Don't Throw Your Life Away - Battling Marine Debris from Alaska to Panama

Voyager3

Active member
#1
My name is Travis. For the purposes of kicking off my biggest trip yet, I'll reorganize my intro.



I'm just a guy with a dog named Jenson. We travel in an old XJ. I'm not such-and-such overlanding, or so-and so-expeditions. I am however recently free. I sold my bus, and everything I own is in the Jeep (not counting some bins of sentimental treasures from when I was a younger human that are safely with my family in Florida). Bus life, and the explorations around the western states that have been possible because of it, was always, in my mind, a stepping stone from renting outside Denver where I sold Alfa Romeo parts over the phone, to traveling as full time as I could manage.

Slowly but surely, that seems to be coming good because thanks in part to support from the Change Your World Fund, I'm now embarking on a trip that could last a year and take me as far north as Alaska, and as far south as Panama starting on the Oregon coast. The purpose of the fund is to help young people take their first large, international overland trip provided it has some goal for improving the world we live in. The fund was created to honor the life of a young man named Alistair Farland who inspired so many with his own love of life, getting out of his comfort zone, and helping others. Tragically, he lost his life in a motorcycle accident on his own big trip headed south from Overland Expo East in 2014.

I will be collecting and documenting my efforts to clean up marine debris on as many beaches and other waterways as I can. I will be tracking the majority of it on the Clean Swell app for Ocean Conservancy. Together with volunteers all over the globe, they have pulled upwards of 220 million pounds of trash from the ocean in the last 30 years. But even at that impressive rate, the clean up efforts are dwarfed by the amount going in. Scientists estimate that 8 million metric TONS of just plastic are entering our oceans every year. In my lifetime, we may see more plastic in the oceans by weight than fish. Ocean trash affects not just wildlife, but people and local economies. I'm curious to see what kind of impact one person can have, and as I go, I'll have a fairly accurate account of what I've collected.

I will find ways to share aspects of the problem that need to come to broader attention, offer tips to help others cut down on their own waste production, and when possible gather like-minded travelers like yourselves to do group cleanups if there are areas I just can't handle on my own.

I've picked up more than my fair share over the years, but I can do more. I encourage everyone reading to not just walk past something they could easily pick up. And if you do have time to make our beaches or oceans a cleaner place, download the Clean Swell app and track what you pick up. It helps map the distribution of trash for further study.

So, first I'm headed up the last bit of the American west coast and into Canada towards Alaska. I want to see how Valdez is coping 29 years on from the spill. After as much of Alaska as I can manage I will then head southeast across Canada and into the Carolinas by early November to work Overland Expo East. From there, I'll be headed south to continue the same mission in Central America. I'm excited to see how the debris issue changes, and how people react, both to the problem and proposed solutions.

This trip for me is not just about cleaning up beaches, but also my mind. I will share my experiences trying to live in the moment. I've spent the last 6 months living almost entirely in the past or the future. I want to focus on what's important now. And if this trip helps someone else find any avenue towards a little more inner peace, well that's an added bonus.

I'm looking forward to showing not only how beautiful the world can be, but also just how much work we have to do to keep it that way. This is a viewpoint over an Eagle sanctuary, an amazing little estuary in the Columbia River that Lewis and Clark passed on their expedition to find a route to the Pacific. And next is what's just under the viewing platform.

Here's to our world and seeing some of you out there. Stay tuned for what should be an inspiring and productive year.





 
#2
Travis kudos to you for your clean up and concern for the environment. If we were all like that there would be much less of a problem. Sometimes as a single person you feel that your contribution will not have an impact. Not so. It starts with one and becomes infectious. Everyone that reads this young man’s posts please do the same. Consider him an ambassador for a cleaner Earth. Thanks for your contribution.
 

Voyager3

Active member
#3
Travis kudos to you for your clean up and concern for the environment. If we were all like that there would be much less of a problem. Sometimes as a single person you feel that your contribution will not have an impact. Not so. It starts with one and becomes infectious. Everyone that reads this young man’s posts please do the same. Consider him an ambassador for a cleaner Earth. Thanks for your contribution.

Thank you for the kind words! One thing we can all start doing easily is reducing or stopping our consumption of single use plastics. Bring a reusable bag to the grocery store, don't use plastic straws, etc. When the throwaway life arrived, we certainly ran with it. Look how happy this family is now that they don't have to reuse any of this, and then later when they want to use another plate or a cup, they can just do it again.

