5,000km on One Wheel for Climate Action! That's the journey Joseph Boutilier will be making across Canada during the Unity for the Climate campaign. Please view the full website or update your web browser for a better experience. Click here to do so.

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Jul 14 '14

Joseph Boutilier is unicycling 5,000km from Victoria BC to Ottawa, Ontario to call on the Canadian government to take action on climate change, respect First Nations treaty and inherent land rights and end the muzzling of publicly-funded scientists. He is currently in Manitoba. This video recounts the first 37 days of the journey, from the west coast over the Cascade and Rocky Mountains of British Columbia to the Alberta border.

Jun 8 '14
May 14 '14
Apr 28 '14

Quick Recap: Days 11-20

Continued from my recap of the First 10 Days.

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The bustling main-drag of Hedley BC.

After a good rest and reorganization in Princeton, it was time to hit the road again, easing myself back into the routine with a quick jaunt to Hedley. Hedley appeared empty and asleep, dwarfed by desolate cliffs gleaming in the afternoon sun, watched by the ghosts of the retired Mascot Gold Mine precariously perched above. The tourist info centre, museum, café and gift shop along the highway were equally empty. The diner/convenience store/gas station – impressively operated by a single employee – was, however, open. There, I was directed further down an unassuming street where the real heart of Hedley lived. A stranger outside the local senior’s centre encouraged me to check out the local hostel and offered the centre’s services as a backup. The general store further down the street served as the front desk for the hostel, from where its owner-operator was called to meet me outside. The store and the hostel, plus a restaurant across the road, were located in restored heritage buildings that maintained the town’s timeless character. Judy showed me around the comfortable hostel where, as the sole occupant, I had private access to a full kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and laundry facilities for some $30. Next best thing to billeting. I trekked back to the general store for a dinner of canned soup with a fresh pastry and fruit for desert (I won’t mention the potato chips), and hid indoors planning the next few days as rainfall exaggerated the vibrant hues of the town outside.

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I had the Hedley Inn _ Hostel all to myself.

The mountains opened up while the same rustic, timelessness carried on through the fields of Keremeos the next day. The plethora of fresh fruit stands were sadly closed for the season on the outskirts of the ‘organic capital of Canada’ but the shops downtown were lively as ever. After riding around the block a local asked me what I was looking for. “Coffee,” of course, and I was directed to ‘Emmy’s Bakery’ (Crowsnest Bakery to strangers). Inside, Emmy already knew who I was. She gave me a free breakfast wrap and a coffee while we chatted about my trip before she phoned up the local press and town mayor, who later popped in for a quick visit. I also chatted with the past mayor and other locals to whom Emmy graciously introduced me. When the bakery finally closed I explored the town for the remainder of daylight before gnawing down a veggie burger at the local greasy spoon. I was kindly provided accommodations by the local Pastor, Jason Keibe, in the classic church on the edge of town. Jason and his family invited me into their own home for a warm breakfast the next morning before I set off for Osoyoos.

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The scenic route to Osoyoos: it doesn’t look windy, but it was!

I arrived in Osoyoos in time for a meeting at the Wander Café, arranged last-minute with Lisa, an employee of MP Alex Atamanenko (in Ottawa at the time) and Osoyoos Times reporter Richard, who wrote up a great piece on my journey so far. Lisa and Richard also provided insight on the local political climate and environmental challenges, including battles over the proposed South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park. Coming into Osoyoos I had seen a series of ‘No Park’ signs, suggesting vitriol opposition to the proposal. In fact, recent feasibility studies had demonstrated majority support for the project, which would boost tourism and recreation opportunities while maintaining compatibility with the time-honoured ranching and agricultural traditions of the region. The debate was – like climate change, and many other environmental battles – an example of how a small minority can strategically exaggerate the proportion of opposition with disastrous effects. The crisp, barren landscape of stunning geological features and the many rare ecosystems it supports remains unprotected; the provincial government sided with the vocal minority against the project in 2012, triggering Parks Canada to abandon its plan.

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The famous Spotted Lake northwest of Osoyoos. Unfortunately other environmental rarities in the region aren’t as well-protected.

