Blog

Welcome to my blog, where I share all the stories from my L2L expedition as I row, cycle and kayak a continuous loop of the planet. I hope you'll enjoy experiencing the highs (and lows!) of my journey so far and the adventures ahead on my way back to Tower Bridge. You can also have a listen to my Phonecasts recorded en route.

Afloating to the countdown

Happy Socks is afloat everyone!

The beautiful Happy Socks -afloat at Ryders Cove Boatyard

The beautiful Happy Socks -afloat at Ryders Cove Boatyard

After a week spent with Tony readying her for the water and packing all the food onboard, it was a grinning, proud rower that watched the guys at Ryders Cove Boatyard hoist her into the water on Thursday. I rowed her for all of five precious, calm, familiar minutes from one side of the pontoon to the other after finishing with some journalists and then showing some officers from the US Coast Guard my gear for inspection. I am aiming to get to the oars this weekend and continue my quiet tinkerings of modifying this, putting this and that away tidily and getting her ready for the row.

Both Happy Socks and myself got covered in red paint

Both Happy Socks and myself got covered in red paint

If the weather plays fair then I hope to leave the weekend of 2nd/3rd May and if it doesn’t, we shall wait quietly. The Chatham Coast Guard station will be escorting me out over the notorious sand bar, providing they aren’t rescuing someone elsewhere. Stay tuned for updates on departure plans if you are planning to come out and say cheerio…

Lt Easley of the US Coast Guard inspects my Survival Suit

Lt Easley of the US Coast Guard inspects my Survival Suit

Everything feels like it is coming together, even if the To Do List keeps growing as quickly as I cross things off, and that feels reassuring and exciting too. There is a need to both get into ocean mode and readiness and also stand down from the commitments of land life –  a sometimes bizarre juxtaposition. That said, my biking days seem like forever ago, even though I ride Hercules everywhere to and from errands etc.

93 year old WWII vet Bill Burlin spent his maritime years beneath the water on subs or flying missions in Alaska. We have much to talk about.

93 year old WWII vet Bill Burlin spent his maritime years beneath the water on subs or flying missions in Alaska. We have much to talk about.

I couldn’t have chosen a friendlier place to launch from – the people of Chatham and surrounds are being so kind to me and Happy Socks. Thank you all  for everything.

Marj's late husband Arthur Martin was inducted into the US National Hall of Fame for his pioneering Alden Ocean shell - the birth of recreational rowing

Marj’s late husband Arthur Martin was inducted into the US National Hall of Fame for his pioneering Alden Ocean shell – the birth of recreational rowing

 

 

PUBLIC TALK: Monomoy Regional High School, Chatham – 30th April, 7pm – All welcome. This will be my final public talk before I row home to the UK.

Until next time,

Sarah and Happy Socks x

P.S Thanks to: Sandy MacFarlane, Marj Burgard, the Village at Duxbury, Duxbury Bay Maritime School, Pleasant Bay Community Boating, Ryders Cove Boatyard, Carol and Dave Penfield, Joyce Hutchings, Bill Burlin, Team Allen.

Posted in Blog | 17 Comments

In which everyone arrives

Welcomed to Chatham by Pleasant Bay Community Boating

Welcomed to Chatham by Pleasant Bay Community Boating

These last ten days have been all about arrivals and welcomes. Hercules and I started the influx of Team L2L into Chatham by pedalling to the sea a week ago Friday, followed by my Shore Support Tony Humphreys from the UK and swiftly joined by Happy Socks – my beautiful ocean rowing boat. She was fresh from  the Atlantic, having made the journey driven by a few more horse power than she will be when I make the return journey with her in a few weeks’ time.

