Expedition 2! World Record solo row across the Pacific for ocean plastic solutions

August 27, 2021




Today marks 1 year since completing my 8th week at sea.

By week 8, it really felt like I was in the middle of the ocean. An all that exists, and all the ever existed, is water.

All. Is. Water.

And although you might expect the view would grow boring, I saw and felt the ocean change every day. And I was loving it.

Clouds came in all shapes and sizes, dazzling me with their creativity. The ocean felt bluer than ever before, and also more full of life.

I saw great schools of flying fish leap from the water and soar hundreds of feet. Birds diving down to snatch them mid-air. Sleek pompanos and dorados flashing green as they streaked beneath my boat. It was wonder to behold.

The sun was stronger than I can even describe, but still I reveled in the chance to spend hours on deck witnessing the beauty. And as I sat and rowed, staring over my stern cabin, I gave myself a pat on the back. Moderation’s pink glittery paint complemented the blue sky and white clouds so well! I just wanted some pink pizazz – little did I know just how fabulous the colors would look.

Conditions in the first half of Week 8 were fast – big wind and big waves. I covered great miles the first 4 days, before things slowed down. And then with calmer conditions, I wanted so badly to get in the water, but after my last experience swimming with my destroyed lips, I forced myself to wait a little longer.

So instead of jumping in and looking down, I looked up. Each morning I watched the sun rise and the moon set. Then each evening, the opposite as the dimming sun painted the sky pastel pinks and purples, and the moon rose high and bright before me.

I was now well accustomed to life on board and loved being on deck after dark – whenever I could muster the strength to continue rowing after a full day, that is. Swallowed up by the black night, I watched stars peak above the horizon and then slowly cross the sky above me. Star rise, who knew?

And something truly special, I saw no airplanes. It was peak lockdown, and flights were more limited than they’d been for generations. And I was the lucky soul who saw the heavenly skies as they first were: puffy clouds, vibrant rainbows, piercing stars, and the silvery moon. It was magic. On Day 55, I dedicated my blog to the beauty, and how I hoped to share it with the world. (see below)

And yet at the same time, I saw more and more plastic. Just last week I learned from Only One that 40% of the world’s oceans are covered in plastic gyres, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And from my humble seat aboard Moderation, I saw it firsthand: fishing nets, fishing buoys, water bottles, shoes, crates and plastic bits of all shapes drifted past. It broke my heart to see such beauty and tragedy in the same moment, all day, every day.

Here’s the day-by-day recap of Week 8:

**Day 50** — 1,000 Miles To Go (and Getting Weird)

Today I reach 1,000 miles from Hawaii. I’ve been alone for 50 days now, and I’m beginning to see the effects.

I entertain myself with funny voices, and even begin sending videos for followers where I don’t filter my weirdness at all. I realize people might think I’m going crazy, and maybe I am. But I don’t care – I’m just glad I’m finally enjoying this experience so much.

My rowing seat is still working well with last week’s handmade bearings, but other things are wearing out. Today I replace my shoes. I brought two pairs, both previously worn, and my first pair is now sporting gaping holes along the toes from friction with my foot straps.

While swapping shoes, I find a small pebble lodged in the sole of my “new” pair. A pebble – dry land!

I marvel at it for minutes, rolling it around in my hand, looking at it from different angles. The rock feels foreign – alien, even. In this water world, I’m holding a true oddity. But after 5 minutes, I realize the silliness of how much time I’ve spent pondering this small pebble, and toss it over the side. I watch it sink slowly until it goes out of view. How long will it take to hit the bottom, some 3+ miles away, I wonder.

I reflect on the journey until today. I began planning this row in 2016 after my father’s suicide. The experience left me soul-searching and inspired me to row an ocean and to make my life count as best I could. I reflect on the hard work in the years since. Raising $75K on a crowdfund and $25K in corporate sponsorship to help cover costs. Putting half of every paycheck I received into the costs, too. Building a brand, a campaign, a team. And now, here I am. In the final chapter. Conditions are fast and the rest of this experience will pass in a blink. What will I make of it?

