Route Del Sol: it’s a crazy adventure for a good cause. Two young Aussies, two continents, tens of thousands of kilometres, and a blue van powered solely by renewable energy. All in the name of climate change.
T he Pan American Highway is the longest in the world, a 48,000-kilometre network of roads that stretches from Alaska in the north to the tip of Argentina in the south. It traverses the terrain of 15 countries as it snakes it way across two continents. It is, at times, treacherous but always beautiful with a backdrop that moves from snow-capped mountains to sparkling coastlines and from arid deserts to thick jungle.
For Keegan Taccori and Joel Gregory Hayes, the Pan American Highway is the ultimate road trip – with a difference. Joel and Keegan are attempting to become the first team in the world to travel from Alaska to Argentina using only renewable energy in an electric vehicle.
Their electric vehicle, a jaunty blue and yellow van, is powered by solar panels and battery pack, and so far, has taken them from the Arctic Circle to Vancouver, or as they call it, “Chapter One” of their big adventure. Known as Route Del Sol, Joel and Keegan are activists, travellers, surfers, and self-proclaimed gypsies who are using their newfound platform to raise awareness of the greatest issue facing our world: climate change.
We have thrown ourselves at this 100 per cent. We’re just two young dudes going out there and making it happenKeegan Taccori
The adventure begins
It is hard to believe that Joel and Keegan only met six months ago. They spend their days sharing the tiny space of a van, living, working, and sleeping side by side. Even Keegan admits it is kind of wild, but it is a partnership that just works.
The University of Wollongong (UOW) alumnus, who graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism at the end of 2017, said he and Joel clicked from the moment he responded to the latter’s online advertisement, searching for a business partner to join him on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. In fact, the first time they met in person was when Joel picked up Keegan from the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska.
“I finished university and was working in India for the 40K Globe program, and when that contract ended, I bought a one-way flight to Canada,” Keegan explains. “I was rock climbing, living in my van, and looking for work as a journalist, then I came across an expression of interest on an environmental job site that Joel had posted. He was looking for someone to jump on this project, to film a documentary, and help generate impact in this sector.
“We emailed a bit, and then spoke on the phone for about 40 minutes. We were interviewing each other really, and discussing how we deal with stress and resilience. I was interviewing him as much as he was interviewing me. I really understood what he was all about.”
Within two weeks, Keegan had sold his van and booked his flight to Alaska.
Leaving traditional life behind
For months, Joel had been based in Oregon, working with company Solarrolla on transforming a van into a fully renewable vehicle. The RV (Recreational Vehicle) is a converted Navistar International eStar, one of a fleet of 400 vehicles that was originally commissioned by the United States Department of Energy, under then President Barack Obama.
The team installed a 6kW solar panel awning and added a secondary 40kW-hour battery pack (the vehicle had its own battery which had fallen into disrepair due to lack of use), which enables the vehicle to get 200 miles (320 kilometres) on one charge.
Joel, originally from Tweed Heads, had walked away from his traditional life and sold his house in Australia in to fund the project. He was all in. When Keegan came on board, they formed the perfect team, each bringing different skills to the van. The scientist and the communicator, equally as passionate about making an impact on the world and opening a dialogue about the threat of climate change.
“I’ve always loved travelling,” Keegan says, on a hot Australian summer’s day, in a brief pause during their trip. The duo had returned home briefly, while they waited for North America to thaw and provide them with more energy-providing sunshine.
Keegan is describing what drew him to the trip, and why this is the platform that both Joel and Keegan believe will help them cut through the noise and raise awareness about sustainability, our dependence on fossil fuels, and climate change.
“I love writing and I see the media as the most influential thing within our society. It has the ability to generate the biggest impact and change at an incredible rate. A lot of people I know, who wanted to make a difference in society, chose between law and journalism, but I see media as the fun, creative, and faster way to effect change.”
Keegan and Joel set off on August 28, 2018. They headed north to the Arctic Circle, which lies at a latitude of 66.5 degrees north, where they celebrated by shaving their beards and drinking a Fosters beer. Then, they began the trip south, winding through the majestic mountain ranges of Alaska. The scenery was breathtaking; clean, crisp air, towering forests, fields of vibrant wildflowers, and a landscape dotted with bison, grizzlies, and mountain goats.
The little EV-that-could took Joel and Keegan through the wilderness of Alaska, with just a few hiccups along the way. Its solar panels take 20 hours to charge to full capacity, but in Alaska, where the sun is often low in the sky and not particularly powerful, it can take even longer.
Searching for the sun
“We were stuck in the mountains for a while,” Keegan says, with a laugh. “The vehicle uses tremendous amounts of energy to get over the mountains, and we ran out of energy at one point and had to pull over to the side of the road. Then we were hit by a snowstorm, so we were stuck there for a week.”
They eventually made their way over the mountain pass and into Canada’s Yukon Territory, a sparsely populated and rugged region. Captivated by the colours and landscapes of Kluane National Park, on the border of Alaska in Canada’s vast Yukon Territory, Keegan says it was the first time he had truly experienced autumn.