I had also made last-minute arrangements to meet with another party in Osoyoos; an impromptu family support team. My grandma Enid and uncle Patrick (who also built the amazing aluminum cases on my uni) were coming from Victoria, and my beautiful girlfriend Silvey was in tow (who very bravely and graciously let me leave on this crazy trip just 11 months into our relationship). It was arranged that Pat (an avid cycling enthusiastic, currently training for his first triathlon after conquering a recent marathon) would ride along through the infamous Anarchist summit and into Grand Forks. Grandma and Silvey would follow and make arrangements in each community ahead of our arrival. The whole scheme was a very pleasant surprise for almost all involved (thanks to Pat’s quick planning). Being the Easter long weekend, I was advised to find a motel for myself and my new comrades sooner rather than later, and ended up at the Avalon Inn on the west side of town, where the others soon caught up.

We spent the evening making failed attempts to find somewhere to stay in the off-season between Osoyoos and Midway some 70 kilometres away (twice my estimated daily average). I had planned on camping in Johnstone Creek Provincial Park or ask for a backyard in Bridesville, but with my newly brandished support team it was decided that Pat and I would accept a ride ahead to Midway and back the next morning, allowing us to go as far as we could muster on Saturday (day 14, April 19). With the day’s gear strapped to Pat’s 2-wheeler, my uni felt (comparatively) light as a feather. After the initial shock of riding without the extra 60lbs (and consequent learning curve), I was able to establish a breezy 11km/hr average up the hill out of Osoyoos. The climb up Anarchist mountain was more gradual than I had anticipated, and a few of the switchbacks were level, providing rest opportunities without the usual struggle of remounting on a steep grade (although this, too, was less of a worry with Pat acting as optional launch-support). Pat, being the good sport he is, locked his bike in a low gear to simulate the same pedal rotations as me, going so far as to brake and pedal on the down-hills. Despite the climb, we arrived in Rock Creek well before sundown. Stopping in the local gas station, a few employees offered us their yard as a safe spot to leave our cycles for the night before catching a ride into Midway. Here, we also met the most demanding sheep ever and a stoic guard-pony who apparently protected it from cougars.

At the recommendation of a local in Midway, we stopped for dinner at the Bored Room Bistro where owners RJ and Tom were excited to hear about the journey and help me connect with the local reporter (also a Pat). The Bored Room Bistro, besides offering delicious pizza, doubles as a brunch buffet on Sundays; hearing about the incredible array of hot platters, soups, fruit platters and fresh salads included in the bargain buffet we agreed to schedule the next days’ trek around its 11am opening. Not only was the buffet predictably delicious but RJ and Tom insisted on making a generous donation when we stopped in the next morning. A scheduled radio interview on the other side of town with Alex Smith – host of the acclaimed EcoShock radio program dedicated to environmental issues – gave me an excuse to see more of Midway. The quiet town is exceptionally green and inviting, with bike lanes running from the Kettle Valley trail to a gorgeous riverside park and municipal campground at the heart of town. It was an honour to talk with Alex, whose inspiring radio program I listened to frequently in the lead-up to my journey. Joining up with Pat again, we followed up our 20k from Rock Creek to Midway with another 14 klicks to Greenwood.

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Silvey shows no fear encroaching on the perch of the menacing, majestic Phoenix that guards Greenwood.

At one point, a leading BC city complete with a booming red-light district and 2000-seat opera house, today Greenwood is a quiet tourist stop with many historic storefronts sadly empty. The Darkwood café on the West edge was an eclectic, welcoming spot for the day’s coffee, while a motel on the Eastern border served as our HQ for the night. The windy Crowsnest led us another 45km to Grand Forks the next day, where Trish and Andrew of the Imperial Motel offered me a deal to stay for an undetermined amount of time while waiting for the frigid flurries of the Paulson Summit to dissipate. The family squad remained for another day of local exploration – perusing the charming Boundary museum with its rich array of mining-era artifacts and Doukhobor cultural heritage and spotting pheasants on the twisty Hardy Mountain Road – before tearful goodbyes on Tuesday morning.

