the website of Greg Stamer

The Exploration Within?

Posted by Greg on March 23, 2008

Fog on Lake Destiny
Early Morning Fog on Lake Destiny. Photograph by Greg Stamer (click on image to view enlargement)

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. — T.S. Eliot.

I must admit that I generally don’t enjoy reading kayaking travelogues. You know, those blow-by-blow accounts where someone describes their trip — what they ate for breakfast, how many miles they paddled, what they ate for dinner, how they smelled on day fourteen, and so on. I have a hard time reading them. The reason being, for me, the trip is only the canvas on which a broader and more interesting story is told. For example, in the case of my Iceland circumnavigation with (ex) partner Freya Hoffmeister, I’m currently writing an article for Sea Kayaker Magazine. In it Iceland is just a fascinating backdrop to frame my struggle to create a new lifestyle for myself amid the pain of how the stresses of the trip accelerated the demise of the relationship that Freya and I shared. It’s a very difficult article to write well, and balance, but hopefully the result will be worth the effort — if I have the courage to be honest enough.

Following a trip blog is much more interesting than most published travelogues, precisely because the action is “live” and therefore, as in life, unpredictable. But even so, for me the interest is not so much the trip itself, but the circumstances behind the trip. Any sea kayaker of modest ability has the physical strength and probably the camping/weather/sea knowledge to complete an “expedition”. After all, an expedition is but only a series of daytrips (although in remote areas the price of failure can be a steep one).

What I find most interesting is not the trip around something but the much more difficult and challenging trip within. Why is that person doing the trip? How are they coping with leaving lovers, friends and family for so long? What kind of lifestyle do they have where they can go off for months at a time? Why are they choosing solitude? Why are they choosing to put themselves in harm’s way? What are they searching for? What are they running from? What are they running toward?

Heraclitus) of Ephesus (c.535 BC – 475 BC) Greek philosopher wrote: No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

I cannot answer for anyone else. I’m sure that some “expedition” kayakers are looking to “make their mark” or be “the first”. I think that pushing yourself and achieving a record is an interesting goal, but the ego-boost, if any, is fleeting. Personally, I feel that any trip that I have ever taken, whether it’s a lazy day on a local lake or battling a fast tidal race in Iceland, is a first. A first for me, anyway. But we are all driven by vastly different winds….

Long trips in the wild, whether they be kayaking, backpacking or other pursuits, reduce life to simple terms. While doing them, I feel a razor-sharp sense of purpose, and the joy and exhilaration that arises from living fully — truly living every second of every day — rather than just trying to “get through the week” (the feeling that I often felt during my corporate life). Each day seems packed with more life than weeks of “ordinary living”. Perhaps this simply reveals a character flaw. For example most people apparently get this same sense of purpose from being husbands, mothers, fathers, providers and such. Other people feel trapped inside the very same roles. Are these people satisfied or are they leading lives of quiet desperation? Are expedition paddlers, as a group, taking long trips around the globe in search of something that is right in front of their noses, or to complete something from their past?

I imagine the answer is as varied and as individual as each of us who explores both distant (and local) shores and the depths of our own soul, from the seat of our kayak.

  1. Keith Wikle Said,

    I’m excited to see you will be jumping into the warm pool of navel gazing!!! Come on in the water is fine and the air is thin in the blogosphere! 🙂

    I wish you good luck on your way around the rock and will actually buy an issue of sea kayaker to read about your Iceland Trip. I still have high hopes that we might be able to get you back out for another WMCKA Symposium!!!!


  2. KeithWikle.com » Is Sea Kayaking a Commercial Sport? Said,

    […] Stamer has created his first Blog for his trip around Newfoundland as a sponsored paddler. In his post on blogging he stated that he doesn’t enjoy reading blow by blow travelogues of kayaking trips. I can […]

  3. derrick Said,

    yup, yup and here, here! The only thing worse than reading a long blow by blow is writing one!

  4. Greg Said,

    Thanks all — yes writing a travelogue is probably more painful than reading one! That said, I have some friends who love travelogues…

    Keith, I enjoyed attending WMCKA, It was back in 2000 or 2001, after my first Greenland competition, and I made a number of friends. I really enjoyed the kayaking games and “rodeo”, good fun! I’d love to make it back there sometime!

  5. Marie-Hélène Said,

    Greg, I got your link through a cayaking friend of mine. I honestly sign my name under the “making it through the week” column and can’t even stand camping for the discomforts it brings….well…..I’d love to have the kind of drive you have, without the effort. And I know that is not possible. Nevertheless, I love the way you see things and will be following your different trips. It is a real privilege to see all these things, animals and sceneries for real, rewarding your efforts a hundredfold, I imagine. Flying over Labrador the other day, I was imagining what was really down there. I’m happy to know you know.

  6. Greg Said,

    Marie-Hélène, the camping gets easier with experience — I prefer to simply call it “living outdoors” (a term used by Bill Mason). These trips are hard work, however, putting in long days and hauling boats and gear when the day is done. That said, the effort is what makes them worthwhile. You do get a much more intimate connection to the area, than say, seeing it from a cruise ship. But we are all different and need to connect to the natural world in our own way.