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Our Story


GrandTaiga began with the phrase, “A mari usque ad mare.” The latin saying loosely translates to “from sea to sea” and is exactly what three curious adventurers set out to accomplish. With the desire to push the bounds of travel and their hearts set on seeing the world for the first time, they built a travel van to live out of and to road trip across the United States and Canada, first breaching the Atlantic Ocean and finally the Pacific Ocean.

Our Interactive Storybook

Sit back and browse through daily snapshots from the legendary 50-day trip. True to GrandTaiga principles, the boys on average drove over 250 miles a day and hiked over 4.5 mile a day. This excursion was not for the faint of heart but if you wanted to join the adventure and travel the route yourself, the exact coordinates are included in each image slider!

Explore
The North

The Journey that started it all!

Phase 1

Frustration

Phase 2

Inspiration

Phase 3

Execution

Phase 1 | Frustration

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Life as a college student can take many forms for different kinds of people. Things like high hopes for a brighter future, nativity about what comes after, and a quest to understand oneself can all contribute to shaping a student's future. Frustrated and unsatisfied with the status quo, two young explorers chose to use this time as a means to reshape the boxed reality the school created for them.

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While keeping an open mind, they searched for what was to come next and ended up finding profound inspiration from the great photographers and outdoor athletes of their time. They called upon Burkard, Strohl, and Fursty to guide their way. Instead of day dreaming of the enchanted lands shown by these photography legends they decided to take action and insert themselves into the reality they were inspired by. This was a life they wanted for themselves.

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With what little they had, and a can do attitude, they began to take hold of their small town lives. They grabbed their small DSLR cameras and into their rusted 94’ Honda they rolled, road tripping with any extra time they had. Only have a three day weekend to spare? To Canada they go, it’s only 400 miles away. Failing car? To Virginia they go, it’s only 1,200 miles away. To say they didn’t run into snags would be an understatement, but what carried them through was their drive for the unknown and the joyful attitude they decided to bring along the way.

Nick

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I remember my friends Sam, Ryan and I were on our way back from a weekend camping and kayaking trip along the shores in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In a rush to get back home and to our jobs the following week, all three us alternated driving Ryan’s three seater pick up truck. Inevitably we all got burnt out and pulled over at a gas station to sleep shoulder to shoulder through an insane down pour. After 30 minutes or so of battling a terribly uncomfortable half sleep paralysis, I went outside to lay down in the bed of the truck. Ironically, while curled up with a leftover plastic sheet covering, and the rain pulsating down on my face, I actually remember getting some of the best sleep of my life!
The takeaway – be a free thinker. Sometimes the best adventures and memories can be made through unpredictable and the least expected situations.

After getting a taste of what life on the road could be like, and honing in on their photography skills, the friends began to dream bigger. What if the adventure never stopped? What if there was a life out there that was uninhibited? With little experience and insight into this newfound free to roam, free to create routine – the boys were powered up and ready to test their theory on a journey much large.

Phase 2 | Inspiration

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To their excitement, most of Canada had yet to be explored and there was an entire country out there waiting for them. While researching they came across a phrase that would change their lives forever, “A mari useque ad mare.” This latin saying loosely translates to “from sea to sea,” and from that day on, is exactly what their hearts were set on accomplishing. In one vast loop, they were to drive from Wisconsin to Tadousac, Quebec reaching the Atlantic Ocean, then up through the Canadian rockies and down to Washington State on the west coast reaching the Pacific Ocean. Then finally traveling back to the their midwest starting point to finish the entire loop.

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With the wisdom and understanding that an idea is only as good as the execution, Nick got to work. He worked hard to acquire sponsorships, partner with media editorials, plan the duration of the trip, select the stops along the way, and of course build the van that was going to carry them to new heights. Nick and Sam were now beginning to take hold of their lives regardless of the plans society and university may have had for them. They even recruited an extra travel buddy to come along for the ride, his name is Matt. The boys were ready for takeoff.

