Martin Trahan: Born to Canoe

Martin Trahan has canoed across vast portions of North America, both in his native Canada and in the US. We’re honored to have him share his story with the Bending Branches community.

Martin Trahan, canoeist

Written by Martin Trahan
All photos and videos by Yan Kaczynski

I’m an adventurer and long-distance canoeist from Montreal, Canada. I did my first canoe trip at the age of 18 in Algonquin Park (Ontario, Canada) while participating to a youth program named Katimavik.

It’s an understatement to say that I fell in love with canoeing!

Canoeing Across Canada

Canoeing 7,000 Kilometers from Montreal to Inuvik

At 35 years old I took part in the historical Royal Canadian Geographical Society Canada Expedition of the Year 2015. My team and I paddled across Canada by canoe.

This expedition started on April 25 in the icy waters of Lake of Two Mountains, Montreal and ended 7,000 kilometers later (4,400 miles) on October 16 along the coast of the Mackenzie River in Inuvik in the Arctic Circle. The trip took 175 days and included 117 portages.

map of three long distance canoe trips

Martin’s three completed long-distance canoe trips in Canada and the US

Canoeing 3,200 Kilometers on the Yukon River

From May to July, 2016 (70 days), I was part of the Pull of the North expedition that paddled the Yukon River by canoe a total of 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) from Lake Bennett (British Columbia, Canada) to its mouth in the Bering Sea (Alaska).

Ian Finch (UK) and Caroline Côté (Canada) filmed a documentary telling the story of the many native cultures that still live along the river and how the modern world and shifting environment was changing their traditional ways of living on the Yukon River. Jay Kolsch (USA) documented the expedition with his photography.

Canoeing 4,700 Miles Across the United States

From April to November, 2018, I paddled by canoe across the United States of America—from the Pacific Ocean in Astoria (Oregon) to the Atlantic Ocean at the tip of Florida in Key Largo.

As you can imagine, this trip took a grueling 191 days to complete the 7,500 kms/4,700 miles from coast to coast.

Inspired by Verlen Kruger, Bill Mason and Frank Wolf, this adventure took me across America’s natural waters to pursue my dream of discovery, understanding and consciousness of the world around me. The expedition has been awarded America Dream Adventure of the Year.

Martin Trahan canoeing, with Bending Branches paddles

Martin Trahan in his element

Here are some statistics and favorite gear:

  • Distance paddled in my life : 20,000 km/12,500 miles
  • Longest portage without the use of a canoe cart: 19 km/12 miles
  • Longest canoe expedition: 191 days in 2018
  • Scariest moment: Hurricane Michael in 2018
  • Number of times bitten by a tick: 8
  • Favorite alcohol: whiskey
  • Canoe: Esquif
  • Spray deck: North Water
  • Paddle: Bending Branches
  • PFD and dry suit: Kokatat
  • Freeze dried meals: Happy Yak
  • Tent and cooking gear: MSR
  • Rain jacket and down jacket: Arc’Teryx
  • Sleeping pad: Exped

Canoeing Has Become a Way of Life

To mark its 25th anniversary, Espaces magazine has selected 25 Quebecers who, at one time or another over the past 25 years, have stood out in the fields of the outdoors or adventure, whether by innovating, by influencing their peers or by surpassing themselves. I was extremely touched to be included in this beautiful recognition.

When not on an expedition, I work as a social worker with elderly people, and I love my job. My role is to ensure seniors can stay at home as long as possible while maintaining a good quality of life. I evaluate their needs, then make sure the right health care professional provides the services. When the quality of life is limited or the loss of autonomy is too important, I help families find a residence or nursing home that meets their needs.

I work for 18 months, being paid 75% of my salary and then I’m off for 6 months, being paid 75% of my salary. I’m grateful to be able to explore the world one paddle stroke at a time.

canoeist portaging

Martin’s longest portage (without a canoe cart) was 12 miles

Canoeing has become a way of life that allows the expression of my traditions, my identity, my values and, above all, an opportunity to contribute to the protection of the natural heritage.

The experience of being connected to the natural world is the way I found to face my fears, to heal, and to feel more alive than ever. Developing a unique relationship with nature is beneficial for everyone, including me. It has the power of feeding my mind with positive energy which changes me for the better. It allows me to find profound satisfaction in my own life process.

Everybody has their idea of paradise. Mine is out there in the wilderness, feeling the magic of a wooden paddle and the canoe’s movement. The paddle seems to be an extension of my body. The calming power of nature is real. The quest for freedom and well-being motivates my desire to be in nature.

