Kayakers seek help to document upcoming journey

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With paddling gear assembled, course plotted and meals for four months in steady rotation through the food dehydrator, two Salt Spring women are nearly ready for a kayak trip of 1,300 nautical miles that will take them to Glacier Bay, Alaska.

Leonie Mahlke, a biologist and conservationist, and Rebecca Grim, an adventurer and outdoors advocate, will launch their Paddling North expedition through the Inside Passage on May 19. Most of their preparations are now complete, but a final step is raising the funds to purchase the recording gear necessary to document the trip.

While their own adventure will be part of that story, another important aspect is hearing from people who are working to protect the Inside Passage ecosystem. The eventual film will raise awareness of environmental injustices affecting ecosystems, wildlife and coastal communities through the eyes of those at the forefront.

When Mahlke and Grim first started intensive planning for the trip last November, they had a broader documentary approach in mind. Since then they have decided to focus in on inspiring women.

“These are conservationists, scientists, activists and fisherwomen. We are going to meet and interview them along our route, talk about their tremendously important work and the environmental injustices that are currently taking place along the coast of B.C. and Southeast Alaska,” Mahlke explained.

Some examples of the interviews they have lined up include Jackie Hildering of Marine Education and Research Society in Port McNeill and Heather Forbes from Salmon Coast Field Station in the Broughton Archipelago.

The Paddling North project has been fortunate to secure sponsorship and donations for things like dry suits, hammocks, dry bags, tarps and a solar charger, while the women have purchased personal safety equipment and a satellite communicator. Another interesting piece of gear comes through a company called Go Girl, which makes “female urination products” such as a funnel that can be used in the boat or in a tent, for example.

“They were really excited about our trip and we’ve become an ambassador for them,” Grim said.

“It takes some practice. I think it will come in handy, though,” Mahlke added.

Unlike some paddlers who take advantage of their low profile to go where they please, Grim and Mahlke will be contacting all the First Nations groups whose territory they will pass through to make sure it’s okay to camp there. The last months of preparation have also included lots of training, improving kayaking strokes and perfecting rescue drills.

“We made sure we knew how to put a dislocated shoulder back in place and also how to put a person who’s unconscious back into a kayak,” Grim said, hinting at some of the potential dangers of such a trip.

Anyone who would like to contribute to the project can do so via the GoFundMe page.

Mahlke and Grim are also inviting paddlers and anyone else in the community to send them off on Saturday, May 19. Their plan is to be at Southey Point at the end of Arbutus Road at 9 a.m. and to leave at 10.

“It would be cool to go out with a big group with whoever wants to come with us,” Mahlke said.

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