24-year-old Regina man completes 3,000 km solo canoe trip through N.W.T.

Calem Watson reaching the end of his 3,000 kilometre canoe trip. (Shawndra Watson - image credit)
Calem Watson reaching the end of his 3,000 kilometre canoe trip. (Shawndra Watson - image credit)

Calem Watson pulled his canoe onto shore in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T, on Sept. 16, ending an epic trip that saw him paddle 3,000 kilometres across the vast wilderness of the Northwest Territories completely alone.

The 24-year-old Regina man ended his journey — 125 days after he set off from Fort Smith, N.W.T. — with an enhanced love of the north, paddling and the time he spent alone.

But he said it's the friendships he developed and the people he met along the way that stand out as the highlights of the adventure.

"Which sounds unusual for a long trip alone in the wilderness, but there's just some really incredible people up there in those remote communities," Watson told The Morning Edition's Stefani Langenegger.

"The vast majority of this trip was no people at all. But when I did come into a place, usually as soon as I got there, it would only take a few minutes before I would meet somebody who would, you know, just be trying to help me out as much as they possibly could."

Listen to Langenegger interview Watson:

Months of planning went into the trip.

Watson carefully mapped out his route, gathered and tested his supplies, and mailed packages of food to pre-determined locations along his route.

Back home in Regina, his parents Shawndra and Justin Watson followed their son's journey, tracking his movements through GPS.

Shawndra said one of the first things she did every day was check Calem's location.

"It's a mixed bag of emotions," Justin said. "Nervous, maybe a bit scared … and endless pride that he is chasing his dream."

Justin and Shawndra's nerves weren't entirely unfounded. There were times when the GPS device's battery died and the family lost contact with Calem.

"That's scary," Shawndra said.

At one point, Calem became ill with a bad foot infection.

According to Justin, the problems started after a three-day portage through cold, marshy bogs, with Calem carrying his heavy gear.

Calem's feet became numb and turned white, something Justin likened to trench foot, an ailment soldiers suffered during the world wars.

"His toes then turned purple and got a bad infection."

Calem was a 30-day trek from a medical centre and a float plane couldn't access the area because of wildfires, Justin explained.

Justin was able to reach people in the small community of Deline, N.W.T., 544 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife, and explained his son's plight.

He said the chief and elders met to come up with a plan. That plan involved Bruce Kenny fuelling his boat, grabbing salt for the infection and a first aid kit and taking his boat 250 kilometres across Great Bear Lake, the largest lake entirely within Canada, to deliver medical supplies to Calem. In total, it was a 500 kilometre round trip for the Deline resident.

"Bruce got [Calem's] Garmin coordinates from me and found him on shore the next day," Justin said, adding that Kenny sent videos and pictures to assure Calem's parents that their son was OK.

"Overwhelming that a stranger would do that," Justin said.

Calem was eventually able to paddle to Deline, pop. 533, where the people had a meal prepared and invited him to a spiritual gathering.

Calem was able to continue his journey, and pulled to shore in Tuktoyaktuk on Sept. 16, completing his journey on the shore of the Arctic Ocean with his parents, grandparents and brother waiting to greet him.

Calem said he filmed his trip and also kept journals, hoping one day to turn the adventure into a film or book.

"This whole journey has been life changing for all of us," Shawndra said.