Brent Hendren did more in his 27 years than most people do in two lifetimes
WOODSTOCK - He loved sleeping under the stars and sought solace in wild places.
And Brent Hendren wasn’t afraid to hitchhike alone across the country to find his bliss in the backcountry of British Columbia.
There he lived off the land in a remote cabin on Kumdis Island in Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands).
The 27-year-old former city resident, whose parents still reside in the Woodstock area, believed owning less stuff was the only solution to the woes of his generation.
Setting an example for others, everything he owned he carried in his backpack.
So when it was found washed up on a shore in Masset Inlet last month, his parents and friends knew that something had gone very wrong.
Hendren was reported missing April 21, four days after he borrowed a small motorboat from his friend in Port Clements and left to work on a garden and forage in a location about 10 kilometres up the coastline.
“He didn’t make it and we don’t know what happened,” said his mother Jayna Leroux-Hendren.
The boat and other belongings were found in several locations throughout the inlet.
A massive three-day search by the RCMP, military and coast guard did not locate his body.
It is believed he perished in the frigid inlet waters.
His parents speculated that his boat could have been caught up in a whirlpool caused by the 12-foot tides.
Brent, who had an IQ in the top five percentile of the country, grew up in Woodstock attending Eastdale Public School, St. Mary’s Catholic High School and later Huron Park Secondary School.
He often became easily bored with school but bowled, loved karate and Sea Cadets.
While his peers at high school graduation were going on to college or starting a work placement, it was announced at the ceremony that Brent was leaving to travel.
“That’s what he wanted to do,” his mother said. “He loved being outdoors.”
In September 2010 he hitchhiked across the country, stopping for a free white water canoeing adventure in Thunder Bay before continuing on to B.C.
It was during the canoe course — an unexpected opportunity due to a cancellation — he received his aboriginal name Long Thumb.
He returned home to Woodstock a couple of times, working Christmases at a major electronics store — where he became the top part-time seller in the country — in order to fund his adventures.
In 2011 he became involved in Occupy Toronto, a protest and demonstration that began in October.
“He very much believed people need to cut back in their possessions and big companies need to care more about the little person,” his mother said.
It was there he met a couple who lived in a simple home in India and in 2012 he travelled there.
Over seven months he spent only $1,000, including dental work to repair a broken tooth.
In Nepal, he hoped to visit the base camp at Mount Everest but was forced to return home because of a parasite he acquired in India.
His parents said when he returned he looked like Jesus and his hair had grown to nine inches long. He was growing it to cut and give it to the charity Locks of Love.
While recovering at home in Woodstock, he cooked a seven-course Indian meal from scratch for 13 guests.
“It was fantastic,” his mother said.
While working in the hospitality industry in Lake Louise, Brent fell while hiking and injured his foot so severely he was airlifted to a hospital for surgery, before returning home to recuperate.
Despite never owning a car, Brent always seemed to find a way to get around.
“I bought him a car once, but he didn’t want it,” said his father Dave Hendren.
In May 2014 he left Woodstock to explore northern Canada, paddling 735 km in 11 days from Whitehorse to Dawson City. There he met up with an old friend whom he went hiking with and canoed the Klondike River.
Brent met his partner Christy Konschuh (Conch) when she picked him up at a hitchhiking post on her way to Masset for a job interview on Dec. 9, 2014.
They had much in common and quickly fell in love. She spent as much time as she could at his cabin on Kumdis Island where he spent the winter in a remote cabin making repairs, creating gardens, even building a bridge.
Konschuh said she and their friends plan to continue his work known as wildcrafting at the cabin.
“He was working hard at his cabin,” she said. “His goal was to be a productive member of society.”
She described him as full of surprises, an excellent conversationalist and wise beyond his years.
“It was easy to love him unconditionally,” she said in a phone interview from B.C. “He was very easy to be around.”
His parents said he told them he planned to use the money from a lucrative job mushroom picking this year to purchase land on the island, and was talking about several ventures that included pickling kelp and canning salmon.
He had even talked to his sister Jessica Hendren about marketing gourmet Christmas baskets in urban centres.
“He was a guy who never stood still,” explained his mother. “For the first time he was talking about the future.”
After his disappearance, Leroux-Hendren travelled to his cabin where she found his journals, and notes about why he chose to stay in the remote cabin.
He was there, his journals said, for personal growth, to practice discipline, re-awake his passion for learning, to develop new skills and gain emotional, mental and physical strength.
He wanted, he wrote, “to live in solitude, in the present and outside my head.”
“He did more in 27 years than most people do in two lifetimes,” his father said.
A memorial is being held for Brent at his parent’s home on June 6.