John Van Barriger One of Three Paddlers on Charity Expedition
OnFocus – This summer, while many families will be loading the car for their annual road trip, one group of friends is making a different type of journey: They’ll be canoeing and kayaking the length of the 1,980-mile Yukon River from Bennett, British Columbia, through the Yukon and across Alaska to the Bering Sea. The 10-week trip is a charity expedition to raise funds for first responders in rural and wilderness areas in the United States and Canada.
The “Yukon Journey,” as the photo-video expedition has been named, will be made by paddlers from four different countries. Three paddlers (from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Japan) will tackle the entire river, whereas the remaining three (from Canada, Wales, and Iowa) will join in for several segments.
While paddling the river, the crew will take donations through its web page and later distribute 100% of the proceeds to groups such as search-and-rescue units, wildland firefighters, law enforcement, as well as students taking first-responder training and courses.
“Our first responders do so much for us and most people rarely give them a second thought,” said John Van Barriger, a Marshfield, Wisconsin, resident and owner of The Outdoor Kind, LLC. “It doesn’t matter whether you hunt or fish, paddle or bicycle, or hike or camp, somewhere nearby there’s a first responder who has your back if you have trouble.
“This trip is about acknowledging their contribution to the outdoors community and directly supporting them,” he continued. “How many times have you seen a small fire department hold a pancake breakfast or spaghetti dinner because they need additional funding? Or a search-and-rescue group solicit donations online because they’re formed as volunteer nonprofits? We’re trying to help these groups so they don’t have to worry so much about fundraising and can focus on what they do best.”
In addition to the charitable aspects of the trip, the paddlers also will be shooting video and photos throughout the journey in order to produce a full-length, independent documentary.
“There will no camera crews, support boats, or off-camera producers trying to drum up false controversy between the paddlers,” Van Barriger said. “This is about documenting a trip through some of the most beautiful and extreme country in North America. We’ll do some sneak previews in 2019, and a series of international premieres in 2020. The documentary is tentatively titled, “Yukon Journey: From Bennett to Bering.”
The idea for “The Yukon Journey” was literally born in fire. Several years ago, Van Barriger was kayaking a 500-mile stretch of the Teslin and Yukon Rivers with a friend when they paddled into the Carmacks fires in the Yukon Territory. These three fires burned some 47,000 acres near the small crossroads town.
“It was an intense event,” Van Barriger said. “Watching a huge wildfire burn down to the river as you’re paddling by is one of the most impressive things you’ll ever see. We were fortunate, though, as search- and-rescue groups started taking paddlers off the river shortly after we went through the fire zone. The fire jumped the river at that spot, so if we had started later that day, we might not have been so lucky.”
Van Barriger, a former high school teacher in central Wisconsin, said that he wanted to figure out some way to help support the efforts of first responders after watching them in action. “If you think about a fire like that, the number of people involved is extraordinary. You have wildland firefighters combating the blaze in the woods, helicopters fighting it from the air, search-and-rescue helping on the water, EMTs and EMS personnel standing ready to help should there be injuries, and law enforcement closing off highways and campgrounds as the fires become more dangerous. And all of that is coordinated by emergency management personnel.
“Watching all of that occur in the Yukon made me realize how lucky we are to have these courageous people on the job,” Van Barriger said. “The chance to support them is what gave my wife Jan and me the idea to start The Outdoor Kind, LLC, which also supports first responders and includes an educational component to prevent wildfires and other emergencies. From there it wasn’t a far jump to undertake the ‘Yukon Journey’ expedition and video documentary.”
The Yukon Journey has received strong support from the outdoors community, including major sponsorships from Nova Craft Canoe (London, Ontario), Malone Auto Racks (Westbrook, ME), Enlightened Equipment (Winona, MN), Bending Branches & Aqua-Bound paddles (Osceola, WI), Stormy Kromer caps (Ironwood, MI), The Outdoor Kind (Marshfield, WI) and WindPaddle Sails (Hood River, OR). Numerous individuals and other companies have pitched in as well, including Paddling Adventures Radio, musicians Jerry Vandiver and Bj MacLean, as well as Yak Gear, Sea To Summit, Bemcoe Backpacker Ovens, and Big Agnes.
For more information on the expedition and its fundraising activities, go to http://yukonjourney.org