When asked if he would recommend a two-month outdoor adventure to serve as a father-son bonding opportunity, Steven Faulkner said no way. 

Steven and Justin Faulkner on their 1996 canoe trip. Courtesy of Steven Faulkner

But that’s exactly what Faulkner and his then 16-year-old son accomplished in 1996. 

“It was a trip that no one in his right mind would attempt. Yet we survived it and accomplished something that Justin and I are both proud of.” 

The pair embarked on a 1,000-mile canoe trip in the spring and summer of 1996 that retraced the discovery route of Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. Just like the 17th-century French voyagers, the Faulkners began at St. Ignace, an early French mission in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They ended 62 days later in St. Louis, Mo. 

Steven detailed their journey in a 2007 book titled “Waterwalk”(RDR Books, $18.95), which has been recently made into an independent film by the same title. “Waterwalk” is currently being shown in theaters throughout the Midwest. 

Growing closer

“I was a 46-year-old father (at the time) who was too busy in my life to spend time with my son,” Steven told OSV. “However, over the course of a 1,000 miles of hard paddling I drew closer to my son. I believe we have a better relationship now than ever before.” 

Justin, now 32 and married with two daughters, agreed he and his father grew closer during the journey. 

“I’ve learned that my dad is tough and a man who loves a challenge. Most importantly he is man who loves his family tremendously and is willing to do almost anything for them,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. 

In two months, the duo averaged around 15 miles a day. Some days on the water were more harrowing than others. 

“The most dreadful and life-threatening event happened near Appleton, Wis.,” said Steven, who teaches creative writing at Longwood University in southern Virginia. “We capsized and came within seconds of getting washed over the dam. We lost the canoe and much of our supplies over the dam. But thanks to the help of some local reporters we were able to retrieve the canoe and most of our supplies.” 

Mass encounters

On a positive note, the father and son team were struck by the numerous good-hearted people that they met along the way. There was a man who gave the two help with their canoe as they were trying to portage, and the couple in Montello, Wis., who insisted they sleep at their home for the night. 

One of the bonuses of the trip was being able to experience Sunday Mass in small towns along their water route. “I was pleased to note just how Catholic, how universal our faith is. Good people are gathered together every week up and down the rivers and lakes, not just for song and sermon but to worship and receive the Son of God in ways that are mysterious and profound,” he said. 

Producer Roger Rapoport told OSV the movie was shot in five Midwest states, took 40 days to film and included 40 actors and more than 200 extras. Veteran Hollywood actor Robert Cicchini plays Steven.  

“This was a movie that would be hard for a big studio to make because there were over 50 locations including many in remote areas that couldn’t accommodate a big film crew,” Rapoport said.

Movie’s messages

Steven noted that one aspect of the film is that it demonstrates the determination of those early explorers. 

“The early voyagers were not only brave men, but they were incredibly strong and determined,” he said. “They launched their canoes into unknown territory without maps.” 

He added that “Waterwalk” has another message or two. 

“It’s a father and son story. As well, it is a modern exploration of the quiet waterways that weave their way through busy, rush-around America, and a voyage through the heart of a father and son friendship.” 

Eddie O’Neill writes from Wisconsin.