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Environmentalist stops in Osoyoos on cross-Canada unicycle journey
Is there a better way to attract attention and start a conversation than to ride a unicycle across Canada?
There may be, but for Joseph Boutilier, 23, of Victoria, a long road trip by unicycle is his way of drawing attention to his concerns about climate change.
“I kind of thought if someone were to do a cross-country tour for a cause, this is a great icebreaker and it’s a great way to raise awareness,” said Boutilier, who stopped at Wander Café in Osoyoos on Friday.
Boutilier is the first to admit that he’s not an expert unicyclist and the trip has already put his skills to the test.
He learned the basics when he was a teenager, but only picked it up again over the Christmas break in preparation for his 5,000-km ride from Victoria to Ottawa.
“I’m still a newbie, very much so,” said Boutilier. “I like to think I learn quickly. I took a couple tumbles. The good thing about a unicycle is 95 per cent of the time you fall on your feet, so we call them unplanned dismounts. It’s pretty rare that you fall on your rear side or your face or something.”
The ride through Allison Pass in Manning Provincial Park, and Sunday Summit just east of the park was challenging with steep, twisty, narrow roads, loose gravel on the shoulders and traffic passing close by.
“A lot of the shoulders are coated in gravel, so that’s a little nerve wracking,” said Boutilier. “Sometimes there’s a very narrow shoulder with potholes and bad road conditions, so you’re being pushed into traffic a lot.”
Most drivers have been courteous, he said.
“Especially truckers, which I was told to be prepared for the worst,” he said. “It’s been quite the opposite. People have been really good about slowing down and giving me wide berth. I have people saying they thought I was a drunk cyclist or that I need a big sign that says ‘unicycle’ because it’s hard for them to tell from behind.”
Boutilier cycles alone most of the time, though he has had some people join him on bicycles during part of the journey. There is no support vehicle.
He has averaged about 40 km a day in his 13 days on the road.
He carries camping gear in a backpack that he wears when he cycles, though more often than not he is billeted in private homes or is put up by motels that have been sponsoring his journey.
Boutilier has had media attention along his journey, allowing him to put forward his message about climate change.
He has also been able to speak to people one-on-one, although sometimes stopping to talk is awkward – it can take quite a while to mount the unicycle and regain his balance.
Boutilier said he first became aware of climate change when he was about 10 years old and there was a United Nations children’s conference on the environment in Victoria. Later, the 2006 Al Gore documentary film An Inconvenient Truth made an impression.
“By the time Canada backed out of the Kyoto Protocol, that was really a turning point for me in recognizing that somebody had to stand up for change and I may as well try,” Boutilier said.
He believes the Conservative federal government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been deliberately obstructing international progress to establish binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions.
“At the same time we continue to be giving out $1.4 billion every year in subsidies to fossil fuel companies and we have very few regulations on tar sands development, which is our major source of emissions,” Boutilier said.
When he arrives in Ottawa in September, Boutilier hopes to meet with Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq as well as the opposition environment critics.
Ottawa, however, is still a long way off on a route that will take Boutilier over the Rockies, across the wind-blown Prairies and through the United States to go around Lake Superior.
When he stopped in Osoyoos Friday, one of the most challenging segments of the trip lay just ahead – Anarchist Mountain.
“I’ve heard that Anarchist and Paulson Pass are the two toughest segments of the entire route,” he said.
Boutilier provides updates on his journey through social media and on his website at: www.unityfortheclimate.ca.