Today marks 1 year since completing my fifth week at sea.
Week 5 was a week of turning points. First a literal turn, I was finally heading west! After weeks and weeks of wind and waves pushing me south, I covered enough distance to aim primarily west.
I also completed my first month at sea – the hardest month of my life, by far. I was SO glad to end what felt like a month of heartbreak. I had covered just 1/4 of the distance to Hawaii; how long would this take me? 4 months?! I don’t have enough food, and I’m already very late in the season for safe crossings. At least I’ll never have to do this month again, I thought.
I was still scared of what’s to come, but also enjoying life more each day. Changes in the sea and sky helped. The flat, gray clouds that muted my world the past 4 weeks began to clear, the second main turning point. On Day 29 I saw my first sunset, a dazzling treat for my eyes and heart.
That same day I also downloaded music… from the middle of the ocean on my satellite phone, using one of my backup iPhones that happened to be logged into my Apple account. Finally hearing my favorite music on Day 29 was a complete catharsis. I laughed and cried and listened as though it were the first time ever.
But I also sensed some unresolved, deeper issues beneath the surface. And I wanted to better understand them. So I finished Week 5 with a full digital disconnect.
I turned off my satellite phones and didn’t send or receive messages, or listen to any music, for 48 hours. It was incredibly difficult, because messaging had become a simple way to mentally “escape.” I struggled to complete the 2 days of disconnect, but by going completely present and internal, I managed to gain clarity on the emotional swings I’d been experiencing, as well as what I hoped to experience in the remaining 1900 miles.
The other main turning point of Week 5 was more easeful, fun, creative thinking. I built a net from random materials to fish things out of the water, a playful little way to engage with the world around me. And I came up with more creative and effective methods to keeping my rowing seat in motion, which immediately boosted my morale. After all, it’s not muscles that get you across an ocean – it’s your heart, mind, and creativity. And finally, after a month at sea, I was feeling those abilities come online, and my nagging doubts began to get a little bit quieter.
Here’s the day-by-day of Week 5:
**Day 29** — Shedding Armor
For the past 2 weeks I’ve been noticing changes in the water. An increasing number of curious objects drifting on the surface. They look like giant fish scales standing upright on their edge. I’m fascinated by what they might be.
Plastic is also increasingly obvious, so I decide to build a net to scoop things from the water. I gather the supplies: a spare GoPro stick, a foot of plastic tubing from my watermaker, a mesh drawstring bag, and two zip ties. And boom! I’m equipped with an extendable net that I swiftly stash on deck.
It feels so empowering to get creative and build something just for fun. That’s what I imagined this experience to be like, and finally I get a little taste.
This evening while I watch my first sunset, I see one of these bizarre floaters about to drift by. I lean over my boat’s edge and scoop it up with the camera rolling. Wow! What a color! From above it’s hard to tell the critter is a brilliant blue – it just looks transparent because its colors match the water so perfectly.
I can tell it’s not a fish scale… but I have no idea what it might be. I also pull out a big chunk of plastic, some old scrap of a bag or packaging that’s disintegrating into millions of tiny pieces.
After the sun sets, I head into my cabin to write a blog and share photos of this mystery floater. I soon learn it’s a Velella Velella – one of many pelagic (open ocean) species that drift on the surface, traveling by wind and current alone. What a way to live.
I settle in to write my blog and realize I have spare internet budget to use before July is over. With just a day left, it’s use it or lose it, and I know exactly what to do: first, download Sony’s app to transfer photos from my SLR cameras so I can share them with followers. And second, download my favorite music: Random Rab.
I was beset with grief on Day 3 when my iPhone factory reset in my pocket. How will I survive months at sea without my music?! Perhaps you can relate – when faced with adversity, music is a great way to re-orient to love and get present, putting worries aside even if just for a moment. And this month without my favorite music was beyond difficult. I was forced to toughen up, to hang armor on my heart and build walls around my thoughts to keep my mind from wandering into the darkest places.
But today, after a month of a relentlessly tight grip, I let go. Hearing Random Rab’s Jewel of Now, the tears just began to flow. A wave of deep empathy washed over me for how hard I had worked this month. And I remembered the feelings from the prior years, of all the times I wanted to quit. How hard I worked to get here. And every step of the way, music was there for me. And now, today, finally, it’s here for me again. What a sweet, disarming relief.
In my blog I share with followers, “Today was of those days where it felt like I could be out happily here for months more. That said, things can change fast. I trust I’ll soon find myself once again in the throes of another big challenge, wrestling with my doubts and with my oars”
Little did I know, the next day I would regret those very words.
Total distance: 718 miles (29 today)
**Day 30** — The Struggle Returns
I wake up to find wind and waves are back. The calm conditions from the past week abruptly ended.
