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Preferring pedals to paddles

Seattle men canoe up the Mackenzie River

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 27/01) - Preferring pedals over paddles, two Seattle men are travelling the Mackenzie River in a pedal-powered canoe.

Tim Bailey, a 35-year-old electrical engineer, and his friend, John Greengo, a 34-year-old photographer, left Hay River July 23.

They stopped in Inuvik last Tuesday before continuing on to Tuktoyaktuk, to catch a flight out. By the end of their five-week trip, they will have pedalled over 1,800 kilometres.

Except for three propellers broken on sandbars, their trip went off without a major mishap. Last week, they were forced to improvise with a propeller carved from driftwood when their last propeller -- actually meant for model airplanes -- broke.

"That's going to get us to Tuk," said Bailey, unconcerned. "We do have paddles -- we don't like to use them very much -- but they will work in an emergency."

Bailey originally got the idea for the bike-boat when he came up this way in 1993 on a two-month bike trip from Seattle to Inuvik and through to Alaska. "When I crossed the Mackenzie, I thought that would be a great trip, but since it was such a long way to paddle, I got thinking about how to make it faster."

Greengo, Bailey's lifelong friend, was recruited for the journey, and the pair started getting serious about the plan in March. For four months they worked on converting a second-hand, 16-foot whitewater canoe to pedal-power. They added a chain gear device attached to pedals aboveboard and a propeller below. A lawn chair at the stern was installed with armrest toggles that manoeuvre the rudder for steering.

"We're more bicyclists than paddlers," says Bailey, explaining why they devised to do away with paddling. "It's faster than us paddling -- we go about five miles an hour with no current."

Another innovation is their custom-made splash cover which can be propped up with a paddle to serve as a sail. "We can travel when other boats can't," says Greengo.

While one person pedals, the other relaxes in the front, switching off every hour or two. The pair spend about eight-to-10 hours a day in the boat, and they can even cook meals on the move with a stove built into the side of the craft.

The life-long friends have a history of adventuring together. When not inventing pedal-boats, they run marathons, cycle, climb mountains and compete in adventure races together.

"We've been doing things together since we were five-years-old -- building rafts, riding bikes, climbing trees," Bailey says.