I arrive at the same conclusion as always: seek greater self-awareness. Clarity. Presence. Inspire myself and others. Be here now.

In my journal, I write: “Big day on oars… 10.5 hours. Had lovely sponge bath at twilight. Thin sliver of moon above. Beautiful, fun day. Listened to music, laughed. Also noticed how often my mind wanders to ‘future conversations.’ Be present.”

Total distance: 1559 miles (53 today – best yet!)

** Day 51** — Dorado Appear, But Where are Ziggy and Marley?

I wake up today to a painful right elbow. It hurts to bend or move. Could it be tendonitis moving up from my hands and forearms? That pain has gotten very intense over recent weeks, but this feels different.

I text my doctor, Ethan, and ask for his advice. In the meantime, I do 20 modified pushups in my cabin. I theorize that after 50 days of constant pulling motion with my arms that I need to make a counter-movement: push. And then I go on with my day, hoping that a few pushups each day can resolve the pain or at least stop it from progressing.

I’m still tired as ever and contemplate taking a rest day, but it feels more like a fantasy than a real option. So I get on the oars and put in 10.5 hours of rowing.

Waves are big and conditions are fast. And today, I see my first dorado. What an amazing color. I can hardly believe my eyes as the group of them swim all around my boat. They seem curious, like they’re trying to figure out what I am. After a few minutes they move on, and I begin wondering whether I wish to fish for one or not. They’re so gorgeous, part of me just wants to leave them be, although I’m definitely ready for a bit of fresh food.

I also realize I haven’t seen Ziggy or Marley, or the other pilot fish that joined them beneath my boat in several days. Perhaps they became the Dorados’ lunch. Seems the shelter my boat provided for them ended up turning into their grave.

Total distance: 1611 miles (52 today)

**Day 52** — Moldy Orange Peel, Gray Hair, and Wild Passion for Clouds

In the spirit of play, I share a blog on Day 52 that attempts to give a fresh view of life at sea. I write:

You might have spent the last 52 days rowing solo across an ocean if…

– You keep a moldy orange peel in your sleeping bag because it makes it smell fresher.
– The day begins on a high note if you wake up and your lips aren’t bleeding.
– You don’t mind if a freeze-dried meal spills on the deck before you cook it… as long as it’s a meal you aren’t bored of, you’ll happily stuff your mouth full of any dry, raw flakes you can scrounge up.
– You find a tiny pebble in the sole of your shoe and spend five minutes examining it in the sun, considering whether or not you want to keep it forever. (It’s dry land.)
– You decide if it’s time to wash your clothes not by how they look or smell… but by how much heavier they weigh from the all the grime.
– Your breakfast includes 3-4 spoonfuls of Nutella. So do your lunch and dinner.
– You talk to bubbles and birds as they float or fly past; sometimes you catch yourself trying to convince them they’re unique and awaiting a reply. (None come.)
– You can’t tell if your gray hairs are coming in thicker or if that’s just weeks of sunblock building up.
– You take hundreds of photos of the ocean’s surface to show other people what it looks like, while thinking in the back of your head, they’re going to think you’re crazy for taking this many photos of water.
– You consider spending 15 minutes to upload a 30-second video to be very fast internet.
– You are ruthless with your snack packs. You search for the best ones with your favorite items and throw anything you don’t like overboard to save weight.
– Your two best friends are wind and waves. You thank them profusely aloud when they help you along. And ask kindly for their help when they don’t.
– If you sleep uninterrupted for more than 60 minutes at any point in the night, it was a great night’s sleep.
– Your favorite part of the day, if it happens, is finding jelly bellies in your snack pack. You eat them one by one, imagining it’s the real thing.
– You do a double take when you see yourself in the mirror, wondering who’s that?
– You keep thinking back to school when kids had those huge boxes of crayons. And yet none of them had this ocean’s blue? Does this color not exist anywhere else? You’re lovestruck.
– Raindrops feel like sugary kisses of bliss on your dry, salty skin. You begin seeing why some languages call freshwater “sweet water.” And you begin to wonder why we call it “fresh” in English; sweet feels much more accurate.
– Your hands, forearms and elbows ache from tendonitis. Your ankles, legs and hips are tighter than guitar strings. Your skin is red and blistered. But somehow that pain hardly registers. It’s like a hushed white noise in the background of your internal environment.
– When clouds show up on a sunny day, you thank them like you would thank friends who drove a long way to come to your house. I’m so glad you’re here! (You really mean it.)

