A group of Alaska kayakers bound for the most southern reaches of South America arrived in Oyster River this past week bearing a message for all British Columbians: Protect a precious way of life on your coast; keep the oil tankers at bay.
In June, the group of 12 Juneau friends embarked on the experience of a lifetime, a 14,000 kilometre expedition modestly dubbed “A Trip South” that will take them to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina, sometime in 2014.
The adventurers, aboard ocean-going craft designed and built by Seaward Kayaks in Chemainus, have visited several remote settlements on their journey down the B.C. coast and through the Inside Passage.
Expedition organizer Chris Hinkley, a 23-year-old mechanical engineer, says when he left Juneau the proposed Enbridge pipeline and the threat of oil tanker traffic on the coast was “on the back burner of my brain.”
Then, in narrow Grenville Channel, the expedition bumped into a retired engineer touring coastal settlements by boat. It was Brian Gunn of Campbell River, president of the BC Wilderness Tourism Association. He raised the Enbridge alarm and that really got the attention of the kayakers.
“The underlying focus of our trip is documenting interesting communities and the rich connections between people and their places throughout the Pacific Coast,” Hinkley says. “We are not a group of environmentalists out to document the pipeline fight, but we encountered so much passion we want to share it.”
When they reached Hartley Bay they realized something “special” was happening.
In Hartley Bay, at the mouth of Douglas Channel about 80 kilometres southwest of Kitimat where a proposed shipping terminal will load Enbridge crude, the kayakers met Gitga’at councillor Cameron Hill.
“All of a sudden we realized this is an issue we have to talk about. Cameron has such a deep connection with his history, but he is also very knowledgeable about the modern world and understands how the whole pipeline issue came about and what the political game is all about.
“Hartley Bay is a place where stories matter, where children know how to smoke fish and love the taste of oolichan oil. This is a place where roads are made from wooden planks and grocery stores do not exist. Whether time here is spent filleting fish or harvesting seaweed, an appreciation is born in the process.
“I believe that somewhere deep in every human lies a craving to connect to the natural world. Hartley Bay embodies this connection. Its residents respect the resources that sustain their lives.
“As we continue our journey south, Cameron’s final thoughts have continued to resonate with me,” Hinkley says. “He told us: ‘There is no other way to say it, if the pipeline goes through, our way of life is dead.’”
Today, the kayakers are back on the water and headed for Chemainus where they will return their “borrowed” kayaks to Seaward Kayaks. Five of the original 12 adventurers will climb on bicycles for the trip through the U.S., Mexico and Central and South America.
Roads permitting, they plan to follow the Pacific Ocean as they head toward the southern hemisphere with the end goal being Tierra Del Fuego. “Our timeline and planned routes are very tentative because our focus is the adventure itself rather than the destination,” Hinkley says.
“Maybe we’ll even get to Antarctica.”
Follow the journey online at www.atripsouth.com