Chatham Light blinked on as I dipped my toes in the Atlantic

Chatham Light blinked on as I dipped my toes in the Atlantic

My final week of riding from the sky scrapered metropolis of NYC north and then eastwards along the coast of New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusets (state most likely to be confused by Winnie the Pooh for Owl sneezing)  was a soothing end to the journey. That is, except for the various high and non-sided bridges that scared the bewotsits out of me and, though he doesn’t like to admit it, Hercules, too. On  one night I slept on a picnic table under a gazebo in a state park, open to the breeze and views of the starry watch for the first time since doing the same way North and West in Canada’s Yukon back in October. As the night sky filled my lungs I struggled to remember the biting intimidation of the winter cold during nights in a frozen tent. On another I slept on the edge of the canal which actually divides Cape Cod from the mainland, making a safer, shorter passage for big traffic travelling between Boston and NYC. I am still looking into the Atlantic bridge, offering a similar USA/UK swift option.

Home is just across the water now....

Home is just across the water now….

The other nights en route to the Cape were spent with various couple or families, each taking me in from the road to share stories, food and, very luxuriously, gin! I loved it all and rode happy, unpressured by the miles and days between my wheels and the water. Knowing that I was on schedule, that the winter could hold me up no more or create any more uncertainty in timescales, it felt like I was riding free. I enjoyed taking quieter, more wiggly roads and routes than the last 5000 odd miles where I have mostly sought the most direct and fastest routes, for fear of not making the coast in time for the rowing season. One day I took an off road trail through a forest and over a marsh, heaving Hercules through undergrowth and trees getting ready for spring – a welcome treat to be away from any traffic or people. My mind rolled through the miles and memories and stories and faces of the journey since Homer, Alaska, way north and west of us as the wheels carried me east and spring buoyed me forward (except for the crazy snow the day I left NYC).

Family Coleman - my accommodation sponsors in Chatham

Family Coleman – my accommodation sponsors in Chatham

A few months ago, the idea of the ocean freaked me out somewhat. Maybe it was too many unknowns between me and it – weather and miles and health – , coupled with the fact I had just said cheerio to my fiancee Lucy after two months of winter riding together, or perhaps just my brain’s way of protecting me and pulling the focus back in to the ‘right now’ stuff. That seems to be a good strategy for this journey – keeping the big picture in mind and flicking in and out of the detail ahead as needed, but  staying as present as possible in the moment. As I wheeled along the coastline I found myself transfixed by the blue of the sea, mesmerised by it, as though being pulled towards and by it. It felt like coming home, somehow, a feeling that was even stronger when Happy Socks was delivered last week. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in my cabin tinkering with bits and pieces, talking to her all along, as though catching up on all that she has missed since being apart. It really does feel like pulling on your favourite socks or hat – that comforting, familiar fit of one you know so well.

Packing the supplies was a long job...

Packing the supplies was a long job…

There were a couple of days in the boat packing process where it felt like my head was spinning – I was a proper space cadet as my mind got to grips with the rapid transition from biking to boating. Being surrounded by boxes of supplies for 4 + months at sea is a bit mind-boggling at the best of times, especially when you have been living a few days’ at a time with such limited supplies on a bike. The process of breaking that all down into day bags of food and divided bags of this and that was long but satisfying, and it felt good to complete most of our To Do List while Tony was here. Even driving felt strange (as passenger rather than driver), travelling at speed around an area I was trying to orientate myself in, reminding me that transitions can be a head spin at times.

4.5 months of food stowed aboard

4.5 months of food stowed aboard

My body is also transitioning from the bike to the boat demands, with a bit of protest from my perennially unhappy lower back.  I have a programme designed by my pal Jess Brooker at home and am now doing a couple of hours per day of cardio and strength work, in and out of the Chatham Health Club gym. This week a sports masseuse will start working her magic on my squealing muscles and hopefully if I repeat all elements frequently enough by May 1st, I will be happy that mind, body and boat are ready for launching. My plan is to float Happy Socks later this week so that  I can start plugging some water miles to get my body used to pulling such heavy loads again. Once more I am reminded of the shear strain I am asking of my body by rolling from one phase to another so quickly – thank you note in the post, Body.

Enjoying the company of other rowers at Chatham Health Club

Enjoying the company of other rowers at Chatham Health Club

As always, I am roundly supported by my fantastic team at their various L2L HQs  and the various groups and people we work with to move into the next phase and get this journey back to the UK.

I am super grateful for the recent local support, too. Pleasant Bay Community Boating, Roz and Bill Coleman, John Dickson, Ryders Cove Boatyard, Chatham Health Club, Betsy & Dick Evans, Marj Burjard and Sandy Macfarlane – thank you all for the welcome.