And I’m so glad YOU’RE here. Thank you for following along.

Total distance: 1664 miles (53 today)

**Day 53**– The Solution I Never Saw

I begin today with another fix to my rowing seat. It’s been several days since I made my homemade bearings. They’ve wildly exceeded my hopes, but they’re beginning to wear out. The seat’s no longer rolling smoothly; it grinds and hobbles where my replacement bearings are wearing out.

I’m not worried – I know I can make enough replacement bearings to last all the way to Hawaii. And soon it gets even better.

When I remove my Form Card bearings, I see they fused into 1 single piece wrapping around the bolt. This gives me a new idea. Inside my spare hardware kit I have a few plastic spacers. I’m not even sure what they’re for, or where these spacers would go on my boat. But now I realize I can use them as bearings. I check the size and discover they are the PERFECT fit. Their outer diameters are the exact inner diameter of my wheels; and their inner diameters are the perfect space to fit the bolts.

I slip the spacers in place of my makeshift Form Card bearings and, voila! Perfection. I put the seat back together, lock it down onto the track, and shout with glee. IT’S QUIET! It’s QUIET!!!

Even with my best solutions all these weeks, the seat creaked and groaned. But now for the first time in almost a month, I can row and only listen to the water, waves and wind. No squeals. No squeaks. And these solid spacers are so strong, I’m sure they will last all the rest of the way to Hawaii.

It dawns on me that I had the perfect solution to my rowing seat all along, I just didn’t have the awareness to see it. All the hours, days I spent suffering about how I could fix the seat, or feeling weighed down by my worst fear of having to abandon my boat at sea because I couldn’t fix the seat… it was all unnecessary. Given the right time and space, I eventually found the best solution, which was there all along. It’s a lesson I realize I’ll carry with me forever.

But back on land, things aren’t going so smoothly. My team informs me that Hawaii is effectively closed. I can arrive without a quarantine, because I’ll have quarantined at sea. But my team is scrambling to figure out where we can stay and how they can make it into Hawaii to meet me. It’s out of my hands, and I trust my team to figure it out. But I feel for them, as their job to support my crossing and arrival just got significantly harder.

Total distance: 1703 miles (39 today)

**Day 54**– Wear the Shade

Wind and waves are calm again and it’s blazing hot. I row from 8:20 to 2:30 (Pacific Time – I haven’t reset my watch – so the local time is 3 to 4 hours earlier). It’s such a struggle to sit and row. It’s just so darn hot.

In a desperate attempt to escape the sun, I get a sheet of mesh webbing from my stern cabin, a bit of random material I brought “just in case”. I tie one end to the grab bar above the stern cabin door and stretch the mesh across the deck, then tie the other end above my bow cabin.

I make a valiant effort, but it just won’t work. Even tied to the highest points, the mesh slopes down to eye level, and my head pushes up into it while at my seat. I hoped to create some shade so I could shed a few layers of clothing, but the simple truth is that if I want shade, I have to wear it. (And pray for clouds).

On the upside, my teammate and social media guru Jen texts me to say we received a $5,000 donation last night. While there isn’t wind to cool me off, this generous gift puts huge wind into my proverbial sails. I’m feeling so grateful for the donation, which pushes our total raised for UWC scholarships to near $25,000.

