Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I have a friend named Michal staying here at the hostel with me.  Every few days he gets on his bicycle with laden homemade panniers (saddle bags) and sets out for Germany.  He's usually returned by the end of the day.  I haven't seen him in a while so maybe he's finally made his escape.  I need to hang around until the middle of next week for insurance reasons, then I should be out of here as well since my hatch seals arrived today.

Failure to Launch

Having all my gear stolen I would have to replace some of it immediately and the rest in time.

I found a store that sold kayaking gear about a two hour train ride north of Barcelona. By the time I got there I had to use the rest room but the people in the store said they didn't have one. “Really.” They insisted.

I asked the manager about spray skirts. He took me to the back of his store with a tape measure and began measuring the skirts to see if any of them would be appropriate for my Epic. The closest one he had was about about 225$, an obscene fee. I also bought a pump and a dry bag. The dry bag, with its Velcro seal, struck me as suspect, so I asked the owner if he was sure it would keep my stuff dry. Yes, he was sure. I asked again a few moments later and he was still sure.

After my considerable purchase it turned out that they did in fact have a rest room.
The next morning I bought some camping gear. I couldn't find a free standing tent in Barcelona so I settled for a bivi sack.
That afternoon the local chabad rabbi was able to give me a ride to the warehouse, the kayak was ready right away, though sealed away from me in a crate with no lid. I beat the crate with a crow bar until my boat was free. A policeman watched to make sure that I threw out the remains afterwards. I'm pleased the policemen work so diligently to protect the peace.
My boat was beautiful and my paddles where winged, a different style of paddle then I had remembered ordering, but a more expensive one, so I wasn't going to complain.
With my boat on top of the rabbi's car we were on our way to the put in which I had scouted out on foot, only to find that the section of the port was open exclusively to industrial traffic. I had found a back up launch point that was up a river by looking at satellite images and it was there that the rabbi dropped me off with my boat (41.321203,2.115909). He asked me what I would do now. I told him “Get my boat and gear over to the water.”
“Then what?” He asked me.

“Put in.”

“Then what?”

“Paddle to Israel.” I told him and smiled.

I carried my boat and my gear over some muddy grasses and found the river that was not visible from the road. It was a beautiful place to start my journey. The sun was low in the sky and the river, surrounded as it was by grasses, was a separate world from the industrial zone it slid through. I loaded up my boat putting my computer, cell phone, and wallet into my dry bag.

I noticed that the hatches were much easier to manage then any of the waterproof hatches I had dealt with before, and as with the dry bag, I was a little worried. But this was an Epic, and what's more is that I had been told that a new kind of seal was being employed that was supposed to be an upgrade from what had been used before, so I had faith.

And I began. My boat was in the water surrounded by grasses coming up from the bottom. I stepped through the mud and got in being careful to keep the inside of my new home as clean as possible.

After only a moment of paddling a fish leaped over the front of my boat, a blessing on my journey. The big G was wishing me luck and I new that where ever my adventures would take me, I would be better for it.

I paddled down the river seeing many more fish jump out of the watter, and at least twice inadvertently hitting fish with my paddle. I was exhilharated. I was living a dream that I had had in one form or another for as long as I could remember. I was being the person I had always wanted to be. I was kayaking from Spain to Israel.

As I made my way out to sea the sun was going down, but the moon was full and the sky mostly clear so I paddled for a while longer. My destination for the night was the location I had originally set to put in at (41.321203,2.115909). It lay in an artificial bay that would make for an easy landing by the moon light. And I would be able to sleep on the sandy earth next to the closed parking lot.

Getting out of my boat being extra careful not to scrape it against the rocks, I picked up the bow to pull it half way onto shore. Since my hatches weren't sealed, the stern went under water and filled almost completely. Not knowing that my stern was full, I tried to lift up the boat and bring it completely onto sure, but it was to heavy for me. I thought that maybe the day had been longer then I realized and put a colossal effort into lifting up the boat that I knew to be only 45 pounds, and probably not more then 65 with gear. All my strength had moved it only a few inches; I knew that it must have taken on a lot of water.  Hatch seals?