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Voyager3

Active member
#4
Newport, Oregon to Port Angles, Washington


I left Newport in a hurry and ended up marooned in Port Angeles, Washington with a mechanical problem. Currently I'm in Seattle with a friend while the Jeep gets a rear end replaced. Oops.

Getting out of Newport was painful. I said my goodbyes in a town I liked. The sale of the bus turned into a bit of a fight, and I ended up with much less than I wanted. But, it's gone, and I'm back on the road. Fitting that I got all this finally done around Independence Day. Seems fitting enough.



Since the first day was just to get out of town, it was easy enough. I didn't camp anywhere special, just near the Nehalem river.







I headed towards Astoria since I had a friend there I was trying to catch up to (spoiler alert, I didn't). And my first beach cleanup ended up being a short stop at Fort Stevens State Park. There's an old shipwreck out there called the Peter Iredale which ran aground October 25, 1906. Originally a four masted steel sailing vessel, not much remains. However, the ship does have some other weird history after the wreck. Apparently, there were live rounds fired at Fort Stevens by Japanese submarines on June 20, 1942 and though the wreck escaped damage, it was part of a barbed wire line rigged up to prevent any invasion and remained entwined until the end of the war. Today, just this. And one wine bottle.





This was admittedly a short stop, just enough to see the wreck before moving onto other parts of the park, but here's what can be done in just 15 minutes. State parks typically have good trash disposal areas, we just have to be as willing to carry empty cans the same distance we carried full cans.



When I explained my plan to local state park employees, they were grateful for the help and more than willing to supply some bags for the cause.

This area is where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. The north end of Fort Stevens is home to a protected area for birds, which set the tone for the next few days of seeing more Bald Eagles than you can shake a stick at. But don't, it's illegal to shake sticks at Bald Eagles. Here I saw at least 3, and at one point they were all flying together, getting up each other's beaks about some bird issues.













Happily, there are also a number of beaches in the NW that you can drive on. And driving can speed up the trash collection process. I focused on plastics, cans, food wrappers and the like, and Jenson focused on sticks. I also got a kick out of letting him run along side so he could really get the hammer down for long periods. He's some runner that kid.












My first realization of things that keep me in the moment hit then. Some of the best days are spent just watching him do dog stuff. He's got it made, and when he's having fun, I smile. No matter what else is going on. Nothing on the phone, nothing about plans. And when I brought this up to my dad, he said that's a lot of what fatherhood is all about. Watching your kid having a good day. While I'm still a long way from wanting children without fur, I see now what he meant when he answered a self criticism I had of myself a year or two ago. I was feeling unaccomplished. Sure, I do a lot of oddball stuff and bounce around between things I want to take a crack at, but I haven't felt you know, successful. I've always had a different take on the phrase “advancement in life”, but already in our late 20's, I have some friends with good jobs, nice houses, stability, kids, fences. I told my dad I was feeling inadequate in that regard and he said, “I didn't become a father to have successful children, I became a father to have happy children. Are you happy?” I was right in the thick of bus life living everywhere, and seeing everything I could pretty cheaply and I said yes. I was doing what I wanted and loving it, and that was enough.
 

Voyager3

Active member
#5


That afternoon after a delicious beer brat at the Astoria Brewing Company, we found a river beach and this time, the stick job was too much for Crazy Bones. He tried, and tried, and tried. But it just wouldn't budge. I on the other hand found some styrofoam, plastic jugs, rope, and a chair. The chair, which fits rather nicely on a bike rack did not just get chucked, but instead found a proper home behind a local restaurant for staff breaks and they were happy to have it. Their old one had no butt at all. Might be an ok backup toilet, but no way to sit and take 5.



















To this point, I'm liking the Coopertire ST Maxx. I went up to a 30 really just because they don't make a 235/75-15, but they're not THAT much taller than the stock size K02 I was running, and about the same width, we'll see how they get on. So far in a lot of deep sand, they dig well, but I have not yet tested anything aired down. Also I don't have a trasharoo, but I have been getting by without it. This is the haul from finding camp here at Jones Beach.



Jones Beach is a fairly quiet campsite and the river was calm with barges going by occasionally. It's also free. And then there's this little critter. Not sure where his adult supervision was, but after a brief hello, I left him to doing baby deer activities.





