Perilous seas with swells of up to 11 feet
NEW YORK, May 3: Perilous seas with swells of up to 11 feet (3.4 metres) have not deterred Renata Chlumska as she paddles her red kayak on a record-breaking journey around the United States.
''When those break, watch out,'' the Swede said, recalling the big waves along the rocky Pacific coast in the early stages of her trip. ''My kayak isn't made for surfing.'' ''You're like a missile. I've had a couple of dramatic landings.'' Since July 4 last year, the 32-year-old Chlumska has been circumnavigating the mainland U.S., mostly by kayak, but also by bike and in-line skates where overland travel is unavoidable.
She travels without a support crew and carries all her gear except her bicycle, which is shipped because it simply will not fit into her five-metre long kayak.
The kayak is crammed with equipment, including a foldable trailer in the cockpit, the trailer's 16-inch (40-cm) wheels on the deck, plus a tent, a stove, freeze-dried food, two video cameras, a laptop, and headlamp all down below -- not to mention 65 kgs of human bodyweight.
''I am completely self-sufficient,'' she said, adding that while people sometimes joined her on land, ''I have gone every metre by my own strength.''
Paddling an average of 40 to 48 km a day, she is now more than halfway through the 18,000-km journey that began in Seattle and headed south to San Diego, eastward and along the Rio Grande, up the Atlantic coast, and eventually to New York City which she reached last week.
''Getting to Manhattan was huge,'' she said during a four-day respite in New York City. ''When I passed the Statue of Liberty, I realised the toughest paddling was behind me.'' Her plastic boat remains intact and only twice has she had to change plans. In September, she flew home to Sweden to be with her parents after her older brother, Martin, died.
In December, four months after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina struck the south, she had to abandon the intracoastal waterway and cycle through the wreckage, towing her 91-kg gear-laden boat. If she makes it back to Seattle in November as planned -- after covering the final 2,000 km by bike -- she says she will become the first person to make such a journey around the lower 48 states -- a claim that no one has disputed so far.
The feat was suggested by Chlumska's late fiance Goran Kropp. ''I was almost sure people had done it,'' she said. ''People have tried everything these days. Someone's probably gone backwards up Everest.'' Kropp was the man who rode his bike from Sweden to Nepal, climbed Mount Everest without oxygen, then cycled home to Sweden with all his gear in 1996.
Chlumska pedalled alongside him on the way home and in 1999 they scaled Everest together, making her the first Swedish woman to stand at the top of the world.
The circumnavigation of the U.S. was also supposed to be a two-person venture, but Kropp died in 2002 while rock climbing.
This has been a tough journey for Chlumska. ''It's like summitting Everest every day. It's draining because of the length. I can't relax. Every day I have to be focused. You can never turn your back on the ocean,'' she said.
Yet last Friday she lowered her boat into the water once more, heading north toward Newport, Rhode Island, where she plans to land on Sunday, and Boston where she estimates she will arrive between May 12 and 15.
From there, she will eventually turn left at the tip of Maine, paddle through the Great Lakes, and, if she can get a permit, skim through Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
After that, it is land all the way and two other formidable obstacles: the Rocky Mountains, and the immigration service. Her visa expires in September, with some 620 miles (1,000 km) to go.