My sleeping back was soaked, my bivi sack was full of water, and my dry bag had utterly failed in its task leaving my computer and cell phone ruined.

I tried to make camp but could not sleep in my wet bivi sack. Some time in the middle of the night I got together my expensive things and hid my kayak. Remember, I was professionally trained to hide myself and my gear in the field. I had to leave my boat behind because I could not paddle it with the unsealed hatches and I could not resolve the problem without a connection to the world.

I searched the area for foot prints but found only dog prints. I thought maybe somebody had been walking there dog here and they might find my boat, but I then remembered that there was a pack of wild dogs in the area that I had seen on my last visit. My boat in its out of the way hiding spot would be secure for a time and was completely invisible to the casual observer.

The walk back to the hostel would be a long one, especially with wet socks and my stuff in shopping bags and not a proper pack. I walked for a time and found a grassy spot near a bus stop. I decided I would try to sleep there any take a bus in the morning.

A diligent security guard however was soon able to put a stop to my dangerous behavior and sent me on my way. I tried to hitch hike, but not surprisingly nobody picked me up. I certainly wouldn't have. Eventually I found a bus stop that had buses every hour throughout the night, I was relived. After a wait a bus took me to spot about a 30 minute walk from the hostel I had been staying at. I missed my stop, but not by a lot. Walking the last leg at the odd hour was a strange thing. Night people where about, not the sort of people I was used to seeing.

Back in the hostel they were surprised to see me, but thankfully had a bed. I slept.

The next day I saw a doctor, I was running a high fever and, as it turned out, had strep throat.

Friday, September 24, 2010


My kayak is missing its hatch seals.  I´m waiting for them to arrive in the mail.  More on this later.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Beit Chabad

I'm getting help with launching from the chabad rabbi.  If any one is looking for a good Jewish charity to give some money to (besides me),  I'm sure the chabad house in Barcelona would be happy to help.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sodom, Gemorrah, and Barcelona

Most of my gear was stolen on Friday. Here's the gist of what I wrote in my notebook Thursday night.
I walked this morning to the friendly logistical offices that were willing to take my money in return for my kayak. They told me that my kayak was in a warehouse in Barcelona and I could pick it up just after a third party had finished up some paperwork, which would be around four in the afternoon.
I paid more than half the price of the boat, and received the address of the warehouse storing my boat as well as some forms I would need to retrieve it. The warehouse was about four kilometers from the water, which presented me with a problem. It would be extremely difficult to carry both the kayak and my 80 pound duffel bag at the same time, so I would need a friend to help me so that I wouldn't  have to leave either my gear or my kayak unattended.
Fortunately, at the friendly hostel I'm staying at, it took me only a moment to find a volunteer. Before setting out to the port with my friend to begin my expedition I sent an email to my editor telling him that if I didn't write to him in the next 12 hours he should post that I had launched my expedition. I also invited a couple of my friends from the day before to see me off at a pleasant beach a couple miles north of the actual launch sight. They would wait for me at eight in the evening.
My assistant and I were soon near the warehouse. We had actually walked a ways past it by accident and were closer to the put in. Once we realized our mistake we decided to leave him with the gear and I would go get the boat. Then I would come back with the boat and between the two of us we would get everything to the water.
I walked back to the warehouse to get my boat. It was there and it was beautiful; unfortunately the necessary paperwork had not been completed by four. Nor had it been completed by six, closing time. The fellow who was supposed to take care of it was in the hospital looking after his mother.
I walked back to my friend who had nodded off next to my bags of gear. I woke him, apologized and sent him home.
I found some bushes and put my gear under the bushes. I then covered it up with dry leaves so that it would not be visible from the busy street not far away.
I went to scope out the launch point. It was an old desolate parking lot between dunes with a small rocky and littered beach at the edge of it. While there were a number of fences that had been locked for years to keep people out, most of them had been pushed over or cut through making beach access fairly easy, even for someone carrying a kayak or 80 pounds of gear. Their was a pack of small dogs in the area, climbing the dunes and barking at my uninvited presence.
The beach was inside an artificial bay that would let me get the feel of my new boat without having to deal with waves.
I walked back to my stuff and made camp. It's currently raining and I'm comfortable in my tent. The warehouse should be open tomorrow at 8:00 and I hope the paperwork is done by then so that I can retrieve my boat. I feel bad for the two girls waiting for me to launch from the beach north of here.
The next day I was out early. Shortly after I had packed up my gear it had begun pouring rain. I couldn't leave my gear in the same place I had the day before because my dry bags where not yet in use and I couldn't allow my computer and other stuff to get wet. I found a location not far away that was mostly void of pedestrians, if closer to a busy road, that I thought I could leave my things at. I put on my rain gear and made my way to the warehouse arriving at about ten to eight. After waiting in line for an hour for my boat I was told to come back in half an hour.
I went back to my gear to make breakfast for myself, except my gear was gone.
The police added insult to injury by not believing my story. There was a translator there, at the Barcelona central police station who was unable to understand my English. She explained to me that she only understood British English.
My expedition is still underway, it will just take me a little bit longer to get started.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Quick Update