When I finish an expedition, I am always divided between the euphoria of having achieved my goal and the exhaustion. The question I am often asked is: "What's next? What's your next epic trip?" But, in fact, the adventure that I just lived is not over yet.

The return home is part of it and it is, for me, the most difficult part. It is much more complicated to manage than planning, storms, or conflicts with teammates. It's a kind of empty feeling. I've asked myself several times after my expeditions: "Martin, what's wrong? You came home, you found the people you love, you have the comfort of your bed and good food."

But when you spend so much time in a canoe and in a tent, and the forest is your home, it becomes your identity.

Bending Branches canoe paddles

Martin’s selection of Bending Branches’ canoe paddles

Canoeing Videos

Below are three videos that show the enticement and beauty of canoeing. They were all filmed in Canada:

Ode to Canoe

It’s remarkable to access a territory where there are no roads allowing people to get there. Being in the wilderness and exploring remote places is a very unique experience.

Canoeing is part of our history. First Nation people travelled those canoe routes and admired their endless beauty long before us. A canoe is so simple but so functional and beautiful. A piece of art that allows us to explore the vast wilderness and the magnificent landscapes.

Reconnecting with nature and wildlife is something I cherish. The sense of freedom and of being in harmony with nature are very unique feelings.

Fall Canoeing

This short video is about a perfect morning canoeing in the wilderness. The experience of being connected to the natural world and also being connected to myself was very unique.

Too few people allow themselves to go on an adventure. But those who do know how beneficial the experience is. Enjoying the beauty of nature and experiencing the outdoors are magical. We are the canoe people.

Winter Canoeing at Parc du Poisson Blanc

Paddling a canoe is such a powerful feeling. It brings happiness and it’s a source of enrichment. Once on the water, there are endless possibilities for all the beauty you can see.

Some people say that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Going on long canoe expeditions brings me out of my comfort zone, for sure. But after one or two weeks on the water, it becomes my new comfort zone.

What’s Next for Us?

Across France by Canoe

In May and June 2023, we plan to cross France by canoe travelling 1500 km in 60 days. This memorable adventure will start in Geneva, Switzerland and will end in the Atlantic Ocean near St-Nazaire. It's going to be my first multi-month canoe journey in Europe.
On this epic adventure, world-class canoeist Joris Leclercq (from France) and I will paddle downstream on the Rhône River (400 km) and then upstream on the Ardèche and Chassezac Rivers (70 km). We will have to portage some small dams before reaching the city of Les Vans. 

In Les Vans, we will be challenged with a 150 km hike through the Massif Central. We will have to overcome muscular pains and continue our sustained effort to the city of Langeac. Each crew member will have the opportunity to be amazed by the enchanting setting surrounded by mountains. 

In Langeac, we will get back in our canoe and paddle downstream to explore the magnificent l'Allier River for about 300 km.The team will finally navigate the mythical Loire River for nearly 540 km, with the benefit of the current pushing us downstream until we reach the Atlantic Ocean.
After a few days of rest and luxuriance, Joris will return home in Orléans (France) and I'll go back to Montréal (Canada) with our heads filled with the stories, images and memories engraved on our hearts.

 map of Europe, with France canoe route marked in red

Martin’s planned canoe trip route across France

Trip Partner, Yan Kaczynski

Through my social media I try to inspire and motivate people to live their dreams, to explore, and to reconnect with nature.

For the past three years I did most of my canoe trips with very talented adventure photographer-filmmaker, Yan Kaczynski. You’ll fall in love with his art.

Yan Kaczynski

The human being in the context of nature is Kaczynski’s preferred subject. Through his work, he constantly attempts to display the human and the environment as a symbiotic whole. Neither are meant to be separated entities. Reestablishing this connection is Kaczynski’s way to help ensure our environment’s perennity.

His photography services provide a rich blend of authenticity and attentiveness to nature’s real feel and raw beauty. His creative process, his work ethic, and the selection of clients he collaborates with, all transcend the same strong values.

Yan Kaczynski, with canoe

Photographer and filmmaker, Yan Kaczynski

For Yan, it’s all about connecting with the human and non-human world, and inspiring others by diffusing nature’s positive impact through immersive outdoor experiences.

To follow Martin and Yan on Instagram go to: @martin_trahan_canoeist and @yankaczynski. Yan's website is :

Can we help you choose your next canoe paddle? Get in touch with our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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