With waves washing overboard I row for 6 hours, take an afternoon nap, and then decide to rest for the remainder of the day.
The water isn’t just an annoyance, it significantly slows me down. The salt creates some chemical reaction with the WD-40 I’m using to lubricate the track that my seat now slides on… The lube turns into a gooey paste and it feels like I’m rowing through mud.
Every 15-30 minutes or whenever a wave washes overboard, I have to stop rowing, stand up and brace myself, wipe the entire track down with a baby wipe, and then reapply more WD-40. And every few minutes in between this bigger resets, I need to smudge my finger along the track to push the lube back in the center groove, because the wheels just push it aside. It’s a slow and frustrating process, but I’m making it work.
I’ve been sleeping terribly and feeling my body wearing out. Although I’m slowly adjusting to the requirements of life at sea, I’m exhausted. I decide to switch sleeping positions in the hopes it may help me better rest.
I prefer to sleep on my back, but with the infected rash on my butt so sensitive and in need of air, I try to sleep on my stomach. But that’s not compatible with my need to lodge my knees beneath my electrical cabinet to keep from being thrown around the cabin at night, so sleeping remains a challenge. And when I do manage to sleep, my legs and core never truly rest, because my knees are positioned to keep myself from rolling around. It’s a slow and steady decline of the body.
But it’s not all bad… Inspired by creating the net with my mesh bag, I decide to use mesh bags for other things, like keeping chapstick on deck, so I can reapply often without needing to dig into my pockets or potentially drop it into the sea. I feel clever for this idea, like I’m learning some shortcuts to make my life easier.
That said, I later pay a devastating price for this chapstick decision. In the weeks ahead, I experience some of the intense pain I’ve ever known.
Total distance: 744 miles (26 today)
**Day 31**– Rough Seas, Rougher Thoughts
The winds have picked up to 15-20 knots and the waves are around 8 feet. That’s not always a recipe for rough seas, but when the wind and waves come from opposing directions, it causes chop and breaking waves. It’s not fun.
At the same time, my inner landscape is tumultuous. I’m disappointed the row isn’t feeling comfortable yet. There are good moments, but I keep going over the same frustrations in my head.
Thinking to myself, you idiot! Didn’t you read your own website? It says in bold font, ‘solo rowing to Hawaii is really hard!’ Why would you think it’s anything else? Those are your own words!
And so I go down this rabbit hole of wondering what’s wrong with me for attempting this row in the first place, promoting this crazy feat as inspiring to others, but never really stopping to think about the hardships I would face.
I spend hours beating myself up about things I feel like I failed already. Like not turning on my cameras for my launch from California and missing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to record the special moment. (Note, since it was midnight, my cameras wouldn’t have caught much, but that didn’t stop me from being furious with myself for not trying anyway).
I also blame myself for not bringing enough memory cards for cameras, and for mismanaging my microplastic data collection. I’m partnering with Scripps Institution of Oceanography to gather data on airborne microplastics, and we aimed to collect a dataset of 24-hour samples of plastics from start to finish in the row. Early on, I was moving my sample location around until I settled on a good spot, and some days I forgot to replace the sample altogether. Another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity missed. What an idiot, I think to myself.
With no one to cheer me up or help me reframe my thinking, it’s all up to me to make peace with these tormenting stories.
In moments like these, I try to remind myself to get present and find the beauty… The truth is, I’m doing a good job, even if I often feel otherwise.
On an upbeat note, I name the pilot fish that are following beneath my boat Ziggy and Marley. We’re now close friends, although they seem to be terrified of me and dart out of sight if I lean over to watch them.
Total distance: 776 miles (32 today)
**Day 32** — The Small Things
I continue chewing over the same frustrating ideas as yesterday, as well as relationships in my life that aren’t sitting right. It’s not a pleasant day in my head, but the rowing is fun.
Wind and waves are more aligned and in the evening, I manage to push the boat forward sometimes at 3 or even 4 knots when riding down the surf of a wave.
After a full day of rowing I treat myself to a special meal – something far more pleasing to chew on than my same old thoughts.
In my infinite rookie wisdom, I brought hundreds of the same meal for the row… A healthy, wholesome meal that got really boring, really fast. And was too protein dense to give me proper energy.
(PSA: 30% of calories from protein are used digesting it, whereas 10% of carb’s calories and just 3% of fat’s go towards digestion. Unfortunately most of my meals were protein-dense and left me feeling tired.)
But tonight I treat myself to mashed potatoes and vegetable medley, with few heaping spoons of coconut oil for an additional boost. My mouth waters as I smell the dehydrated goodness. I squeal with delight at the first taste and laugh to myself “that’s better than sex!”
My handy chapstick stored on deck is thankfully always within reach, and I’m using it often. But my lips are starting to get a bit puffy and sensitive. I don’t yet know why.