Onwards!

Sarah, Hercules and Happy Socks x

P.S: For Cape Codders, I shall be giving a fundraising talk later this month – watch this space for details. Thanks to all who came to the talks at the Village at Duxbury and Duxbury Bay Maritime School.

P.P.S: Recent TV piece by CBS here.

P.P.P.S: Thanks to all recent charity donors supporting CoppaFeel!, MND Association, WaterAid and Jubilee Sailing Trust. Donate here.

Posted in Blog | 15 Comments

4 years, 2 days

YouTube Preview Image

As a treat, here is  little video from the miles so far. Later in the year I shall be looking for investors both in and out of a crowd-funding campaign to make a film of the entire journey. For now, thanks to  Jen Crook for editing, and with thanks to Zatworks for the aerial footage and CackleTV for other footage.

April 1st marked the four year anniversary of L2L’s start under Tower Bridge, London as I sat in my kayak Nelson grinning my happy/nervous grin, with Justine in her (sadly un-named) red kayak, pointing down river to France and the world. As people waved and shouted from the bridge and the Navy escort boat honked its big horn, my insides were  a riot of emotions. It had only dawned on me that morning that 2.5 years away was quite  a long time – hooray for naivety! I only knew that ahead lay adventures and stories and unknowns, and that I would do my very best to get home safely. The prediction was right in essence – it has been full of all those things and many unexpected journeys – both physical and emotional.

One of the Holiday Inn team said it was like having family leave when I pedalled out. Gulp!

One of the Holiday Inn team said it was like having family leave when I pedalled out. Gulp!

I am grinning my same nervous, happy tummy-turning grin right now as I sit at the kitchen table of my latest road hero family, having swapped stories and chat over dinner (and G&T) last night, looking ahead to the final days on the bike and months of the journey to get back home. Reflecting on all that has happened these last 4 years and 22000 miles is somewhat unreal, almost as unreal as thinking that home is on the other side of the Atlantic. That, if all goes to plan, this adventure will hopefully wrap up in the Autumn, back under the bridge, grinning and no doubt giving my face a teary wash.

I slept out under the stars behind this beach

I slept out under the stars behind this beach

For now I have just 80 miles of riding through Massachusets to Chatham, Cape Cod, curving coastlines and rivers and quaint colourful houses to finish this North American ride. The folks at Pleasant Bay Community Boating and Ryders Cove Boat Yard have already extended me a warm welcome and I am looking forward to preparing for the row with Happy Socks, when she arrives next week. Tony Humphreys, Shore Support, arrives at the weekend.

New England has lots of very pretty houses (and lots of very English place names)

New England has lots of very pretty houses (and lots of very English place names)

Whatever happens on the Atlantic,  I feel so lucky to have had all these journeys within a journey so far and I feel so grateful to everyone who has helped and keeps helping me get back home. Be you the sponsors of all shapes and sizes, the team, the family, the coach, the people of the road or the silent followers, the kind donors, the high-fivers and cheerers – you are all part of this mad and wonderful jaunt.

Hercules has been a super companion these last 5000 odd miles of North America

Hercules has been a super companion these last 5000 odd miles of North America

Thanks to all recent donors and sponsors who have added extra support – especially Transglobe Expedition Trust and Natracare who have both contributed significantly to final costs. There is a donate button to the right of this post where you can pop a few pennies or pounds if you feel so inclined too. We are almost there with the expedition costs but have a wee bit more to raise – thanks everyone for your support.

We are still plugging away at the charity fundraising for L2L supported charities CoppaFeel!, MND Association, Jubilee Sailing Trust and WaterAid too. Hit the big red donate button at the bottom of this page to help in that goal. Again, thanks to all recent donors.

For now, Hercules and I have some miles to munch.

Sarah and Hercules

PS: Recent thanks to: Holiday Inn Lower East Side for their amazing support in NYC, Phil O’Brien and Team W42St for their support, Family Erautt, Team Abernethy, Team White for hosting me recently and Sarah of Cathy Pearl for shouting me dinner yesterday.

