For sea kayaker Rich Brand, there's no better way to meet new people and discover new places than by paddling in. Brand calls his on-going project Captured Heartbeats; he describes his dream-chasing outlook in terms of “taking on challenges and facing them head-on” as the key to well-being. “This life's adventure is one that has so many moments,” he says. “I aim to catch as many of them as possible."
In 2016, Brand set off on the "Great Loop" — the popular 5,000-mile cruising route from the Great Lakes down the Mississippi, along the Gulf Coast shore to the Florida Keys and north along the Inter-Coastal Waterway to the St. Lawrence River and back to the Great Lakes — by paddling from New Orleans to Portland, Maine. In Brand's six months on the water this year he slowed his pace, venturing into the Gulf of St. Lawrence taking time to "meet the culture and see the aquatic lifestyles," he says.
"I learned so much about the fishing industries, boat building, the Acadian culture, life in the ports, tall ships, freighter ships, the oil and gas industry, city and provincial politics, the Canadian Coast Guard, gigantic tuna, whales migration, and the life and death on the waterways and seas."
Ultimately, Brand hopes to complete the circle back to New Orleans in 2018. We caught up with him to learn more about his journey — on the water and in his mission to celebrate life.
CanoeKayak.com: What inspired you to paddle the Great Loop?
Rich Brand: I was inspired to become a healthy role model for a younger generation. I am a firm believer that you cannot inspire from the couch. I sought to do something grand. The distance was not intimidating as I looked at it as an opportunity to meet so many walks of life, experience so many cultures, and to see our world from a different perspective. The people, the cultures, and the waterways did not disappoint. My Seaward kayak allowed me an up-close perspective to life on the rivers and the seas. I was able to see and experience things that most people will never see, let alone know is out there. These experiences are things I like to bring to a younger generation to show them what all is possible and more of what is out there.
Can you share a few highlights of the journey so far?
Honestly, I am simply happy to be alive. I made the opportunity to be able to experience this trip. You never know what is going to happen from moment to moment. Each new day provided me with an amazing opportunity to live better than the day before. I was fortunate to meet the best people. I saw more seals that I could count, played with dolphins and paddled with whales. The people and respective cultures along the coast of Maine and all the provinces of Canada I paddled past were so warm, insightful, and accommodating. I learned about and experienced the fishing industry, Acadian heritage, and the St. Lawrence River. I also had the opportunity to speak to many school-aged children about adventure and chasing their dreams on local beaches. They were on summer break and on the beaches where I landed. I never missed an opportunity to share my story to inspire them.
The route is a contrast of river and ocean, suburban and wild. Can you talk about how this landscape has embraced your “never miss a moment” ideals?
As I departed from Portland, I was going to place I have never been. Each new bend, each new place, and each new day offered me a way to see so many things for the first time. My Never Miss A Moment philosophy allowed me to enjoy each new feature in the water and on the land. The landscape changed with the tides and current directions. As I approached the U.S. and Canadian border in Lubec, Maine, I noticed all the stones on the beach were round and incredibly smooth. The currents ripping through the Quoddy Narrows were insane. The tide in the Bay of Fundy reached 32 feet while I was there. The eastern shore of Nova Scotia came with challenges from big bays, islands, and beautiful rock formations on the coastline. There was a constant changing going on with all the dynamic water conditions. There were a few challenging spots, but that helped make for a beautiful and wild ride.
How have you gone about finding places to spend the night? Has this been difficult?
I used Google Earth to see what was coming ahead for the day. I would often look ahead for marinas, parks, islands, or beaches. I never had a problem finding locations to camp. If I was on private land, I would always land before sunset and go ask the locals if I could stop there for the night. I never had any problems doing that.
What advice would you give paddlers looking to embark on the Great Loop?
Quality gear is essential and that includes a solid life vest, a quality marine radio, and an EPIRB. Make sure you have those items on your list. Besides my Seaward kayak, I sought out Werner Paddles, Level Six, Aquapac and Big Agnes for their quality for on the water and the land.
Plan for distance and time, then add 30 percent more time. Mother Nature often will dictate if you can go or not. You will encounter fishing villages where you will want to spend some extra time. It is a long endeavor that requires a strong body, but even more a strong mind. It is a journey of mental, emotional, and psychological fortitude. The Great Loop requires a lot of prepping and planning. Bring the best gear you can. Bring plenty of food for the times when you are stuck on beaches or not near villages. Know your own strengths and know when not to go. The water can be soothing and relaxing, but it can also be wild and unforgiving. Having confidence in your gear is an important part, but knowing yourself is equally important. Trust in yourself and know that there are the kindest of new friends out there willing to point you in the right direction. Take your time. There is a world of kind people out there if you just take the time to say hi and to have a conversation.
When will you be back on the water again?
I will be heading back to the water in late April or early May, depending on the length of the winter and the ice flows. I will begin in Saguenay, Quebec and paddle all the way back to New Orleans. I will be on the journey till I finish.
— Read about Josh Tart’s kayak fishing expedition on the Great Loop
— Read about the French Canadian couple that sold all their possessions and canoed the Great Loop
— Browse more expeditions stories on CanoeKayak.com