CASSIAR HIGHWAY, British Columbia He's made friends with moonshiners, worn out two pairs of boots and lost about 70 pounds. But the most important thing about former Juneau resident Kevyn Jacobs' journey is that he's still walking.
Jacobs, 35, left his job as new media director at the Empire last spring to fulfill a lifelong ambition of walking across Canada. So far, he has covered more than 750 miles and is in the vicinity of the neighboring towns of Stewart, British Columbia, and Hyder, Alaska.
''I'm having a blast; I wish I had thought to do this 10 years ago,'' Jacobs said Sept. 3 exactly three months since the start of his trek near Bell II Lodge on the Cassiar Highway in British Columbia. ''I've met some amazing people, seen some incredible scenery. I've made new friends, and I've gotten to experience life on the road.''
Jacobs started his trip with the 110-mile walk from Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Then he walked the Alaska Highway southbound for 280 miles to Watson Lake. From Watson Lake it was about 370 miles on the Cassiar Highway to the turnoff to Stewart-Hyder, from where Jacobs said he would likely catch a ride for the 40-mile trip off his route to and from the twin towns.
From the junction, it's another 100 miles to reach the Yellowhead Highway at Kitwanga, B.C. He'll spend the winter in Vancouver before picking up where he left off next spring. His ultimate goal is to reach Newfoundland, on Canada's eastern seaboard.
On a typical day, Jacobs wakes up at about 9 a.m., and spends about 90 minutes packing up camp and getting ready for the day. ''I love the fact that I'm on my own schedule and can sleep on my own schedule,'' he said.
He walks for about two to three hours, stops for a late lunch, and then walks another two to three hours before breaking for dinner. After dinner, Jacobs usually walks another one to two hours until dusk for about 9 to 13 miles a day, with rest days when needed. At some point during the day, he changes his socks to keep his feet dry.
Jacobs subsists on Ramen noodles and dry soup mixes, supplemented by vitamins and edible plants along the way. When he's near a town, he'll vary his menu with whatever is on hand at the local store. He said using GU Gel, a commercial mix of complex carbohydrates and fruit sugar marketed to athletes, has made a noticeable impact on his energy level.
He carried more than 300 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame at the start of the trip, and has since dropped about a sixth of the weight.
Jacobs said he tried walking at night a few times early on, but has since shied away from it.
''My gear and my outfit is black not by choice, but everything in my size is black so that's one of the reasons I don't do night hiking,'' he said. ''Plus, you can't see much scenery.''
Not long before his interview, a British Columbia highway maintenance worker gave Jacobs a reflective vest. It was not just to wear at night, but to keep on all the time so bear hunters would know Jacobs wasn't fair game.
It's just one of countless examples of assistance Jacobs has received along the way, from free meals to a new backpackers' stove. On the day he sat down for this interview, he already had received a couple of offers for rides.
''People want to stop and talk,'' he said. ''They want to find out what I'm doing here. You get some people who are like, 'That's so cool!' Then you get the others who are like, 'You're insane!' ''
Locals have taken to calling him ''Forrest Gump'' because, like the fictional movie hero, he's journeying cross-country on foot for no reason other than his own well-being.
Jacobs had particularly high praise for the assistance he's received from Canadian First Nations groups along the way, starting with the Tlingit near Teslin, Yukon Territory, then the Kaska near Watson Lake, and most recently the Tahltan in the vicinity of Dease Lake, B.C. Of the many memorable encounters he's had along the way, meeting moonshiners is near the top of the list.
While walking with a friend who came up from Seattle for a few days, they set up camp across a creek from another party. Soon after arriving, several men from across the creek came down to question Jacobs and his friend. It turns out that they were transient Quebecois mushroom-pickers who had set up a still; they were afraid Jacobs was a law-enforcement official.
Once everything was explained, the two groups got along fine and Jacobs got his first taste of moonshine.
Jacobs soon will be leaving the last extended wilderness portion on his journey, and will be closer to civilization the rest of the way.
''I'm looking forward to it for the conveniences, but I am going to miss the quiet nights under the stars,'' he said. ''There's something about the peacefulness of being out here. It really gives you a chance to write and think.
''I really like this nomadic lifestyle. I just have to find a way to make it pay.''
Andrew Krueger is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.
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