One of the questions I got asked the most was ‘Why?’ Why did I paddle for 11 days around Long Island? Why would anyone paddle around Long Island? Or any island?!
Well… There is no one answer, and none of them are short. So let’s start collecting the reasons, shall we?
I have been paddling most of my life. I started rowing when I was really young, thanks to my parents. My mom still remembers being on the rowing boat with my dad when she was pregnant with me. My dad always practiced water sports, my mom was only a water aficionado by association (although 20 years later, she did a sailing course and got her certification). It was my dad who made sure I stayed engaged in sports, especially through those awkward teenage years when you don’t want to spend time with your parents. He made me be there every Sunday, at the rowing club and spend my post all-night-clubbing-night-till-dawn with him, rowing, on the gorgeous rivers of Tigre, Buenos Aires. And we lived! Nobody drowned nobody.
After highschool and a few years in film school, I decided to come to New York and spend a summer with my grandmother, who had been living here since before I was born. Her family is large and all over the world. Won’t get into too many details… I arrived in the city in March of 2005, during the worst blizzard of that winter season, and had to take 2 trains (there was no AirTrain back then), 2 buses and walk from Jay Street to Carroll and Smith Streets in 2 and half feet of snow at 8am, against the wind, dragging a suitcase and a carry on. Fun morning. No wonder I still remember it, vividly. But Brooklyn meant family and grandma was home.
A month after my arrival, I found Manhattan Kayak Company thanks to my mom’s husband. He knew the owner’s dad through the Explorers Club. (Another story for another time). I went on a trip with Eric Stiller, founder and owner of the company, one other man and a woman (regular clients to this day and friends), and my mom’s husband. My mom decided to stay on land. It was a windy, wintery day and the idea of being on the water was just not that inviting. But we went anyway because it was my birthday and this was my present. I instantly fell in love with the Hudson. After that first trip, I shyly asked Eric if he was hiring, to which he replied with enthusiasm, one I will soon learn as so characteristic of him, that I was invited to come and learn the ropes, the routes, the ways and we would find where I’d fit in. So I did. As soon as the season started, I was there every day, taking classes, helping on the dock and in the hole at the back of the barge where we kept the kayaks, and on trips. The trips were the best. Soon, I became an assistant guide, my first ever paying job, one that I would grow into, that would shape my professional and personal life in ways I am just now beginning to understand.
The up and coming Chelsea neighborhood, the Frying Pan and its’ barge became the places where I spent most of my days. The vibe was just electric on that section of the waterfront. There were weird and interesting characters coming out of the barge’s holes and disappearing behind rusty, red walls. The bartenders and staff, the community of paddlers that had organically been growing around the barge: the kayak polo team, the private kayak owners and, of course, MKC. John Krevey had created a Waterworld of sorts, right at the edge of one of the biggest cities on the planet. Back then the Pan was never as busy as it is now, and yet it was buzzing louder. Truly an amazing place to be, and watch it and the city around it, transform over time.
We, ourselves, have also gone through some transformation. Over the past 11 years at MKC, I got to meet a lot of amazing adventurers, paddlers, climbers, endurance athletes, swimmers, runners, yogis. Everyone’s journey so inspiring and motivating. But there were also the suits and desk rats, the non swimmers or hydrophobics, even. Those had the same impact on me. Because their reaction to being on the water, out there, so far from the city and their urban life (yet a few yards away), was that much more intense and joyful and happy. For those of us who are used to the beautiful sunsets, and the rainy clouds and the space, the distance between one shore and the one across the water, how far you can see out in the middle of the river, to us this is normal. Although it’s always beautiful and never taken for granted, it’s far more accessible to me than to the average 9 to 5 new yorker. Spending time with them on the water reminds me of how precious this is and how unfair that some don’t get to work outside and experience this every day. I am grateful to those who have taught me the value of water access, particularly in this city, and that over the years have taught me to appreciate my environment and respect it greatly.
But the New York City skyline can start to feel a bit crowded even from the middle of the bay. Something woke up inside me, wanting to search for other landscapes, places where the sun would set other than between those two buildings in New Jersey or reflections of the sky that would not be found on the glass windows of midtown’s skyscrapers. I wanted new sights, new air, new water, new adventures.
Expeditions are contagious. Eric had gone on one in his early 30’s and wrote a book about it: ‘Keep Australia on your left’. To this day, more than 20 years later, he still has stories to tell that I have not yet heard or read. Two very good friends of mine, Nano and Agustin, have also been on a few insane kayak trips. Nano, who I met in New York (but is from Buenos Aires as well and has a boathouse very near my old rowing club, in fact we paddled out of the same club for a few years but never met), came to NY for 3 consecutive summers and after knowing him now for half a decade now, also still has stories to tell that I haven’t heard. I love listening to their accounts of things that went wrong, moments that define happiness, moments of fear, doubt, love. The human experience. Could be there listening for hours on end.
I wanted to have that to share, too. So I started playing with the thought of going on a trip. Alone. Something not too long and not too far because I was terrified of actually doing this. Long Island met the pre reqs and I thought about it for almost a year. Just there, in my mind, present in thought but not in action. Until April, 2015.
I came back from Buenos Aires, where I spend the cruel northern winters, and started taking some actions towards really going on this trip. It probably started shaping up two weeks before the decided date for leaving. Not more than a week before Day 1, I borrowed gear from a friend and fellow paddler, bought a lot of dry food, a sleeping bag and a really amazing dry bag; Eric got me a drysuit, my family got me a GPS and a solar panel, and it seemed by then that this was actually happening. A few days before leaving, I went to my uncles place, got the GPS ready, mapped out the route, tested the solar panel. Check. Made a lot of paleo granola and now I was ready to go! Gear and food wise, at least.
Sunday morning came and off I went…