Two canoers spent three months #PaddlingNorth

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TA Loeffler and Marian Wissink paddled 3,080 km from Jasper, Alberta to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories and ended up feeling like they had arrived back home in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“At the end of the trip, we ended up stopping at the old Reindeer Station and going for a walk out on the tundra. It was the first time we really got into the tundra, and I realized, we just paddled 3,000 kilometres to get home!” said Loeffler. “On the Avalon peninsula, we call them barrens, but it’s just like the tundra. The closer we got to Tuk, the more and more it felt like we were close to home.”

Paddling partners Loeffler and Wissink set out on their three-month paddling excursion in May this year, with the ultimate goal of reaching Tuktoyaktuk by canoe.

Loeffler said she was inspired to make the trip five years ago when she found a book about paddling the Mackenzie River.

Marian Wissink, left, and TA Loeffler stand outside their cabin at Inuvik’s Arctic Chalet after completing their canoe trip.
Samantha McKay/NNSL photo

“Timbuktu, Tierra del Fuego and Tuktoyaktuk have always held a place in my imagination. The idea that we could paddle to Tuk was really cool,” she said. “Some people asked, ‘why would you ever want to paddle the Mackenzie?’ But it’s a beautiful river, and it’s so different depending on where you see it. It changes and it changes … it was an awesome experience.”

Despite it being a beautiful trip, Loeffler said they really had to push themselves to make it to Tuktoyaktuk as they only had a small window of good weather to get there.

“We had an absolutely epic day getting into Tuk. The whole trip went really easy, very little rain and wind, lots of sun and warmth,” she said. “But the last week from Inuvik to Tuk, we got it all. It was windy, it was cold, it was wet and we had two-degree nights. We really earned it, to get to Tuk.”

Loeffler and Wissink live in St. John’s, NL, and often undertake canoe and kayak expeditions in Labrador, which she said has somewhat similar weather conditions to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.

“They’re about the same temperature, but we actually thought the bugs here were better here than back home in Labrador!” she said.

The trip was also an educational experience in more ways than one.

“It’s a historic route, so we got this appreciation of how this river used to be moved through … we spoke to a lot of Indigenous people who told us about the challenges in their communities,” she said. “We also saw the effects of climate change like exposed permafrost and slumping river banks. In the south, we hear about it, but it’s different to witness it with our own eyes.”

Loeffler was sharing what she learned with people back home through her blog and Instagram, using the hashtag #PaddlingNorth.

“That was also a big part of the expedition, sharing it with people down south,” she said. “We had a Grade 3 class following along from Yellowknife, too.”

Loeffler said now that she’s scratched Tuktoyaktuk and Tierra del Fuego off her list, her next stop is Timbuktu – but not before another trip up North.

“We’ve now seen NWT in March, and in the summer, and we’re smitten,” she said. “Now we have to come back to see it in the winter!”