All my gear was stolen from the launch site.  The full story will be posted tomorrow or the day after.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Time in Barcelona

"So I'm really stressed out. So I went shopping all day and just, like, shopped and shopped until my credit card maxed out and I was, like, so embarrassed."

Said to me a young lady I was talking with. I'm a little stressed out too since I'm still in Barcelona and have just been told that getting my kayak from the port will cost me an arm and a leg (I need both to paddle).

I'm meeting interesting people here in the hostel though. This morning I went jogging with a girl training for a marathon. She explained to me that 9-11 was a conspiracy caused by the US government.

While I wouldn't have put it beneath the former administration, I don't think the US government is competent enough to do that sort of thing.


I've spent most of my time here in Barcelona dealing with last minute stuff before my launch.  But today, as my preparations and assaults on corporate bureaucracy drew to a close, I went out into the city with two fellow travelers.  I worked hard to convince them to come with me on my trip, but to no avail.[gallery]

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I just got word that I will not be able to meet my kayak until tomorrow.  Also, since it is Sunday, everything is closed and I will not be able to buy a cell phone today.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

In Spain they Speak Spanish

I Arrived in Spain on Tuesday.

The Flight:

At the check in counter I got into an argument  with US Air people.  Without getting into details, I felt like I was being ripped off for an additional $190.  I was very upset with the manager who was being exceptionally obtuse.  It turns out that, no matter how hard you try, you can't actually vaporize someone with your eyes, even evil airline people.

On the plane I thought that I could make good use of my time by learning Spanish from the little girl in the seat next mine.  Here's an excerpt from the conversation.

Me:  “So 'no' in Spanish is 'no'?”

Little Girl:  “No.”

Me:  “Baahhh.”

By the time we parted at the airport I was able to say adios like a real Spaniard.

Tuesday night I tried to blog, but all I could put down was brain puke.

Days of Preparation:

Preparing for my trip here required that I buy local charts, flares, phone service, gas for my stove, and arrange to meet my kayak.

My kayak arrived late, I mean, later then the later then the late date I was originally given.  I believe that the boat is now in Barcelona and hope to find it tomorrow, though I don't yet know where to look.  There's a communication problem.

Tuesday night my watch went dead despite the brand new battery.

I spent all of Wednesday walking around Barcelona.  I found a man to fix my watch, in coming up with a price he went down from 17 Euro to 6 Euro.

Stove gas I found fairly early on at a camping store.

I had found a list of kayaking stores on-line along with their locations.  I went to all the addresses on my list and none of them had kayaking stores.  The web sight I used was in Spanish.

I found a number of outdoor goods stores and they where not helpful.  Finally I had an Idea.  I made my way to the port area, found a sail boat with a sailor on it, and asked him. He was able to mark my map with four different sailing stores and tell me plenty about them.  Since it was siesta time, I had to wait about an hour for the nearest store to open.

The people there did not speak English, communication was slow and painful, but ultimately successful.  I had my charts and understood that I would need to wait until Sunday to get the flares.

I left the shop.  After a moment I went back to pick up my map of the city which I had forgotten there.  I left again, but then came back again; I wanted to use the bathroom before my long walk back to the hostel.

