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PUBLISHED: 4:16 PM on Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Couple walks, paddles, skis across Pacific Northwest
Trekking for truth
Trekking 4,000 miles during the course of nine months is not an easy task, especially when the rules include no motorized transportation. That's exactly what Erin McKittrick, 27, and Bretwood "Hig" Higman, 30, are doing. Their trip started June 9, where they left Seattle, and will end once they've reached False Pass.

The couple, who are making the trip by foot, packraft and skis, are exploring environmental issues of the region, including salmon, forests, resource extraction and global warming.

"It's all about connections and change, as well. How things are linked and how things change," McKittrick said. "We started in urban Seattle and are here now and seeing how the seasons change and the ecosystem changes - that's definitely one of the things in doing a trip of this length."

While the couple has gone on similar trips lasting a few months, mostly in South Central Alaska, they have never embarked on a journey spanning so much mileage.


Photo courtesy of Ground Truth Trekking
  Erin McKittrick makes her way through the woods in Southeast Alaska. McKittrick and her husband Bretwood Higman started their journey in Seattle and are walking, packrafting and skiing their way to the Aleutian Islands.
"It was in conjunction of three things. One thing was being able to get away for nine months, which is not obvious. The other thing was just our love of doing these kind of trips. The third thing was finding a mission that would give it a purpose other than a vacation for us," McKittrick said.

"This whole Pacific coast is just an interesting place with hot issues that tie together over two countries and three provinces and states - Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. So that's how it all came together. There was a huge flurry of logistics and then we finally managed to set off just when we thought we would."

The couple, who married in 2003, spent a year preparing for the trip. Higman finished his doctoral degree in geology while McKittrick made plans for the trip. Some items and gear for the trip are being mailed to stops along, but food is obtained along the way.

"Because the trip was so immense, we decided that we were just going to go and get what we get. So we get to a town and go to the grocery store and we look for food that doesn't have much water in it - butter, oats, pasta, cookies," Higman said.

A favorite is "buttery goodness," made by mixing oats, butter and sugar.


Photo courtesy of Ground Truth Trekking
  For more photos or to read about the trip, go online to www.groundtruthtrekking.org.
"Here in Southeast finding good hasn't been a problem. There were places in BC where we got to a village and the things they have in the tiny grocery store are potato chips and O'Henry bars. We had to scramble and buy some food off of a guy in town. We went through his pantry," McKittrick said.

The plan a route for the trip, the couple used electric and topographic maps.

"We were just peering at it figuring out where to go and planning the trip and then we get out there and do something completely different because inevitably we either faster or slower than we think," McKittrick said.

They have walked and used a packraft on the trip and plan to use skis once they reach Valdez, McKittrick said.

"We're going to pick up the skis in the mail. Things that we only need seasonally we're not dragging through the forest. That would have been really hard. We'll be getting down sleeping bags and things like that," Higman said. "We'll keep the rafts the whole way because they're sleds too, so we'll keep them behind us as we're skiing. We'll need them even if rivers are frozen to cross bays."

And while the trip is planned extensively, the couple said they talk with many people who are skeptical of their mission.

"One of the things that being here in Southeast Alaska is people say, 'You're doing that this season.' We're here in the fall so more and more we're having to deal with the weather. We run into people with big fishing boats who think we're nuts. Then we run into people who give us shopping bags full of crab. We do run into fishermen who are great to talk to and who can tell us who can give us local tips. We try to be really careful but it's something we have to use all the flexibility we have to use the packrafts and stuff because sometimes there are not many options," McKittrick said.

While talking with locals to get an idea of what the region is like, sometimes it can be difficult.

"You have people who look at you, and you can tell just when they look at you they think you're going to die. I mean, that's not a good feeling. We've thought through all of these things and there are risks certainly, we've figured out ways to reduce the risks where possible and be comfortable with the risks that are unavoidable," Higman said. "It is really different to run into people who think you're completely insane and you're going to die. We have a lot of experience with stuff, and you don't know what it's like to actually be in a packraft. You're in a giant boat, it's a very different thing. Different hazards."


Photo courtesy of Ground Truth Trekking
  Bretwood "Hig" Higman take a moment to cook something to eat along the trail. Erin McKittrick
Although camping when in the wilderness, the couple has been able to finding shelter in many of the towns they visit. They said many people have heard about their adventure online at their Web site, www.groundtrutchtrekking.org, where they post a blog and photos of their trip.

"One thing that's really cool about Southeast that we didn't get as much in Canada is that staying with people makes the towns feel more real to me. You could just stay at a hostel or hotel or camp out and just visit the grocery store, but you don't get that sense of community. That's something we really like to have. A real part of the journey and story is the human element so we get to talk to people and ask what this place is like and what it's like to live here," McKittrick said.

Once the couple reaches their destination, scheduled to be in March, they plan on forgoing the no motorized transportation rule, and catching a boat or plane. However, they said the end of the trip doesn't mean going back to Seattle.

"We hope to be staying in Alaska at least for a while. Who knows what will happen exactly," Higman said.

McKittrick will write a book about the journey for Mountaineers Books in Seattle, and the couple is compiling journals, notes, video and photos to post online.

"It's something that is entertaining and also educates people about the area," Higman said. "We want people to see the connections here, which I think is very difficult to see all these changes, political boundaries and localized issues. Hopefully we can give people a picture of that diversity."


  Erin McKittrick
"You have people who look at you, and you can tell just when they look at you they think you're going to die. I mean, that's not a good feeling. We've thought through all of these things and there are risks certainly, we've figured out ways to reduce the risks where possible and be comfortable with the risks that are unavoidable," Higman said. "It is really different to run into people who think you're completely insane and you're going to die. We have a lot of experience with stuff, and you don't know what it's like to actually be in a packraft. You're in a giant boat, it's a very different thing. Different hazards."

Although camping when in the wilderness, the couple has been able to finding shelter in many of the towns they visit. They said many people have heard about their adventure online at their Web site, www.groundtrutchtrekking.org, where they post a blog and photos of their trip.


  Bretwood Higman
"One thing that's really cool about Southeast that we didn't get as much in Canada is that staying with people makes the towns feel more real to me. You could just stay at a hostel or hotel or camp out and just visit the grocery store, but you don't get that sense of community. That's something we really like to have. A real part of the journey and story is the human element so we get to talk to people and ask what this place is like and what it's like to live here," McKittrick said.

Once the couple reaches their destination, scheduled to be in March, they plan on forgoing the no motorized transportation rule, and catching a boat or plane. However, they said the end of the trip doesn't mean going back to Seattle.

"We hope to be staying in Alaska at least for a while. Who knows what will happen exactly," Higman said.

McKittrick will write a book about the journey for Mountaineers Books in Seattle, and the couple is compiling journals, notes, video and photos to post online.

"It's something that is entertaining and also educates people about the area," Higman said. "We want people to see the connections here, which I think is very difficult to see all these changes, political boundaries and localized issues. Hopefully we can give people a picture of that diversity."


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