Posted in Blog, Videos | 22 Comments

N Y Sea

Brakes repaired, whizzing alongside the Delaware river

Brakes repaired, whizzing alongside the Delaware river

I love journeying for the contrasts and the last few days has certainly provided in bucket loads. From the rolling hills of Pennsylvania and the solitude of the bike to the skyscrapers and hubbub of Manhattan, NYC.  Mind and senses overwhelmed somewhat!

IMGP2837

Times Square

A break in the weather last weekend gave me the confidence to commit to busting out the miles to NYC with some big days and miles. With team mate Rebecca and her son Harry already in town and heading home on Saturday morning, and local helper Phil O’Brien (who I had never met before) flying out Thursday evening, I didn’t want to miss them. One of my oldest pals Claire had also flown out and was waiting for me.

Mike and Roni drove me to and from the nearest bike shop - 45 miles away

Mike and Roni drove me to and from the nearest bike shop – 45 miles away

I rode some big days through Pennhillvania (now renamed as such) enjoying the warmth and tailwinds – both rather novel after recent months – either whizzing along valleys or rolling or crawling up and down hillsides according to grades. Having had Hercules’ brakes bled in State College I could now hurtle down hills with the balance shifted in favour of confidence rather than fear and would no longer have to use my foot to skid along on the tarmac to slow myself down or walk Hercules down the steep (often very long) downhills. Meanwhile streams rushed down roadsides as snow melted and slumped off roofs and dripped off doors. Where I had seen white for months through fields and along road edges, now brown grass was appearing.

Marlin and Karen wouldn't let me camp  on their property. They insisted I sleep in their spare farmhouse!

Marlin and Karen wouldn’t let me camp on their property. They insisted I sleep in their spare farmhouse!

So too were animals, foraging and chattering. Water, not just just ice, raced down streams or visibily flowed down rivers.  I saw more people out walking or children playing than I had in months. I even met some bikers. For my own part it was a novelty to strip off some layers and enjoy air on my skin rather than covering up top to toe. It really felt like spring was here –  beautiful riding conditions and I grinned a lot, happy to be alive and nearing the goal. At the same time, I got emotional thinking back on the last 6.5 months  of riding and all the wonderful people I had met on the way, the ups and downs, the landscapes and skyscapes – everything.

The Penn Valley was beautiful

The Penn Valley was beautiful

On Wednesday I woke up with a head cold, snot monsters running riot and feeling rather rough. But I had a big day to ride – 125 miles to put me on the New Jersey side of the Hudson river, ready to ride into the city the next morning. I kept switching off my alarm clock as I felt so rubbish, and eventually got pedalling at 10.30 am.

Yarhuas from Turkey wouldn't let me pay for food in his gas station and filled my pockets with snacks for the road

Yarhuas from Turkey wouldn’t let me pay for food in his gas station and filled my pockets with snacks for the road

I pedalled until 5 am the following morning after one of my favourite days (and nights) of riding, in spite of the snot. If there had been more time I would have spread it over a few days, camping in some lovely places. Even so, a starry night and big orange moon always make good riding company.

Lynn and Lisa were the first road cyclists I had seen for some time, enjoying the warm weather

Lynn and Lisa were the first road cyclists I had seen for some time, enjoying the warm weather

I stopped to talk to people, shared food and stories with others, enjoyed the awakening of spring and the feeling that life is being refreshed as the sun powers it. The tiredness only really hit me after pedalling over the Hudson River into the city, to be met by friends old and new and some folk from the local branch of  WaterAid  - one of my supported charities.

A flying hug with my pal Claire on the GW Bridge

A flying hug with my pal Claire on the GW Bridge

I have been in NYC a few days now, kindly hosted by Holiday Inn, topping up on sleep and rest and time with friends. The contrast of the hubbub, noise and volume of people in the city with its towering sky scrapers against my recent months of pedalling (mostly alone) through North America is huge and at times a bit intimidating.

