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Paddler launches extreme trip

Registered nurse is on an extreme trip that spans most of North America

By Tara Trigg | Peak Intern

Published in the Powell River Peak: Wednesday, June 18, 2008

For some people, simply going for a hike is an adventure. For American Darrell Gardner of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the word adventure has a different ring to it.

Gardner is kayaking solo up the Inside Passage from Seattle, Washington to Skagway, Alaska as the third stage of a five-stage journey of mammoth proportions: going from the Mexico-USA border to the Arctic Ocean, all under human power.

This stage of Gardner’s expedition will have him sea kayaking 1,400 miles (2,253 kilometres) over the course of three months, hopefully averaging 20 miles (32 kilometres) per day.

On June 11, Gardner paddled into Powell River, stopping with the intention of spending a day here to re-supply, only the second time he has stopped for supplies since leaving Seattle.

“I spent almost two years getting ready for this,” said Gardner, sitting beside his kayak at his ocean-side campsite at Willingdon Beach. “I’m 150 miles out on my trip of close to 1,400 miles, so this is just the beginning.”

Gardner will have to stop once every seven to 10 days for food. He will have to stock up this time, as it will take him about 12 days to get through Desolation Sound and the Johnstone Strait to Port Hardy from Powell River.

“I enjoy this type of thing,” said Gardner. “This is one of those trips where if I’m not having fun, nobody else is telling me to go on. I can decide when it’s time to not do it anymore.”

When he’s not paddling his heart out, Gardner works as a registered nurse in Santa Fe.

“It’s my balance between very serious acute care nursing, dealing with death or very severe illness,” he said. “The natural environment brings me back and gives me a renewed sense of wanting to help other people.”

Gardner said that talking to his patients about their regrets is one of the things that gave him the drive to undertake such an expedition.

“I have sat with a lot of a people in my career in various states of decline, and listened to their stories about things they would like to have done, but never did,” he said. “I just don’t want to be one of those people. I want to be the one who drives people crazy with all the stories that I can tell about things I’ve done.”

In 2001, Gardner’s father died at a fairly young age. “He expected to live to be 100, and he didn’t,” Gardner said. “I think he missed some opportunities that he was looking forward to in his retirement, so I said, ‘You know, I’m only 54 years old, but I know that if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. The time’s right, gotta go.’”

In 2004, Gardner set out on the first stage of his expedition, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, totalling 2,650 miles, or 4,265 kilometres. In 2006, he connected land to sea via the Pacific Northwest Trail and the Skagit River, canoeing down into Puget Sound.

For his current undertaking, the hard part is yet to come. “One of the biggest and potentially dangerous parts of this trip will be one of the few places that the Inside Passage is open to the sea—from Port Hardy, around Cape Caution, and up the central BC coast is about four days of open ocean paddling,” he said. “It’s quite a study of weather and knowing conditions.”

Gardner said that one of the main differences between hiking and kayaking, besides all the water, is that when hiking, he can let his mind wander, but with kayaking he must always be paying attention. “If something comes up, if the weather changes, and you didn’t remember where your last safe harbour was, it can set you up for some difficult moments,” he said. “You have to pay very close attention.”

After completing his kayaking trip up to Skagway, Gardner will return to pick up the trail for stage four in 2009 by hiking the Chilkoot Trail to the headwaters of the Yukon River. He will follow the river through BC and the Yukon until its northernmost point in Alaska at Fort Yukon.

In 2010, Gardner will snowshoe and cross-country ski to the top of the Brooks Range at Atigun Pass for stage five, returning in the summer to traverse more mountains and connect to a tributary of the Colville River, following it to the Arctic Ocean.

When completed, Gardner will have travelled over 5,700 contiguous miles (9,173 kilometres) under his own power, without mechanical assistance.

He is mostly self-financed at this point, but said that when he gets to the more northerly portions of his expedition, that will have to change.

Gardner has an audio blog on his website, located at www.underhumanpower.com. He is able to post photos and phone in audio updates on his position and thoughts as the journey progresses.



Master of the paddle: Darrell Gardner takes a well-deserved rest after paddling about 21 miles in one day. Gardner has been travelling on the water since May 17, as a part of a multi-stage 5,700-mile (9,173-kilometre) journey from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean that he will complete all under human power—no motors allowed.