Zev Heuer's commute to his summer job was unconventional. He spent two months navigating rivers through mountains, prairieland, parkland and boreal forest.
The 15-year-old and his dog Blaze arrived at Missinipe, Sask., Monday. They were greeted by a small army of coworkers and friends, who paddled out to escort him in.
"It felt pretty awesome. Super exciting."
The journey began May 1 on the Bow River in Canmore. His dad and a few friends accompanied him through white water rapids to Calgary before saying goodbye.
"I was on my own and hadn't really been on my own before," he said. "Everything kind of felt a little bit careful and cautious and kind of like holding your breath for some to go wrong."
Heuer has worked with Churchill River Canoe Outfitters for the past two summers, but typically got a ride up. He started plotting his paddle after COVID-19 made school go online. Heuer felt like he wasn't accomplishing much stuck at home, so he finished his studies and got ready to go.
"One of the things that's pretty amazing about Canada is how everything's connected by water," he said.
He rattled off his course. It began with the Bow River to Medicine Hat. There, the Old Man River joins the Bow to make the South Saskatchewan River, which flows into Lake Diefenbaker, through Saskatoon and then joins the north Saskatchewan River after Prince Albert to make the Saskatchewan River.
His dad, biologist Karsten Heuer, joined near Nipawin for the last stretch. They went up by Cumberland House and turned onto the Sturgeon Weir River. It was there they left the busy brown water behind and headed into the remote north's clear water.
He said the area was breathtaking, with lakes boasting limestone shorelines with seemingly endless cliffs stretching out into the horizon.
The long days became routine as he became used to paddling, cooking and creating shelter.
"I just felt like I could be out for a lifetime just doing that."
In some ways, he already had.
"When I was two years old they took me on this canoe trip from Canmore to [Cape Breton] to meet the author Farley Mowat," he said.
He doesn't remember that trip, but he's heard all about the journey, which started in Canmore and went through Saskatoon — the same canoe route he took.
They then hitched a ride to Reindeer Lake, went to Hudson Bay, took a train to Quebec and sailed the final stretch of the 5,000 kilometre adventure. His mom Leanne Allison shot a documentary about the trek called Finding Farley.
"I feel super comfortable in a canoe and I think all of that is because I was in one for five months at such a young age, and have been on a lot since."
He was in part encouraged and inspired by his parents, who have embarked on a long list of their own wilderness journeys.
Heuer learned small but crucial lessons on his solo trip.
Nearly losing his boat taught him to always be extra careful with your gear. It was late in the day and he struggled to find a decent place to camp. The riverbanks were terribly muddy and what remained looked like it had been plowed out. He found a potential spot and hopped out to check it, but didn't haul his boat all the way up onto shore.
When he returned the canoe — and all of his gear — was in the water moving away from shore.
"It was in this eddy that was just barely, almost going to be in the current and I had to run out way up to my waist and grab it."
He said it's critical people spend time immersed in nature. At the start of his trip he was worried about public perception regarding his travels during the pandemic, but he quickly came to terms with the reality of his isolation.
Heuer said it felt good to tackle something so challenging, because it will prepare him for hard things that come up later in life.
"You can say, 'oh this is nothing,'" he said. "You have to remember, that whatever, that portage that I did it was way harder than this. I can do this."
He'll spend the next two months working at the canoe outfitter shop — and getting a little more tripping in — before heading back to school come fall.