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Central American
Sea Kayak Expedition 2000

Paddle into the Past with an Eye to the Future!

Fight Club style…

I have never understood self-flagellation.  What emotion could possibly consume people to the point where they abuse themselves?  I was intrigued by the remarkable movie Fight Club, in which a character, suffering from violent multiple personality disorder, is shown punching himself in the face.  At the time, I thought to myself, “That is true insanity.”  Yet here I am, in the Caribbean on my way from Honduras to Nicaragua, paddling a kayak in the middle of the night.  We are entering Nicaragua as the narco-traficantes do, stealthily at night.  We are in bandit and guerrilla territory now and there is no official presence to protect us here, so we can’t risk spending a night on this coast.  After a brief day camp five miles past the Honduran border, we must now paddle the thirty-six miles to the first settlement of Sandy Bay in one stretch.  As the night drags on, I remind myself that I am here by choice—that alone would be considered by most as proof of my masochism.  The meditative rhythm of the paddling and my profound fatigue are pushing me to the brink of unconsciousness.  All I can think about is sleep.  I’m slapping, pinching and biting myself, doing anything I can think of to stay awake but no matter what, in the back of my mind, I am still afraid for my life.  There is no way we are going to stop and sleep out in the open on this notorious stretch of coast. 

It is now 2:30 AM and we have been paddling since 10 PM last night on less than four hours of sleep.  This is our fourth long, tough day in a row, perhaps the longest day of the entire expedition and twenty-one miles still separate us from Sandy Bay, reputedly a place where we will be able to sleep soundly without fearing for our lives.  I don’t know how many more of these days our bodies can take but we have no other option.  We choose self-imposed physical ruin over physical harm at the hands of drug runners, bandidos or guerillas.
Due to the overcast weather, star navigation requires my full concentration.  My reference stars keep disappearing behind clouds so I am paddling with my head perpetually tilted back, face up, staring intensely at the black sky, trying to guess where they will reappear.  Even the pain from my stiff neck and aching body is not enough to keep me awake.  I want to paddle faster, hard enough that I hurt more, so that my body will produce endorphins to keep me awake.  Nauseated, Luke is bouncing around in the darkness without any visual reference points: he just can’t paddle any faster.

By 3:00 AM, after five hours of intense concentration, there is nothing I can do to keep my eyes open.  For a few seconds I have some stars in sight and then they disappear behind clouds or behind my drooping eyelids.  I am paddling longer periods of time with my eyes closed.  I bite my fingers at the base of the nails, which awakens me, but then the pain fades to a dull throb.  I start biting the tip of my tongue and my lips, but that gains me only a few more minutes of alertness.

After more than six hours in the kayaks, we search the pre-dawn blackness in vain for a beach to land on.  We need a quick break.  Luke attempts to land on one stretch of dark shore and his kayak bumps into a massive pile of driftwood caught up in a snarl of tree roots right on the shoreline.  There is no beach: the forest runs all the way to the water’s edge.  We have no choice but to keep going and I am forced to keep navigating.  Usually, I’m up to the task despite the weather, even in zero visibility.  But, with my mind wandering into the world of sleep, I am afraid that we will end up on our way to Africa.  I splash water over my head often but it isn’t cool enough to be refreshing.  My last alternative is to slap myself.  These aren’t little taps; gentle slaps would have no more lasting effect than biting my fingers had.  Every five minutes, I put my paddle down and plaster my cheeks, forehead and neck with blows so hard that the sting takes minutes to dissipate.  At one point Luke sees me.  "What are you doing?" he shouts.  From his tone of voice, I can tell that he is afraid that I’m losing it; he thinks that perhaps I have finally gone mad.  By the time the sun rises, I look like a lobster and, for once, it isn’t from sunburn. 

Why are we doing this to ourselves, again? Find out in Dancing With Death, out now…


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