Coming out of the bathroom the shop owner stopped me.  I wondered why as he finished up his conversation on the phone.  Finally he hung up and excitedly told me the flares had just arrived. They were big rockets, about a foot long and larger then any of the flares I had seen in America.  There was a sailor in the store who could speak English.  He told me that that was the only kind available in Europe, and kindly showed me how to use them.  Thank you Awesome Sailor.

I still need to buy a phone.

Days of Awe:

Wednesday night began the Jewish high holiday for the new year.  I attended a local synagogue and scored an invitation for the festival meals.  The family that hosted me is pious and believes that good things happen to good people in practical ways.  The father, a story teller, gave me much food for thought and belly.

The synagogue I prayed at had two minyannim (Sorry to all of you who are not intimately familiar with the Jewish tradition.) an Ashkenazi minyan and a Sephardi minyan.  I tried praying with the Ashkenazi minyan as is my custom, but calling that minyan Ashkenazi would be like putting a lemon in a Coke and calling it Sprite.  It was too painful so I eventually switched to the Sephardi minyan.

On the Sabbath I prayed with a Chabad minyan (using the Sephardi custom).  After the prayer meeting I got invited over to the rabbi's house for lunch.  Once they learned of my plans, I spent the rest of the meal answering questions about my trip.  The rabbi suggested that I put a picture of the deceased leader of his sect, the Rebbe, on my boat.  I politely said “I'll think about it,” while remembering another idea that was recently floated my way:  I should put a bobbing head Jesus doll on the front of my boat.  I'll think about it.

Saturday afternoon I found a mountain and climbed half way up it before I had to turn around.  I got a great view of Barcelona and the ocean.  Barcelona has some beautiful old Spanish architecture and some ugly newer slums. In the distance, on the side of another mountain, I could see a cool looking castle.

I begin paddling tomorrow, if only I can find my boat.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ready to Go

I fly to Barcelona on Monday, meet my boat on Wednesday, and begin paddling on Sunday.  Training is over.

I arrived in America June 3rd, three moths ago.  I've probably averaged hitting the water 4 times a week for about five hours an outing.  I had hoped for six times a week for six hours, working my way up to ten as I got in better shape.

I have significantly improved my skills.  I learned to roll, edge my boat, skull, brace. and most importantly, I can pee without pulling over.  My forward stroke is also drastically improved.

I had intended for my diet to be healthy with lots of brown rice.  In fact, I've mostly been eating hot dogs and ice cream.  This worked out fine because I'm in the best shape of my life, and may never have an opportunity again to eat so many hot dogs and so much ice cream.

Beginning next Sunday I hope to paddle ten to twelve hours a day.  I hope I'll be ready.

A lot of time has been spent getting my gear in order.  I'm fairly pleased with most of what I ended up with.  A few things I spent too much on or got the wrong kind, but for the most part, I got a lot of stuff wholesale and did pretty well for myself.  I have during this time successfully tested all of my gear, except for my kayak.

Since I wasn't able to get any sponsors per se, I felt that the least I could do was to not advertise for people who weren't paying me.  So I covered up the logos on most of my gear with my own logo, a stitch put together by me, my mom, and a friend of my mom's, Toby Eizik.  Toby was instrumental providing both great artistic talent and the necessary machinery.

Toby  implied to my mom that she was hoping to be mentioned in my blog, so while I typically try to avoid mentioning people out of concern for their privacy, I'm happy to make an exception for people who drop hints to my mother.  Thank you for your help Toby.

This blog is also something I set out to do during my training time, as a test run for blogging about my trip  This is my first effort at writing, but I have a head start on account of my degree in math which is in many ways similar to a degree in writing.*  I'm pleased with some of the posts more then others.  A measure of my success is that this blog has had over 1000 hits, and that seems like a lot to me.

During this time I have made friends in the NYC kayaking area.  People who have helped me with my skills, and just to have a general sort of good time.  Sunday night the Yonkers paddle club will be having a farewell paddle for me.

There have also been a number of setbacks.

Originally I had hoped to leave from Gibraltar August 15th.  Why Gibraltar?  Because it was a good distance for the semester I'm taking off and I could feel like I was crossing the Mediterranean.

