On Thursday morning we packed up our kayaks like we have for hundreds of times over the last few years. Rolling up or sleeping pads, stuffing our sleeping bags and clothing into stuff sacks, eating breakfast, and loading all of our food and belongings into our kayaks takes about an hour every morning. Usually we don’t even really think about it because it is part of our daily routine. However, this was our last time taking down camp before we finished our 11,700 mile journey across North America. I found myself savoring all of the different tasks. I even enjoyed the ones I don’t usually enjoy like removing the fuel bottle from our camp stove, because it smells like gasoline.
Dave and Amy paddling in the shallow water on their way to Key West. Photo by Bryan Hansel.
With our kayaks packed, we slid them into the crystal clear water and wound through a maze of narrow channels through the mangroves. In many places the branches formed an arch over our heads. We watched tiny fish dart between the tangle of mangrove roots below the surface and herons perched on the branches above the water.
The mangroves led us out to the open ocean and we soon found ourselves bobbing in small ocean waves. The clear, shallow water was full of life. After an hour watching small fish and 2 foot long sharks swim through the 2 foot water we were startled by a big splash. An 8-foot long nurse shark and a 5-foot wide eagle ray shot under our kayaks. A few minutes later we watched a sea turtle the size of a dinner plate zig-zag back and forth between our kayaks over and over again just below the surface. A little later we found a 3-foot nurse shark resting on the sandy bottom. It remained still as we floated over it. From a few feet away we could see its gills slowing opening and closing.
At that moment I really didn’t want the North American Odyssey to end. I found myself looking south. Cuba was only 90 miles away. Wouldn’t it be interesting to paddle around Cuba? Yes, but Cuba would have to wait. We still had a few more miles to paddle to reach our goal. The last 3 hours and 10,000 paddle strokes of a journey that had taken 10 million strokes and 3 years to complete.
The waves grew bigger as we reached the southern tip of Key West where the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico meet. Bryan Hansel, a friend and photographer who joined us for the last week, paddled to shore to photograph our arrival. As we bobbed in the waves Amy began to cry. She wasn’t ready for our journey to end. I leaned over and gave Amy a hug as we bobbed in the waves. I think the fact that Amy and I are closer than we were when we dipped our paddles into the Pacific Ocean nearly 3 years ago is our biggest accomplishment.
Amy’s parents waited on shore to greet us and after a few minutes of floating in silence savoring the smell of the ocean and the gentle rocking of our boats in the waves we paddled shore. Hugs and familiar faces waited for us.
Dave and Amy paddling in Key West. Photo by Bryan Hansel.
We had done it! We had followed a line, almost 12,000 miles long, that we had drawn on a map 5 years ago. Across vast areas of untrammeled wilderness, through urban jungles, up and down raging river, over frozen lakes, through storms, blizzards, and one hurricane. What started out as a crazy dream and a distant goal became a reality.
There is a difference between wanting to do something and deciding you are going to do it. What are you going to do? I hope your day is going well.
I hope you remember the Expedition ABCs. Try to maintain a positive attitude, believe in yourself and your goal, be caring towards others, eat a healthy diet and exercise frequently. The Expedition ABCs have helped us reach our goals and I know they can help you reach your goals as well.
People have been asking us what’s next. Well, more adventures. Check back to learn more about where we will explore during the 2013/2014 school year.
Photo by Bryan Hansel.