TEAM ATHELETE Q AND A : CANOEIST JIM BAIRDCanoe - Mar 12, 2020
Werner Paddles: Jim how many years have you been a canoeist in Ontario? At what age did you do you first overnight trip?
JB: My first overnight canoe trip was with my dad when I was about nine or so. When I was 15, my younger brothers and cousins and I went on what turned out to be a failed and fairly miserable multi-day trip. But though I have paddled canoes from a young age, and used them in the backcountry to camp and fish from a young age, I wouldn’t really consider myself to be a canoeist until I was about 20. That’s when I started going on multi-day backcountry trips were I’d find a new place to call home each night. That’s when I began exploring loop routes and point A to B river trips and dreaming up new ones journeys on the map. I didn’t start paddling whitewater in a serious way until I was about 22, the same year I completed a self-guided trip down the Nahanni River with my brother Ted. After that, we were deeply hooked on wilderness canoe trips.
WP: What seems to inspire you about multiday living, specifically out of your boat?
JB: Where I’m from, the landscape really lends itself to canoe travel. This is rugged Canadian Shield topography that’s spattered with dense forests, dotted with countless lakes and dissected by pristine rivers. Much of northern Canada is similar, and there is a lot of backcountry to explore. I always found a fascination in the ways First Peoples lived and traveled here. I have always loved nature and ever since I can remember, I always wanted to go to where there was nothing beyond where I was. I remember thinking when I was about four that I wanted to be where there was nothing further north than me. How and where I grew up, mixed with my mindset and the opportunities that were presented to me created the perfect storm to foster a life-long passion. I guess you can say I’m inspired by history, nature and the pursuit of building a connection to it. Exploration at its core meaning is part of it, and that personal gratitude of finding the perfect campsite in some far-flung place I’ve never been makes me happy. So, it’s about finding these experiences - and it’s moments on trips like this that are among the most enriching in life. For me, there is a deep wonderment to it all.
WP: Jim, Sounds like you have had one hell of a summer up travelling in the Yukon, What sections of river did you get out on during your most recent adventure?
JB: I did and I was able to check off a major bucket list trip for me too. I’d always heard the Hess River in Canada’s Yukon Territory was a challenging one and mentioning it seemed to put a little fear into the eyes of northern river guides I spoke with. So, I wanted to go and see what it was all about. I chartered a floatplane into Keele Lake and began a descent of the steep, Keele Creek to reach the Hess. I floated the Hess all the way to its terminus at the Stewart River, which I then followed back to the road system at the community of Mayo to finish my trip. I believe it was about 220 miles (350km).
WP: What was the longest distance you paddled in one day and what type of canoe did you end up using that trip?
JB: Nearing the end of the trip I was nearly four days ahead of schedule and realized I could save about 1000$ to catch a vehicle shuttle in Mayo if I made it there the following day. So, I put my head down and paddled hard, traveling 62 miles straight through the night. There’s not much darkness in Yukon summers, but it got a lot darker than I’d anticipated! And it was nearly pitch black for about three hours. My mind played tricks on me and I got little disoriented more than once but I knew there were no real obstructions on this stretch of the Stewart River. I paddled a 15’ prospector by Nova Craft. The all around hull design a Prospector offers helped me make better time through this flat-water sections but still offered enough maneuverability to get through the whitewater on the Hess.
WP: Our new Journey FG paddle features a fiberglass sturdy symmetrical palm grip, and a more traditional straight blade shape that carries some buoyancy. Could you indicate some of the benefits that you have found for the applications of this paddle on your trip?
JB: The journey has a great feel to it, it’s light weight and durable and the floatation in the blade seems to give it a little bit of pop when it’s exiting the water. These features really add up to less energy used and more distance covered over the long haul, yet you’re still left with a paddle that’s durable enough for a deep wilderness trip. I chose to bring a durable, straight blade paddle for flat-water and for back-up because the odds of loosing a whitewater paddle in the rapids of the Hess are pretty high.
WP: How tall are you and what length do you find is appropriate for your size with a one piece canoe Paddle?
JB: I’m 6’5” and for my flat-water paddles, I like the length to be from my armpit to the ground. For me that’s 58”.
WP: When choosing a straight blade traditional canoe paddle, what are the benefits in your opinion of fiberglass and carbon materials like the Journey and Journey Carbon on the blade?
JB: The benefits of newer materials like carbon and fiberglass are in the overall efficiency of the paddle. These paddles are lighter and more durable pound for pound. Ultimately they get you farther faster with less energy.
WP: While testing our new Journey FG Canoe Paddle on flatwater and slow moving rivers, did it help you accomplish a longer 100KM day on the water and get to a camp that was perfect?
JB: The journey definitely helped me complete the long, 100km marathon paddle I did in the Yukon and it’s overall efficiency helped me paddle further so I could reach those desired campsites while more quickly leaving the Grizzly Bears and forest fires behind.
WP: It is rumored that you were good enough to go pro in Hockey but a net/board accident caused some fractured vertebrae and an injury that put you on a different career course. It is obvious your large enough to be an enforcer, but what elements of hockey and hockey training have helped you be tough and survive, pushing through discomfort in your new sport of multiday canoe tripping.?
JB: I did stop pursuing competitive hockey after I broke my neck in a head on collision with the opposing team’s goalie. (I think though, that in all honesty, the reason I didn’t make it to the show has more to do with a lack of skill). And it was around that time that I started getting serious about canoeing. Multi-day wilderness tripping takes a special kind of mindset, and constant cold and wet weather, mixed with tough portaging and bad bugs offer the ingredients to break even the toughest hockey goon around. That being said, the overall athletic ability and confidence I got from hockey undoubtedly allowed me to learn whitewater paddling faster. A background in physical sports also may have help you deal with the pain you feel on a portage and likely to mitigate fear as well. I think though that the only way you can really learn to endure discomfort to the point that you just don’t really care about it unless it’s actually dangerous is by spending lots of time in the bush, challenging yourself and, most importantly, not wanting to let the discomfort you feel bother you, even when it does. This could potentially be the best survival skill around but it’s not something you can learn from YouTube, it can only be learned through experience.
WP: What other Canoe Trips did you have going this year, what season is best for multiday tripping in your area?
JB: 2019 was a great year for paddling, with a late spring and early winter, it was shorter than most but I still managed to put about 600kilometers behind me. I paddled through the depths of Algonquin Park in the early spring in search of Trout, completed a high-water descent of the Magnetawan River where I ran multiple thundering rapids and then the highlight – soloing the Yukon’s Hess River. In September, we also had a backpacking trek that unexpectedly turned canoe trip while exploring Northern Ontario’s Killarney Park. I was lucky enough to get out on multiple shorter trips with my family too!
It’s tough to say what part of the season is my favorite to get out with the canoe. Spring has so many whitewater opportunities and that’s when the trout fishing is best. It’s hard to beat for me but other species such as Bass are best to catch in the fall and you can’t beat fall colors! What could be better than diving into the warm waters of a backcountry lake on a hot, mid-summer day? I love it all!
2020 is going to start off with a demanding pack rafting trip that will switch to canoes min-way though. Then I’ll be paddling a remote and rarely traveled tributary of Lake Superior’s wild north shore. Come summer, my brother Ted and I are heading to the Arctic for a multi-week trip and then in September, I’m going to tackle Ontario’s Historic French River with my family. There will likely be more in the mix too! I’m looking forward to the trips and to sharing it all on my YouTube channel Jim Baird – Adventure
Check out Jim Baird's YouTube Channel, here:
Jim Baird - Adventurer