And there are beautiful things around me to see. With the sky now sometimes cleared, I watch the moon rise in the evening just as the sun begins to set. And when the moon is not present, a sky of stars so bright I can see perfectly, just from starlight. It humbles and inspires me to witness such timeless beauty.
Total distance: 811 miles (35 today – best yet)
**Day 33** The Magic Ingredient: Four Gallons of Coconut Oil
Before leaving California I stocked the boat with four gallons of coconut oil – a supplement I planned to use for calorie boosts to my meals. And today I think of an event better use: lubricating my rowing seat track!
I pour a little oil onto the track in the morning and to my absolute delight, the locked wheel slides even more smoothly than it did with the WD-40. And as I discover as the day goes on, the saltwater just runs off the coconut oil. It doesn’t mix and ruin the lubricant. This is a massive breakthrough as it’s far more effective, and I no longer worry for Ziggy and Marley from lubricant washing overboard.
Unfortunately the oil is hard to pour from the giant jug, and before long my entire deck is an oily mess. It’s hilariously dangerous being hundreds of miles from land and other people, slipping around on a tiny lubricated boat. But I find some comedy in the situation. I’ll lube my pink unicorn boat all the way to Hawaii, even if it means I risk breaking a bone. Thankfully by now I have solid sea legs and I feel comfortable standing on board even when she’s rocking to and fro.
The conditions are getting faster everyday and I sense I’m getting closer to the trade winds, so named because their reliable nature helped establish early trade routes. The rowing is easier, but I’m still worried that I’m incredibly slow.
I just don’t know how to go any faster. I row for 10 hours a day and feel utterly beat. My hands hurt terribly and my butt is covered in the rash. I only brought 1 bottle of naproxen (alleve), which is definitely helping the worsening tendonitis in my arms, but I have to ration it carefully. And I brought just 3 tubes of antibiotic ointment, the only treatment I’ve found to help the rash, and I’m rationing that, too.
At the same time, my lips are getting extremely painful and swollen. They hurt to touch and it hurts to eat, or when salt gets on them (i.e. all the time). I still don’t know why.
Total distance: 847 miles (36 today – best yet)
**Day 34** Give Some to Get Some
Sonya, my boat builder, weather router and logistics queen advises me today to not fight so hard to go west. If the winds are pushing me south, work with the conditions. Although I’m still ~1500 miles east of Hawaii, I’m also a few hundred miles north. So today I take a less aggressive western bearing and cover great ground southwest. It feels good to go faster and I cover 37 miles, my best day yet.
I’m also painfully aware that during my breaks from rowing, I’m kind of attached to my sat phone. Sending texts, checking messages… and while rowing, I’m thinking about those same conversations. Why aren’t I more present?
I decide to take a digital disconnect starting tomorrow, and at the end of the day I message my team and others and tell them I’ll take the next 48 hours entirely offline. No music, no messages, no distractions from whatever is going on around and inside me.
I’m as tired as ever (if not more) and desperately want a rest day. But I also feel the need to reach the trades so the rowing gets easier. I write in my journal, “Hands/fingers hurt so bad. Butt rash not improving. Want a rest day but need to get out to proper trades. Rest day on my birthday maybe?”
Total distance: 884 miles (37 today – best yet)
**Day 35** — Digital Disconnect
An excerpt from my blog about Day 35, written the following evening:
“I felt an emotional rawness that I hadn’t felt for the past week or two. A certain sadness that hung over me like a cloak.
As the day went on, I began to get perspective. At first, it was denial and rejection. What is wrong with me? Why would I decide to put away my phone in the middle of the ocean? Sure, going phone-free on a camping trip feels great. But this is different. I need that some connection with others for a sense of security, I argued with myself. Just sit with it, I bargained back. You’ll be glad you did.
The rowing was easy enough. I’m used to listening to the ocean, and I process emotions best while moving. But the breaks were a challenge. They’re when I normally send messages, work on a blog, record audio, etc. Whenever I was off the oars, even just to eat a snack bar, the sadness returned. It was almost a sense of loss. And then suddenly while eating lunch, it hit me: I’ve been using my phone (and media activities) to hide. Hide from what? The truth.
The truth that I’m still scared. Scared of how far there is still to go. Of how much this journey has required of me already, and how much more it will take. Yes, I am so grateful to be here. I’m absolutely enjoying myself at times… But behind all of it, I’m still scared.
So I put that realization to work. I channeled that feeling into my oars and made it my biggest day yet, covering 44 miles in 24 hours.
By the evening, the value of the tech free experiment became clear. In just one day I moved from feeling despair for how far I have to go, to seeing opportunity for how much faster I go when focus. That’s an empowering insight, and spending the day phone-free felt liberating, as it allowed me to focus on rowing and try to make it another big day.”
Total distance: 928 miles (44 today – best yet)