A few years ago, Sheena Miller and Leland Clarke had never been on a long-distance rowing trip.
But in May, they were embarking on the beginning of a roughly three-month rowing trip up B.C.’s coast from Victoria to Glacier Bay in Alaska in row boats they built themselves.
From the beginning of summer to roughly the end of August, the Smithers duo rowed an estimated 2,200 kilometres along the coast.
“There’s just so many things that we encountered out there that you couldn’t plan or prepare for, wildlife and weather being the major factors that really influenced this trip,” said Miller.
“We experienced so many challenges and some real adversity that you might not get in other places in life, but it’s that that made the trip so incredible and so dynamic.”
The idea first came to them after a brief stop in Mountain Eagle Books as they were passing through Smithers eight years ago.
An employee at the shop recommended a book called Oar & Sail: An Odyssey of the West Coast by Kenneth Leighton, a log-book of a man who took off in a row boat along the coast from Vancouver to Prince Rupert.
“We were so inspired by that book that many years ago, that we thought one day we wanted to build boats and do the same trip and try and go further,” said Miller, who moved to town roughly a year ago. “That was definitely the start that planted the seed and made us want to do the trip.”
In the year leading up to the trip, Miller and Clarke spent as many hours as they could practicing on their rowing machine and building two row boats in their Smithers home.
The blue and yellow row boats were 18-feet long, three-feet at the beam and had three hatches that allowed them to carry food and gear; while the cockpit consisted of the standard sculling rowing setup.
Local artist Mark Perry was so inspired by the couple that he wrote a west-coast-style song about their adventure called Rowing Without A Cause.
“You can’t help but admire them,” said Perry, who wrote and recorded the song before Miller and Clarke left.
“If you’re a writer and you see something like that, that’s what you look for. It’s inspirational. Even to plan a journey like that and then do it . . . that’s an incredible task.”
In May, they set out to row along the open ocean and camp along the shoreline at night.
According to Clarke, the most challenging part of the journey was trying to find a suitable place to set up camp at night.
“Every night we would camp — that was one of the trickiest parts, especially with the central coast,” he said. “The shoreline is steep and rocky, it was difficult to find a flat spot, flat enough to pitch a tent. The biggest challenge was to find an accessible spot and move all of our gear.”
But the couple agreed that the breathtaking scenery far outweighed the challenges.
“We had time periods where you wouldn’t see anything for a week, it would just be fog,” said Miller. “But then the sun opens up, you forget the fog and rain . . .
there were places that were white sand beaches and hundred-foot depths and clear water. Just so tropical looking that you wouldn’t even know you were on the Alaskan coast.”
During the last leg of their trip, they met a man who taught them how to sail and Miller and Clarke returned home in a sailboat.
“We only got a taste of it though. There are so many spots where we’d like to go back and explore more,” said Clarke.
They were also invited to an event in Alaska in 2016, giving them another opportunity to explore the coast even more.
“This is just the start of lifetime trips on the ocean. We’re hoping to go back,” said Miller. “I’m hoping we can build another boat and maybe even try canoeing the traditional way.”