Toronto explorer Mario Rigby successfully wrapped up a 20-day trip on Thursday kayaking the length of Lake Ontario.
"Every year I try to do a big challenge," said Rigby, who has an extraordinary resumé of adventures he's done, including cycling across Canada from B.C. to Newfoundland and crossing Africa, from South Africa to Egypt, by foot and kayak.
"I want[ed] to kayak all of the Great Lakes, but I didn't have the timeline," he explained. So he opted for Lake Ontario. "It's local, it's home, and I [thought I could] probably do it in less than a month."
Rigby's adventure took him from Hamilton to the Thousand Islands where he cleared more than 350 kilometres, averaging about 30 kilometres each day. On his last day, he did 46 kilometres — what he calls one of his longest, yet strongest days.
"It's the best I've ever felt. The water was nice and calm," he said. "After all of these storms, it was almost like one of the most beautiful endings you could have."
The Toronto explorer's drive to do this challenge stemmed from a few inspirations, one of which is to promote domestic travel.
"I wanted to show people that you can have an adventure in your own backyard."
Another reason was to raise money and awareness for My Stand, an organization that works with at-risk youth in Toronto and is close to Rigby's heart.
"I come from a background that isn't exactly privileged. I faced a lot of poverty as well so I get it and I understand where they're coming from, and that is a place of not seeing the opportunities.," he said. "I wanted to donate to this cause."
But the adventure didn't come without challenges — including using a sea kayak for the first time.
"Before I started this expedition, I didn't even know how to ride or paddle a sea kayak. So I was learning along the way," said Rigby.
The first couple of days were the most difficult.
"[I] had cramps, muscle spasms in my arms, I rolled over a few times. It was one of the most frightening experiences for the first four or five days," Rigby recounts. "But after that I started getting used to it."
Being Black in the outdoor industry
Being Black in the outdoor industry has also posed obstacles for Rigby when it comes to support, sponsorship, and even acceptance.
"First of all, I'm a minority, so there's not that many people looking like me, doing the things that I'm doing," he said. "Even within the Black community, they look at me like, wow what are you doing, this is crazy."
Coupled with a strong passion, Rigby says being outdoors is also an ancestral calling.
"I tell them, this is something that if you're a person from a tribe or an Indigenous community — or in Africa — these are some things people have been doing forever, for the longest time, and it's up to us to take back ownership of discovering and exploring the environment."
Rigby hopes through his adventures he can inspire more people of colour to explore and adventure.
"The more diversity you have in the outdoors, the more people you have involved in exploration, discovery of nature, and the more people care about nature, which means the quicker we can squash climate change and take care of the earth."
He admits change within the industry is a slow process and he hasn't seen much of it just yet.
"I haven't really seen too much change. I've seen because of the Black Lives Matter movement, yes there has been more attention to having POC in the outdoors. But in terms of seeing real sponsored athletes, or explorers, being represented by big brands, I have not seen that," he said.
But while the process to change is slow, Rigby is optimistic it will come.
"It's coming, it's on its way. And I'm one of the people being represented."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.