I loved this spot, this was where the intro pics came from. An eagle sanctuary on the Columbia River. Lewis and Clark passed by this spot on November 26, 1805. I'm happy their journal entry wasn't something like, “There appear to be many mating pairs of Bald Eagles in this estuary. Found a Burger King cup, some newspaper, a zip-loc bag, some food wrappers and a plastic spoon.” This was just what was under the viewing platform. I'm happy to do it, because I want places like this at least, to stay this way. I'll say this, if I was focusing on cleaning up trash on the sides of roads, I'd never get anywhere. People throw everything out the window. And I know that wherever they're going, there's a proper receptacle for it. So why? Maybe someone can enlighten me.





In town again I had some errands to run. Sell off a couple old books, donate some things to a Goodwill, catch up on interwebs, and then I found this guy. When you get into weird old cars you end up like this gentleman with a 240Z kit Ferrari with a BMW V12 under the hood, a VW based Fierro 600 kit that he's putting a Porsche 2.0 in, an Alfa Montreal, GTV6, and '59 Spider Normale, a Fiat 124 with apparently a hot 1800 in it, and an oddly customized P1800 Volvo with some kind of Volvo boat engine and Mini Cooper headlights. People like what they like. Sorry I don't have pics of the Alfas, they were all under covers and I only got peeks. I used to work at Centerline Alfa, so it's very possible I sold him some parts for those cars.







 

Voyager3

Active member
#6
Having not gotten a hold of my friend, it was time to cross Astoria's glorious bridge and find my way up north into Washington. Southwestern Washington is very pretty, lots of wide, riverside grasslands in between forested hills. And sometimes there are little towns like South Bend where I paid for my only “lodging” so far on this trip. 5 bucks to tent it at the boat ramp.













Picturesque, and I would love to tell you that on your trip you'll find this site quiet and out of the way, but it's not. It's right by the road and under a street light. But no matter. Sunset and sunrise were lovely.







It wasn't long until I found a roadside beach with no one on it. Good place to let Black and White dog get a run in, and see if it needs my help. To be honest, at first glance it didn't seem that bad. But that's why we take second glances. And here's what I found. Hundreds upon hundreds of shattered pieces of bottle rockets and other whiz bangers. I'm guessing a family or group came down to celebrate the country's birthday and I suppose one could be forgiven, maybe, for thinking that after the bang, there's nothing left. Exploded, done and gone. But I'm stunned. They were everywhere. On the sand, in the sea grasses, in the water. Firecrackers left in piles where they all went off. After 2 hours of this, I swore off bottle rockets. I love watching big fireworks shows, I've even helped wire a couple up, but think now how many people you know celebrated like this anywhere, not even next to a river or a lake (though I'm sure most did). Now think how many stayed to clean up after. I'll let you think a little harder, because I imagine the percentage is fairly low.













Yeah, all that and more.

Even if we can't get everything, just having each person spend some time gathering a particular thing, we could save TONS of plastics, chemicals, and wrappers from getting out there. Have one person get those little balls, one grab sticks, one grab plastic bits of rocket, another bits of wrapper. It wouldn't take a group much time at all.

Speaking of groups, this is too much for me. I can't handle being around that many people, so this was not a beach I wanted to tackle. Here's an interesting find. Not the first Asian pieces I've found, but when paired with a particularly American offering, it's a curious thought to consider them ambassadors from their country of origin. Foreign coming in, ours about to leave. One still had beer in it.









 

ericvs

Adventurer
#7
Excellent! Keep up the good work. I am heading to Fort Stevens this weekend, I will gather up as much trash as I can find.
 

Voyager3

Active member
#8
Are you ready for a change of scenery? Want to see some trees? So did we. Quinault is on the southwestern edge of Olympic National Park, and there is a free group of sites if you don't mind going about 18 miles off 101, and you guys don't. It's a typical park site, “primitive” by those standards meaning, I think, no water.







But what's this?! Water. Beautiful, clear, running water with just one sticker in it. Not enough to bother these caddisfly larvae from making cool shells out of little pebbles and sticks, and certainly not enough to keep raspberries from growing. And perhaps being eaten, allegedly. This isn't just about beaches and oceans, this water eventually gets there, so any trash I can stop here helps, too.











Some of these roads don't go anywhere, but you can eat your raspberries straight out of the window.



This is a beach called Beach 4. I don't think Lewis and Clark named this one. Dogs are not allowed off leash, but it's made up of rather good looking rocks, and home to yet more Bald Eagles.









Here's a protip. We like to have bottles of hand sanitizer, but throwing out or even (hopefully) recycling those little bottles just because they're empty just to go.....buy another one that's full? Well that's silly. Many restrooms in parks and campgrounds have sanitizers. Some are foam, but many are the same kind of gel you've been using. Take a couple squirts and top off the bottle you have. I don't even know how long I've had this one.



