Montreal

Adventurous 11-year-old Quebecer plans to sail and bike from Mont-Tremblant to Taddousac

Koko Lee says she wants to return the spirit of the whale that died in Montreal last year back to its home.

Koko Lee says she wants to return the spirit of the whale that died in Montreal last year back to its home

Koko Lee, 11, is an avid cyclist and sailor on a mission to honour the spirit of the whale that died in Montreal last year. (Photo by Jean-Marie Savard)

An 11-year-old Quebec girl who lives in the Laurentians is preparing for a more than 620-kilometre trip cycling and sailing from Mont-Tremblant to Taddousac.

Koko Lee told CBC's Breakaway that she was inspired to do this because of the humpback whale that died in the port of Montreal in the spring of 2020.

"The whale that came all the way to Montreal, I wanted to bring her home because she died in a place that wasn't her home. She didn't get to see her mom or get to die close to her. So I wanted to bring her spirit her back home so she could at least see her mom in heaven," said Koko.

The journey won't be an easy one, but Koko remains undaunted by the project she's taken on.

Koko Lee first learned to sail in 2017 when she was only seven years old. (Submitted by Chia-Ying Ko )

"I'm going to be biking from my home in Lac Mercier all the way to Montreal (150 km). Then from Montreal, I'm going to sail all the way to Quebec City (250 km), and then I'm going to bike all the way to Tadoussac (220 km) and bring her home like that," she said.

"It is a challenge, but I don't think it's going to be so difficult as if you were crossing around the world on the ocean."

All of Koko's family, including her two younger brothers, are on board with her project.

Raymond, 9, and Unnick, 6, have been learning how to help their sister launch her Optimist dinghy and secure it at the dock.

To prepare for the trip, Koko has embarked on several practice trips. (Submitted by Chia-Ying Ko )

While she sails in the one-person craft, her father will accompany her in a kayak and the two will stay in touch via walkie-talkie. They plan to stay close to shore the whole time to avoid running into any trouble.

During the cycling portion of her trip, her parents will take turns riding with Koko and the family will be camping in the car during the trip.

Koko said she felt it was important that she not create any carbon emissions during her journey.

"I don't want any pollution to come into this project," she said.

On her journey, Koko Lee will be using an Optimist Dingy which measures about two metres long. (Submitted by Chia-Ying Ko )

Koko first learned to sail in 2017, while attending a sailing camp in Montreal. 

Chia-Ying Ko, Koko's mother, told CBC that her daughter has always been ambitious.

"With Koko, she likes to overcome her difficulties," said Chia-Ying.

"We like our kids to take up challenge, to challenge themselves from what they think is crazy or not possible," she added. "Through the process they grow a lot, they mature a lot."

Koko poses with the sculpture that was established in honour of the whale in Lachine. (Submitted by Chia-Ying Ko )

While she admires her child's fearless approach, Chia-Ying says they'll be putting safety first, adapting to weather and keeping a flexible timeline.

"It's not a challenge that we want to set a world record or something. We want to peacefully bring the spirit of the whale home."

LISTEN | Koko Lee and her mother describe the project and its inspiration:

A family from the Laurentians has quite the summer project this year. It's coming together to support their eldest daugher, 11-year-old Koko Lee, in her journey by bike and sail from Mont Tremblant to Tadoussac.

With files from CBC's Breakaway, Marika Wheeler

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