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Living Out There: The Big Wild Challenge

I caught up with the Ring of Fire team by phone a few days before they were about to embark on a 23 day canoe trip through Ontario’s Far North River system.

Max: Hi guys – nice to “virtually” meet you. First and foremost, on behalf of the CPAWS family:  thank for dedicating your rugged canoe trip to the Big Wild Challenge!

Kim & Conor: Hi Max, thanks – nice to meet you too.

Max: How did you become aware of the Big Wild Challenge and what inspired you to do it?

Kim & Conor: We decided to take the Big Wild Challenge on a bit of a lark actually. Kim’s mom was aware of the challenge CPAWS ran a few years ago. She’s a donor and a subscriber, so when she recieved the email that the Big Wild Challenge was happening this year, she sent it over to Kim and told us that this is something we should think about doing. It seemed like a great idea and concept, so we decided to do it. Truth is, even though we did it on a whim, dedicating our trip and fundraising for CPAWS proven to be a very satisfying experience.  It’s a great feeling to know something we are doing is going to have a positive impact of nature conservation.

Max: You both have interesting backgrounds that are connected to the water and wilderness. Could you tell our CPAWS audience a little bit more about yourselves?

Conor: Sure, well I’ve been a sea-kayak guide for a number of years, mostly on Lake Superior. I’ve been doing that for about 14 summers now. I’m a journalist by trade, currently working as a freelance writer for a number of adventure travel publications in both Canada and the USA. Last summer we did a big canoe trip on the Albany River system – that was a bigger River trip, and that’s where I really became fascinated with that whole area. This year I knew I wanted to see more of it so that’s why we picked the Ring of Fire / Little North area. (Amongst canoeists, this sprawling wilderness is known as the Little North, a vast network of lakes and whitewater rivers feeding like capillaries to Arctic tidewater at James and Hudson Bay). It’s pretty much an untapped/unknown ecosystem to most people in Ontario…very remote/few roads, no bridges or dams. It’s still very wild. Now this water system and surrounding boreal landscape is imperiled by mining development. It’s uncertain how much longer it will be here in its current state.

Kim: I’ve always been a hiker. Around the time of my undergrad in environmental studies I got into sea-kayaking  (eventually becoming a guide), but unlike Conor I was based in Newfoundland. I continued guiding and that work eventually took me to a job opportunity here in Ontario where Conor and I met. Currently I have been accepted into teacher’s college for the fall – so it seemed like to perfect opportunity to join Conor on this big trip in August.

Team Ring of Fire trip plan: Conor and Kim will set off from the end of the road near Pickle Lake and canoe the Otoskwin, Martin-Drinking and Attawapiskat rivers to James Bay—a distance of 700 kilometres in 23 days of self-supported wilderness travel

Max: Could you share with our followers some of the things you did to prepare for your rugged river trek?  Twenty three days on the river (with some  serous white water in places) is nothing to sneeze at.

Conor: I did do a lot of research to get ready for this one. I had many conversations with a friend with a long tradition in that area and he put me in contact with the Tripping Director of a local outfitter which was really great – tremendous source of local knowledge. We reviewed trip reports from last couple years posted by other canoeist on the forum – so we’d have a better sense of what to expect. I did a decent size canoe trip already this spring to help prepare my body.

That trip went well so I’m feeling confident about this one. Food wise we’ll be following pretty much the same menu as our trip last summer. Getting out there required more planning, our set off point is pretty remote so we are flying in, and there requires more logistics, and making arrangement to not bring our dog on this one. (Laughs) He’s looking at me now with sad eyes.

I guess another thing is we’ve been monitoring the water level pretty close to make a last minute decision about which type of canoe to bring. I’m more affectionate towards  a wood & canvas style canoe, but if the water is going to be lower we might be better off with the old  plastic whitewater “beater” (laughs)

We also made a conscious effort to make some good contact in the First Nations communities we will be passing through. I’ve spoken to members of the band, informed them of our trip and what it was all about, and respectfully asked permission to travel through their communities on our way. When they heard about our trip they’ve were very supportive. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to met elders from there and hear some stories about their connection to those same rivers

Kim: I’ve been finishing up my current job, so I’ve been supporting Conor but have not had as much time to do the research he has. My main contribution has been to organize the food for the trip, and I am feeling ready physically as I am very active with running and the gym – so it will be a challenge but one I’m looking forward to.

Max: What are you feeling right now so close to starting your journey – what are you most anticipating?

Kim & Conor: Doing trips together as a couple has always been important to us. We’re both really looking forward to that special feeling of “living out there” you get on a longer trip like this. You have hard days where you really have a sense of accomplishment, and you have easier days where you can relax and enjoy the freshness of nature. You are unplugged and not focused on the end point; rather you are taking great enjoyment in the journey itself.


Feeling inspired to do your own Big Wild Challenge? Register today and as an added bonus, you'll be entered to win our monthly draw for a $50 MEC gift card!