Total distance: 1743 miles (40 today)

**Day 55** — Discovering Why I Really Came Out Here

I’m in a deep rhythm now. The scattered, frantic mind that peppered me with doubts the first several weeks is now just a memory. I’m present and in constant awe of the world around me.

It’s still challenging. The heat is unlike anything I’ve experienced. And clouds are increasingly rare treats. Sometimes I watch them approach from the far horizon. I see their shadow darken the water beneath. And as they get closer, I pray they cross overhead. But sometimes, the shadow misses my boat by mere feet. Such torture to be teased by such sweet relief, just out of reach.

But it doesn’t bother me. It’s just heat, and I focus on more stirring thoughts. I continue taking tons of photos of the ocean and sky. But it feels futile.

It’s a thought I first considered in Week 3 and shared with you in a video from that week, and now in Week 8, it really hits home.

The only way to truly share the ocean’s magic is not by taking the perfect photo, or describing the ocean in poetic detail, but to bring the ocean back to land with me, inside me. The real challenge, I now see, is to embody the ocean.

I write in my blog:

“I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. Waking up with the sunrise. Chugging away for hours under a blazing sun. This is my sweet spot, a weird happy place I keep coming back to in all different sports and geographies. And now that my seat is working properly (fingers crossed) and my daily drama is reduced to rowing all day and surviving the searing sun? I can’t get enough. This was what I came for.

Funny thing is, now that I’m in my happy place, I can already see the end. And although I’m looking forward to all the things and people I’ve missed on land, part of me will be sad for this journey to finish.

Partly that’s for me. I mean, tonight I watched the sunset over my left shoulder while a rainbow stretched into the sky in front of me. It’s just so cool. I’m in constant awe.

And partly I’m sad for you. I want so badly to share this place with you. But I feel like no matter how hard I try, no photo, video, or anything can show you what it’s like to be here. The incredible beauty, vastness, power. It’s impossible to communicate. A piece of me mourns that I can’t capture this better. And try as I might, I’m running out of time.

So I’m challenging myself to find another solution. If I can’t share this with you, what can I do?

Instead of taking a photo, can I learn to embody what I see and BE that for you?

I look at the ocean and ask myself…

How can I be this challenging, and this supportive?

How can I be this demanding of your greatness, and this giving of my own?

How can I be this patient? This unapologetic? This honest? This real?

Even now as I write, these questions bring tears to my eyes. Because I realize this is the truth: No photo or video could capture the ocean’s spirit. It’s up to me to be what I see. And then bring it home to you.

And so, as one journey enters its final chapter, a new one unfolds. I thought the challenge had been row to across the ocean. Now I see the true challenge is to embody it.”

Total distance: 1786 miles (43 today)

Click and drag the video while playing to see 360 degrees of ocean and sky!

**Day 56** — Understanding the World Around Me

The pain in my elbows has passed. I think I was right – I needed some compensating exercise to balance all the pulling. I feel proud for solving this issue on my own, and when Ethan texts me back to confirm my idea, I’m doubly pleased.

The rest of the day is another sunny and beautiful day on Moderation. Colorful sky, colorful water.

Flying fish soar in great schools, and I begin to realize why. They’re escaping predators, larger fish beneath the surface that I can’t see.

I begin piecing together the signs around me and understanding what to look for. A bird swoops down? Look for flying fish nearby. Flying fish in the sky? Look for flashes of green Dorado chasing them out. I finally feel like I’m starting to understand the place, rather than being some clumsy rower just passing through.

In the evening I stay up late messaging Sonya about my arrival in Hawaii and the new lockdown challenges. I feel for my team who are managing so much complexity, but I have full trust that they will figure it all out brilliantly.

I write in my journal, “BIG day! 59 miles. Stayed up LATE messaging Sonya re: Hawaii and covid issues. But she’s a champ… this will be great.”

Total distance: 1845 miles (39 today)