Traci Lynn Martin, a 49-year-old registered nurse in Kansas City, Missouri, wanted a new paddling goal—an ambitious one. And what could be more ambitious than setting a world record? So Martin went to the world record people, Guinness, and looked up paddling records. The official Guinness distance paddling record for a solo paddler in a single year was held by Marcin Gienieczko, a Pole who paddled 3,462 miles on the Amazon River in 2015. But as C&K‘s Jeff Moag recently reported, Gienieczko’s solo status on the expedition was questionable and many other paddlers have gone farther without applying for or receiving the Guinness stamp of approval (Guinness rescinded Gienieczko’s record in November). So Martin set her sights higher, to the longest solo paddle by a female in a single year: German sea kayaker Freya Hoffmeister’s 8,570-mile circumnavigation of Australia in 2009.
Martin’s planning to do some of her own circling, as she’ll circumnavigate the five Great Lakes, heading largely east and south and then west and north on her return. To acquire the requisite miles to beat Hoffmeister’s record, she’ll have to keep paddling beyond the Great Lakes; down the St. Lawrence River Seaway, around Nova Scotia to New York Harbor, up the Hudson River to Troy, New York, then up the Erie Canal System to Lake Oneida, and then back onto Lake Ontario via the Oneida and Oswego Rivers. It’s 8,600 miles over a projected 265 days that’ll take her deep into the winter of 2017, as she’ll leave on March 13th, 2017.
She’ll encounter the world’s greatest tides in the Bay of Fundy, a tidal current that reaches five knots, the shallowest of the Great Lakes in Erie, where the wind can raise cresting waves in minutes, the bustle and wakes of New York Harbor, and the northern Great Lakes in December. There will be internal challenges too, as Martin was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) in 2010. RA causes swelling, pain, and deformation in the joints and can also damage the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels.
“I’ve gotten huge support from people with chronic illnesses. They have sent me emails telling me that I have encouraged them and inspired them with my story. I even got a letter from a lady in Australia.”
Martin has also been discouraged. Even before she launched her custom designed 19’ Stellar SR, she’s had to paddle through some naysaying voices.
“Mostly male paddlers have said that I can’t do it, that it’s too cold up north and why didn’t I pick a warmer route? One guy told me at a race this year that I would be lucky to circumnavigate even one of the Great Lakes and the most that I will be able to do is maybe two of them. Others have said that I don’t have enough experience paddling on the ocean or dealing with the tides. They have said that I can’t do it alone, that it’s too dangerous for me to be out there on the water alone and that it’s too dangerous for me to be camping alone in remote, wilderness areas. One male paddler point blank told me that I was going to get myself killed.”
Conversely, female paddlers have been positive.
“The female paddlers seem to be much more encouraging. Not one single woman has told me that I can’t do it. They are telling me that I am strong and determined and I will do it.”
However, two of Martin’s most ardent supporters are male paddlers.
“Outside of close friends and family, my two strongest supporters are Charlie Lockwood and Chuck Conley, both of which are well known paddlers and racers.”
Martin has a history of proving naysayers wrong.
“I did a 72-mile kayak race this year in a Stellar SEL, which is a narrow, racing kayak. I had a lot of individuals tell me before the race that it was a big mistake, that I couldn’t keep it upright for 72 miles. It takes a lot of core strength to keep such a narrow boat upright and you can tire so much you simply tip, when your core muscles just give out. The narrower the boat, the more they’re stressed. They told me it was a huge mistake and that I wouldn’t finish the race. I took it anyway. I finished and took first place in women’s solo and set a new course record in women’s solo and beat the old record by over an hour.”
Martin’s believes her years of racing will serve her well.
“Most kayakers who attempt this kind of record are expedition kayakers. I’m not. I’m a racer. I know what it takes to push yourself and get the miles done. I know what it takes to push yourself through weariness.”
She also has a background of big lake paddling, having paddled Superior and Huron many times, as well as winter paddling, having paddled both those lakes in November and December. She’s also researched what awaits her.
“I’ve had numerous conversations with people who paddle those lakes in the winter months and have watched videos and done other research too to get a good idea of when I’ll have to ride out the waves. I’m comfortable with bigger waves and have spent a lot of time practicing in the bigger waves. I won’t be doing any open water crossings because I’ll need the miles I’ll gain by hugging shorelines. I can’t take shortcuts across bays because they’ll be counterproductive.”
