Long distance paddling
What I learnt when paddling 5,900 km from Oslo, Norway to Athens, Greece. The trip took some seven months and left me with experience, lessons and memories for a lifetime. I have reframed my mistakes as an opportunity to learn and develop.
Get in shape...before you begin
Long distance kayaking isn't a walk in the woods. It requires strength, balance and perseverance. I rowed 3 x 20km three times a week, in addition to running 3 x 10km and yoga stretches 3 x 30 minutes. Lower back pain is fairly common when paddling 40 - 50 km each day. Be mindful of your body’s limits and don’t push your body to do too much. Listen to your body and do what feels best for you in each moment. The better trained, the better the journey.
On a long-distance trip or any kind, there’s little guarantee that things will go according to plan. At some point, bad weather will roll through, gear will malfunction, and our bodies and mind will scream for a break. There’s only so much planning you can do to prepare for such a feat, so keeping an open mind is crucial. The more you can stop stressing about the circumstances outside of your control, and put your focus into problem solving as things come up, the greater joy you’ll get from the experience. That adaptability is the heart of endurance activities.
Pack light & smart
Packing for long-distance kayaking is a meticulous task, where every item you bring must serve its purpose – there is simply no capacity for frills! The MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent weighed 1,72kg, the inflatable mattress 560g, and the Patagonia lightweight sleeping bag 335g. I could pack everything but food and multi-media gear in a 55x37x35 cm IKEA shopping bag. The 71 liter bag holds a lot and I even had room for my trolley in the back cargo hold. Pack smart. If possible, use smaller dry bags 3-5 liters. I chose bags made of 600D PVC as these are more durable than, for example, Hypalon® or 70D nylon bags.
Focus on the moment
We live in the age of distraction. Yet one of life's sharpest paradoxes is that your brightest future hinges on your ability to pay attention to the present. In order to live in the moment, you need to focus on the now. Focus on what you’re doing. Notice the skies above you and the topography around you: the small things. Be thankful for them. Living for the moment and taking notice of the small things will help you cultivate more positive paddling experiences.
"How can I live more in the moment?" you may ask.
"Breathe," I would reply.
Stay within your ability
Before starting a long distance journey you should assess your general and specific skills. An ability is the power, skill, means and opportunity to do something. A capability is the ability, aptitude or fitness to do something. Avoid kayaking in bad weather or challenging water conditions unless you have the skills and experience to do it safely. Don't head out alone; it's generally best to paddle in groups of at least three people. Watch your hydration levels, and be sure to drink plenty of water.
Fuel right to paddle hard
The amount of calories burned during kayaking depends on the distance and speed you kayak, the total weight you're hauling, and the difficulty of the waters. It's up to you to move your fully-loaded kayak and that takes energy. Lots of energy! With the calorie count being around 10,000 for an ´eight hour kayaking day you need to ensure you have plenty to eat. First, plan your meals based on what your body needs/can tolerate. The second thing to consider is when to eat - I ate a huge breakfast consisting of grains, hard boiled eggs, fruit and nuts; high in protein, moderately high in carbs and low in fat. (Picture: noon meal in the old quarters of Dubrovnik, Croatia.)
CHECK THE DISTANCE: It might be longer than you think
I was paddling across St.Georges Bay, Nova Scotia, from Havre Boucher to Cribbons Beach. I estimated 2.5 hours and around 10 km. It was 37.5 km and took 6 hours. An easy distance check with Google Earth or another app would have given me deeper insight and help me better plan my day.