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David Enns and Sam Robinson on the Mississippi River

Mountains of Puerto Vallarta area in Mexico
Photo by Rhonda Spivak


A Jew in a Canoe Just Passing Through-Jamie Michaels

by Rhonda J. Prepes, September 22, 2013

Are you thinking of going South for the winter? Many Jewish Winnipeggers like to travel to Mexico (usually on a non-stop junket), but twenty-five year old Winnipegger Jamie Michaels got there in an alternate way. He canoed all the way from Winnipeg to Mexico in the summer of 2009 with two high school friends (instead of taking a few hours, it took them 6 months!).

As Michaels explained to the WJR, “We left from the Forks on August 2, 2009. 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. I took us 6 months. We arrived at the end of January 2010.”

Michaels emphasized, the route involved crossing the the Laurentian Divide or Northern Divide, which is a continental divide dividing the direction of water flow in eastern and southern Canada and the northern Midwestern United States. 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 (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 Camp B’nai Brith 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 Jewish 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 to our readers, 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 travelled 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.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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