Monthly Archives: January 2018

Story Untold: “The Arctic is Melting Twice as Fast as Anywhere on Earth”

Kevin Vallely on Story Untold

Photo from kevinvallely.com.

Kevin Vallely remembers well when he first felt the call of the Arctic. As a child growing up in Montreal, the architect and adventurer’s father would regale him with stories of working as a radio operator in northern Labrador.

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“It was just a brutal, harsh place, yet strangely enticing and magnificent as well,” says Vallely. “He talked about how lonely, and quiet, and desolate it was. It intrigued me: this place that is part of our country, yet so completely out there and inhospitable. It just painted a scene of something so adventurous and unique.”

He would get his first experience with the Far North in 2000, strapping on a pair of skis to traverse Alaska’s Iditarod Trail. Competing in the first ever Iditasport Impossible — described by Nerve Rush as “the Ironman’s badass uncle who did a tour in Vietnam and went back for vacation” — Vallely and his companions travelled over 1,000 frozen miles from Knik to Nome.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into at all,” he laughs. “I mean, the banner across the start line — their motto for this race was ‘Where cowards won’t show and the weak will die.’”

Vallely completed the race, and three years later, he was back: this time, riding a bicycle from Dawson City, Yukon to Nome, Alaska. Over the ensuing years, the Vancouver-based adventurer would embark on over a dozen expeditions around the world, becoming a World Record-holder for his trek to the South Pole and earning the title of one of Canada’s leading adventurers by the Globe and Mail.

Still, one elusive ‘first’ remained: traversing the Northwest Passage under human power. Vallely had first entertained thoughts of the crossing twenty years ago, while swapping stories with a friend.

“Traversing the Northwest Passage solely under human power in a single season was something that no-one had ever even come close to achieving,” says Vallely. “At the time, we both laughed and said it’s impossible.”

The melting sea ice gave him an opening, and a purpose: If Vallely and his fellow expeditioners could row the Northwest Passage unimpeded, perhaps they could draw attention to the urgency of global warming. Along with three other adventurers — two Irishmen and a fellow Canadian — Vallely set off in 2013 in a custom ocean rowing boat, intent on completing the crossing in a single season. The story has become Vallely’s first book, Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea.

“It’s the classic canary in the coalmine. The Arctic is melting twice as fast as anywhere on Earth,” says Vallely. “I don’t think we realize how profoundly [things] will change … We need to do something about it.”


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Story Untold: “All Travellers Are Freaks, Really”

Chris Urquhart on Story Untold

Photo of Chris Urquhart by Alex Berceanu.

Few have captured the experience of life on the road as Chris Urquhart has — not the family vacation kind, but the dumpster-diving, punk house-squatting kind. At age 22, Urquhart, the author of Dirty Kids: Chasing Freedom with America’s Nomads, set out to follow young, often homeless, teen and twenty-something travellers across the United States.

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A student at McGill University at the time, Urquhart and Kitra Cahana, a photographer friend, were on assignment for the Italian magazine COLORS, profiling the young nomads who congregate at Rainbow Gatherings across North America — setting up camp en masse in U.S. National Forests for a festival of hippies, punks, runaways, and vagabonds. Over the course of a week or more, as many as 30,000 people attend Gatherings, complete with camp kitchens, jam sessions, and sanitation systems — set-up and torn down to leave no trace behind.

“What I was really interested in with Rainbow was that a community could get together […] They had this whole society, right? And it was all free,” says Urquhart.

“I was completely overwhelmed when I first entered Rainbowland […] Everyone was screaming how much they loved each other; there were naked people everywhere; there was a topless woman riding a horse with a baby in a sling… there’s just all this crazy stuff happening, and I was like, Wow, this is great.”

“I hadn’t encountered people living so rebelliously, so openly, so chaotically and sustainably. It was really such an inspiration.” – Chris Urquhart

Enthralled with the community they’d found amongst the runaways at Rainbowland — “we kind of met on a friendship level and and just went from there,” says Urquhart — the Toronto-based author continued following their stories, through Burning Man festivals, Ann Arbor’s Punk Week, New York City’s nightlife, and post-Katrina New Orleans. Along the way, Urquhart slept in treehouses and on forest floors, packed like a sardine in punk houses and flea-bitten on public beaches — all the while, gathering stories from the penniless young travellers who lived this life sometimes by choice, but often by circumstance.

“A lot of the people that I ended up living and traveling with, and interviewing, were queer and LGBTQ-identified, as I am. And a lot of them were quote-unquote ‘hitting the road,’ not because [they wanted to], but basically because they had been kicked out of their family,” says Urquhart.

“People will yell at you; people will spit on you. People will also take you out for dinner and buy you things. It’s luck of the draw, really. But a lot of people take their anger out on transients, or people they see as homeless, just because it so threatens them — they’re so unhappy, and they see these people pursuing whatever they’re pursuing.”

In Dirty Kids, Urquhart delves into the lives of these transients, sharing their stories and reflecting on how the road has changed her own life:

“I hadn’t encountered people living so rebelliously, so openly, so chaotically and sustainably. It was really such an inspiration […] They’re joyous, and they’ve made another life for themselves out of crap.”


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