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This bridge, just east of Greenwood, carried vehicle traffic under the Kettle Valley railway line until the ’80s.

Over the first two weeks I had found myself almost a week ahead of schedule – largely because I took the Crowsnest instead of the Coquihalla from Hope. I had planned to whittle away this extra time in Grand Forks before an expected sunny break on the 5000-feet Paulson summit the following Wednesday. That plan was thrown into uncertainty with a message from a fellow unicyclist from Victoria. Cam was eager to join me for the ‘Bonanza Pass’ but was only available for the next 3 days. Welcoming the extra company, I invited him to meet up the next morning in Grand Forks and join me in tackling some fresh mountain snow. Cam literally bought his first 29” uni on the way through Vancouver, but as a 6-year veteran of one-wheeled transport, instantly put me to shame when he showed up, deftly mounting, idling and hopping around the parking lot of the Imperial Motel. After packing, we took a short ride north to Christina to give us more time to tackle the Paulson on Thursday. 

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The City Hall at Grand Forks: Undergoing repairs after an internal fire.

We started on the beautiful Columbia and Western Railway Trail, but as the pavement faded into narrow tracks of gravel, my limited off-road skills were quickly tested. After a couple awkward bails and false starts, I dragged us to the highway. Our pace quickened, and we arrived at the landmark Living Arts Centre in the heart of Christina just in time for a dinner of hot soup, quinoa salad and a bell-pepper burger. The Living Arts Centre is a model of low-impact construction, complete with LEED certification and its own Solar Aquatics System with extra capacity for RVs in the tourist season. Our choice of stop was one of great fortune; not only was the centre impressive, and not only was it open because it happened to be Open Mic night, but it was also the only establishment open in town.

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Cam, Bob and I stand in front of Wildways Adventure Tours in Christina Lake. Bob equipped my uni with a knobby tire in preparation for the snow ahead.

The friendly crowd took well to our eccentric method of transportation and the climate cause. Within minutes we’d received multiple billeting offers. Someone dedicated a karaoke song to me while Cam gave impromptu unicycle lessons in the parking lot. We also happened across Bob and Lucinda Dupee in the attached gallery; Bob had emailed me the day earlier to offer a bed for the night. Operators of Wildways Adventure Tourism, a local outfit offering everything from boat and bike rentals and sales to specialized tours, Bob and Lucinda really went above and beyond.

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Cam chases me down outside of Grand Forks. He put me to shame on just his second day with a 29” uni.

The couple offered us beds for the night, and a hearty breakfast the next morning, when Cam reminded me that it was my birthday. I had willingly forgotten it was my 24th, although the day to come would hardly make me feel any younger. After breakfast, Bob loaded up my uni and took me to his shop where he presented me with my first birthday gift: a mountain bike tire for the snowy Paulson pass. Installing the tire revealed some unexpected challenges; the custom aluminum boxes on my uni left mere millimeters between the current slick road tire and the bolts securing the support rods for the luggage, plus the bottom of the front case itself. With Bob’s help changing bolts, bending out support joiners and carving in the centre wheel well of the front case, the uni was finally reborn as a Kenda-sporting, snow-ready beast…that I could hardly ride. After a few minutes of awkward practice, we finally set off for the summit just after noon.

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Cam and I pose at the first sight of snow. Just a hint of what was to come.

The trek was long and increasingly cold, but the snow stayed in the sky and off the road. As a former Highways employee, Cam knew what to expect, but both of us opted to walk part way as the grade continued relentlessly. As not only a uni rider, but also a fellow electric-car and eco-politico enthusiast, we had no shortage of fodder for chit chat on the long road west, although we were kept apart by the necessary buffer to safely weave and wobble through the gravel-coated shoulders. Bob had given us a heads-up about several potential shelters lining ski and hiking trails near the summit, one of which served as a welcome alternative to tent camping. Cam made soup out of packed tomatoes and sardines and I offered the side salad (avocado) and desert (apple). As we dined by the fire, the flurries intensified, promising a veritable winter wonderland in the frigid morning to come.

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To be continued…

- Joseph