For James Baxter, starting a nine-month, 3,800-mile ski and kayak trip in the dead of Norway's long winter was easy. Using the expedition to raise money for a school-building initiative in the remote mountains of Nepal was the real challenge. But the hardships the 49-year-old Scottish adventurer chose to face–winter camping above the Arctic Circle, paddling in 20-foot seas–are nothing compared to the obstacles children in rural Central Asia must overcome to receive an education.
Baxter started his journey in January 2009, skiing the length of Norway, south to north. In May he switched to his sea kayak, paddling 2,000 miles to his starting point along Norway's exposed North Atlantic coast. When we reached him in Bergen, near the end of his journey, he already had raised more than $6,000 in online donations alone, and was confident that post-expedition donations would bring the total to his goal of $10,000. Baxter covered his own expenses for the expedition and has no sponsors.
The money will support the Antahkarana Society, a Bozeman, Mont.-based organization that has been developing education programs, building schools and working to preserve indigenous Tibetan culture in the Himalayas since 2004. Baxter was inspired by Three Cups of Tea, American climber Greg Mortenson's bestselling book about his school-building programs in the region. A climbing trip to Nepal last fall was the clincher. "I've always been interested in having some sort of education project to work on," Baxter says. "The people of Nepal are humble, generous and simple, but they're also extremely poor and there are no schools. The Antahkarana Society does great work. All the money is going where it's needed."
The organization's director, Deanna Campbell, recalls Baxter appearing in a remote Himalayan village one day in 2008. He said he was looking to do something worthwhile. When he later told her about his Norway plans, Campbell says she was humbled by his willingness to make such an enormous effort to benefit Tibetan kids that almost no one on the planet has heard of.
He spent 119 days skiing north, enduring vicious winds and minus 40-degree conditions. When he turned south in his kayak, he confronted pummeling waves, powerful tides and unusually persistent cold summer rain. Through it all he managed to update his blog daily using a cell phone and compact laptop computer. He describes his Norway epic as the culmination of more than 20 years of Scandinavian adventuring, and a logical transition to his next project–teaching English in Nepal. "I would've done the trip without [the charity]," he says. "But I thought I might as well raise money for something. Plus it gives me something to work on after I'm done paddling."
– Conor Mihell
Paddlers gave back in 2009:
King Edward River Expedition: Last spring, big-wave phenom Anthony Yap led a self-supported, three-week whitewater expedition in northwestern Australia in support of the Save the Kimberley group, which is fighting to protect the area from mining development (kayakthekimberley.com).
Northern Lights Greenland Expedition: Sea kayakers Richard Smith and Craig Mathieson spent a month paddling and delivering donated laptop computers to communities on Greenland's east coast.
What about Blue?: This summer, three sea kayakers paddled the length of the Mississippi River to raise money for water quality in Africa, Asia and South America (whataboutblue.ning.com).
Go Wild Inside Passage Expedition: Apryle Craig and Phil Magistro investigated the impacts of salmon farming while sea kayaking the Pacific Northwest coast in support of the Living Oceans Society (elevatedattitude.com).
Grolar Tour: Canadian filmmaker Frank Wolf and Taku Hokoyama canoed 1,250 miles across the Canadian Arctic in support of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's Big Wild Challenge (thebigwild.org).