My gear is sorted into categories and packed into waterproof bags. I managed to gather and pack everything. I’m nervous that I’m forgetting something.
Here are the categories.
Health & medical
Camping and repairsElectronics and communications.
T minus 4 days. I’m done with my preparations. I got my GPS tracker. It’s normally used to locate stolen tractors or snowmobiles, but my family insisted on tracking and salvaging my kidney, should things go wrong. I also picked up my missing meals: 3 dozen assorted protein bars and a bag of energy jellybeans.
At this point I’m beginning to overthink every step of this expedition. I spent the last three days finalizing my itinerary and laminating tide charts. One of the key issues I had to tackle is where to spend my nights.
My hopelessly romantic goal has always been to stay as close to nature as possible and sleep in my tent on the beach. Unfortunately Southern California’s number one policy directive is rich homeowners first, hobos and traveling kayakers second. It’s horrible news for me, considering most of the coast is owned by rich home owners.
Laguna Beach seemed to be the most challenging, so I decided to write to City Hall requesting a special permit or exception to spending the night on the beach. In diplomatic jargon their response is known as a “polite fuck you”:
Unfortunately all of those beaches mentioned are either too close or too far from my starting point for that day. In a desperate attempt I turned to where one usually turns for advice on street sleeping. I did a Google search for ‘homeless blogs Southern California‘. Perhaps, I should not have done that.
Laminated daily itinerary and laminated tide charts.
As part of my kayak training program, I took the 17 foot Arcoiris Explorer on vacation. I loaded it on top of the car and drove 500 miles (900kms) from Los Angeles to the Sea Of Cortez, where I annexed and occupied a small uninhabited island for 4 days.
It was a special off the grid vacation that only 1 member of my family was willing to sign up for. The other 3 preferred cell phone signal, electricity and indoor plumbing.
The Arcoiris Explorer became a permanent fixture of our makeshift Robinson Crusoe camp at this pristine lagoon of Isla Coronado. Kayaking on the glassy waters of the Sea Of Cortez was pure joy. It was nothing like the rough and tumble Pacific. It was warm and inviting, unlike its so called “peaceful” neighbor. At 5AM I followed the sounds of blue whales. With the setting sun, I paddled 2 miles to a nearby seal colony. In between sessions I was polishing my paddling style or practicing my Eskimo roll, which is still an epic fail.
On one of my afternoon outings I learned two important things about seals. One, in nature they don’t play with adorable beach balls or clap their flippers together. Two, they can be insanely territorial. Every time I approached their rock colony, 6-7 well developed males jumped into the water and swam right alongside the kayak. As soon as they popped their heads out of the water they turned to me. They kept their distance, but their angry looks spoke volumes. It was essentially their coast guard unit. Needless to say that I kept my distance as well. The arrangement worked out for both parties.
Apart from my underwater camera which got flooded on day two, all my gear passed the test with flying colors. The equipment is ready for the big trip and so am I.
After a few training sessions I concluded that for every 4 hours of kayaking I need to take 2 Advils. At this rate I might as well name the boat “Advil”. It seemed like such a genius idea that I wrote a letter to the makers of Advil. This is what I got back:
After Advil was out, I turned to the social responsibility message of my trip for inspiration. Fighting for ocean sustainability and tuna protection, I couldn’t find a better namesake for my yak than the legendary Greenpeace vessel, the Rainbow Warrior.
As a teenager especially obsessed with an inevitable nuclear holocaust, the Rainbow Warrior played a special role in my life. Having sailed on a mission to halt nuclear testing in the South Pacific agents of the French government sank the boat in a New Zealand marina during the summer of 85. Unable to fathom how a non-communist government can be so evil, I was glued to my radio following the drama every night. I was heartbroken for days.
Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbor after bombing by French secret service agents.
Inspired by Greenpeace, I named the kayak the Arcoiris Explorer. Paying respect to my hosts in Mexico, I used the Spanish equivalent of rainbow. Godspeed “Arcoiris Explorer”.
Coming up next: How I fell in love with Phil at Greenpeace HQ who also named his yak after a legendary Greenpeace hero and climate change warrior.
After the euphoria of my graduation faded I realized that I had one more obstacle ahead of me: I didn’t have a kayak. Buying a kayak is like shoe shopping and bicycle shopping made a baby. A “yak” has to be comfortable, fitting and stylish like a shoe, but light, fast and sturdy like a bike. Unlike shoe and bike stores, there aren’t too many kayak retailers. Buying one online is just out of the question.