A woman who was employed to clean my parents house once a week when I was a little boy recently got in touch with me via Facebook.  Hearing about my trip she told me that she has a friend in Cadiz that I could use as a base of operations to launch from.  I could stay there for a couple of days while I got organized in Spain and have my stuff shipped there before my arrival.  This was an opportunity I could not turn down, so I changed my departure point to Cadiz, about a 100 miles on the Atlantic side of Gibraltar.

Time passed and I became more and more eager to get in touch with this person in Cadiz, to confirm everything and get an address that I could ship to.   The woman who was helping me explained that she was busy and would get around to getting me in touch with the Cadiz friend soon. About a month and a half before my departure date, after I had bought tickets to fly, she informed me that her friend could no longer help me out.  In the same email she told me that I was impatient for trying to get in touch with this person myself.

Towards the end of July, about two and a half weeks before my departure date I got word from Epic that the kayak would be delayed three weeks on account of troubles with shipping.  So I changed my flight for no small fee, to spend more time with family, and in an environment that was good for my training.

Just a few days ago I got another email from Epic.  The kayak would be further delayed.  If I wanted, I could start only a few days late in Barcelona.  If I insisted on starting in Cadiz, I would have to wait even longer.

The good news is that my contact at Epic is being helpful in every way that he can and is making some of the logistical work much easier for me.

I changed my ticket again.  I'll be flying to Barcelona on Monday, which I would have been in around now anyways had I not been delayed.  I'm no longer going to be attempting to cross the Mediterranean because I'm skipping the first few hundred miles.  But I'm starting on Monday, and I'll still be kayaking from Spain to Israel, I hope.

* editor's note: It's not.

I went back to the Marsh with my friend Link. It was a day well seized.

Oh Captain my Captain

I was paddling along Manhattan next to a pier that had the words “100 yard security zone” written on it. I'm in the habit of ignoring these signs. I figure they only apply to terrorists. (I'm not a terrorist.) A police boat came from around a corner up ahead and towards me. It was then called over the police boats loud speaker “You're in a security zone, captain.”

So I turned away from the Pier and thought 'Cool, I'm a captain.'

Feeding the Fish Badness and Eating Sand

I had planned to paddle from the George Washington Bridge to Sandy Hook, camp at Sandy Hook overnight, and paddle back the next day.  The distance, about 32 miles, was no small endeavor for my 12 foot boat (as apposed to the 18ft epic I'll be meeting on Tuesday in Spain).

My trip began a couple hours before the current would change and I headed south along the now familiar sights of upper and mid Manhattan.  The Current changed against me around when I expected it to, but oddly, only for about an hour.  After that it was mildly with me for the rest of my trip, which could be attributed to the recent rain.

I stopped on a dock in lower Manhattan to make myself lunch on my stove.  I packed three bags: oatmeal, rice, and lentils.  My bags were preseasoned and the oatmeal bag already had instant milk.  This is how I intend to eat on my expedition.

I searched through my gear to get my lighter for the stove.  I continued to search.  Finally all my dry bags were out on the dock and the contents were spread at my side, my search was over and I still didn't have a lighter.  Apparently, I hadn't packed it.

The dock next to mine had a bunch of identical sailing boats parked at it.  A young woman sat next to one of the boats and was doing some rope work.  I hopped over the fence guarding the dock I was on and approached her. Sure enough, she had a lighter.  I lit my stove, then hopped back over the fence with the burning stove and returned to my gear and food.  About 10 minuted into cooking, my stove went out.  I had assumed that it in an effort to get a simmer I had lowered the gas to off.

Repeating the fence hop stove light drill I was less successful, my stove was out of gas.

Lunch and dinner where only half cooked.  For tomorrow I could soak my instant oatmeal making it edible but not tasty.  I had enough for one and a half meals.  I was not excited about making the trip back on low grade fuel, but I wasn't going to turn around.  As for the half cooked meal in front of me, the pot was still hot so I figured I would let it sit until it cooled off, and then see how it tasted.

I put all my gear back in the boat, mounted the hot pot on top with bungee cords, and continued on my way.

