A Prince George elementary school teacher was among a group of five who participated in a 25-day trip along the entire 1,400 kilometre length of the Fraser River, from its headwaters near Mount Robson to the shores of the Salish Sea in Vancouver.
"It was amazing, it was the trip of a lifetime," Lori Eaton said Friday.
It was more than about paddling. Called the sustainable living leadership program, it is put on every year by the Rivershed Society of B.C., founded by Fin Donnelly who has swum the Fraser River twice to raise awareness about river ecosystems and what can be done to protect them.
Donnelly also serves as MP for New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody.
The society's mission is to "protect, conserve and restore the health of B.C. riversheds within a generation."
The trip brought home to Eaton the Fraser's significance to the province.
"The river is a really important part of B.C.'s history and protecting it is all of our responsibilities," Eaton said. "I think conservation needs to come from the love of the land, a love of the water."
The journey began July 31 and the first three days were spent learning about each other, leadership, camp systems, the Fraser River and its riversheds, the sustainability challenge and how to paddle as a team and on the fourth, Danielea Castell of the Water Gratitude Society performed a water ceremony before the group embarked on their paddle journey.
While in the Robson Valley, they stayed overnight at Culp's organic farm in Dunster, spent time at Rainbow Falls in McBride and hiked and camped for three nights in the Goat River Valley, an old-growth fir forest near Crescent Spur.
Leaving the Upper Fraser, they stopped at the Ancient Forest east of Prince George - home to some of the province's last remaining old-growth cedars. Later that day, in Quesnel, they shared a potluck dinner with Blackwater Paddlers before touring the Baker Creek Enhancement Society's Nature Centre.
In the Fraser Canyon, they visited the Xatll Heritage Village, a traditional First Nations community and, traveling by raft, they visited sites that have been used as summer camps by First Nations for centuries.
They took part in a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fisheries demonstration, toured the Sustainable Living Potato House in Williams Lake, and heard from Richard Case about Transition Towns while having dinner at the Scout Island Nature Centre.
From Williams Lake, the group continued by raft, guided by Fraser River Raft Expeditions, to the Cathedrals - a remote area with dramatic hoodoos - and camped on beaches beside the river. On a layover day, the participants each embarked on a half-day solo hike to be alone and think about what they had learned so far.
From there, they rafted in to Lillooet where the Xwsten First Nation took them on a guided tour of the Bridge River fish rocks, the band's traditional fishing grounds. Participants were shown how to cut, hang and dry a fish, and how all the parts of a salmon are used.
From Hope, the trip continued by canoe, with stops at Kilby in Harrison, the Glen Valley Organic Farm in Langley, Colony Farm Community Gardens in Coquitlam and the Fraser River Discover Centre in New Westminster.
They shared dinner and stories with the Kwikwetlem First Nation and presented their project plans to each other. Eaton is working an educational unit plan on the Fraser River for her Grade 6 students.
"It's emphasize the biodiversity of the river, its historical and cultural significance, and conservation," Eaton said. "Hopefully, the students will apply what they've learned about the Fraser to another important river in the world as well. That's the big idea right now."