Earlier this year I moved to the San Juan Islands. I wanted to pursue coaching sea kayaking in a more serious way, and an opportunity had come up that would provide me plenty of work coaching classes all summer long. I was excited to spend so much time on the water with other people, helping them improve their skills and make the most out of being on the sea.
During the summer I met a couple different people who were kayaking around Vancouver Island, and that idea started to sound pretty appealing: a big expedition would be a great personal challenge and also give me lots of time to think, as most people take a month or more to complete the trip. I was leaving a full-time job after 12 years and wanted time to sort out what I wanted to do next in my life. Of course, given my busy work schedule during the summers, I knew that I could not complete the trip when most people did.
Well, what about doing the trip the winter? After inquiring with local paddlers and a lot of internet searching, I found that at least two people had attempted it, but neither finished. This was starting to be more and more appealing. After all, with my background in winter expeditions and even cold weather paddling trips, surely this was something I could complete. I could be the first around in the winter! It couldn’t be too bad. At least, that was what I thought sitting on a deck in the warm August sunshine.
As I started looking into the details I started to realize just how difficult the trip would be. 700+ miles during the darkest time of the year. Cold winds and freezing temperatures up the inside passage. Then, once you turn to the outer coast I could expect near constant rain and wild sea states whipped up by massive winds that can last for days. The hardest parts of this trip might not be the paddling, but rather the time spent on the beach, huddled in a cold tent and wondering exactly how long the food would last. It did not sound pleasant, and I started second guessing my idea of a winter circumnavigation. I had been saying I wanted to do it for the past few months, but could I do it? Would I be successful? Would I be too miserable to complete the trip? Still, the idea held an allure... I went back and forth.
In October I helped to coach at the Lumpy Waters symposium in Oregon. That weekend I watched a talk about the first successful kayak circumnavigation of Svalbard. While sitting there in the audience it occurred to me: the only difference between us and the people we admire, our heroes, our inspirations, is that they made the decision to do something. They are not endowed with special abilities, they just stopped dreaming and chose to act, to go out each day and work towards their goals. I want to be that way in my life, to make the decision to accomplish hard things and then pursue them each day. I realized that I CAN do this trip in the winter. All I needed to do was make the decision and put in the work.
So I have. I decided: I am going. The trip is happening! Right now, that means doing something every day to get ready. There is a lot to do, but I am excited to get to work.