Sunday, 25 October 2015

Xtremely Queer : Looping the World - Part 3

Sarah Outen’s human-powered “loop around the world” reached the North American Pacific coastline in September 2013 and the island of Adak at the western end of the Aleutian Islands. Ahead of her was a 1,400 mile-long journey, island hopping, kayaking and hiking eastwards to the port of Homer, Alaska.

But first there were the usual health checks and debriefing, and then it was a very happy reunion way over in New York with her fiancée Lucy, who had accepted Sarah’s mid-Pacific proposal of marriage in June.

As winter approached plans for the new kayaking section were made ready for the resumption of Sarah’s expedition in Spring 2014. If you remember last time, Sarah’s row across the Pacific to Vancouver was diverted half way across and a new route northwards to Alaska.

Sarah was again joined on this new kayaking section by Justine Curgenven, her kayaking partner across the English Channel at the start of this extreme loop of the world. It was Justine’s idea to paddle along the Aleutian islands, more of a joke really, but when Sarah had to divert her Pacific row Sarah brought up the idea again.

Island-hopping sounds deceptive. The Aleutian Islands are not just a little tropical reef islands like the Florida Keys. They consist of a huge variety of sizes and distance apart stretching 1,200 miles. But Sarah and Justine were not on their own all the time. All along the island chain they met local communities, both human and animal. There were adventures and experiences on land as well as at on water: helping to check an oyster-catcher colony, a guided tour of a fish-processing factory, seeing prehistoric petrified tree stumps, and an earthquake.

After the disappointment of only seeing one bear on the whole journey from London through the bear forests of Russia to Japan, this kayaking section brought more bears into view than anyone could hope for – at a safe distance, of course.

The kayaking duo reached Homer in August 2014. Within weeks Sarah was starting her next section of her X-treme loop of the world, cycling across North America.

The solo cycle from Homer to Anchorage brought more personal fears for Sarah. Encounters with bears, tropical storms, earthquakes and huge waves are all taken in her stride. But heights, that’s one thing Sarah really fears. The mountain roads in Alaska have some alarming drops on the edge and Sarah battled against her fears to reach Anchorage in mid-September.

Crossing into Canada Sarah spent a couple of days accompanying another long-distance cyclist, Iohan Gueroguiev, who was making the journey north to south. Meeting local communities Sarah would be troubled by the stories of native Canadians as they recalled the forced separation of native families by the authorities.

In November Sarah was joined by her fiancée Lucy in Calgary for the next part of the cycle. Lucy hadn’t attempted anything like a long-distance cycle before so it was a learning experience all the way. This was also the coldest part of the whole trans-America ride (what a baptism of “fire” that must have been for Lucy), with blizzards holding them up, and lakes frozen solid. Even the beer they saved to celebrate their last night on the road together froze before they could drink it!
Sarah (in foreground) and Lucy in the middle of their cycle ride. Photo copyright
After spending two months, Christmas and New Year together, it was back home to Rutland, England, for Lucy. For Sarah it was onwards to Chicago. Cycling through the tail end o winter and into Spring the weather gradually improved. Through Pennsylvania the weather was so good that Sarah pushed harder to reach New York, not that there was anything wrong with Pennsylvania, but Sarah new refers to the state as Pennhillvania because of the hills.

Sarah reached New York in March 2014 and a reunion with friends and support team members before setting off a few days later on the final cycle ride of the whole London2London expedition through New England to the early colonial settlement that is now the city of Chatham in Massachusetts, which she reached in early April 2014.

Three quarters of the loop around the world by her own strength alone, and the home stretch was in sight. Her new boat “Happy Socks” was ready. Sarah was ready. And in a couple of days we’ll be ready to look at the completion of this Xtreme expedition.

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