How do you pack for a yearlong, transcontinental kayak trip that involves stepping from backcountry to boardroom en route?
“Well, I don’t travel light,” says Dr. Deb Walters, 63, a retired cognitive scientist and university vice president. The grandmother of four is several months into her 2,500-mile solo expedition, paddling from Maine to Guatemala for charity.
Struck by the families living in poverty in Guatemala City’s garbage dump on a trip a decade ago, she began volunteering with Safe Passage, a non-profit that sends local children to school in an area devestated by poverty. Making presentations to schools and potential donors along her route south has already brought her more than halfway to her goal of $150,000.
- Walters built her 18 foot, 75 pound wooden kayak 16 years ago but never paddled it after trouble getting the hatches watertight. Instead, it sat in her barn, a cozy den for porcupines. Chesapeake Light Craft, manufacturers of the kit, helped her get the kayak expedition ready. By using recycled materials found around their shop, Chesapeake’s designer customized the cockpit to fit Walters and made modifications specific for this trip, including moving bulkheads, adding hatches and reinforcing the structure with carbon fiber and fiberglass. “We’re a good team,” Walters says of her and her boat.
- Allowing Walters to stay in touch with her family and send daily social media updates is her MacBook and DeLorme InReach Explorer. Her favourite feature of the Explorer is that it automatically updates her route every 10 minutes, making it easy for strangers to surprise her at the end of the day with a hot meal or for fellow paddlers to join her for an afternoon on the water.
- Though Walters loves her freestanding Hilleberg Staika tent, she hasn’t had to use it very often when paddling near urban areas. “Strangers are putting me up in luxury,” she says. “This is the first expedition on which I’m gaining weight.”
- Walters carries up to a week’s worth of food at a time, most of it homemade dehydrated snacks, including turkey pepperoni and spinach chips. Her favourite meal? “It’s a weird one – instant mash potatoes with lemon olive oil, drizzled with a dark chocolate balsamic vinegar.” At capacity, her food and gear weight 160 pounds.
- With presentations to make in schools and fundraisers to attend along her route, Walters also had to pack a city outfit, housed in its own dry bag, so it doesn’t take on the stink of her wet neoprene.
- “It’s a hammock – lots of people ask what it is,” says Walters. Along the coasts of Florida and Belize the mangrove forest will prevent her from finding land to set up the tent. “I just tie my hammock up in the top of the mangroves and tie up my kayak as well, and while the tide goes up and down I have a wonderful sleep in the trees.”
- “The children in Guatemala thought I would be lonely on my trip so they gave me a rubber duck,” says Walters. Dubbed Patito Amistosos (Friendly Duckie), the squeaky totem stays in the pocket of her PFD. An occasional star in Walters’ blog entries, Patito is a timid alter ego to Walters’ positivity and confidence. “Whenever I talk with a boater they always tell me how the next portion of my journey will be the most terrifying section – I hear about disasters and ships running aground – If I listened to them I’d be scared the whole time, like Patito. Just a little concern keeps me alert and on my toes though.”