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Via the World: Just 100 miles from shore – but this is the hardest part

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 writes as she approaches the final 100 miles of her row.

so2 300x225 Via the World: Just 100 miles from shore   but this is the hardest partIt has now been over three weeks since my team and I decided that I should ‘turn left’ and head North to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, as my progress towards Canada had been continually hampered by bad weather and my chances of reaching there were fading rapidly.

Although it was, and still is, our best option of my reaching land under my own power and (relatively) swiftly and safely, it is still a big decision to head into the more serious waters of the North. Exciting though.

I am now less than 140 miles from Adak in the Aleutian Islands; land is getting tantalisingly close, but these last few weeks have been some of the toughest I have known and the hardest part – the landing – is yet to come.

The first week after we made the decision to head North was emotionally charged – adrenaline was pumping and I was sleeping for less than 4 hours a night.  It took nearly a full week for me to settle into things and readjust to the new goal of Alaska. Happy Socks and I covered  some great mileage. But this was not to last.

Week two brought with it two major storms and lots of rough seas. Happy Sock’s rudder was ripped off in one, which has made steering much harder and we have capsized twice more, bringing our trip total to five so far. It’s never fun but the last was even more miserable than earlier ones as the water up here is so cold – my cabin got soaked as I had forgotten to close one of my vents.

so1 300x225 Via the World: Just 100 miles from shore   but this is the hardest partDealing with the cold and the wet is gruelling for mind, body and boat and with temperatures in my cabin dropping to 10 degrees and below and outside to just a few degrees, keeping boat and body healthy is  becoming even more challenging than normal.  My batteries are not being charged due to lack of sunlight and the watermaker is having to work a lot harder in the colder conditions. Drying clothes becomes impossible unless we are granted brief moments of respite with sun.  On top of that I got a waterworks infection – probably as a result of dehydration as I cannot drink much during the storms. It knocked me pretty low and I am still trying to clear it. As you can imagine, progress was limited and on some days we frustratingly ended up going back on ourselves, pushed back by adverse winds.

We’re now in week three and have been granted some useful winds for making good steady progress to Adak.  The infection is clearing up and thanks to the improved weather conditions I have been enjoying some hot cooked food and a chance to dry out my cabin and clothes. It is still really cold and wet however.

What’s more, Happy Socks and I ticked off a pretty significant milestone on Monday – we crossed the International Date Line, the point where East becomes West, which means I have passed the halfway mark of my London2London adventure.  I am halfway out and halfway home from London.  Exciting times indeed.

To make the most of this unusually stable weather I have been rowing as many hours as I possibly can, day and night, to give myself the best chance of reaching land before the weather changes again. Landing is always dangerous – crash and capsize potential goes up as seas become shallower and waves steeper, and local tides and currents come into play.  I have been pushing myself to my limits both physically and mentally.  Mind and body are exhausted – my back screams (I cannot wait for a massage and some physio when back on dry land) and at the end of rowing my hands are often curled as if still wrapped around the oar. I have started hallucinating over the last few days and my sleep is full of mad dreams.

These last few weeks we have been red-lining it, topping up just enough food and sleep to keep pushing to the end. Enough in the tank for the final couple of days which will be the maddest and most demanding of all and emptying it enough to know there is nothing more I can do. And enough to keep us alert and thinking clearly until we reach land.

I am both excited and emotional at the idea of being so close to the end of this chapter- thinking back on an amazing journey and thinking ahead to being reunited with my fiancee and the onwards journey next year. It has been a privilege to spend five months out here on this brilliant and brutal ocean. But I am very aware that the biggest challenge lies ahead in the landing.

Tony (Shore support) is flying out on Wednesday to arrive in Adak on Thursday ahead of my arrival. If the weather remains stable then ETA Sunday/Monday, we hope.  It is all very real and very exciting though I am not too proud to admit I am nervous. Bring it on.

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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