Travels with Baby

Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009 2:58 AM
the firetruck
driven 21,000 miles across the
Americas on
biofuels, is seen in its fully set
up mode on the east coast of Baja California.

Two whitewater sportsmen are scheduled to visit Durango on Monday to relate in film how they drove a retrofitted Japanese firetruck from the northernmost community in Alaska to the tip of South America - 21,000 miles - without putting a penny's or a peso's worth of petroleum fuel in the tank.

Seth Warren and Tyler Bradt, competitive kayakers from Montana, will show "Oil + Water," which chronicles their journey in "Baby," powered 100 percent by biofuel. A representative of Dove Creek-based San Juan Bioenergy will talk about local alternative-fuel projects following the film, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Durango Public Library. Questions will be accepted from the audience.

"Oil + Water" has won numerous honors, including being named best picture at the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival in Los Angeles, best environmental film at the Taos Mountain Film Festival in New Mexico and the people's choice at the Patagonia Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival in Nevada City, Calif.

The geographical high point of the nine-month, two-continent trip in 2006 was Potosi, Bolivia, the highest city in the world, at more than 13,000 feet elevation, Warren said in a telephone interview Monday from Missoula, Mont. But the personal highlight was an internal awakening, he said.

"It was a life-changing experience," said Warren, a professional kayaker who traveled the world for 10 years promoting the sport's products and giving demonstrations. "I found something I could offer along the way - an education about sustainability. It was a magical experience."

Warren got the idea for the trip while kayaking in Africa. A doctor's chiding about being a kayak bum
inspired him to make something
more of his life while not stilling his passion for adventure. He enlisted longtime friend Bradt to join him in his adventure.

Online, the partners found a working 1987 firetruck from Fuji, Japan, that a Canadian had bought with the intention of selling it at a profit to his local fire department. When the hoses and fixtures turned out to be incompatible, the importer had to sell the truck. Warren and Bradt retrofitted the vehicle to run on biofuels. Most of the fuel came from recycled restaurant grease. The remainder was vegetable oil they produced from an on-board oil-seed press or purchased from biodiesel stations along the way.

Before they set out on July 1, 2006, Warren and Bradt spent time in Mexico to learn enough Spanish to become proficient enough to explain the purpose of their journey to people along the way. The trip took them through 16 countries, from above the Arctic Circle in unincorporated Deadhorse, Alaska, to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia in Argentina's Tierra del Fuego province.

"The truck turned heads everywhere," Warren said. "It was a rolling conversation piece and nonstop demonstration."

People would follow them on foot and in vehicles to get a better look, Warren said. Many times when they stopped to load cooking oil or work on the truck, they ended up giving
impromptu lectures.

"Kids especially liked the truck," Warren said. "Once, a middle school-aged boy said he wanted to create a vehicle that runs on carbon dioxide and expels oxygen. It's this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that Baby inspires, making people think differently about their world and dreaming about pursuing more efficient ways to live."

The trip wasn't a beeline, but involved zigzagging that took them 21,000 miles one way. They shipped Baby back from Argentina. By that time, Warren had a new project in mind. He outfitted the truck with a high-output alternator to capture its kinetic energy and batteries to store the energy. Other modifications convert DC current to AC current as well as convert wind, solar and hydro power to energy, which also can be stored aboard the vehicle.

The electricity produced is for domestic use during stationary periods, and it also powers a two-level stage used for film projections, multi-media presentations and mobile film editing. A trailer can fold out to become the stage with a deck and canopy and retractable spiral staircase. Slide-out tents on the side and rear permit travelers to sleep while on the road.

The modifications support Warren's second project - which started in August - called the Kavu Elements Tour. Kavu is an aviation term: Klear Above Visibility Unlimited. The tour will demonstrate how to create renewable energy from the wind, the sun and water and try to inspire people to use them for that purpose.

Kavu team members will explain the cycle of water - from ocean to clouds to mountains and rivers and back to the ocean - and emphasize how kayaking, surfing, skiing and hang gliding are dependent on the same forces that supply renewable energy. The team, traveling in Baby, is scheduled to visit more than 40 cities in the western United States, Canada and Mexico.

Durango Details

Seth Warren and Tyler Bradt, competitive kayakers and promoters of environmental issues, will show a film Monday that chronicles their trip from Deadhorse, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, in a vehicle that burned only biofuels.

The free program at the Durango Public Library starts at 7 p.m. and will allow questions from the audience after the film. A representative from San Juan Bioenergy in Dove Creek also will speak.

The following day, Warren and Bradt will make presentations at Miller and Escalante middle schools and Durango High School, where students saw the film earlier this year. They will show the film again at 6 p.m. at Four Corners River Sports. They will take their program to Silverton on Wednesday.

"Oil + Water" was shown at the Durango Independent Film Festival in March.