The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge: Part Two

The Main Event!

I’m hoping to redeem myself at this year’s Great Canadian Kayak Challenge in Timmins.

After all my training with Howling Wolf Expeditions, I’d expect to at least make a good finish – but this wasn’t my first time at this killer event. As I’m ramping up for this year’s Great Canadian Kayak Challenge, my memory goes back to the first time I attended the event a few years ago.

I was competing in the celebrity race and even without my kayak training, I was able to beat the police chief and the fire marshall. But the mayor of Timmins slipped ahead of me just before the finish line. It was a miracle I did that well at all. After all, I’m some canoe guy from southern Ontario – who turned kayaker for the weekend – trying to mingle with a bunch of local northern Ontario heroes who had been training for the race all season. I felt somewhat like a donkey put in the same starting gate as thoroughbred horses.

Just as I started to mingle with everyone and feel a little less intimidated, the starter horn blew and off we went down the Mattagami River. It was like a game of bumper boats at first, each kayak trying to push into the lead all at the same time. In the panic I drifted off towards the right bank and separated myself from the crowd.

From there I simply went into the same paddling momentum I had done on the trip. I’ve kayaked before – on Lake Nipissing, Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island, and along the Abitibi River. So, I had some insight into how to keep going straight at least. I kept my blade low and propelled it from tip to hip, used my torso rather than my arms, and made sure to relax each and every stroke. By doing so, I reached the turnaround point with a collection of good paddlers: the mayor, a councillor, and a Quebec radio host. We stayed together in a pack right up until the last few hundred metres.

That’s when my lack of competitiveness kicked in and the others were able to get ahead of me. Except for the mayor. He was still deck-to-deck with me until just before the finish line; and then, pushing myself to try and pass him, I placed my paddle down, and yelled at the crowd, “Should I let the mayor win?” There were some laughs from the audience – together with some distasteful glares – followed by a media frenzy that had me promising on radio and in print to return to Timmins to beat the mayor in next year’s Great Canadian Kayak Challenge – and now I guess my time is up!

kayak timmins 2014
Photo: The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge

It was a great few days spent in the north. I was able to paddle one of the most historic rivers in Ontario. Got to practise my kayak strokes. More importantly, however, a true-born canoeist like myself was able to enter a world-class kayak race, and not only came in 6th place, but entered and exited the boat without looking like a complete idiot.

This event is one of the coolest gatherings of paddlers in the north. It shouldn’t be missed. See ya there this year, August 28-30. I’ll be racing and also giving a number of paddling workshops and presentations, so be sure to book your hotels and flights now!

About Kevin Callan

Kevin Callan is the author of fifteen books, including the bestselling The Happy Camper, and a popular series of paddling guides. He has been a key speaker at all the major outdoor events for over 25 years. Callan is also a frequent guest on radio and television and a regular contributor to Explore and CanoeRoots Magazine. He is a winner of several National Magazine Awards and film awards and was listed as one of the top 100 modern-day explorers by the Canadian Geographical Society. He was also made Patron Paddler for Paddle Canada.

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