Alison Gu has been an environmental activist for as long as she can remember.
She recalls being seven years old and turning off the taps “at every moment” when her mom was trying to wash her face.
When she reached high school, she would become the president of Burnaby North’s environmental club.
Today, at the age of 20, the Burnaby native is taking her activism one step further.
Gu and Sarah Mitchell, both students at McGill University, will be biking across Canada in protest of Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain expansion project.
Construction of the controversial $7.4-billion Edmonton-to-Burnaby pipeline is expected to start in September. When complete, it will triple capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil a day and increase tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet sevenfold.
The 20-year-olds will start in Ottawa on June 24 and arrive in Burnaby on Aug. 9. (They’ll take a train from Sudbury to Winnipeg in order to avoid a dangerous stretch of road.)
The idea is to raise a dollar for each kilometre travelled – exactly $4,461. The money will go towards the Pull Together campaign, which supports First Nations and their legal battles against Kinder Morgan.
“After I got to university, I learned about how environmental advocacy is very much tied to indigenous solidarity,” says Gu of her decision to set out on two wheels. “You can’t really be an environmental activist without thinking about the people who are most disproportionately harmed.”
“First Nations are the ones who are leading the movement, and have been fighting this battle for a long time now,” she adds. “Instead of trying to overpower their voices and try to speak louder, we can support them by financially backing them. It’s a good way for non-indigenous folks to kind of show up.”
The pair plan to cycle between 80 and 100 kilometres a day and rest once a week.
But the ride won’t be without its struggles.
In January, Gu sustained her sixth concussion. Some of her concussions are due to sports injuries and “stupid accidents,” and on one occasion, she was hit by a car when she was biking.
In March, Gu started training with an indoor bike trainer, and as the weather got nicer, she managed to get up to 10 kilometres a day, eventually riding between 20 and 40 kilometres a day in May, and 80 kilometres on weekends.
“We’re starting off relatively light. We’re only doing about 60 (kilometres) each day for the first two weeks,” she says.
The girls will be self-funding the trip and borrowing as many bike tools as possible. To further keep costs down, they plan to camp along the way.
“My parents were very much against it in the beginning,” Gu admits, adding it’ll just be the two of them on the road with no car or van following along. “There’s a lot of things that could go wrong on a trip like this.”
Grizzly bears are one concern, she says with a laugh.
“I’m a bit worried, especially in B.C. because grizzlies are not as friendly as black bears. Otherwise, I don’t have any expectations except I know it’ll be hard. I will be tired. I will be wet. I will be angry and sad, but it’s all part of the experience.”
Besides training, Gu has been volunteering at a bike collective for the last two months, teaching people how to fix their bikes.
“I’ve learned a lot and I feel capable of taking care of myself on the road,” she says.
Given her concussions, Gu hopes the trip will “recharge” her physical and mental health.
“I think there’s an undeniable link between mental health and how much time we spend in nature,” she says.
Gu and Mitchell have already raised $1,200 of their goal. To follow their journey or to donate, visit cyclistsinsolidarity.com.