When she is forced into open water crossings, she’ll have backup.
“There are a couple open water crossings that I do have planned, such as crossing the Bay of Fundy. The time I cross it will depend upon the day and the wind that day. I do have some scenarios planned, but I’ll have a chase boat for the film crew that day and at other points. They’ll be with me here and there, about once a month or every other month, depending upon funding. The majority of the filming will be with GoPro. Guinness requires so much documentation. They require 15 minutes of filming every day. I’ll have four GoPros and I can switch them out as the batteries drain.”
However, it’s the coast of Maine that daunts her the most, due its cliffs, crashing waves, and tides. She’ll take all due precautions.
“I’ll be wearing a dry suit and I’ll be living in that for a majority of the ten months. I’m not going to take any hypothermia chances. I’m sponsored by Spot and they’re giving me two [Spot locator devices], one on my boat at all times and one on me. If I’m in trouble at any point and get separated from my boat, I can reach out and get some help.”
Help has also come from her sponsors, such as Stellar kayaks, which has built a modified SR for Martin.
“They’re adding an over the stern rudder. They’re adding a storage compartment in the back and another up front. They’re reinforcing the hull with Kevlar to do that because of the beating the boat’s going to take. It has to endure ice in December and rocks. It’s going to take a huge beating. I’m going to take a repair kit too.”
If Guinness permitted it, Martin would switch boats.
“According to Guinness, the boat I start with is the boat I have to finish with. I can’t use a plastic boat for the ice and switch to a faster one for warmer weather. They have a lot of rules.”
Another sponsor is RPC3 paddles, which will donate a portion of its sales to help Martin. “RPC3, the company whose paddles I am using, has a promotion that if anyone for the next year buys one of their paddles and uses the promotion code “Traci” at the checkout, they will donate $25.00 to help cover some of my costs. This money will go to cover food and my Rheumatoid medication costs.”
Healthwise, another sponsor, is covering some of Martin’s food costs.
“They’ve got nutritional products that are very high in protein. I did a lot of research to find the right foods to take and Healthwise is the company I wanted to go with.”
Martin is still looking for a tent and sleeping bag sponsors.
“I’ll be taking a four season tent and I need a sleeping bag that’ll keep me warm down to -20 degrees. With my RA, if I’m not warm, I can’t do this. Nothing will stop me faster than the cold. I’ll be wearing wool and a drysuit by day, but I need a warm sleeping bag by night.”
And she’d like to have paddling partners here and there.
“I can paddle about 5.8-6.0 mph on flatwater. I’m going to try to average about a 5.0-5.2 mph pace. If I’m on schedule, I’m willing to meet up with people and paddle with them for a couple hours, talk with them, and maybe go a little bit slower up to lunch and after lunch, put the pedal to the metal. If they want to paddle with me all day, they’ll have to keep up a 5.0 mph on flatwater for as long as we’ll be paddling together.”
Martin’s paddling pace will vary with wind and currents.
“I’ve done a lot of research on NOAA and I’ve based my route on their charts. I’m going with the water currents and wind as much as possible. The wind flow and currents from Chicago to Washington Island will be both with the wind behind my back and the water flowing with me. The second fastest should be Duluth up to Terrence Bay in Ontario. The slowest will probably be from Mackinaw City to Gary, Indiana, where I’ll be going against the water and wind.”
Storms and RA will also slow her progress.
“Storms will preclude paddling. Those will be my RA rest days too, but as long as I don’t have an RA flare-up, I’ll be paddling. I’m working closely with my rheumatologist to limit the amount of flares and stop them when they do happen. I’ll take my medication with me: Humira and Methotrexate, which is a chemotherapy drug.”
Martin also anticipates great days.
“I’m so looking forward to paddling the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It will be beautiful and the marine wildlife will be phenomenal. There is just so much up there: seals porpoises, whales, and dolphins. There are the French-Canadian people too: Their language and way of life excites me too. I look forward to meeting them. It will be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m going to absorb it all like a sponge and hold those memories the rest of my life. I don’t have the time to wait. I’m at the top of my game right now.”
— Read more at www.JustAroundthePointe.com.