Yukoner bushwhacks his way into the fringe circuit

Kevin Kennedy is performing his latest play, Wolf Trek: Alone in the Woods, at fringe festivals in Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver this month.

Kevin Kennedy is performing his latest play, Wolf Trek: Alone in the Woods, at fringe festivals in Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver this month.

It’s the story of three weeks that Kennedy spent alone in the wilderness of Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta. It’s also the story of a bigger journey.

“It’s about the emotional journey that I went through. It ties into our relationship with nature, and what it’s like to be alone out, all by yourself, and to be actually prey as opposed to predator, and the kinds of things that go through your mind and all that kind of stuff.”

Kennedy is an instructor at Yukon College and has lived in the Yukon for a year. Before that, he lived in N.W.T. for 10 years. He has also spent parts of his life in Nunavut and on Haida Gwaii in northern B.C., and calls himself a “pan-northerner.”

Back in 2009, Kennedy had planned a three-week bicycle trip from Yellowknife to Edmonton. He had booked the time off work. He had been planning for a year.

But only days before the planned departure, he was kayaking on Great Slave Lake and broke his wrist.

The cycling trip was out of the question, but Kennedy thought that spending three weeks alone in the woods with a fibreglass cast and a 70-pound backpack was a reasonable alternative plan.

His doctors did not necessarily agree.

Neither did the park’s caretakers, who initially advised against trying to follow an old road, abandoned and overgrown since the 1970s. He didn’t tell them about the broken arm.

But park officials changed their tune after Kennedy got the right person on the phone, he said.

“He actually had been curious, he wanted to know, ‘Could somebody hike through there?’” said Kennedy.

And so he was off, with only a compass and map to guide him.

“There certainly was a very good possibility when I left that I wouldn’t be able to find my way.”

The old road, fortunately, had been built up quite well, and the road bed was usually visible even as 30-foot tall aspen grew from it, said Kennedy.

Over the course of the trek, he spotted wolves, was charged by a bison and woke up with the nose of a bear in his face.

And although arms are not required for hiking itself, his broken wrist posed it own set of challenges. Like, for starters, getting a heavy pack from the ground onto a back.

“What I would do is I would set it on the ground, and then I would sit down on my butt, on the ground right in front of it. And then I would put my arms through and lean forward so I was on all fours, like a turtle, and then grab a tree and try to climb up,” said Kennedy.

“I tended to keep it on all day, because every time I took it off it was this big hassle trying to get it back on again.”

He made it home in one piece, although his cast was perhaps a little worse for wear.

“The cast was not in very good shape by the time I got back. It was pretty bedraggled. It had to be removed right away and get a new one put on, because it smelled pretty horrible. It had been dipped in dirty water, and I think there was actually mould growing in it.”

Kennedy calls the journey a “turning point” in his life.

Now, he has translated the experience into a one-man show, a stripped-down monologue. No lighting changes, so sound cues, no props, no costumes. Just Kennedy, on a chair, telling a story.

“It’s kind of challenging, it’s really hard to be out there just by yourself with really nothing to fall back on. If I forget my lines or if I lose my way somehow, well, I have nobody to rely on but myself.”

Wait, is he talking about the play or the wilderness journey?

It’s both.

“It’s almost like trying to have another adventure, like the adventure I had when I went on that trip,” said Kennedy.

After that first trip, he remembers getting that feeling of “If I can do this, I can do anything,” he said. But the feeling fades over time.

Now, after performing this play in front of strangers, he’s coming back to that same place.

“Doing this is giving me that same kind of feeling again.”

Wolf Trek has been well received so far at the Nanaimo and Victoria Fringe festivals. The Times Colonist gave it a four-star review.

Kennedy will perform the show Friday and Saturday at the Wood Hall in Victoria, and September 5-15 at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

He expects that there will be a performance in Whitehorse at some point in the fall, but nothing has been scheduled.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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