On my first trip to Southwind Kayaks in Irvine I learned three things.
- Sea Kayaking is a dying sport. People are buying SUPs and fishing kayaks.
- I’m too big for most boats.
- The only kayak that would fit me comfortably has been discontinued.
Luckily, Kei, the owner had a used one with low nautical mileage lying around in the marina.
Buying a piece of preowned plastic that’s supposed to keep me from drowning made me nervous. To ease my anxiety I had to lay my cards on the table. I told her that I was a famous kayak blogger and if that boat sank her business would sink with it too. My words must have carried some weight. She flawlessly refurbished the boat and delivered it to my house free of charge. (Now, I’m stuck with this blog.)
Even though I try to take only the absolute essentials with me on this trip, I managed to spend half of my kids’ college fund on accessories and kayak accoutrements including a super sexy sprayskirt. Spraykirts are used to keep the water out of the cockpit and the closest thing most guys ever come to cross-dressing in public.
The refurbished Current Design Storm GT made it home.
Some people love to take classes on any subject. I know someone who wanted to take a walking class to be a better walker. I, on the other hand prefer to learn things from the internet, YouTube videos or getting the Complete Idiot’s Guide To hobby of the moment.
Surviving on the open seas in a 17ft long plastic needle is not something that I wanted to take lightly. I thought maybe a real person should tell me what it’s like when a freak wave throws me out of the kayak, smacks me on the head, washes my paddle away while sharks are circling and not some guy who starts by saying, “Hello Youtubers”.
Unfaithful to my character I signed up at UCLA’s Marina Aquatic Center for a Sea Kayaking survival class. Out of the 3 students, one dropped out the moment she had to get into a kayak. “It’s way out of my comfort zone,” she said anxiously as she left the class. I still wonder about what she might have been expecting. Introduction to kayak theory? Comparative transnational feminist perspectives on sea kayaking?
After 6 hours of falling into the water and ungracefully crawling back into the needle, I got my degree from UCLA. I completed the course with flying colors.I’m not only a UCLA graduate, but a “qualified” sea kayaker.
I watched and re-watched a couple of films recently where the main character sets out on an epic physical challenge either for self-discovery or for survival. Reese Witherspoon didn’t do it for me in “Wild”. Bill Bryson’s “Into the Woods” made me realize that too much of the great outdoors can be outright boring. The Revenant just put me to sleep several times over a course of five days.
Then one night in March some 27,000 feet over the Atlantic a French movie came to me and and struck all the right cords. In “Comme Un Avion” (“Sweet Escape”) a fifty year old industrial designer trades his childhood dream of becoming an air mail pilot for going on a kayak adventure. Even though he’s clumsy, doesn’t get far, takes too much gear and gets drunk way too often, I felt inspired. I knew that a kayak was the way to go.
Paddling down the Los Angeles river has been my first choice of trek until I found out that only 3 miles out of its 48 are navigable. That somehow just did not meet my requirements for epic. Because of the friendly proximity of Pacific Ocean to my house one morning I decided that it had to be a sea kayak journey. I would just walk to the ocean with my kayak and leave. Every epic adventure should start with a highly convenient first step.
The one and only time I came near death I was in a kayak. In 1998, the flooded Danube shoved my boat under a pontoon dock. I slipped out of the kayak and couldn’t come up for air. My whole life flashed before my eyes as my head kept hitting the bottom of the pontoon above me.
Eighteen years, a wife and three kids later I felt it was time to get out on the water again. I wasn’t lacking thrills or wanting to get away from my family. I was craving the peaceful solitude of the water and the physical challenge that comes with long distance kayaking. At 46 I started worrying about the future of my muscles, joints and bones. I already feel every muscle in my body after 90 minutes of surfing. These days, any mildly strenuous activity comes with two Advils. The other day I hurt my shoulder just by disconnecting a USB cable.
Recently, I also started reminiscing about the free spirited adventures of my younger and less vulnerable years. I fondly look back to the days when I would just grab my bike and a friend and wouldn’t come home for a week.
I knew it was time to do something physically demanding, something difficult and something that slightly defies the odds. It was time to grab a self powered vehicle and not come home for a week… or two.