Paddling duo plans to circumnavigate all Island lakes

Paddling pals Natalie Hastings and Kristin Bickell have already tackled Sheguiandah’s Bass Lake, the first in their series of Island lake circumnavigations.

MANITOULIN – On the heels of last year’s successful canoe circumnavigation of Manitoulin Island’s shoreline in 13 days, ‘The Attempt’ is back this year with paddling pals Kristin Bickell and Nat Hastings looking inward for this year’s goal of traversing every inland lake on Manitoulin Island.

“We’re both people that are up for a challenge; we have a hard time saying no to things. It’s just a way to challenge ourselves to stay active on the water and continue to explore Manitoulin,” said Ms. Hastings. “Right now with what’s been going on with COVID-19 it’s even more of a reason to stay put and explore in our own backyard.”

In the September 11, 2019 edition of this paper, Ms. Hastings and Ms. Bickell shared their experiences with trying to complete a circumnavigation of Manitoulin Island in the unpredictable waters of Lake Huron—all in less than two weeks. 

During that time they faced fast-moving storms, strong currents and unfriendly headwinds. Nevertheless, they persisted and not only lived to tell the tale, they had already begun planning their next major adventure.

“The first attempt to circumnavigate was definitely inspiring. In terms of the massiveness of Manitoulin and how beautiful it is, I think it motivated us to explore more of our own backyard,” said Ms. Bickell.

This summer marks the start of The Attempt: Part II, a challenge to paddle the shorelines of every one of Manitoulin Island’s inland lakes.

Part II is incomparable to the inaugural event, said Ms. Hastings, due to the absence of time constraints and the ability to break it down a lake or two per day to enjoy the moment without racing to a destination.

Unique challenges arise when trying to circumnavigate all of Manitoulin’s inland lakes. For starters, how many lakes even exist on Manitoulin Island? And, perhaps more to the point, what constitutes a ‘lake’ that differentiates it from a pond or other body of water?

“There isn’t a comprehensive list out there. If you Google it you’ll find an unsourced Wikipedia article saying there’s 108 lakes, but we can’t figure out if that’s backed up by any legitimate sources. We’ve heard so many people say over the course of our lives, too, that there’s 108 lakes on Manitoulin,” said Ms. Bickell.

They have tried to make their own list using online mapping tools from Google and have found about 60 named lakes and many more unnamed water bodies. They figure locals may know the names of those unmarked waterways and will be posting a draft list at to gather input from community members.

Then there comes the difficulty of identifying marshy wetlands from true lakes, which is a difficult task using satellite imagery alone.

“Some of the lakes, it looks like the perimeter is only a kilometre-and-a-half long in the middle of nowhere, and it would take a lot of bushwhacking to get there. Those are going to be challenging because it may be a low reward or a short paddle once we get there,” said Ms. Bickell.

Ms. Hastings added that she could only name perhaps 20 inland lakes at the start of this challenge, a testament to how overlooked they tend to be in contrast to the bigger waters.

Assuming 108 inland lakes, The Attempt: Part II will be a lengthy process. They plan to spread their mission out over the next two warm seasons and have already completed their first circumnavigation of the interior—a Bass Lake paddle in Sheguiandah on May 30.

“We weren’t timing ourselves, not trying to do any power paddling; we were stopping and went on shore a couple of times and just listening to everything going on around us, taking it all in,” said Ms. Bickell.

Another factor is access. While many lakes have public boat launches or roads near their shorelines, others (such as Maple Lake within the Vidal Bay Forest property that represents three percent of Manitoulin’s landmass and is listed for sale at about $25 million) are isolated on private property.

“When we’ve been looking on Google Earth trying to figure things out, you can see road access to a lot of the lakes usually. If a road was private or there was property between the shoreline and a public access road, we’d approach the landowners,” said Ms. Bickell. “As we saw on our bigger trip when we chatted with people, Islanders are so friendly, awesome and supportive of adventures like this.”

Venturing into rarely-visited waters offers many possibilities for data collection. Although the two are planning to document their travels in logs on their Facebook page, they said they would be open to gathering data if approached by a researcher.

Some of the conditions they plan to record include water temperature and bottom conditions near the shorelines.

The previous trip was meant to encourage others to get out in nature and explore their world, a daunting suggestion when considering an Island circumnavigation. This challenge, however, is more accessible. The two have invited others to join them on their one-day paddles and encourage followers to keep exploring their local environment.

“Everyone’s going through similar things with isolation and having their routines disrupted. I think both Nat and I would agree that taking care of yourself is so important. Paddling in this beautiful landscape and all lakes that we have can do wonders for your mental health and happiness in general,” Ms. Bickell said.

As with the Huron trip, proper preparedness is paramount for the two self-professed “safety geeks.” They carry boat safety kits, have flotation devices on hand at all times and monitor the conditions to ensure they can continue safely.