When you're traveling in the Northwest, you want to go as Northwest as you can, and that's Cape Flattery. It was actually so far out that my phone thought we had left our home network and had arrived in Canada already. The upper left of the upper left is land managed by the Makah Tribe. There is a pass one needs to buy to visit any of the recreation sites in this part of the state. The good news is it's only 10 bucks and it's good for a year. The cape itself is nice, you may have seen parts of it on Instagram, usually not taken on cloudy days.











 

Voyager3

Active member
#9
Excellent! Keep up the good work. I am heading to Fort Stevens this weekend, I will gather up as much trash as I can find.
Thanks! I will indeed. The park staff there do a pretty good job. We chatted about just how much they cleaned up after the 4th, filling the beds of the pickup with cans and such. Still plenty to go around. And they do have a sorting area that can accommodate all different kinds of recyclables by the campground just after the check in building.
 

Voyager3

Active member
#10
I stayed in the area long enough to get a bit of food and head to one of the beaches. There are only a couple public access points for the beaches around here, and I didn't want to camp in an RV park, so I wasn't going to stay long before going to find somewhere to sleep. I did manage to do another 15 minute cleanup. That's all it took to collect this. More fireworks including one shaped like a Princess Sword. Part of a fishing pole, a shoe, bits of basket, etc. Every piece counts.









The drive to Port Angeles found me tired. Campsites were full, and I didn't have the energy to look for dispersed sites, nor the desire to sleep in a casino parking lot. So, with the blessing of the local fire department, I slept outside one of their unmanned stations. On the way through town a vibration developed. Some rotational, ominous howling of something driveline related. Better here than in the middle of the Yukon, I guess. The next morning I stopped in at a couple local shops and determined the likely culprit is a failing pinion bearing. After weighting all the options it seems there was really just one. Only one place had any availability before 3 weeks out, and there's one 8.25 in the area. It seems ok, and cheaper than rebuilding this one. I ate more cost than I would have if i had my own space and tools, but I'm taking the time to get into Seattle to visit an old friend while the Jeep is under the knife. I did try to enjoy a bit of town while I was figuring it out, too. Something, something lemonade.























I hope the repair goes well and stay tuned because next, Expedition Don't Throw Your Life Away goes international. I leave you now with a shot of this crazy, easily overstimulated, nature-loving outdoor dog trying to process Seattle.

 
#11
Awesome posts so far mate. My wife and I are moving back to Bellingham, WA and leaving AZ tomorrow. We will be taking the coast up through the Redwoods and the Oregon Coast. What you are doing is amazing and wish you all the best luck! I just have to ask....what are you doing with all the trash you are picking up? Bringing it to local recyclers? You may have mentioned this....Cant wait to see more pics!!
 

Voyager3

Active member
#12
Awesome posts so far mate. My wife and I are moving back to Bellingham, WA and leaving AZ tomorrow. We will be taking the coast up through the Redwoods and the Oregon Coast. What you are doing is amazing and wish you all the best luck! I just have to ask....what are you doing with all the trash you are picking up? Bringing it to local recyclers? You may have mentioned this....Cant wait to see more pics!!

Thanks so much, the coast is going to be great. Lots of cool places to see. Whereabouts are you joining the coast? Maybe I can offer some things to see, I had some bits of the coast in my other finished trip reports. I appreciate the kind words, a lot of hard work ahead. So, if it's obviously trash, i find a suitable dumpster. I try not to do sneaky public dumping, parks don't mind when I ask, they're happy for the help.

The viable recycling I will wait for correct drop offs. At least so far in the NW, there have been enough opportunities to do it right in designated bins. It's especially efficient to take care of the cans. While plastics and glass are often "down-cycled" into inferior products like carpet fiber, aluminum cans most often are recycled over and over in a loop. Moreover, it takes 8% of the energy to recycle an aluminum can as to make a new one. While more recycled than plastic or glass, the consumer rate for aluminum is still under 50%, but redeeming value probably has something to do with convincing people to recycle them more. Higher redemption rates per can or bottle do seem to get people to care more about recycling so they can get it back. One other reason aluminum recycling has been more effective than plastic and glass is simply the value of aluminum. One report from a few years ago found that "aluminum can scrap is worth $1186 per ton on average versus $226 per ton for plastic (PET) and -$17 per ton for glass." meaning that many municipal programs sell on aluminum for the scrap value to subsidize recycling of less valuable materials. Without the aluminum, many curbside pickup programs simply wouldn't work.
 
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