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Sage Waring, Beth Jackson '06, Eli Walker and Steve Melamed '06 (laying sideways)

Wilderness alumni to canoe 600 miles in 40 days with no throwaway plastic

June 21, 2018

Beth Jackson ’06 and Steve Melamed ’06 lead outdoor expeditions across some of the world’s most striking geographical features.

In the decade-plus since graduating from Earlham, they have equipped students with the know-how to survive and navigate rugged terrain and open water, typically for weeks on end without contact from what most would consider civilization.

“One of the challenges, we’ve learned, is finding time to go in the woods or the water for ourselves,” says Jackson, who is in the middle of her 11th season with Outward Bound, an organization that has approximately 40 schools around the world and supports 200,000 participants per year.

“When I’m working, I give people the best experience and opportunity I can, but I also set aside my personal ambitions,” she says. “I love everything about what I do, but after a lot of years, I have to find that same level of challenge for myself.”

For 40 days in July and August, that will change.

A new mission: Canoe Ungava

The Canoe Ungava route spans 600 miles from the Hudson Bay to the Ungava Bay.On July 5, the pair will fly to Quebec, Canada, to navigate the largely uncharted Ungava Peninsula — by canoe. The 602-mile journey across the northernmost point of the province will take them from the Hudson Bay to the Ungava Bay via four distinct watersheds. They will be joined by Eli Walker and Sage Waring, two of their Outward Bound colleagues with similar passion for adventure and new challenges.

“Going to the Hudson Bay for an expedition has been a goal of mine since I was a little kid,” Melamed says, who along with his work for Outward Bound is also a ski instructor and owns a woodworking business in Middlesex, Vermont.

“You feel alive when you do something like this,” he says. “There will be a lot of time when we’ll have to get out of the canoes and drag them up a river, but you love it even if it hurts because you’re doing something real in a world full of so many virtual distractions.”

Follow the Journey

They plan to travel simply, taking only two canoes, six paddles, four dry suits, two poles, tents, cook stoves, 300 pounds of food, fishing and safety equipment. To add to the challenge, the four have pledged to take no single-use plastic food bags with them.

“One thing that has really bothered me over the years is the amount of plastic the outdoor industry creates and throws away,” Jackson says. “I have never seen a program that can go in the field and can be cost-effective without throwing a lot of plastic or food packaging away.  We are researching, designing, and testing quality products, to prove that expedition travel does not have to be synonymous with plastic waste.”

Different reasons for Earlham

Growing up in the rolling hills of southern Indiana, Jackson frequently participated in outdoor activities, including camping and fishing. But she aspired to do more.

“As a teenager, I wanted to go to Canada on a canoe trip,” she said. “It was funny because I had never been in a canoe. I saw they offered that at Earlham and, combined with all of the other things I was looking for, Earlham was the only place I applied to.”

She got, perhaps, more than she even expected. After enrolling in August Wilderness, a four-week canoe trip across western Ontario’s Wabikimi Provincial Park in her first year, she went on to earn a degree in Art, a minor in outdoor education and several certifications to lead her own wilderness expeditions.

“Earlham led me to Outdoor Bound,” she says. “I never expected it be a long-term thing.”

Her alma mater also led her to a long-lasting friendship with Melamed and a community of outdoors enthusiasts who would continue to push her to the limits of what she thought she could do in the outdoors.

Melamed, who grew up in Maine, was a year ahead of Jackson academically when they met in 2003 during an excursion to Rio Grande River in Big Bend, Texas, as part of Earlham’s Athletics, Wellness and Physical Education program. They became friends later that academic year during a May Term in Mexico.

Melamed had a head start in navigating the outdoors as well, bringing experience participating or leading excursions on snow, water and whitewater rapids across the eastern U.S. and the Midwest.

“I actually chose to go Earlham because I wanted to focus on studying and go somewhere different than my friends and family were going to back home,” Melamed says. “I didn’t even know Earlham had a Wilderness program. I was interested in avoiding the woods as a diversion. It happened to me in high school.”

Melamed earned his degree in Philosophy from Earlham and went skiing and whitewater kayaking as a hobby on the weekends. He and Jackson first worked together during a spring break trip in 2005 to the Buffalo National Scenic River in Arkansas. They trained for August Wilderness together in summer 2005, also in western Ontario, as part of Earlham’s Wilderness Instructors Course before co-leading the excursion in different brigades the following fall. Upon graduation, they continued working together at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School leading a whitewater training program on several rivers in northern Maine.

Melamed also met his wife at Earlham. Marisa Melamed ’05, a trained backpacker, canoeist, cross-country skier, surfer and runner herself, was a participant in Earlham’s August Wilderness excursion in Utah’s Uinta Mountains in 2001 and led that same trip again in 2004 and 2005. In 2007, the Melameds worked as Outward Bound instructors at the Voyager Outbound School in Minnesota.

“The wilderness program at Earlham builds relationships in a way that don’t happen in a lot of other settings,” Jackson says. “They tend to be relationships that last for a long time. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve stayed in the field for as long as I have. Of the Earlham people I still keep in touch with, 90 percent are all people I led trips with, or worked with in some capacity as part of the program.”

This trip is different

Unlike past excursions the pair has been on together, the treeless tundra and maze of rivers and glacial lakes that dot the Ungava Peninsula are rarely travelled. In fact, the team knows of only one expedition that has completed the route they plan to travel.

Normal channels of communication won’t be available either. In fact, no human contact is expected once the trip begins, just the occasional contact with caribou known to migrate there. They will communicate with park rangers in the region before embarking on the trip.

“Before we leave, we’ll have the hard conversations, like ‘what happens if one of us gets sick or injured? Will we continue? Will we go home?’” Melamed says. “We will make decisions collaboratively. We’re at that point in our lives where it’s time for something harder.”

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success.

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.


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