By Conor Mihell
An arduous backpacking trip on Canada’s Baffin Island with their three-month-old son left mountain guide Dan Clark and his wife, Alice Young Clark searching for an easier way to travel with children in the wilderness. “We tried car-camping in the frontcountry but it wasn’t our thing,” says Clark, a Kimberley, B.C.-based educator. After watching fellow Canadians Leanne Allison and Karsten Heuer’s film Finding Farley, which documents a cross-country family camping outdoor adventure, Clark the landlubber was convinced to try canoeing.
The family made their first canoe trip a 10-day spring break float down Utah’s Green River, with son Koby, then almost three years old, and daughter Ava Fei, nine months. That trip was an epiphany. “We were back in the wilderness,” says Clark. “A lot of parents think they can’t do that kind of stuff anymore once they have kids. For us canoeing was a totally new activity and we found what was important to us.”
A seed was sown. The next summer they spent three weeks on the Yukon River, and then in 2011 embarked on an ambitious six-week canoe journey in Prince William Sound, from Valdez to Whittier, AK. All this prepared the family for a 100-day trip last summer, from the Rocky Mountain town of Jasper, Alberta, to the Arctic Ocean at the mouth of the Mackenzie River, Canada’s longest waterway.
It’s fitting that Dan and Alice have become inspirations themselves. An avid photographer, Clark decided to explore videography in producing an eight-minute film about the Alaska expedition. Last summer’s Mackenzie River 14-minute documentary, Have Kids Will Paddle, earned Clark a Waterwalker Film Festival award. “We both feel pretty deeply about the simplicity of being out and away,” says Clark. “There’s a constant reward—just being together is fantastic. At home we’re both working and looking after the kids…life’s busy and distracted. Out in the wilderness very simple.
“We don’t do the films for publicity,” he adds, “but it has been neat to see that people are being inspired. If we can convince some other folks to get out with their kids, that’s great.”