Paddling duo reflects on first year of The Attempt II

Kristin Bickell, in bow, and Nat Hastings, in stern, ply the waters of Otter Lake during The Attempt II.

MANITOULIN – Islanders Nat Hastings and Kristin Bickell are taking a winter pause from ‘The Attempt: Part II,’ a challenge to paddle the circumference of all of Manitoulin Island’s inland lakes, and checked in with The Expositor to discuss their progress up until the hard water season set in late last year.

“It gave us purpose or direction this summer which was really nice, considering everything going on in the world. And it kept a few non-work-related things on our calendars,” said Ms. Hastings in an early February conversation with The Expositor.

“It was sad to put our paddles down at the end of the season but we pushed it as long as we possibly could. We probably could have gone a little further but December gets a little cold, so we’re looking forward to getting an early start this season,” added Ms. Bickell, pledging to get back on the lakes as soon as the ice breaks up.

The 2020 version led them to paddle 12 lakes and a total of 223 kilometres in total. It also brought the pair to parts of the Island on which they had never set foot, despite their many years spent living on Manitoulin.

The total of 12 lakes was lower than they had hoped but a lot of their issues stemmed from getting ‘skunked’ on lakes—when they were unable to find a public access point down to the water. Last year was a little more off-the-cuff in their approach but they said they’ve learned to plan more in advance for the 2021 continuation.

“It was very humbling. We’re going to try to use some of the off-season to plan for next year and get an early start,” Ms. Hastings said.

To this end, they’ve created a master list of lakes on Manitoulin that appear to be surrounded by private property. They recently shared it on their Facebook page, @TheAttemptManitoulin, in the hopes that Islanders can pass along leads of people to talk with to obtain permission to cross their land.

“We’re the kind of people that, if we see someone down a backroad on a four-wheeler, we’ll wave them down and ask if they know about who owns the property by a lake. That’s the fun part for us, getting to know people and having fun conversations,” Ms. Bickell said.

If a landowner does not wish to grant the paddlers access, they said they would respect those wishes.

The two have also found conflicting reports on Island statistics. The oft-repeated number is that there are 108 lakes on Manitoulin but they said they feel the number is in the high double digits.

This year, the farthest west they travelled was Silver Lake. The drive time was somewhat challenging but Ms. Bickell and Ms. Hastings have made plans with property-owning friends in the West End who will allow them to spend a night while they cross off several small lakes over the course of a weekend.

“We loved the West End when we were paddling out there (for The Attempt I) so we’re excited to get back out there,” Ms. Bickell said.

Some of the 2020 lakes ended up requiring overnights, such as Lake Manitou’s impressive 87.7 km shoreline (which makes up for almost 1/3 of their progress last year alone). That lake replicated some of the harsh conditions they faced on Lake Huron last year and reinforced their safety-first approach and respect for the water.

The two are hoping to paddle Lake Mindemoya as a social(ly distanced) community event in the coming year, at which they will invite Islanders to paddle a portion with them in their own boats. Neil Debassige has offered to capture the action from above with his drone.

They enlisted the help of local guides a couple of times in 2020, such as when they tackled Quanja Lake in Wiikwemkoong and Otter (Whitefish) Lake in M’Chigeeng. They learned of the legends of the lakes and some traditional teachings associated with the water bodies.

Unfortunately, the off-the-cuff nature of the 2020 paddling days meant the pair missed a couple of opportunities such as touring Quanja Lake with a group of Wiikwemkoong women paddlers.

The attempters hope to make the 2021 portion of the challenge more interactive and informative, such as creating videos of canoeing skills and rescue and recovery techniques if a paddler gets into trouble. They also hope to connect with other area groups that have paddling programs like Gwekwaadziwin Miikan.

Ms. Bickell and Ms. Hastings also began a game to collect old Styrofoam and other bits of trash along their route. The bow paddler acts as spotter and the stern paddler has to navigate and pick it up when their partner calls out a piece of debris.

In addition to the Styrofoam, they also noted an absurdly high number of balloon remnants along the shorelines, as well as plenty of old tires. Each has done a couple of dump runs with a truckload of litter.

“The community on Manitoulin is so strong and has always supported our outlandish attempts,” the two shared on a Facebook post, thanking the many people who have worked to support the challenge.