Nick

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I remember day after day, coming home from classes planning and building this excursion up to all that it could be. I was exhausted from long nights of researching all the ways I could pull this off. I remember as the project began to come together, school became less and less of a priority. At this point I got a new job at a Glass Factory to pay for the conversion van and other trip expenses.
The takeaway – No matter where you're at in life, follow your heart and don’t let anyone make decisions for you. Society will tell you many of your ideas are silly, but long lasting power and courage is built by standing up for what you believe in.

Phase 3 | Execution

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Ten days in the trip and 1,400 miles out from home, in a french speaking foreign country the comrades sunk into their first major issue. After a night out, playing pool, and getting to know the locals in the small tourist town of Tadousac, it was time to find our home for the night. Images of other van lifers gloriously parked on the beach danced through their heads. With the sound of the ocean echoing down the road, they drove down a beachside ramp only to become stuck within seconds of the tires hitting the sand. It was now 1:30 AM in the morning, and the three boys frantically began to dig out the now sunken tires with nothing but their hands. After what seemed like a days worth of digging they freed the van and sprung into another heart wrenching problem, the power steering was out. Considering it was the middle of the night, they parked the van on the side of the street and decided to save that issue for the morning.

Nick

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When you overcome challenges together, you build bonds with one another. When you bond with someone you create a friend for life.

After being stranded in Tadousac for a few days, the boys began to find their rhythm as a unit, comedically similar to that of a committed relationship.

Sam

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Even though we hit a standstill, we used this time to explore in a different way, enjoy what was, and slow down. I reflected on what was to come and be present in where I was at. I remember making morning runs to the small town coffee shop to edit photos, read, get groceries, and enjoy tranquil solo walks along the beach.

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With the van all patched up and many more locations on the busy itinerary, the team said their goodbyes to the small whaling town. The days could be summed up to early morning cafe runs, nature walks, and climbs along the rocky shoreline of the St. Lawrence River, thus completing the first ocean milestone in their Mare Usque Ad Mare adventure. In comparison to the fast paced life back home, time slowed and the boys were able to begin to relish in every moment presented, through the good and bad. The trip was not only a journey far and wide but a journey of the mind.

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As with any proper hero’s tale, the boys triumphed while exiting the East Coast. First, they backcountry camped on top of the highest point in the Montagne des Érables (Maple Mountains) before making their way west along the famed Trans-Canada Highway. Driving from Quebec to Alberta is a staggering feat. Hardly any civilizations can be found for hundreds of miles combined with the endlessly straight and repetitive tree line on both shoulders of the road; this type of experience can cause even the wisest of men to lose it. To break up the madness, and in true GrandTaiga fashion, they paddle boarded random lakes at sunset in the infinite chain of water stretching from Ontariothrough Manitoba. Some of this time was also used to bathe in the freezing cold Canadian lakes.

Nick

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We weren’t showering that often. Since we all were living in close quarters and couldn’t smell each other we had an ongoing joke of whether we had B.O or not. I know for certain I smelt great...

Sam

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We all smelled terrible; I knew that for a fact.... they didn’t believe me.

Nick

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I was optimistic I at least smelt like pine…ha!

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As they made their return to civilization, and just as the team began to find a natural travel flow, BAM, the ball bearing burst! Thus, flinging them into on-coming traffic and seconds away from obliteration by the mouth of a semi. With added adrenaline and split-second awareness, Sam swerved back into the right lane getting the van back on track saving the comrades from impending doom.

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Frustrated and imprisoned to the side of the road. The boys trekked their way into town in search of the first mechanic shop they could find, fearing the possibility of being stranded again. Worst of all it was now Friday at 4:45 PM and they knew local businesses would be closing their doors within minutes. They jolted into the nearest Chevy dealership, quickly explained the synapsis of Explore the North and were reluctantly told Tuesday was the earliest they would be able to get on the road. With complimentary cookies, and coffee in hand Nick sank into the couch in disbelief they’d have to wait another 5 days. Thi was especially devastating coming off the bad luck in Quebec. Time stopped, and just when all hope was lost, out of nowhere a coverall suited mechanic hero from behind the counter came forth. After listening in on our story and our sharing our mission to get back on the road as soon as possible, with a leap of courage the man exclaimed, he would get the job done for us that night.

