Story last updated at 10:18 PM on Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Couple walks, skis, rafts their way to life far from maddening crowds from Ground Truth Trekking

By Ben Stuart
Staff Writer

After giving away most of their possessions, saying goodbye to the comforts of living in a Seattle college neighborhood, and walking, skiing and rafting 4,000 miles to False Pass, Alaska, Seldovia native Bret "Hig" Higman and his wife, Erin McKittrick, have decided there's no going back.

Erin McKittrick and Hig Higman, British Columbia August 9, 2007  
They call their type of travel "groundtruthing" observing nature from ground level by walking, skiing and rafting.

Their recent journey took 385 days and began in June of 2007. Earlier this month, the couple landed in Seldovia and has made plans to stay for a while.

According to their blog of the adventure, the couple is currently renovating a 100-square foot shed behind Higman's mother's house in Seldovia.

After tenting it through some of the most beautiful and remote real estate in Canada and the United States, mom's shed feels like home, they said.

"Though we had some cozy nights with generous hosts, we hardly remembered what it was like to live every day with electric lights, solid walls, changes of clothing. We hardly remembered what stuff it was that we found so necessary to keep that we left it in my mother's basement in Seattle," writes McKittrick on the blog.

"Our 'standard of living' was about 25 pounds of earthly possessions each, along with an ever changing 'million dollar view.'"

Or, as Higman put it, "The only thing better than moving into your mother's basement when you're 31, is moving into a garbage shed behind your mother's house when you're 31."

The trek began as a way for the couple to raise awareness of several environmental and conservation issues facing the region, including wild salmon, dwindling forests, global warming and resource extraction.

Higman was a grad student in geology, studying tsunamis at the beginning of the trip and has traveled to Kamchatka, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand for his studies. Just 21 days before leaving, he successfully defended his thesis.

McKittrick, a Seattle native, has a master's degree in molecular and cellular biology and created most of the content on the Web site, including pages of amazing photographs of and detailed descriptions of the trek.

Hig packrafts on the Dixon River. October 23, 2007  
The blog reads like an adventure novel, with twists and turns, photos of the beauty of wilderness and some rather dreary conditions. There also is some video footage of harrowing bay crossings in small inflatable pack rafts and a couple of close-up confrontations with brown and black bears.

"The trips that stick with you the most are the ones that you push your limits," said Higman. "It was a good trip. A lot of experiences that are still hard to fit in my own mind."

While any trip into the northern wilderness can be dangerous, it's clear in how they prepared for the journey that the couple knew the stakes before taking that first step.

Through years of Alaska adventures, including raft trips from Cordova to Valdez, trekking across glaciers and long hikes through bear country, Higman and McKittrick knew what was in store for them on this long journey.

They made much of their own gear including making a life jacket out of a sleeping pad adapting it to fit the journey on hand.

They entered the wild with their eyes wide open, hoping to see the land as it is, not how they imagined it should be, and gained a perspective from the ground that it unique.

Now they hope to share that experience with others.

There were certainly a few setbacks during their journey.

A bear thrashed their tent on Unimak Island, for instance, and while crossing Icy Bay around Thanksgiving, the couple spent hours in the dark and icy waters battling hypothermia before finally reaching shore.

Erin finds a glass ball, Lost Coast. November 30, 2007  
There also were many eye-opening experiences.

"On this journey, we were on a mission to share whatever we could learn with the rest of the world," said McKittrick on the blog. "I consistently underestimated the effect this journey would have on our own lives."

The goal now is to live cheaply in Alaska and have nature right on their doorstep.

The shed is a good start, McKittrick said.

"Maybe this winter we'll trade up to a yurt," she said.

Until then, the couple is busy spreading the word about their trip.

McKittrick is currently writing a book and a friend in Anchorage is putting together a short film about their adventure.

They also are planning talks in Seldovia and Homer in the next couple of months and one in Washington soon.

They're keeping their adventures closer to home in the near future, but also are beginning to think about another trip. This one dealing with Alaska coal that may take the couple to China.

Read about the couple's journey from Seattle to False Pass at www.grountruthtrekking.or/blog.