Monday, December 11 looked to be a good day of paddling for Traci Lynn Martin, the 50-year-old kayaker who is attempting a record-setting journey on the Great Lakes. It was calm when she launched her Stellar surfski on the north shore of Lake Ontario, near Toronto; after a blustery autumn, she anticipated a big day. Having already circumnavigated lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron, Martin had got within 250 miles of her goal of setting a world record for distance paddled on a surfski in a single season.
Whereas gale-force winds stopped her in November, today it was a deep freeze. "It was the calmest day in two weeks," says Martin. "I wanted to get out early and crank out 30 miles. But it was cold — 21 degrees [Fahrenheit] on the water — and my rudder lines froze solid. I tried to thaw them out and I tried to paddle without a rudder but I had to call it a day."
Martin only covered four miles, bringing her season total to 3,576. "I was really disappointed," she admits.
Martin started her expedition on Lake Huron in March. The Missouri native set off to "test myself with adventure," she says. A long-time canoeist, she purchased her first surfski at age 42. In 2015, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. "She told me, if there was anything I wanted to do in life to go and do it, don't put it off," recalls Martin, herself a mother of three — and recently, a new grandmother.
"When I was young I wanted to be a traveler," Martin adds. "I joined the Peace Corps. But at the last minute my high school sweetheart convinced me to marry him instead [of traveling the world]."
Martin's expedition started auspiciously. On two separate occasions she was forced to issue distress calls when she was unable to get to land through thick swaths of pack ice on Lake Huron. The local Sheriff's Office indicated that a third rescue would result in the confiscation of her kayak. Martin took a short hiatus to wait for the weather to improve before continuing on, undeterred.
She says her biggest highlights came in Canada — tracing the remote North Channel of Lake Huron and the wilderness coastline of Lake Superior's north shore. Martin's sleek surfski forced her to pare her load to the bare essentials; with practice, she was able to pack six days worth of supplies, along with emergency rations, in the Stellar's minimalist hatches. She says her greatest asset are the Navionics charts she downloads to her smartphone, which allow her to navigate outside of cellular range. "I figured out really quickly what I need and don’t need," Martin adds.
Martin made steady progress through the spring and summer, averaging over 30 miles per day. In the backcountry, Martin heated her meals on small campfires and tried to camp on islands whenever possible. "I just enjoyed being out there alone," she says. "I loved the ability to do what I wanted to do and enjoy nature. I would stay out at night till sunset, have a tiny campfire and watch the stars come out."
In paddling around North America's three largest lakes in a single season Martin has already claimed a significant record. But even as the first ice of winter forms in Lake Ontario's bays (and—after a year of unemployment, she wonders about her future), Martin insists on continuing her shot at the single year distance title. "I plan to keep slugging away until December 31," says Martin. "But I have pretty much done what I set out to do. I've tested myself and had the adventure of a lifetime. It has shown me that I'm strong. No one can take that away from me."
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