Nick

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The big takeaway here is to have appreciation for the small things and to live as if you’re the hero in your own movie. This man could have easily ignored our circumstances, but he decided to spend his Friday making our day immensely better. How often are we too consumed in our own world to go out of the way to help others? No matter how big or small, it’s important to bring the joy, you might just be a hero for an unexpected visitor in your life.

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Grateful and a bit shocked, the boys were happy to be on the road and headed to a photographer’s dreamland, Jasper, Alberta. This was a place as unimaginable as photos they’d seen online. Upon arriving during golden hour, from the cockpit to shotgun, to the back seat, the excitement was shared amongst all. Beaten down from the Trans-Canadian Highway, they were drifters and Jasper was an oasis. Through the windows they looked, outside the comforts of the van, golden tipped white giants drifted past them as bears and coyotes emerged out of the brush, this new land was overflowing with life!

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Now in full stride, the team was enjoying raw daily backpacking adventures in the Canadian Rockies. They summitted everything their boots touched. In a testament of strength, at times they carried stones along with them just for the added challenge. They did pull ups on trees. They raced, they played. They were hypnotized by the magnificence of mother nature.

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With the morning light shimmering through their roof top tent, at one point they found themselves waking up to the sound of tour buses. They climbed down and began a familiar breakfast routine. Today’s menu? Tea and freeze-dried eggs. With an incredible view, and not a single worry in their minds, they used their small eco-friendly camp stove to get a flame going. A hundred feet or so behind them buses came and went each with a new group of senior tourists. As the third bus stopped an over-sized Asian family began to pile out and approach the van. The boys looked as rugged as ever, next to their makeshift picnic table kitchen prep station when an old lady from the group caught us off guard as she began to help us cook. Our stove was wood fueled, so she scampered around finding small sticks and kindling for us and at one point he even gave our tea a stir. She didn’t speak one word of English but her smile and engagement that morning was infectious. Unfortunately, they couldn’t even exchange names, but the boys and the lady exchanged something more, human connection and hospitality.

Nick

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An experience like this is so far removed from reality that it almost seems like a dream. Every day we were literally waking up in a Macbook Pro screensaver with the ability to act as whimsical as we pleased. On top of that we were meeting friendly new people from around the world, just by getting out of our sleeping bag! In this case, we also witnessed uninhibited social interaction from a kind old lady, how often does that happen in the real world? I also have to note that she led with unrestrained joy that day. This virtuous experience was a yet another lesson added to my bag from the trip, and something I try to carry with me each day.

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The boys were now sun burnt, beat up, fatigued, but whole at heart. While enjoying many external triumphs, the road life offered them so much more. The group shared meaningful experiences, like intimate chats on rainy days hunkered down in the van to finding compromise with the three sleeping positions the van accommodated. Through this difficult yet rewarding journey a communal bond grew between them.

Nick

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Do you want to know what the four sleeping positions were? Depending on whether we were able to put the roof top tent up or not, in order of luxury, one was in the back of the van on a small self-made cot. For our setup the cot was royalty. The second position was up in the rooftop tent. The third best position was behind the driver’s seat on a self-mounted row of Suburban seats. Lastly, the fourth was in the passenger seat up front. You could say we were absolutely roughing it!

Sam

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The sleeping rotations were so funny. Most days, we were so wore down by the time we were ready to go to sleep that we rarely had the energy to setup the rooftop tent. This was saying a lot considering the tent was super easy to use. As the trip went on we naturally all kind of gravitated to a particular sleeping space.

The crew had now been living in the van for 30 days and the power of road really began to reveal itself. Being away from their past lives, while letting each day come to them as naturally as possible and trekking up and down enormous mountains had a way of introducing a heavy dose of clarity into their once over stimulated brains. Create, play, adventure, shutter, click... Create, play, adventure, shutter, click... was the rhythm they abided by. It was that simple.

Marching deeper into the adventure, the young scouts found themselves castawayed onto the northern beach’s in the Olympic Peninsula. A dragon lurked in the water, a crawling ocean floor sprang to the surface, and a red dwarf coastal sunset lit fire to the sand. “A MARI USQUE AD MARE!” the boys shouted as they raced into the sea. From the mountains and bushes, through rivers and streams, the boys marched on, no worries, just happy spirits with eyes met with a gleam.