“Kluane is this beautiful, snow-capped mountain range. It’s absolutely gorgeous. We drove through there for days on end. Autumn starts much earlier up north, so we spent weeks chasing the season, watching the trees change colour. It was incredible.”
It was in this area that Keegan and Joel found themselves stranded once more. “We were stuck for two weeks, and we ran out of food, so we had to hitchhike into the nearest town,” Keegan says. “But we were close to Liard Hot Springs, which was pretty great.”
They continued along the Alaska Highway, heading south. Making their way via Dawson Creek, a small town in British Columbia that marked the end of the Alaska Highway, they were relieved to finish in Vancouver. Having access to the city’s hydrogrid, where they could easily charge their vehicle at the available electric charging stations, was a welcome change and an insight into the disparity between communities that have embraced renewable energy, and those that have not.
“We are pretty confident we are the first people to have driven the length of the Alaska Highway using only renewable energy,” Keegan says. “Even those who are using a petrol-based car, there are huge stretches of highway that have no fuel stations, so people have to have jerry cans in their car. Vancouver is incredible because it is really geared towards renewable energy. The infrastructure is there to support it.”
A community focus
Throughout Chapter One of their adventure, Keegan and Joel have been engaging with communities along the way, talking to the people they meet about their vehicle and about the importance of renewable energy. It helps that their vehicle is an eyesore. When the solar panel awning is extended, to take full advantage of the sun, it is a captivating site. Every time they stop, they are surrounded by dozens of local citizens who want to find out more.
“The point of Route Del Sol is to connect with likeminded people,” Keegan explains. “We are getting connections from the communities we stop in along the way, but also from all over the US, Europe, and Australia. We want to show that it is possible to transition to renewable energy, that we can drive from North America to Argentina without using a drop of fuel.
“There are lots of communities in Canada and the US that have relied on the oil and gas industries for their livelihoods for decades. We don’t want to get rid of fossil fuels and have these people left in the gutter. There are options to transition to sustainable industries that will provide jobs and opportunities for these communities.”
The response from the people they have met along the way has been heartwarming and a little surprising to the duo.
“I’ve been travelling for years,” Keegan says, “and I’ve never felt such a warm reception. It’s been amazing. When we meet people and tell them our story, they have greeted us with wide open arms. We’ve stayed the night with strangers who we had met only 20 minutes before, they’ve cooked food for us and welcomed us into their homes. We didn’t think we would receive this sort of welcome, we hadn’t expected it, but it’s been incredible.”
From little things, big things grow
Keegan and Joel are clearly passionate about climate change, and doing what they can to reduce their impact on the planet. And they believe we should all be doing what we can, no matter how small it feels.
“Anthropogenic climate change is the greatest issue our world is facing,” Keegan says. “I grew up in the Blue Mountains, which is a giant national park, and I went to uni in Wollongong, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
“It is really sad to see what we are doing to the environment. If I want my kids and my grandkids to be able to walk through the same forests that I did growing up and travelling the world, it is something that we need to bring to the forefront of our focus. We are at the point of no return. Now it is about curving it so it doesn’t reach the full spectrum of damage.”
Leave only footprints
In addition to their reliance on renewable energy, Route Del Sol will offset any inadvertent or unavoidable carbon emissions they make along the way, when they have no choice but to rely on fossil fuels. Their flights to and from the US will be offset and when they pass from Central to South America, they will have to ship their van across Darien Gap, a 106-kilometre missing link in the Pan American Highway.
Throughout the first chapter of their trip, Keegan and Joel have been taking photos, filming for their YouTube channel, and writing blog posts about the people they’ve met along the way. The aim is to create a movie-length documentary, called Surface Area, that will reflect on climate change, the environment, energy, social activism, and their journey from the depths of Alaska to the tip of Argentina.
For Keegan, the journalist, it has been a dream come true.
“Every day I have a camera in my mind, I’m editing, I’m writing stories, I’m vlogging,” he says. “I’m really learning on the job. I’ve never made a documentary before but we’re learning on the way.”
The adventure continues
They still have a way to go. Next up is Chapter Two. From Vancouver, the duo is heading south, through Washington, Oregon, and California, before entering the sprawling nation of Mexico and weaving their way down Central and South America. There are many countries left to see, Spanish still to learn, and many more months ahead, just the two of them in their van. The trip is expected to take them until the end of summer 2020.
They are many perks for the avid surfers and rock climbers, with thousands of kilometres of spectacular coastline to experience and national parks just waiting to be explored. But it is their passion for making an impact, for helping others to see that change is possible, that will spur Keegan and Joel through the next 18 months of a nomadic, minimalist existence.
“We have thrown ourselves at this 100 per cent,” Keegan says. “We’re just two young dudes going out there and making it happen. We didn’t want to just talk about it. Climate change is the biggest threat we will face in our lifetime. It is so much better to do something, no matter how small, than to just do nothing.”
Photos courtesy of Route Del Sol