May 2, 2006

Swedish kayaker braves high seas on epic US trip

By Aimee Berg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Perilous seas with swells of up to 11
feet have not deterred Renata Chlumska as she paddles her red
kayak on a record-breaking journey around the United States.

"When those break, watch out," the Swede said, recalling
the big waves along the rocky Pacific coast in the early stages
of her trip. "My kayak isn't made for surfing."

"You're like a missile. I've had a couple of dramatic

Since July 4 last year, the 32-year-old Chlumska has been
circumnavigating the mainland U.S., mostly by kayak, but also
by bike and in-line skates where overland travel is

She travels without a support crew and carries all her gear
except her bicycle, which is shipped because it simply will not
fit into her 17-foot (five-metro) long kayak.

The kayak is crammed with equipment, including a foldable
trailer in the cockpit, the trailer's 16-inch (40-cm) wheels on
the deck, plus a tent, a stove, freeze-dried food, two video
cameras, a laptop, and headlamp all down below -- not to
mention 65 kgs (143 pounds) of human bodyweight.

"I am completely self-sufficient," she said, adding that
while people sometimes joined her on land, "I have gone every
meter by my own strength."


Paddling an average of 25 to 30 miles a day, she is now
more than halfway through the 11,200-mile (18,000-km) journey
that began in Seattle and headed south to San Diego, eastward
and along the Rio Grande, up the Atlantic coast, and eventually
to New York City which she reached last week.

"Getting to Manhattan was huge," she said during a four-day
respite in New York City. "When I passed the Statue of Liberty,
I realized the toughest paddling was behind me."

Her plastic boat remains intact and only twice has she had
to change plans. In September, she flew home to Sweden to be
with her parents after her older brother, Martin, died.

In December, four months after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina
struck the south, she had to abandon the intracoastal waterway
and cycle through the wreckage, towing her 200-pound (91-kg)
gear-laden boat.

If she makes it back to Seattle in November as planned --
after covering the final 1,240 miles by bike -- she says she
will become the first person to make such a journey around the
lower 48 states -- a claim that no one has disputed so far.

The feat was suggested by Chlumska's late fiance Goran
Kropp. "I was almost sure people had done it," she said.
"People have tried everything these days. Someone's probably
gone backwards up Everest."

Kropp was the man who rode his bike from Sweden to Nepal,
climbed Mount Everest without oxygen, then cycled home to
Sweden with all his gear in 1996.


Chlumska pedaled alongside him on the way home and in 1999
they scaled Everest together, making her the first Swedish
woman to stand at the top of the world.

The circumnavigation of the U.S. was also supposed to be a
two-person venture, but Kropp died in 2002 while rock climbing.

This has been a tough journey for Chlumska. "It's like
summitting Everest every day. It's draining because of the
length. I can't relax. Every day I have to be focused. You can
never turn your back on the ocean," she said.

Yet last Friday she lowered her boat into the water once
more, heading north toward Newport, Rhode Island, where she
plans to land on Sunday, and Boston where she estimates she
will arrive between May 12 and 15.

From there, she will eventually turn left at the tip of
Maine, paddle through the Great Lakes, and, if she can get a
permit, skim through Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

After that, it is land all the way and two other formidable
obstacles: the Rocky Mountains, and the immigration service.
Her visa expires in September, with some 620 miles to go.