Kayakers’ quest: Quebec to the Yucatan

Three young men taking over a year of their lives to venture off into parts unknown using a few basic necessities, their wits and their insatiable need to learn about life and the world they live in.

Sounds like a book or a movie theme – and maybe it will be one day – but for now it’s reality for French Canadian kayakers Luc Labelle, Julien Granger and Nuka de Jocas.

The trio from Montreal, Quebec, have been friends since they were very young. All are outdoor enthusiasts but each is different – Luc has a degree in public management and was managing a cutting edge, socially responsible fine French cuisine restaurant called Robin Hood.

Julien is a mechanic, machinist and welder who worked for Harley-Davidson.

Nuka spent time in the Northwest Territory working on youth projects, teaching parliamentary simulation and leadership.

Still, they own the same dream – to kayak from their home all the way to the Yucatan. After three whole years of preparation that included brainstorming, seeking sponsorships, gathering equipment they finally set out on their dream.

Their kayaks are 18 feet long and must accommodate all their needs – tents, kitchen equipment, food, camera, computer.

They left Canada seven months ago, mainly traveling by the Intercoastal Waterway, and expect it to take another ten months to get to Mexico hugging the Gulf coast north from Fort Myers up Florida’s Big bend, along the coasts of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to Mexico and on to the Yucatan.

They are using expedition design Epic brand race kayaks, fitted with rutters and pedals, VHF radio and GPS transmitter with emergency button. They wear safety vests at all times. Without sponsorships that provide equipment for the travelers and visibility (and often input in how their equipment performs) for their sponsors, this adventure would not be possible.

When they reach their goal, they plan to fly back home.

In the beginning there was a huge learning curve since none of them had any experience in even planning such an expedition. Luc said they had to design a presentation document to approach all-important potential sponsors, convincing them to back their trip. Julian put together their website. – www.defigofetch.com. You can track these young explorers’ trip using a map on their website and video blogs to share with their followers.

There is a strong educational component for Canadian teachers in the French languages for students in Quebec with on-the-spot information and photos of local environment, history and animals from all the places the trio stops along the way.

You can also check them out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/defigofetch.

They also have a Gofundme account to accept donations.

Nuka said their goal is to inspire young students with their original and local content from the places they visit. He said they hope to give students the tools and confidence they need to make their own dreams come true. They are cataloging knowledge gathered from locals along their itinerary with the intent of putting it to good use when they return home. He said it’s amazing what they have already learned from people along the way who opened up to them.

As much as they are enjoying their trip, they are on a very tight budget and have only a one-year visa to stay in the US, so they have to keep moving.

So many people they have met on the way want to share some small part in their adventure. Many people have helped in many ways – buying them a meal or sharing a few drinks, opening their homes to these young men for a welcome hot shower, a meal and a nice cozy bed.

Judy and Don Jones of LaBelle are one such couple. Don met them at Barron Park when they pulled in and, after finding out about their journey, invited them home. Judy checked the website (you can’t be too careful) and found they were legitimate. “They were just three guys with a passion,” she said. The simple act of inviting them into their home was an amazing experience for all of them, she said.

Luc expressed the group’s appreciation to the people helping them. It means there is hope for humanity, he said, adding it’s important to learn to “trust your gut.”

Nuka said they had to take a huge leap of faith, too. In fact, they were told that Americans were “scary” but they trusted that they would have a positive experience and they have.

Julien added that when they got to Atlantic City they had “second thoughts” when they saw some parts of the area, but they met a woman who took them to a photographer at the city dock. A man provided them a nice lunch and the opportunity to sleep on his boat. They even ended up having dinner with the mayor.

The trio has learned that you can see the beauty of any place through its people. In fact, sometimes people are so nice that it can be hard to move on. They all add that they have seen some amazing places – kayaks can go most anywhere on the water.

The negative experiences have been very few. Nuka was targeted for one racist remark, but will not let it deter his enthusiasm for the wonderful experience this trip is.

In addition to meeting new friends and exploring new areas, Luc, Julien and Nuka say they are learning so much about themselves.

Julien said they have so much time to think and focus on something specific

Nuka has found that enduring hardships makes everything taste better, feel better. It enhances their pleasure in little things. Their appreciation of what they have is heightened, amplified.

Luc explained that the body gets used to the strain – the daily physical and mental effort. They travel about 20 miles per day so as not to burn out or suffer an injury that could end their quest prematurely.

Through their website and Facebook, people send them challenges – like the one to meet and talk to someone about the honey industry. Naturally, in LaBelle that means a trip to the Curtis Honey House where Luc videoed their chat with Renee and her impromptu narration on the local honey bee industry. Other challenges on their list: take a blind person kayaking one mile; dress as a mermaid; clean a beach on the Intercoastal without leaving a trace. Challenges can be silly or serious, but they say they will try to do them all.

Once Luc, Julien and Nuka have completed their quest and returned home, the men expect to continue the work this began by participating in conferences, themed talks with students and adults and eventually create a documentary of their trip. Till then, as Julien said, they intend to “live the trip.”

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