In August 2015, we drove from Victoria (BC) all the way to up to Tuktoyaktuk (NWT) via the Dempster highway, passing through the Yukon and Alaska.
For Corinne Copreni and Jess Watt, crossing the Arctic Circle was a ‘must’ on their bucket list
Being an RCMP officer north of the Arctic Circle must be a lonely job – a frontier post with little to do but shovel caribou poop off your doorstep and serve noise complaints to seal colonies. Imagine the bemusement then, in suddenly being called to host a pair of lunatics who are blue-lipped from swimming in the Arctic Ocean, on a day when the outside temperature is two degrees above zero.
Lunatic A: Corinne Copreni, a quick-to-grin account executive with Bell Media who periodically tells her boss she’s taking four months off to drive to Vladivostok or where-have-you. Lunatic B: Jess Watt, the photographer extraordinaire who is documenting and fully participating in off-the-beaten-path hijinks.
Together, they are Team Offtrax, a two-woman adventure crew that can list the following accomplishments on their respective bucket lists: They are the first and only female members of the Mongolian Subaru club. They’ve traveled through 55 countries together in the last eight years, including driving from the southern tip of India to the hilly lands east of Bangladesh in a three-wheeled tuk-tuk at an average speed of 35 km/h. Last year, they drove 33,497 kilometres from London through nearly every single country they could find ending in “-stan.”
Clearly, interviewing such an adventurous pair shouldn’t happen in the heart of the concrete jungle, but out on the road. Early on a Friday, I hopped in a rally-blue Subaru BRZ and headed up towards Pemberton, B.C., to catch them before they hit the gravel again.
Offtrax’s latest expedition, in partnership with Subaru Canada, is no cushy, well-catered holiday cruise. Starting in August at Victoria, B.C., they headed straight up the island to Campbell River, equipped with camping gear, an inReach satellite phone and GPS, plenty of beef jerky and an essentially factory-spec Subaru XV Crosstrek.
“We wanted something straight out of the dealership,” Copreni says. “It’s more of a challenge.”
Aside from a front skidplate to protect the oil pan, the pair’s silver Crosstrek is identical to the one sitting in your local Subaru showroom. The clay-like mud of the Yukon still clings to its silver flanks and there are a couple of B.C.-special rock chips in the windshield, but it’s the same tires, the same factory roof racks, and – bless Subaru for offering this – the same manual transmission you could order tomorrow if you felt like it.
Look at other adventure teams and you’ll see heavy modifications from driveline upgrades to additional 300-litre fuel tanks. The Offtrax XV Crosstrek is basically a lifted version of the regular Subaru Impreza, a 148-horsepower compact car.
Team Offtrax isn’t sticking to the easy routes, either. They’ve had their little silver Crosstrek tip-toeing down the high, narrow logging roads near D’Arcy, with a sheer drop-off.
“You said it was making you dizzy,” Watt jokes.
“You have to go really slow,” Copreni points out. “Otherwise, you might come around a corner too fast and whoosh.”
B.C.’s gravel back roads and forestry service roads form a network covering thousands of kilometres throughout the province. The locals know where to go, and maybe a few off-road clubs, but there’s a huge untapped potential out there.
“I think it encourages people to get out and explore,” Copreni says.
The 10,000 kilometres of gravel and lonely northern roads that the pair will have travelled by the end of this trip is actually relatively plain sailing compared to past deeds. Last year’s Mongolian Charity rally saw them put three times that distance under the wheels of a Euro-spec Crosstrek, fitted with a 1.6-litre diesel. There were more than a few surprises.
“The biggest Subaru dealerships were in Kazakhstan,” Copreni says. “Huge places!”
When asked to pick a highlight from their expedition, crossing the border of the actual Arctic Circle is a bucket list item that simply had to be checked. Beyond that, both agree that B.C. was full of hidden gems.
“Liard hot springs, just the hottest after all those cold morning baths in rivers,” Copreni says.
“Farwell Canyon,” Watt adds. “Just amazing.”
“I think we both agreed that we could move here and be happy just roaming around,” says Copreni.
But once the trip is over, it’s back to the daily grind. Both Watt and Copreni have day jobs. Exploration and adventure are a huge part of their lives, but they’ve got to put in a lot of planning and careful budgeting to make these expeditions work.
“There were a lot of sandwiches being made on that dashboard,” Copreni grins.
The weather was wet for much of the drive, but spirits remained undampened. The pair camped the whole way, finding hidden lakes and drying out their tents on the roadside near Lillooet in a rare bit of sunshine. They swam in the Fraser river, saw the hoodoos of the Chilcotin, chatted with Inuit, hung their sign next to hundreds of others near Watson Lake, spotted caribou, black bears and sled dog teams, and made friends with those curious about the stickered-up Subaru.
We part ways at the head of the logging road that leads south from Pemberton to Harrison Hot Springs. I’ll take the tarmac back to the city, while Team Offtrax hits the gravel yet again. Later that evening, I see by their Instagram feed that they arrive back in Vancouver just in time to receive a spectacular sunset by way of farewell.
This winter, they’ll be trekking through the Alps. In a couple of years, they’ll be trying to go right through the Americas, from Arctic to Antarctic.
Those are bigger trips, but the really great example that Team Offtrax sets is that you don’t need a big budget and a huge equipment list to explore our ridiculously vast country. You just need a spirit of adventure, a map, a co-conspirator and perhaps a willingness to hit up your lonely policeman for a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa.