Rich Brand knows there’s no time like the present. That’s why the 39-year-old graphic designer set aside his successful Denver business in 2013 to follow the call of adventure on a solo descent of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Somewhere along the way, Brand says he realized the value of his journey went beyond his personal experience. He established a channel to share his photos and stories, CapturedHeartbeats.com, in the hopes of inspiring others to embrace their own inner explorers.
Last summer, Brand completed an even more ambitious journey, kayaking 1,500 miles down the Pacific coast from Seattle to San Diego. The isolation and exposure of that trip, he says, were both beautiful and intimidating. With no training and just a couple miles of previous ocean paddling under his belt, Brand learned what he needed to survive the transit by listening to those he met along the way, and navigating by the seat of his pants. “That’s real adventure,” he explains, “real exploration.”
His next expedition, a 7,500-mile adaptation of power and sail mariners’ Great Loop, will find him departing January 1st from New Orleans and paddling around Florida, up the East Coast to the St. Lawrence River in Canada’s Atlantic provinces, and then inland on that river to the Great Lakes before returning south down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Brand expects the trip to take a full year. He’s had just three months to prepare since returning home from San Diego, but he isn’t worried. Like a true explorer, it’s the unknowns, he says, that’s he’s most looking forward to.
I had paddled eight miles in my life before I took on the Mississippi. After that trip, I knew I wanted to do the Great Loop, but first I decided to paddle the Pacific coast to check it off and prepare for the loop.
Going solo was both a personal decision and logistical necessity. Trips like this aren’t the place to test someone else’s fortitude and grit. I knew I had what it took.
In the Pacific, I didn’t quite grasp the gravity and the beauty of it at the time. There’s lots of isolation up around Washington and Oregon—it was lonely as all get out. It was a true wild. If you disappear out there, you may never be found. But when I look back on it: I had an ocean to myself.
I learned a lot of patience—for timing and for waves and wind.
The wildlife was unreal. A humpback whale came up within arm’s length of my boat.
I decided to expand the Great Loop because I have friends I wanted to see all along those waterways. And I wanted to explore. There aren’t many people who just go out and explore any more.
I ask my friends: when was the last time you did something for the first time? On my trips, everything is the first time. Every person I meet, every view, every wildlife encounter, every experience. It’s a drug—I’m living in the moment to the fullest extent.
If it’s not an imminent threat to my life, it doesn’t trickle past my radar too much. Going upstream on the St Lawrence, I have no idea what to expect. I gravitate towards the mystery. I look at it as an opportunity to adapt, to learn. You can Google every detail before you leave, but where’s the fun in that?
I don’t believe there are enough explorers and role models in our society. I showed kids on the Lower Mississippi what the clear waters of the river up in Minnesota are like; it was a whole other world to them. I want to show them what’s out there, what’s possible. Inspire them to do something passionate and important with their lives.
This article first appeared in the January issue of Paddling Magazine. To read the entire issue, click here.