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Via the World: Alaska bound and just 330 miles from shore

Sarah Outen

Sarah Outen is currently on a mission to loop the planet by human power, rowing, cycling and kayaking from London2London:Via the World. Fundraising for charities and sharing the stories, she is also blogging for The Independent all the way back to Tower Bridge, where she hopes to arrive in 2015. Almost half way through her mammoth mission, this phase sees her second attempt to row solo across the North Pacific Ocean. Here she from the sea of an exciting new development in the journey.

sarah outen 1024x768 Via the World: Alaska bound and just 330 miles from shore

A change of plan...

What a month we have had since last touching base with the Indy. Some great progress and some positively hair-pullingly frustrating negative progress in contrary winds. The other week we (me and my boat, Happy Socks!) spent eight days waiting for the weather to turn in our favour. It also happened to be eight days of thick cloud and rain, which meant that the solar panels didn’t get enough sun to the batteries. In turn this meant that my water maker couldn’t be used and I had to ration all my power.

A few days later my team and I considered our options. After so much negative progress in contrary winds for these last three months, a safe arrival in Canada – my original intended destination – was becoming impossible. Winter at sea in any boat is challenging and brings with it increased risks but in a tiny rowing boat it would be ludicrous and unsafe. After 48 hours of considering different options with my team, including my Shore Support in the UK and my Weather Router in the U.S we settled on hanging a left and heading North.

Since Saturday this week I have been making great progress towards Adak Island, in the Aleutian archipelago to my North. With winds howling up from the south at the moment I am flying. If we continue to get lucky with this all the way in then I could feasibly smash the remaining 330 miles in under two weeks. But we are all too experienced in this North Pacific Ocean lark now to know that nothing is predictable out here, but for the fact it is so unpredictable. I could take 50 days to get there or I might miss the islands entirely if thwarted repeatedly by contrary winds and currents. That is what makes it all so exciting and nerve-wracking at once. There is just no telling what will happen.

I am stoked about the new plan, firstly because it offers the safest and swiftest chance of making landfall. It also offers a wonderful opportunity not only to see this beautiful part of the world but also to continue my London2London journey next year. After a winter back in the UK, I will return to the Aleutians in the spring with my team mate Justine Curgenven to kayak the island chain back to the Alaskan mainland, before riding on south on my bike. Justine is a kick-ass kayaker and way more experienced than me and I can’t wait to get back on expedition with her. She has paddled all the kayaking legs with me so far, though admits that the Aleutians will be her most challenging paddling ever – and she has some amazing credentials to her name!

Emotions have run high these last few days. First off I am very motivated by the new plan and onward journeying, excited by seeing Alaska and relieved to have a more realistic goal than Canada, which had been slipping away in the winds. Adrenaline is racing through my body, meaning that sleeping is snatched and broken at best and food doesn’t stay in for long.

I am mindful of the challenges ahead. The further north we go, the colder and rougher it will get. And the currents round the islands are formidable and fickle, known to confuse even well seasoned local skippers with their changeability. Landing a boat is always a dangerous manoeuvre, wherever you are in the world and being in a tiny rowing boat with limited steerage and power makes it even trickier. Given that I crash landed on a coral reef in Mauritius at the end of my Indian Ocean row in 2009, I know full well how dangerous they can be. But I trust in my team and my experience, and hope for the best. That’s all we can do.

I shall miss this ocean when I leave – it has been my favourite ocean experience of my life so far, whether in a rowing boat or not. The dynamism, the moods, the wildlife – it has been sublime. It has been bloody tough and challenging most of the time too, but the rewards far outweigh the hardships.

It has been an absolute privilege to spend four months out here and I know that the memories will be treasured forever. It is an odd thing to complete a solo journey, for no one but the boat knows what has happened out there. Sharing can be tough when you come home as you re-adjust. But I know that being with my fiancée for the winter and planning ahead and training for the onward kayaking in the spring will be great focuses.

But that’s all getting ahead of ourselves. We still have just under 400 miles of some of the most formidable waters on the planet to get through. One thing I have learned from my time out here is that anything can happen.

For now, bring on Alaska…

Sarah and Happy Socks

To see where Sarah and Happy Socks are check out the Yellowbrick Tracker

To donate to Sarah’s London2London charities (CoppaFeel!, Jubilee Sailing Trust, MND Association, WaterAid) check out http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SarahOuten

Follow on Twitter: @SarahOuten and for the full story www.sarahouten.com

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