Susan Marie Conrad
Size: 6.50 x 9.50 in
"The Ocean is calling me. This is my Journey."
With these words, in the spring of 2010, Susan Marie Conrad scaled her world down to an 18-foot sea kayak and launched a solo journey that took her north to Alaska. With no sense of where she belonged in space and unreconciled feelings of a painful childhood following her, she decided that instead of running away, she would run toward her dreams. Her adventure took her along the western coast of North America, through the Inside Passage—a 1,200-mile ribbon of water—in a journey of the sea and soul.
The expedition took her deep within herself, humbling her, healing her, helping her to discover the depths of her own strength and courage. On her way from Anacortes, Washington, to Juneau, Alaska, she grappled with fear and exhaustion, forged friendships with quirky people in the strangest places, endured perilous weather and angry seas, and pretended not to be intimidated by 700-pound grizzly bears and 40-ton whales.
She lived her dream.
Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. ~ Dr. Seuss
One Pea in a Fog
“It’s not an adventure until things start going wrong,” Yvon Chouinard once said. OK, Yvon, I get it, but REALLY? Does it nearly have to kill me? I was nearing the end of Grenville Channel, a 45-mile trough of water contained within steep walls rising more than 2,000 feet, its north end roughly 35 miles south of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Pretty much in the middle of nowhere.READ MORE
Places to land were scarce and my hopes to stop and camp were dashed on two occasions that day when grizzly bears--cubs in tow--stood defiantly along the shoreline. By the time I did find a marginal place to set up camp, I was a soggy, string-of-bad-luck, hypothermic bundle of exasperation. Had my adventure truly just begun? I didn’t know, but what I did know was that any residual arrogance I may have had was now whupped out of me. I was paddling solo on the Inside Passage, and I was being handed a pivotal lesson--almost along with my ass.
“Give me a fucking break!” I screamed at the top of my lungs--at the wind, at the stinging rain, at everything and at nothing, thrusting my chest forward, my arms hyperextended behind me, all ten fingers spread wide in outrage. I was 38 days into my expedition and had come to accept, even expect, being cold and wet. But this was different—and much more dire.
My primal screams filled the forest, only to be reabsorbed by the howling wind, sullen seas, and the sucking mud of this godforsaken bay I was stuck in. I was attempting to set up camp a hair’s-width above the briny dung of what appeared to be a saltwater chicken coop, a goopy, flat area where the funky smell of seabird guano met my nostrils. Debris from last night’s high tide hung like Christmas garlands from the fringes of the impenetrable forest behind me. My campsite would certainly be under water in the middle of that night and the reality of having to deal with that made me sick to my stomach. Remembering that my sleeping bag was damp and my tent waterlogged, frantically crammed in the back hatch earlier that morning, made my heart sink even further.
A vigorous rain pelted the right side of my face, which was swollen and disfigured from the previous day’s blood-sucking black fly attack. Moments before, I’d shivered violently in sopping wet clothes, and struggled with a nylon tarp as the wind belligerently whipped it out of my hands. My fingers, barely able to tie the knots to secure the corners, became less and less dextrous. Gale force winds had descended upon Grenville Channel and were only slightly diffused by the landmass I was hiding behind.
Earlier that day I’d briefly fallen asleep in my drifting kayak, then succumbed to the initial stages of hypothermia, as crushing fatigue took hold; I hadn’t cared enough to extract myself from the gallons of cold water I was sitting in inside my cockpit. Warm urine pooled in the crotch of my wetsuit, momentarily warming me as I peed in the boat. I’d landed here out of default, and ludicrously bad luck, after paddling nearly forty arduous miles, forced to move on at the twenty- and then thirty-mile mark when mama grizzly bears had trumped my intended campsites. My muscles cramped, my head throbbed, and in spite of a tailwind, my lightweight carbon-fiber paddle felt like a twoby-four and the seas felt like grape jelly. I was completely, utterly spent, and there were simply no other options. I knew that night would be no different from the three previous ones: when I was finally tucked into the thin veneer of my nylon tent, my serial date with the high tide would come knocking at my door. When saltwater began licking at my rainfly under the dark cloak of night I would curse the moon and I would curse gravity for conspiring on a 23-foot tidal exchange. Around 3 a.m. I would be forced to change back into my cold, wet rain gear and extract myself from my womblike shelter. Then, like a bride snatching up her gown, I’d lift my tent just as the water poured in around my bugbitten ankles and stand tippy-toed on a piece of driftwood or slippery boulder. Each of those three past nights I stood in a brine-soaked kiddie pool, in the dark, in the pouring rain, and pleaded with the ocean, politely asking her, “Are ya done yet?”
I learned early on in my trip that Mother Nature can be unforgiving. Or she can be neutral, soothing you, enveloping you in her sweet velvety senses. But on that day in Grenville Channel--as I desperately tried to set up camp--she was schizophrenic. She didn’t care that I was on the verge of tears, or scared out of my wits. I’d put myself in this position, and it was up to me to put on my big girl panties and figure a way out.
It was then, when I was chilled to the bone, fumbling with the tarp, that an inner pathos hurtled out of me, along with an alarming variety of expletives. My explosive rage made my blood flow hot, pressed my mental reset button, and refocused my intent. Perhaps it saved my life. Miraculously, I was able to tend to all my needs: shelter, food, warmth, and rest--at least for a few hours. Praying for sleep to come, shivering inside my slightly damp sleeping bag, eyes wide open, I felt an unease in the pit of my stomach. Would I have the strength and courage to take care of myself throughout the entire journey?
Chris Duff, expedition paddler, author of On Celtic Tides and Southern Exposure on http://susanmarieconrad.com/Susan_Marie_Conrad/HOME.html wrote:
Inside: One Woman’s Journey through the Inside Passage is a singular epic. It is a brave story. One of personal triumph, of heartbreak, terrifying challenges, soulful introspection and sheer joy. It is also a moving story about the power of friendship. Her words flow off the pages carrying the reader along on the current of her adventure. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read about real adventure, personal challenge and experience, through her evocative writing, the wonders and beauty of the Inside Passage.
Debra Arnold wrote:
Susan Conrad writes of the things that make solo sea kayaking challenging, rewarding and life changing. The tides are not always in her favor and the crossings are not all sun drenched and paddled with ease or certainty. At times her fatigue is as palpable as the taste of salt from tears or sea spray or both. When Susan reaches her goal, the reader will understand there is so much more to a solo endeavor than the physical act of paddling 1,100 miles.
The WET version of “WILD”!
Susan Conrad’s amazing solo kayak expedition up the Inside Passage is not only an adventure of epic proportions, it is also a journey deep within—an “Inside” vision quest. The fact that she did this arduous trip as a single woman at age 49, and paddled marathon distances (or more) most days is a testament to her strength, courage, and detailed preparation for this trip.
Her writing is so genuinely human—gut-wrenching at times, humorous at others that it’s hard to put the book down. You want to see what’s around the next corner, just like she did. And, her sense of childlike wonder at the magnificent scenery, wildlife (big and small), and the kindness of the people she meets along her journey engages you and transports you to her cockpit.
Susan’s story of healing, adventures and misadventures, fear, sorrow, and profound joy will lift your spirits and make you want to grab a paddle and a kayak!
I created this mini book trailer to capture the overall tone of my 2010 solo journey up the Inside Passage. This tells a small part of the story visually—but wait—there's more! My full story has found a home with Epicenter Press and my debut memoir "Inside: One Woman's Journey Through the Inside Passage" launched into this world May 2016.