Nick

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Ok... we didn’t shout “A Mari Usque Ad Mare,” but this moment was transformational. To set out on such a magnificent journey and to watch it come together in such harmony proved the impossible, possible. We proved we no longer were observers of our reality but active participants dictating our path forward. We became the photos we dreamed of. I learned that the chains that held me down, weren’t all that powerful. I just wasn’t applying enough pressure to watch them break.

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In true celebratory vagabond style they decided to stay a while and experience all that they could! In a day or two, they managed to explore atop the sea stacks, trek far along the sharp cliffside coast only to get cut off by the tides, bushwhack their way back through heavy towering brush, stumble into a campsite of three 70 year old ladies, play 18 holes of rock golf, build a driftwood castle, and sleep fireside underneath the stars. Again, the glory was found in the simple things.

Nick

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Years ago, I invented rock golf. It’s a mix between golf and mini golf. Basically, you draw your own course on sand or in the dirt and take turns pitching small rocks into circles. The shorter amount of swings it takes to land in the circle, the smaller the score, thus determining a winner. I always carried a 7-iron in the back of the van just in case someone wanted to compete.

Sam

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One distinct memory from Shi Shi beach was exploring the small tide pools filled with the marine life left behind once the water retreated. I’d never spent much time in coastal areas previously, so this was such a new world of discovery for me as I was fascinated by all the starfish, sea plants, and little fish isolated in their own unique ecosystems.

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Early on, cliff jumping, and icy dunks became tradition and when an opportunity to do so arrived they went for it with encouragement from all. On this particular day Sam was the chosen warrior around a popular hiking spot in Glacier National Park. Some dunks tougher than others, Sam swam across a freezing cold yet incredible rushing turquoise river to where he then scaled a cliff to begin his spectacular approach. As Sam eyed up his landing, Nick was swarmed by a crowd of tourists. “Is he going to jump… why is he doing this… who are you guys?” they asked with astonishment. Adding to the hype, Nick might as well been on broadcast television because as he responded to each question a foreign tourist began translating the message to her entire family. The best part came after Sam took flight and swam back, to which he was met with a huge round of applause and shared excitement.

Nick

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These types of experiences became a staple of the trip. This easily could have been a humdrum tourist stop for us. We could have checked out the scenery, read the signs, and got back in our van but instead decided to choose a playful mindset over mediocracy. It now has since turned into one of my favorite stories to tell about this trip. Another lesson added to my bag, and a real world example outlining that you get what you give!

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Have you ever found yourself telling a story that sounds great now but terrifying to have actually went through it? For the boys this couldn’t have rang truer. The three of them encountered Grizzlies almost daily during their escaped through Glazier but one of the days surely turned grim. Let’s call this tale, The Day of the Grizz. One by one the troops funneled out of the van for a breath of fresh air and some Rock Mountain sunshine. They had a two-day backpacking journey planned that was quickly put on hold. While marching miles into the backcountry they came upon a frantic park ranger that moments ago had an unsettling encounter with a Grizz. They of course were encouraged to turn back as it was protocol to shut the trail down after having such an encounter. Determined but a bit shaken the team marched back to the van and set out on a new trail ironically called Grizzly Lake. Marching a long a winding river overlooking incredible vistas, the trail pinched into a dark forested tunnel. As overexaggerated visuals of rogue bears squandered their minds, in a split second they found themselves trapped in a cloud of bear mace. Two ladies quickly apologized, and gasped, “You didn’t see it!” Their noses burning and confused as ever Matt gestured them to continue the story. They ended up mentioned mere seconds ago, and within a few strides a Grizzly was walking the trail in front of them. Again, creeped out looking over their shoulders they analyzed the dense brush surrounding them wondering what lurked within. The day clearly wasn’t going well but into the unknown they went. What else could the forest throw at them? Turns out within a few miles, more Grizzlies were on the schedule. This time from a distance of about 50 yards, they spotted two bears and couple glared back, one even curiously rearing up on it’s back two feet to get a better look. With caution the boys began to talk softly with one another and slowly back away. At this point, Nick had had it, and wanted to turn back. After all, the day wasn’t going in a positive direction. Unfortunately, Nic was convinced to carry on by a two-thirds majority vote. With darkness creeping in, and a loss for time, the team decided to make one last push for Grizzly Lake! Upon arrival, the team had realized their poor decision. It certainly was a triumph to complete the long trek after having been met with so many hurdles, but it was quite the downfall that it was now dark and they were miles away from their designated campsite. Now scared and a bit frantic, the boys settled in for the night instead of trekking back through the black Grizzly infested forest.