Some time later, just before Battery Park I ate about half the contents of the pot, leaving the rest for dinner.  It wasn't bad. (I found out a couple days later that it was bad, infested by moths.)

Crossing from Manhattan to Brooklyn I had a wonderful view of the Statue of Liberty.  I recalled something about an inscription having to do with taking in tired and weary.

As the day drew on and fatigue set into my being I got to the large inner bay just north of the Verrazano Bridge narrows.  I steered clear of the shipping lanes and the many moored freighters.

Farther south I was closer to the side where cyclists and runners used a path between a highway and the river.  One woman called out to me asking where I came from.  When I told her she was so excited she stopped other people on the path to tell them.  Not wanting to be the source of disruption for the exercisers above I paddled on with a slightly more aggressive forward stroke.

Soon I was under the bridge and began the 10 mile crossing to Sandy Hook.  I couldn't see the hook so this was my first test of taking and sticking to a bearing on the water.  Once upon a time, real men did this without the aid of a GPS.  I came up with an initial bearing by using my compass, a string, and my chart (as I had been taught in the army), just to make sure the GPS-provided bearing made sense.  I then used my chart to figure out the coordinates of the closest end of Sandy Hook.  Plugging that into my GPS I got satisfactory results and headed south.  I rechecked my bearing every half hour or so and found that I was being nudged by the current a little bit east.

I was by now completely exhausted.  The waves, at times several feet taller than I, were exhilarating.

At one point a motor boat was headed straight towards me. I changed direction to get off of the collision course, but so did the boat.  I blew my whistle as loud as I could and changed direction again.  The boat followed, finally he slowed down about 20 feet off my bow and asked me if I was OK. I said that I was and he sped off.

There where a lot of big boats in shipping lane waiting in line.  Fortunately the lane was clearly marked.

Towards the end of the crossing, a combination of exhaustion, choppy waves, and uncooked rice in my belly had me puke up the contents of my lunch.  I rolled a couple of times cleaning off what little of it was on skirt and was back on my way feeling much better.

Making a landing in big waves is not easy.  My experience so far is to ride a wave in, then get out and pull the boat ashore before the next wave comes.  Otherwise the risk is getting thrown over by a powerful wave and having the boat filled up with sand and water. Having practiced the maneuver on that same beach in similar conditions before, I pulled it off without a hitch.  I was on the beach and my long tiring journey of the day was over.  I had been on the water between nine and ten hours.

On the beach, I took stock of the situation. Their was no food in my belly.  The dinner I had left over from earlier that day may have been bad, since the fish were probably already choking on the lunch remains.  I had about a cup and a half of oatmeal that I could make edible if not tasty.  And on top of all that, my radio had stopped working sometime earlier in the day.

If I was in Europe in these conditions I would have paddled to a parking lot, and called a cab to stay the night in a hostel. Fortunately for me, this was training, so I had another option.  I called my daddy.  I figured their was a fifty fifty chance that he would come and pick me up.  If he didn't, it would be rationed uncooked oatmeal.

The phone rang.  “Hi Dad.”

“Where are you?”

“Sandy Hook.”  I answered.

“What beach?”  His voice sounded insistent.

“I'm at the northern end, I don't know what beach.”

“So are we.” he told me.

I didn't believe him because that's the sort of ridiculous thing that me and my dad find funny.  But it turned out that he and my mom were on North Beach, not far away and would be happy to give me a ride home and some dinner.

Back in my boat, I met my mom about half a mile south of where I had first landed. I was paddling very close to the beach talking to my mom as we headed south to where the car was parked.  A wave, I don't know how big because I wasn't watching, slammed into me.  There was almost no water to my right so I tried to to use my paddle to brace myself against the sand and turn out to sea, but the wave was pushing me higher while it pulled my paddle under the boat.  Rather then fight it, I mad the quick decision to roll with it and come up the other side.  As my shoulder slammed against the sandy beach under me, the boat was twisted and ripped away from above me, hurled against the beach.

I sat up unhurt as the wave went back out to sea.  I was still taking sand out of my nose the next day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


In answer to a bunch of questions people have been asking me, below is the approximate route I hope to take.