Park City native takes on the elements
January 30, 2009
Seth Warren gives new meaning to the expression "braving the elements." In August, the Park City native embarked on a yearlong, cross-country tour following the water cycle literally enacting the movement of water from the earth’s surface to the sky and back again.
He started in the ocean, riding the waves along the coast of California and Mexico. Then he ascended to the clouds, hang gliding throughout parts of New Mexico and southern Utah. Coming back down to Earth, Warren landed in the mountains of various ski towns, including Park City. The next leg of his trip will be to return to the rivers on a kayaking excursion throughout Montana and British Columbia.
And he’s doing all of this living off-the-grid out of a retro Japanese fire truck turned eco-mobile that runs on natural oil and produces its own energy and electricity.
At the end of his journey, Warren will have visited 42 cities across the United States, Mexico and Canada, spreading his message to thousands along the way. So what is his message, exactly? To understand, you’ll have to take a step back and consider how Warren got to where he is today.
After graduating Park City High School in 1995, Warren went on to study resource conservation at the University of Montana. He graduated and became a professional kayaker for the better part of a decade. While he was living near the White Nile in Uganda, he ran into one of his friends from Montana, fellow kayaker Tyler Bradt. Together, the two started to plan a high-octane kayaking road trip from the northern coast of Alaska to the southernmost tip of Argentina.
Drawing of his studies of sustainable living, Warren had the idea to make the adventure petroleum-free. The duo bought a retired fire truck from Japan, christened it "Baby," and set out to find sponsors for their unconventional journey (which was relatively easy, considering Warren’s background in kayaking and the theme of the trip). Armed with a video camera and a tank of salmon oil, Warren and Bradt rolled out of Dead Horse, Alaska on July 1, 2006.
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For the next 250-some odd days, Baby and its crew meandered down through the western United States and on into Mexico, Central and South America. Highlights included kayaking in some of the most famous rapids in the world, reaching the heights of Machu Picchu in Peru, straddling the equatorial divide in Equador, and joining with various friends and family members for stints along the way. Among the mishaps were getting arrested for stealing vegetable oil out of a dumpster in Arizona, getting pulled over 26 times in Columbia, and Warren coming down with a case of malaria in Honduras (he wasn’t actually diagnosed until they got to Costa Rica).
Baby traveled 34,000 kilometers over the course of the trip, subsisting solely on vegetable, canola, soy, palm, fish and other natural oils. Along the way, Warren and Brandt stopped at high schools and community gatherings, educating hundreds about what they can do to satisfy their energy needs using renewable sources and to live more sustainable lifestyles.
The duo’s entire escapade was captured on film, and after returning home, they realized that the footage was fodder for more than just a home movie. Warren edited their adventures into a 30-minute documentary and, on a whim, submitted it to several independent film festivals. "Oil & Water" was honored as "Best Documentary" at the Reel Paddling Film Festival, "People’s Choice" at Patagonia’s Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival and "Best Environmental Film" at the Taos Mountain Film Festival, among other awards.
That was when Warren realized they were onto something. He decided to expand the footage into a feature-length film ("Oil & Water 2") and started planning the KAVU Elements Tour as part-adventure, part-educational outreach.
On Thursday, Warren showed "Oil and Water" to students at Park City High School. "We’re shifting the mindset away from certain things showing people that there are different ways to fuel our cars and fuel our lives," he said. "I don’t think the answer [to all of the environmental problems] is currently out there, but this is one small step." He stressed that young people have the capacity to simplify things in a way that will enlighten the masses.
Warren also brought along Baby, which he shipped back from Ushuaia, Argentina and revamped to meet the needs and mission of the Elements Tour. He explained how the vehicle collects and stores kinetic energy generated by the movement of its wheels. It also uses sun, wind and water power to recharge its 14 batteries and produce all the electricity the crew needs for off-the-grid living. And if that’s not impressive enough, Baby morphs into a two-level stage used to show films, multimedia presentations and concerts all powered by renewable energy.
Warren showed students that from the swells of the ocean to the swirls of the clouds — there really is no limit to their aspirations. He encouraged them to believe in themselves and push for what they think is right. "The more I’ve opened my mind, the more inspired I’ve become," he says. "If you can dream it, do it." For more information on Warren’s film and the KAVU Elements Tour, visit http://www.oilandwaterproject.com and http://www.naturepropelled.com.