Rachel Thevenard ran in high school; she ran track and cross country, and trained for long-distance.
But she never ran a marathon.
“I mean, I hadn’t even run a half-marathon,” said 22-year-old Thevenard, who lives in Waterloo.
For the past week, she’s been running the equivalent of one a day — between 25 and 50 kilometres — and isn’t letting up. This is her plan until mid-January: to run along Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline, which is reversing its flow and was approved to transport bitumen as well as crude oil.
Thevenard is running along its 2,306-kilometre path from Sarnia to Montreal in protest. In mid-December her path took her through Toronto, stopping at the York University Student Centre for a potluck and performance by local hip-hop duo Test Their Logik — “I’m running through the heart of downtown Toronto, telling people, this happening under your feet,” she said from Mississauga as she prepared to head into the city.
A few weeks later, on Jan. 2, Thevenard’s quest had taken her far past the GTA and just north of the town of Prescott, as she follows the pipeline as closely as possible. By now she and her team are north of Hwy. 401, as close to the Line 9 route as possible — and some distance from most of the towns along the St. Lawrence corridor.
Per the constitution, governments are required to consult First Nations before allowing developments that would affect their land. The National Energy Board has, however, approved Enbridge’s request to reverse the flow from westward to eastward and carry 300,000 barrels a day.
“It’s disgusting,” said Thevenard, who had been thinking about running the pipeline since she first heard of it a few years ago. (The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, saying it was not consulted about the pipeline, is filing a leave to appeal to the Supreme Court after the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed its case in a 2-1 decision.)
It was a talk on environmental racism at her school, the University of Waterloo, by Vanessa Gray of Aamjiwnaang First Nation that pushed her to do it.
Gray and Thevenard now point to a similar pipeline operated by Enbridge, Line 6B, which spilled into a creek in Michigan and flowed into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. It is the largest inland oil spill.
“I don’t plan on evolving out of drinking water,” Thevenard said. “So if communities want to stay safe and want to drink water, they need to protect it.”
Enbridge spokesperson Graham White acknowledged the protest, saying last month via email that “We respect the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully, but feel that genuine progress can only made through respectful and collaborative discussion.”
“Line 9 is a safe pipeline that has been operating safely since its installation more than 40 years ago,” he wrote, adding that the pipeline had been upgraded for the switch, including new valves, maintenance work, facility enhancements and that the line is operating at a lower pressure as required by the NEB. He said the company had, in fact, consulted with First Nations, the public, and different levels of government over the past three years.
The campaign is nonetheless gaining traction. Thevenard has received support from Climate Justice Montreal, the Chippewas of the Thames, and strangers along the way.
A running-apparel store owner — and former running coach — gave Thevenard his number and told her to call if she needed help. Before starting, she had no experience with long-distance or extreme cross-country running. “I’ve Googled some of this stuff, but a lot of it has just been people, thankfully, offering me advice,” she said.
Running alongside the pipeline on remote stretches of highway has been different than the welcome Thevenard received in Toronto and Sarnia. Very few towns in the St. Lawrence corridor are situated along the pipeline’s path.
“We do get people that stop and ask her if she’s OK, ‘cause they think . . . she’s running to get gas or something,” said is Rochelle Smith, a spokesperson working with the Stop Line 9 campaign.
Thevenard is a little sore at the moment — she was forced to extend her holiday break after catching a cold — but she’s getting back into the rhythm of running up to 50 kilometres a day.
She plans to take Monday off because of the extreme cold (the forecasted high in her area is -11) but will still be arriving at the Embridge Terminal, Line 9’s end, on Jan. 6. Knee tendon pain and her cold have extended her travel time — she was originally supposed to be in Montreal on Jan. 2.
“My body’s been taking a lot of hits it’s not supposed to,” she said.
She sighed when asked if she was afraid of hurting herself. “I will literally wheelchair against Line 9 if I have to. This pipeline has to be stopped.”
With files from Brennan Doherty