Words by John Muirhead
Photography by John Muirhead, Jasper Snow Rosen and Tamo Campos
Illustration by Megan Palmer

With globalised industry moving full tilt ahead on the planet, it’s hard to imagine things evolving with the speed required to create change in the time needed. Energy from oil and the extraction of deteriorating natural resources seem to be deeply ingrained into the fabric of the modern way of life. A few friends who share a love for the natural world, and the kicks it provides through surfing and snowboarding, decided to go on an epic journey in their home country of Canada to explore the effects of expanding industry in their own backyard. The wheels of a converted waste veggie oil bus took them to places not many venture, and left them with a new found perspective and respect for the ingenious people of the land, their way of life and the threats that face land, resources and stoke.

[G]o to School. Get a good job. Buy a house. Stoked? This routine that we’re told is the road to a successful life may bring some people happiness, but I want to be happy right now. There’s a mindset that says, “I’ll be happy when I finally get everything I want,” but can you not find that feeling today? Three buddies living in a school bus proved you don’t need 3 cars and a mansion to be living it up. Since spending the last 6 months cruising around British Columbia on virtually empty bank accounts, we’ve come to realise that you don’t need a whole lot, to be loving life.

Between 3 hair-tangled brains, an idea sprouted to ‘camperise’ an old short bus, and go traveling in our own backyards. Usually when the wanderlust calls, we head south towards tropical waters. As intriguing as board shorts and cheap beer are, with so many industrial projects being proposed in the wild place we call home, the crew felt an urgency to bring awareness to what was going on here. There are many industries, largely foreign owned, that pose great risks to the very wilderness that keeps our fires burning as surfers and snowboarders. We wanted to live out solutions to the environmental problems we are facing today, so running the bus on used veggie oil was an obvious choice. Burning vegetable oil is a carbon neutral process, because when the plant grew, it sequestered carbon from the atmosphere. When you burn it, that CO2 is released. With fossil fuels, that carbon has been in storage for millions of years, and burnt so quickly, that it isn’t easily renewed. The original diesel engine was designed to run on peanut oil, so any diesel can be converted over. It requires a pretty basic kit, including another filter, tank, and a switch. Our gas station became any restaurant that was willing to give us their used fryer oil, which a lot of places throw in the garbage. It’s pretty fun rocking up to an eatery and asking if we can pump their grease to power our bus. It’s a rewarding feeling knowing you’re not directly supporting oil/gas corporations and projects, not to mention fueling up your massive home on wheels for free! We managed to drive about 18,000 km, only requiring about 4 tanks of diesel for the warm up/warm down process. I don’t think veggie oil is the solution to the world’s dependency on fossil fuels, but it’s a start. I have a hard time believing that we should grow food to power our vehicles, but this process is using a waste product. It’s also opened my mind to the potential for alternative fuels, which rarely seem to be promoted. This was the perfect way to make this trip a reality, because it really did fit the budget.

With such meagre funds, going out for a meal was a distant dream, and beers were never even considered an option. But as the trip went on, we began to miss those conveniences less and less. Fishing/foraging was a go whenever possible, and free hookups from local bakeries and people that were stoked on our trip were a regular occurrence. Catching a meal from the ocean, or just harvesting some mussels off the rocks for the fire, has got to be one of the most rewarding feasts you’ll ever have. Many surf sessions followed by some fresh cod, or mussel soup were some of the most memorable feeds of my life. In a way, not having the money to be able to hit the easy button all the time was actually pretty fun. In some cases, living simple and cheaply, could mean not having to work a job you might not like, just to feed your lifestyle. We’re also pretty lucky to be able to find happiness in something that is provided for free. Nature. We found pure enjoyment out of hiking through Old Growth forests, and coming across massive trees that have stood in the same spot for well over 500 years. Equally as content just to post up on the beach, in places with no sign of human landscaping. The 3 of us are also thankful to have parents that brought us up to appreciate the beauty and experience of spending time in the wilderness, something that should not have a price tag associated with it.

We were privileged to visit a place that was truly the wildest, untouched, intact eco-system I’ve ever spent time around. In the Northwest corner of BC, near the small town of Iskut, lies an area known to the locals as Klabona, or “The Sacred Headwaters.” A system of mountains and valleys, where 3 of the most important salmon bearing rivers in North America are born, The Skeena, Stikine, and the Nass. This area was also recently recognised as one of the greatest climate sanctuaries on the planet, meaning it’s more resistant to climate change due to the large expanse of undeveloped land, and balanced system. The Tahltan First Nations have been living on this land for time immemorial. We were welcomed into their camp at the base of mount Klappan, a spot they come every summer to stock up on meat for the winter, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. This wasn’t your average camping trip with the boys. We were fed wild meat 3 meals a day, something we were not used to, as well as taking part in hunting and cleaning the meat.

