descent of mc kenzie river by kayak

Chapter 1 – Descent of the mcKenzie river by Kayak

It was the July of 2011. Immersed in my thoughts I was walking towards Brescia’s castle when, surpassing two cute girls, I heard one complaining that she forgot to change her belt to the one that matched her shoes. I laughed, not much for the sentence itself, but for the fact that in two days I would have been sitting on a flight to my greatest adventure yet, the lone descent of the McKenzie River, and probably I
would have found myself missing those stupid everyday problems. I was running away from boredom, looking for a more interesting story…

solo descent of the mc kenzie river by kayak


The McKenzie River, or De’cho, is located in the northwestern territories and it runs northwards for about 1600km (990 miles), from the Great Slave Lake in the almost uninhabited forests of Canada to the Arctic Ocean. It is the longest Canadian river and in certain places it’s several kilometers wide.
When I left the town of Yellowknife on board of my two-seater kayak loaded with provisions for over a month’s journey, I was neither a kayaker nor a camper. All I knew was that I had to do it, that I had to test myself and live this great adventure.

It took me 28 days to reach Inuvik: 28 days of pain, sweat and tears, during which I saw extraordinary places, fought swarms of mosquitoes and horseflies and had an intense discussion with a black bear decided to invite himself for dinner in my tent. I got drunk in a town of oil wells, known people and stories that I was not used to. From despair I went to church to talk with God, but even the church was closed for holidays…

The river wasn’t technically difficult, there were only a couple of easy rapids. The waves forming on stormy days or on the lakes were definitely more worrying. Though, the real difficulty, to which I was not prepared, didn’t come from the external environment. It arose within me, it was the difficult task of controlling my mind during those four weeks…

mc kenzie River Canada by kayak


When I organized the trip, I focused on taking care of all organizational issues: equipment, food, timing, weather, etc… But I had not trained my mental strength. Once the first adrenaline rush had passed, I found out that I had to deal with myself: the boredom brought by fatigue sometimes overwhelmed me, the temptation to give up was a daily thought. I knew that pain would be my traveling companion and that it would have never left, so I had to dig inside me and search for the reasons that led me there, in the middle of nowhere, to sweat and swear against waves, shallows, swamps, rain and bears. I had to find those motivations and squeeze the energy out of them to keep on going.

Loneliness, fears and pain let you reflect, they force you to think about life and death, loneliness and friendships. They strip you of all the masks you’ve built over the years and at the end all that’s left is you, naked, unable to lie. You can only keep paddling and prove to yourself that maybe you’re not as bad as you think…

Many things happened during those four weeks. I spent a lot of time alone, thinking. I understood the importance of my friends, of my family, of how much I was stupid before and how lucky I was instead to be there in that moment. Unfortunately I have a bad memory and it didn’t take me long to forget all of it…

Alone on the mc kenzie river


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