Surreal to be welcomed to the Holiday Inn with a banner of me and Hercules :-)

Surreal to be welcomed to the Holiday Inn with a banner of me and Hercules :-)

Yesterday we took the train to Coney Island to the beach and walked in the freezing waters of the Atlantic. The last time I had salt water on my feet was Alaska – the Pacific, 6.5 months and a winter ago.

Having crossed the GW Bridge into NYC

Having crossed the GW Bridge into NYC

The next week is a mixture of admin, talks and friends before I ride the final 400 miles up to Cape Cod, Massachusets from where I shall begin rowing in early May. Happy Socks is already on her way, having been packed up into her container at  the beginning of the month by Team L2L at home.

The welcoming party - with banners, doughnuts and hugs at Pier 84

The welcoming party – with banners, doughnuts and hugs at Pier 84

So for now, thanks to everyone for following along, supporting from near or afar in whatever capacity that might be. This is definitely a team effort.

I would love it if you might be able to donate a wee bit to my supported charities   CoppaFeel!, JubileeSailing Trust, MND Association and WaterAid here:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=sarahouten

Thanks and thanks,

Sarah and Hercules

Recent thanks to: Mike and Roni Sellers, Freeze Thaw Cycles, Glenn and Karon Edwards, Holiday Inn Lower East Side, Hudson River Park Pier 84, Phil O’Brien and team at W42St, Massage Envy MidTown, Team L2L here and home, Rob Eustace, Ryan Wagner, WaterAid USA.

Posted in Blog | 23 Comments

And now for something completely different: Kayaking the Aleutians

This has nothing to do with my current snowy biking but I am confident, dear reader, that you won’t mind the diversion for it is all about a film that you want to see, even if you don’t yet know that you want to see it. You might even not know that it exists yet. Read all about it, then watch it – there’s even a bit about a naked lady getting chased by a bear.

Even though she went to Cambridge... she's still one of my best pals.

Even though she went to Cambridge… she’s still one of my best pals.

The 101 days of kayaking along the Aleutian chain and up the Alaskan mainland to the nearest road last year were some of my favourite expedition days ever. Charged with adrenaline, set against a dramatic volcanic landscape and with a cast of characters as varied as native people through to honking, farting sea lions, inquisitive grizzly bears and shared with my good pal and big sister figure Justine – it was a journey that tested me in so many ways and helped me to grow in so many others.

While I am trying to stay upright, Justine would be taking photos/film.... The gnarlier the better.

While I am trying to stay upright, Justine would be taking photos/film…. The gnarlier the better.

Justine is not only a kick-ass sea kayaker. She is also a brilliant film-maker and her recently released film of our journey ‘Kayaking the Aleutians’ has already scooped at least three awards. You need to watch it – especially if you like beautiful places, amazing wildlife, a splash of nudity and a good story. It has been touted as her best film yet and I think I agree. It is raw, wild, honest and I think does justice to the place we travelled through, the people who call those lands home, and the friendship between us, complete with its challenges. Someone described it as portraying ‘excellently the challenges we faced together and between us’ and I think that sums it up very well indeed. That many miles in such uncertain waters are going to be challenging to mind, body and relationships – especially when one half of the double is way less experienced in a kayak than the other. The fact we made it, together, and still pals and smiling, is testimony to our friendship, teamwork, stubbornness and the fact that Justine was willing to embark on it with me. I couldn’t have done it without her. Though I could have done without the tent farts. Justine, my friend, you rock and so does your film of our jaunt.

Here is the trailer:

YouTube Preview Image

You can order the film through Justine’s website here: www.cackletv.com

You can also see if she will be touring near you with the film at public showings. If you meet her, ask her about the ‘I’m a little teapot’ dance and rib her about how she could only get into Cambridge :-) She’ll know who sent you.

For those of you wondering about an overall film of my L2L journey… The plan is to produce a film post-expedition – format yet to be decided. Jen Crook is currently wading through all the years and hours of footage, having a mini-expedition at her computer.

In other news, I am now back on the bike and riding strong, though in fact today I am waiting out an ice storm which has in fact not turned up as forecast. Stay? Go? Stay? Go? If only I hadn’t checked the forecast….

Until next time,

Sarah and Hercules (in Pennsylvania)

 

 

 

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments