Lots of kids dream about driving a fire truck when they grow up, but Seth Warren and Tyler Bradt, two professional kayakers from Missoula, Montana, have turned the dream into a reality—with a twist. Warren, 29, and Bradt, 20, aren’t putting out five-alarm fires, but spreading the word about biofuels. The two are currently driving a Japanese fire truck, converted to run on biodiesel and vegetable oil, from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina, on an expedition they call the Oil and Water Project. Last summer Warren and Bradt founded the Biofuels Education Coalition, which is dedicated to educating the public about alternative energy. During their 10-month trip, which began in July, they’ll hit the best whitewater on two continents, blog about their journey, and give community presentations on their earth-friendly wagon. We caught up with them in Utah, just before they dipped below the Mexican border.
How did you get involved with this project?
Seth Warren: Tyler and I were in Africa, where we were doing kayak expeditions on the Blue and White Nile. That’s where we dreamed up the idea to go around the world. Last summer I was at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee and I randomly stumbled into these guys from Clif Bar who had a booth on alternative energy. It sparked my interest; I really wanted to put more into my world travels. I called Tyler right away and at first he said, “Ah, yeah maybe.”
What kind of fuels are you planning on using?
SW: Basically, the idea for this trip is to use the native plant and animal oils from all the different regions along the way. From Alaska to Idaho we used waste oil filtered from the top of a pile of fish guts. Through Central America we’ll be using the Jatropha plant, which has a high oil bearing seed. Right now we’re using waste oil from fast food restaurants.
Is it hard getting oil from restaurants?
SW: About half the time we’ll just be sitting in a restaurant eating and someone will come out and say, ‘is that your rig out there?’ and ‘hey do you need vegetable oil?’ And we say, “we sure do.”
How have people reacted to your journey?
Tyler Bradt: Overall the reception has been very positive. This is an issue right now that no one can deny is important—we have to come up with alternatives to our petroleum consumption. One of the things people seem to be most interested in is the vegetable seed press. We can actually process vegetable oil on the vehicle. We can take any seed and extract the oil through a simple screw press. That’s what separates this vehicle from others that run on vegetable oil.
We heard some Hollywood filmmakers want to document your trip?
SW: Yeah, the filmmakers flew out and offered us $250,000 to sell out and we said no. They weren’t in line with our mission. They wanted us to put Coors on the side of our truck.
So, no movie?
SW: We film everything we do. We have little cameras on our wrists. We shoot everything on high definition and have an extremely talented group of cinematographers and producers that we’re sending our footage to. So, we’re going to try and submit it to Sundance for January ’08.
How does vegetable oil compare to gas?
SW: The first thing you have to realize is that vegetable oil is not a substitute for gas. It’s a substitute for diesel. And the diesel engine was first invented to use vegetable oil. You can’t really tell the difference. It smells a lot better, but driving down the road you can’t tell.
Why the name Oil and Water?
TB: Oil is our fuel and water is our lifestyle.
What else do you have on that truck?
TB: We’ve got a fold out spiral staircase, pop up tent and an upper lounge deck that spans the length and width of the vehicle. We call that the upper lounge, it’s where we hang after paddling a river or giving a presentation. Right now the boys are out mounting our new surfboard rack. We’ve got 11 kayaks, six surfboards, four skateboards and a windsurfing kite. We’re collecting toys as we go along.
This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2006.
Copyright Environ Press 2006
Editors' Note: The movie "Oil + Water," made from footage shot on Warren and Bradt's adventures, went on to win several film festival awards, including "Best Environmental Film," "Best Picture," and "Best Documentary."