To the same question, Luke would answer that he had been a dozen of times in a sea
kayak on the great lakes. That's all the experience our team had. Insane, crazy, suicidal,
we've heard it all, but some actually ask "Why?" The reason I chose a kayak was
because the itinerary takes us through various rainforests. I have been in various jungles
before, and walking through the jungle isn't easy. Add to it carrying loads of equipment
and covering long distances and you quickly realize that the waterways represent the only
solution. Indigenous people were the first to understand it and most have settled along or
in the proximity of river banks. Sailboats can't reach them. Some people fly small
airplanes to the last runway and charter motor boats. I decided that arriving on my own
power was important to the first impression I would give to native people. I was also
happy to find a way more environmentally friendly than a motor boat. I had had a few
dugout canoe experiences in Indonesia, but quickly abandoned this thought as dugout canoes
wouldn't protect all the gear we needed and wouldn't perform well on the open sea. I was
left with only two options, a full Canadian type canoe or a kayak. Considering the
distance and possible sea condition we would encounter, kayaking was the only way.
Although I had never sat in one of those narrow crafts, I knew I would like it. When I
first moved to Seattle, I took a class to become a rafting guide and always observed the
kayakers with much interest. They flew by us, ran holes, and turned back to surf against
the current. I could easily picture myself trading my large cumbersome rubber raft for a
quick little plastic boat, but my finances at the time didn't allow me to start a new
sport so I just stored the idea in the back of my mind for a few years. When people ask me
if I knew how unstable kayaks were before planning to use them to carry sensitive gear,
again my experience in Indonesia taught me that long and narrow meant unstable. I will
always remember one of the first days I rode a dugout canoe with my adopted Mentawai
family in Sumatra. Martinus, his wife, son and I walked through the jungle to collect full
baskets of durian fruits and bananas and walked back to the navigable part of the river.
There, Martinus' mom and his young daughter were waiting for us with a perahu, a long
canoe dug out of a single tree. We loaded it with all the durians and bananas and
everybody climbed on board. Martinus and I being the heaviest (55 and 78 kgs respectively)
boarded last and were to sit in the middle. The canoe was too narrow for my hips. I
couldn't touch the bottom as I was uncomfortably stuck on both sides. With a smile
Martinus told me to kneel down which I did while he was holding the perahu. His mother and
daughter were standing up, one at the bow and one at the stern. They started to push us
with long bamboo sticks. Skilled with an amazing sense of balance, I had often seen
Mentawai people standing up and leaning on their bamboo sticks to push their canoe full of
products up and down rivers. I had even sat in a wider dugout canoe before, but this time
my kneeling position was uncomfortable and after fifteen minutes I had to release some of
the pressure on my legs. I had no idea that a single move from the odd tourist would
capsize the full boat. All the family went swimming among the fruits spread out all over.
It was a humbling experience that made me respect all long and narrow crafts. It also made
for good stories each time a new member of the family visited us.
In Japan during my last year of expedition planning, I knew very well that we couldn't
learn the necessary kayaking skills by ourselves in such a short period of time. On the
other hand we couldn't afford the extensive professional instruction. I approached John
Gray who goes by the nickname of Caveman. Founder of a leading eco-tourism company in
South East Asia, his kayak and sea experience is outstanding. He first turned me down
because he thought that with zero experience kayaking we couldn't be serious about
embarking on such expedition. I tried to convince him that both Luke and I were great and
versatile athletes and our goal was too important to give up. We would go with or without
his support, but we were aware of our total lack of kayaking skills and very much needed
his support. For months we exchanged emails between Thailand and Japan. Caveman tried to
convince us to quit, I tried to convince him to train us. He asked me to read the book
"We survived yesterday" (recommended reading) about a harrowing expedition down
the Pacific coast of Baja, which I did and commented back. Then the ultimatum arrived.
Caveman agreed to train us if we could arrive in Phuket the first week of April 98 and
swim one thousand meters of open water in less than fourteen minutes without breaking our
stroke a single time. That was it. If we could swim, he and his kayak course director Dave
Williams would train us for free. I received that email the last week of October 97. It
was good news but it was far from being a done deal. Luke had participated in a few
triathlons and was a decent swimmer. I was an average breast stroke swimmer, excellent
with fins, good underwater, but I didn't know how to crawl. I had five winter months of
work, expedition planning and website designing in which to fit swimming lessons and
training to become a competitive swimmer.
Most of my friends only commented with the word Impossible! Only Luke encouraged me. We
had trained together. I had done it cross-country skiing and had nothing to lose. I asked
my friend Steve, a swimming instructor to teach me the basic stroke and correct my bad
breathing technique. The first week of November 97, I couldn't swim fifty meters without
stopping once completely out of breath. The task was going to be hard and my last winter
in Hokkaido wasn't going to be on skis. Luke was swimming the thousand meters in pool in
twenty one minutes and I wasn't crawling. We went to the pool three to five times a week.
By December I had covered the distance for the first time in twenty eight minutes and had
reduced the time to twenty four minutes before Christmas. In January Luke was at sixteen
minutes and I was at twenty. In March Luke was closing in on fourteen minutes and I was
approaching sixteen. All our training had been limited to the pool.
We left Sapporo in a snow storm on April second and flew to Phuket
at the hottest period of the year. Caveman took us
swim in the beautiful bay of Nai Harn.
We spent two months in
Caveman lectured us about the ocean, meteorology, currents, waves,
swimming and other seamanship. During that time we paddled daily,
usually with Dave Williams and his Friend Roy, learning all the basics
and beyond. Even my first eskimo roll in a
real situation lead to a big learning experience. We did a mini-expedition
including a thirty five mile crossing and made great friends, but
a skill we barely had a chance to touch was surf kayaking. We trained
a few days with Dave, but at that time of the year surf never gets
big in Thailand. This led us to San Diego in search of experience
in the waves.
From Japan I had contacted Ed Gillet of South
West Kayaks in San Diego. We wished to fine tune our expedition
and surfing skills with the master in the field. Ed got his fame from
crossing solo and unassisted from California to Hawaii in 1985. It
is an incredible challenge nobody has yet repeated. No one could explain
better than Ed himself what that experience was like. I invite you
to read it on his website.
We paddled a few weekends with Ed and saw that mastering surfing skills was possible.
We just needed more experience on the water. This is why I chose the Sea of Cortez as the
first stage for CASKE 2000. The wind can blow very hard, but the surf is always more
gentle than on the Atlantic or Pacific coast. The Sea of Cortez is our training ground
with all the gear.
After a certain level of skills and experience, like Ed says, it comes to one thing:
"Do you have the mind to do it?" I think that unless you try you will never
know. If you have the mind to try and plan well, you will probably do it.
I want to express my gratitude to all the people who helped us train for CASKE 2000:
Steve Strugnell in the pool in Sapporo, John "Caveman" Grey, Dave Williams and
Roy Bachmeyer in Phuket Thailand and, Ed Gillet and the staff of South West Kayaks in San