Cooling the warming
Kayaking duo on worldwide surf safari with a mission

Kayakers Seth Warren and Tyler Bradt pose on the hood of their Japanese fire truck-turned-biofuel-mobile home. The two are travel ing the entire length of the Western Hemisphere promoting their Oil + Water Project, a part-paddling, part-sustainable lifestyle education mission. They arrive in Durango on Aug. 17./Photo by Dunbar Hardy

by Dunbar Hardy

At first glance, Seth Warren and Tyler Bradt appear every inch the twenty-something kayakers on an epic, cross-country journey. But they are no ordinary guys; their rig is no ordinary rig; and the trip is by no means an ordinary adventure.

About a year ago, the two professional boaters from Missoula, Mont., embarked on the Oil + Water Project, an ambitious, alternative-fuel-charged, overland tour that will take them from northern Alaska to the southern tip of Chile. And they will be covering the entire 16,000-mile route in a converted Japanese fire truck that burns 100 percent vegetable oil.

For Warren, 28, and Bradt, 21, the trip was the natural way to couple their passion for paddling and traveling with a sincere desire to give something back, particularly in lieu of current global energy policy. Having traveled and paddled rivers all over the world, Warren and Bradt feel fortunate to have seen and experienced so much more than the average American. At the same time, however, they feel there is a responsibility that comes with their good fortune, to empower people and help them think outside the box. Thus, not only are they searching out classic rivers but raising awareness of alternative energy and sustainable lifestyles along the way, in formal and not-so-formal methods.

“Lifestyle, more than paddling, is the true priority in the Oil + Water Project; and paddling is just a part of the lifestyle,” said Bradt. “This is how we educate about biofuels, at the put-ins and take-outs everywhere, showing people first hand how they complement our lifestyle and just how cool that is.”

The boys hit the road in early spring 2006 on a 30-plus city awareness and publicity tour throughout the United States and Canada. They will be passing through Durango on Aug. 17 en route to the tip of South America, where they expect to wrap up the trip next March.

While the project will be hitting up sites for publicity and fund-raising along the way, it also contains a vital educational component. Firm believers that education is key to affecting change and raising awareness, Seth and Tyler have created an alternative-energy curriculum that they send to various schools along the way. Included in this curriculum is information on global warming, alternative energy, and a national poster competition highlighting students’ artwork on caring for the environment. Roughly two weeks after the selected schools receive this curriculum, the Oil + Water Project, fire truck included, rolls into their town for in-person presentations and follow-up.

Seth paints the picture of their school visits, saying, “We walk into gymnasiums full of hundreds of kids cheering like we’re rock stars,” he said. “Many times we open it up with the microphone and ask ‘What do you think about alternative energy?’ The students all go nuts screaming like we’re U2 saying, ‘COOOOOOL!’”

The kayak-around-the-world lifestyle can be an idyllic one, begging the question: “Why not leave the energy battle for the scientists?” But Seth and Tyler sincerely offer an answer to this question.

“The creation of this Oil + Water Project came about in a crucial time in my life,” said Warren. “So many of my main paddling partners were going on to get jobs and level out beyond all the travel. I was starting to go down that path. I bought a house and was starting to think I would stick around in one place. I realized that it just wasn’t me. I also needed something more than just kayaking.”

For the younger Tyler, the Oil + Water Project came about at the end of high school. “This feels like a natural progression in a fairy tale life of traveling, kayaking and now educating,” said Bradt with an infectious smile.

Thus far, Warren and Bradt have brought their message to several schools, including ones in Oregon, Wyoming and Utah, where they have been well-received not just by students, but teachers as well.

Tyler Bradt and Seth Warren offer an up-close demonstration of the vegetable seed press on their converted Japanese fire truck, which runs on 100 percent veggie oil, at a middle school in Stevensville, Mont./Photo by Dunbar Hardy

Thus far, Warren and Bradt have brought their message to several schools, including ones in Oregon, Wyoming and Utah, where they have been well-received not just by students, but teachers as well.

“Seth and Tyler have a powerful message to share,” said fourth-grade teacher Barry Hamilton, of Lone Pine Elementary School in Medford, Ore. “Most children are more concerned about the environment than most adults. They’re also much more open to exploring the idea of using non-petroleum fuels. Bringing the idea of alternative fuels to the next generation is a brilliant idea.”

With U.S. citizens peering deeper and deeper into their pocket books every fill-up at the pump, Warren and Bradt believe their message comes at an opportune time. According to the Biofuels Education Coalition, the Seattle-based umbrella organization sponsoring the project, waste vegetable oil could be used to satisfy as much as 1 percent of the country’s energy needs. Furthermore, using subsidized land for production of biofuel crops could boost biofuel quantity by 30 to 40 percent. But in order to realize this, people must first be educated, which is where Oil + Water comes in.

“We don’t say that everyone in the United States or the world needs to be running their vehicles on vegetable oil,” Warren explains. “We are just trying to show that the large variety of energies available need to be implemented, and that diversifying our energy consumption will take us a step away from our petroleum dependence.”

Although Warren and Bradt are nearing the halfway point of their tour, it is only the first leg of what they plan as a six-leg global tour. As such, they realize the real adventure could only be beginning. Once across the border into Mexico, they will need to rely on locals not only for river info but for fuel.

“Attaining fuel en-route is at the top of our priority list,” says Bradt. “Everywhere in the world people use vegetable oil to cook with, and it is the collection of that used oil that will be the challenge.”

However, he said they have already been contacted by people along the way who want to provide fuel, and if worse comes to worse, they can produce it on-board with their vegetable oil press.

More importantly, though, as the men roll southward toward Tierra del Fuego, they’ll be fueled by the memories they’ve already made.

“What really stands out for me is how fired up the kids are,” said Warren. “When I get an e-mail from a fifth-grader a month after I visited his school, telling me new things they have learned since our visit and how much they enjoyed it, I know we are making a connection with these kids, and they are thinking. To be able to know firsthand that we are really inspiring youth – that gives me motivation to drive all night and sleep in the parking lot of the next school.”

The appreciation of the all-night drives and overcoming the breakdowns along the way is sincerely expressed by fifth-grade teacher Alisa Felton, of the Treasure Mountain International School in Park City, Utah. “Seth and Tyler are indeed making a difference!”

And that is what they hope for. With this simple statement, the Oil +Water Project successfully rolls on.

For more information and to follow the tour, go to



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