As a word of advice, Michaels added, “Canoes don’t actually belong in the ocean. If you want to get to a tropical destination, it is actually a lot faster to fly there. Ocean paddling was nothing short of horrific.”
When asked what he did when he finally got to Mexico, Michaels answered, “We ate nachos and drank beer.”
Michaels just left for the University of London, England where he will be taking journalism and hopes to be a writer.
The two high school friends who traveled with Michaels were David Enns and Sam Robinson. David Enns (“good ol’ Mennonite boy” as Michaels says) is studying engineering technology at Red River College and Sam Robinson (“Winnipeg’s foremost redneck” as Michaels says) sells farm equipment.