HALIFAX - Two Halifax kayakers have successfully braved the unforgiving waters of the North Atlantic to paddle more than 175 kilometres from Nova Scotia to Sable Island in what they are describing as a life-changing experience.
"It was nothing short of magical," said Jan-Sebastian La Pierre, who made the nearly 30-hour voyage from Canso, the nearest point on Nova Scotia's mainland to the island, with paddling partner Graham Carter.
The pair came up with the idea as a way to raise $25,000 to send 25 kids living with chronic mental and physical illness to summer camp.
"What we're trying to do is create a conversation about the need for adventure in people's lives," said La Pierre, a 30-year-old recreational therapist and kayak enthusiast.
"We just want to see them have the same opportunities we had as children."
He described the trip last weekend to Sable Island, a 40-kilometre long sliver of land southeast of Halifax that's home to wild horses, as the most physical challenge he has ever experienced.
"We just kept reminding ourselves why we were doing it and realizing that these kids have to experience pain on a daily basis," said La Pierre. "They have to deal with it for a lifetime. We could suffer through it for 24 hours."
Carter, a 28-year-old school teacher from Ste. Anne, Man., said La Pierre approached him three years ago with the idea of paddling to Sable Island for charity.
"It's been definitely suggested that we're a little crazy," said Carter.
"The ocean is definitely a fickle beast out there and the weather can change pretty quickly."
A support boat accompanied them the entire way in case of an emergency, he added.
To prepare for the adventure, the duo trained for the past two years, paddling 20 to 40 kilometres a day outside of La Pierre's home in Herring Cove, a community in Halifax.
They sang Stan Rogers and Gordon Lightfoot tunes to keep their spirits high through the night, said Carter, with Rogers's iconic "Northwest Passage" quickly becoming the unofficial theme song for the voyage.
"It was easy to be able to justify and be able to power through the pain when you knew ... the cause you were working towards," said La Pierre.
He described their sight of Sable Island on Sunday morning as nothing short of overwhelming, despite the exhaustion.
"Everyone has this mystical notion of what the island entails," said La Pierre. "We'd certainly built it up in our minds as a pretty special place. It certainly met those expectations and blew them out of the water."
According to Parks Canada and coast guard records — which require any visitors to the island to have a permit — no one has ever made the trip by kayak.
"We've trained for so long, so to finally get there and to see it and to be a part of it in that moment was one of the more exceptional parts of my life," said La Pierre.