It was actually pretty amazing, especially coming from trying to eat ethically sourced meat as much as possible, it doesn’t get much better than this. You really felt a connection to the land, and what you’re living off of, when you see the whole process. Seeing an animal in its element, to cooking up on the fire an hour later, was a very rewarding experience. We were told stories of respecting animals, and treating them well because it’s feeding you. They used as much of the animal as possible, and we even took part in cleaning a moose hide that would later be made into moccasins. It was unreal to see the traditional ways these people have been thriving sustainably off what the earth provides. The craziest part of this whole endeavour was that a mining company has permits for an open-pit coal mine right behind the camp. Fortune Minerals, (not a domestic company) was in the process of their environmental assessment, drilling for samples and leaching toxins into streams. Their plans would compromise this entire valley, due to the construction of a railroad that would blast its way through to the coast for export.

A few workers proceeded to pack up, and after 2 days of holding it down out front, we got word that Fortune was packing up for the season. Their plans fell a month short. It was inspirational to see people standing up for their land at all costs.

The mine would only be in operation for 25 years, and this place would never be the same. The locals tried to be civil and tell them peacefully to leave, and that they did not have consent to be here. Fortune decided to keep working. After a few weeks of frustrating meetings, not much was resolved. At this point, it was decided taking action was the best option. We assembled a crew, young and old, and marched through the tall grasses of Klappan Valley, and surrounded their first drill. Under the Mining Act of BC, they couldn’t safely work with people that close to the drill. The helicopter was called, and their workers packed up for the day. The following night, the second drill was shut down. After 2 weeks of camping out at these spots, further action was necessary to fully put a halt to their plans. We proceeded to setup a wall tent at the entrance to their camp, and posted up, got the fire burning and got the guitars out. It was said that they had a one-way ticket out of camp, and no one is to return upon departure. A few workers proceeded to pack up, and after 2 days of holding it down out front, we got word that Fortune was packing up for the season. Their plans fell a month short. It was inspirational to see people standing up for their land at all costs. Some of them were losing their jobs to be up there defending the land, so that their children and grandchildren could see it how it is now, sacred.

Setting out on the mission, we knew we were going see some epic wilderness, as well as witness some of that wilderness being destroyed for ‘development.’ What we didn’t realise was the size and scale of these proposed projects, and the negative effects they are having on communities and people. There are about 13 known proposed pipelines to the coast of BC, coming from Alberta’s oil fields and northern BC’s gas fields. The plans plow directly through First Nations territories, and these companies have not received consent from most of the people of BC. Let’s not forget that these projects revolve around sending off fossil fuels to be burned overseas, largely benefiting these huge oil/gas companies. This is the only industry that gets away with polluting for free. No one is taxing them on smokestack emissions, or the detrimental effects that burning their products has on the planet.

As we hung out more in these small boomtowns, it became very apparent that these industries aren’t just hurting the natural world, it’s affecting a lot of people’s lives as well. We learnt about crime rates rising rapidly, poverty and drug abuse that can be directly associated with an influx of temporary workers with large disposable incomes. Also, the fact that going out to a remote ATCO trailer camp for weeks at a time can have serious effects on one’s social and family life. There’s no reason jobs should have to be like that, and we’re tying Canada’s economy to be based around these finite resources. I can’t blame people for using these products, because it seems like it’s the only option for us, and we’re told, “if you’re against oil, you’re against everything around you.” No, that means I’m against pollution, ecocide, the social repercussions that come along with these industries, and climate change. I want to see our government address these issues, and work towards the solutions, because I know there are a lot out there. Right now, all we’re hearing is ‘job creation’, ‘economy’, and ‘prosperity’, but is it really all that simple?

Being on this journey, and knowing how fulfilling your days can be without whopping pay checks, has made me re-think the definition of success. I think success should be measured in happiness, reward, and the conservation of the very things that make that possible.

To follow the Beyond Boarding crew and check out their film Northern Grease be sure to  head to www.beyondboarding.org. Check out the more of Megan’s illustrated magic here.