Mission resident Freda Mellenthin proves there’s no age limit when it comes to outdoor recreation in extreme conditions.
In her self-published book, Love in the Northern Rapids, Freda recounts 18 paddling expeditions she and her husband Ted took in the Canadian Arctic, the Inside Passage and Sea of Cortez, to name just a few locales.
The two embarked upon their first canoe trek as a couple at the age of 62. What’s more, they had just met months prior, on a blind date no less.
Freda was a novice at whitewater canoeing. Ted, a long-time Calgary resident, was an expert paddler with years of experience.
On their first expedition – in an 18-foot homemade fibreglass canoe with food for 42 days individually packed and stored in two watertight barrels – they paddled over 1,200 kilometres in just six weeks, traversing rivers and lakes from the northeast of Yellowknife to Baker Lake in Nunavut. The distance spanned was equivalent to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined.
After 40 days, they arrived in the wide bay of Baker Lake.
“We were soon planning our next trip,” says Freda.
The two married on the last day of the century.
Freda, a retired teacher, never intended to write this book. She recounts writing small notes and passages, sitting inside a mosquito tent, recording the day’s events and memories to cherish.
After pressure from family and friends, Freda said she began compiling and writing what is now the 356-page, self-published novel, Love in Northern Rapids.
“I thought the book would be a good message to other people our age.”
It’s never too late to try something daring and new.
“But you have to be careful,” she cautions, and Ted nods along in agreement.
Freda recalls the Back River, the longest river of the Barren Lands which flows northeast across Nunavut and into the Arctic Ocean.
The Back, Freda explains, is known for its cold weather patterns where north winds and relentless rain can turn a quiet adventure into something more risky.
“We capsized on the Muskox,” she says. They were forced to hop out and push their canoe to shore, braving the icy waters. What happened after? She says, “Read the book!”
It takes significant planning and preparation to undertake long-distance expeditions, Freda says, especially through Arctic water and terrain.
Getting stuck or not hitting designated distances is one issue. With little by way of people or nearby amenities, food supplies must be enough to last the duration of the trip – and capacity is, of course, limited. And though they carry a GPS satellite phone in case of an emergency, help may not arrive fast enough in some of the more remote areas.
Freda says the two, both now 78, don’t go on extreme northern paddling trips any longer.
They are a part of the Dogwood Canoe and Kayak Club, and go on smaller paddling excursions, from Mission to Langley, for instance, and always with others.
Freda’s book is available through Chapters & Indigo or online, at Western Canoeing in Abbotsford, or directly through Freda at fredamellenthin.com.