Nick

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Trial by fire is sometimes the fasted way to learn from your mistakes. Could we have planned better? Yes. Should we have waited a day to finish the hike to get back to a suitable camp spot. Yes. Did I get any sleep that night? No. Does it make for an incredible story. Yes. Failure is life can be our greatest teacher. If we were giving out boy scout badges associated with this trip, I surely added my warrior badge that day.

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Like Glazier National Park, the Tetons are another destination to embrace the call of the wild. As the groups last regional stop of the trip, the scouts had planned yet another jam-packed fun filled week. The adventure of the day unsurprisingly landed the boys high in the mountains staring at a beautiful turquoise sun-flickered alpine lake. After the usual, snack break, the GT energy quickly resurfaced. Higher, they must go higher! At this point in the trip, it was obvious Nick’s elevation plus distance calculator was broken. He’d simply point towards an inviting peak in the distance and set out for it in a moment’s notice. Sam had a bum ankle, but Matt was ready to rock. Off they raged under a fiery orange sky. As they scrambled to the top the separation of the two grew when all of sudden from a distance, Matt mustered, “I fell... I’m heading back.” His voice barley broke through the wisping winds typical of higher elevations. He echoed again, “A bear is heading your way, be careful...” Considering there was only two routes up, route A, the same wooded scramble Nick came up or route B, a crevasse predominantly filled with long brush and an even steeper incline. While posed like Captain Morgan and looking down over the stunning park below, Nick decided route B was the bet option. Nick thought, “That damn bear had to be in the woods.” After scampering through what had to be the bears den, all while fighting last light, adrenaline raged as Nick bolted down the mountain as fast as he could. His eye site now heighted through an NZT like gaze, peering around every stick, every stone, every tree praying he didn’t run into the mighty Griz.

Nick

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First of all, Matt ended up ok. He was bit disheveled when I ran into him on route B but I was overjoyed to see him and not come face to face with the bear he mentioned earlier. As it turns out, the ledge Matt fell off was one overlooking both routes and before the tumble he watched the bear climb through the wooded route B. I’d hope I’d be alright but to this day, I’d rather not think about a scenario where I ended up choosing the wrong route. Again, another super fun story to tell in hindsight, but terrifying to live through.

The takeaway? The earlier in life you face fire and conquer fears the faster the world will open up to you. These experiences give me a world of confidence in day-to-day life. Here’s an example, take a common situation like being intimidated by your boss. This is rather futile when you compare it with the experience of fearing for your life next to an apex predator. Experience has almost always made my lens a little clearer.

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After a staggering 11,000 miles on the road, 200 miles hiked in just 50 days the scouts had done it! With their curious minds satisfied and hearts full, they set out in a big red van to explore North America in search of the most scenic vistas the continent has to offer. There are a million excuses the boys could have come up with, but they chose to pick from a deck full of opportunity that held little regret. To capture and experience the raw essence of the wild was what this trip was all about. From the towering cliffside site seeker vista to an unknown dreamy remote campsite, no matter how early or late or how many miles were ahead of them, no challenge was too great. To truly triumph one must put it all on the line. They left their fears behind and picked up the unforseen lessons and virtues along the way. Explore the North was over but their bags were more full than when they began.

So… in summary, what did Explore the North teach you guys?

Nick

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It seems like it takes people years to figure out how to live in the moment and to finally be at peace. You know how a lot of people overthink their every move? Well.. this trip showed me that I didn’t have to wait for that feeling. It showed me that I could massively mess up in life, and if all I was stuck with was a couple thousand dollars and a van, I’d be stoked to get after it. It’s really powerful when you know your worst option could be better than your easiest or most obvious option.

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