To go from being a fat old lady who was hardly able to walk in 2006, to being a fit person who is going to hike an 820-mile trail (The Arizona National Scenic Trail) in 2015... now there is the REAL story... and in the end, kayaking America was only a stepping stone.
The 50th state sticker, and final sticker, has been added to my Kayak America adventure map on the inside side door of my van, as I am parked along the Monterey Bay, where I first learned to kayak five years ago. A fitting place to end this journey.
I am rather fascinated by that - accomplishing the goal. I had not thought about what that would mean to me until I sat on the water off Maui... and realized "I did it!!!" What an elated and awesome feeling it was... and to have people I love with me at that very moment.... I felt soooooo special. It is really the first time in my life were reaching a goal really mattered. There have been other milestones and goals, but none have had such a great effect on me as this one. And so, stay turned for the next adventure, getting fit for and hiking the Arizona Trail in 2015.
It is an odd feeling to reach a goal. I wrote “May 16, 2014” on the map back in 2009. So all I had to do was add the Hawaiian stickers… the label was already in place. Thought provoking for me. Set and Reach a Goal. The bigger the goal/challenge, the happier it seems to make me.
A friend, Linda May, wrote this on her Facebook page: This is my friend Charlene Swankie, sometimes known as Swankie Wheels. Four[actually eight years ago] years ago she was a fat old lady, on a walker, headed for a wheel chair (her words). She had two total knee replacements and her Dr. [finally] told her she could do anything she wants. She wanted to kayak and then she wanted to kayak all fifty states. Today is her 70th birthday, the picture is of her kayaking in Hawaii the 50th state. She did it.
Swankie kayaks Hawaii on her 70th Birthday, May 16, 2014.
When she returns from Hawaii she will resume physical training for her 820 mile backpacking hike, the length of Arizona [Mexico to Utah]. Charlene is a good role model of what it is like to be 70 years old. She is kind, generous, intelligent, humorous, friendly, and I must say adventurous. So proud to be your friend.
Left: 2008, the day I set out on the Kayak America Adventure.
Right: May 2014 Maui, Hawaii, the week I ended the Kayak America Adventure.
But what does it really feel like to set a goal… and then reach it? Who was I when this all began in 2008? Different, I was just a different person. I can’t remember how I was different. My son says I am much more confident and at peace now. He has also become very interested in old family photos and stories about our lives and the lives of our ancestors, which seems new to me. That’s sweet.
So, for this summary I have decided to show photos of the special friends who joined me in paddling America. Most of the states were solo paddles, which I enjoyed but it was really fun when other people would join me (for the solo paddles, you can click on the States to read more). Here’s to each paddler, as well as to all my financial supporters ( I may list you all later with initials only, and the amounts donated, along with an accounting of money spent… but I hate that kind of bookkeeping.).
This was my first blog post on the beginning of this adventure: http://swankiewheels.blogspot.com/2008/12/beginning-of-kayaking-adventure-dec-2008.html. I noted then, that in 2006, I could barely walk. I wrote: As for me, I have lost 60 lbs. since leaving Washington State in August 2007. I spend my days biking, kayaking, and walking and running. I am most proud of "running" since I have not been able to do so in over 30 years.
By July 2009, the idea was firmly in my head to set out to Kayak America (at least one place in each state). I wrote this post about the first three states (CA, AZ, NV) - http://swankiewheels.blogspot.com/2009/08/third-state-nv.html . I mentioned in that post about visiting the Carson City NV Aquatic Center and swimming 1/4 mile, good considering I had not been swimming in six months. It felt great. Wonderful place by the way.
California was where I learned to kayak and so the first state I paddled. I became a volunteer for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) along with a former high school classmate, Harry “Spike” Grover. We patrolled the Monterey Bay together on several occasions… interpreting wildlife to the public, monitoring other kayakers and assisting as needed. Odd to run into a classmate from Indiana way out in California, decades later. In 2015, I plan to return to volunteering the MBNMS again.
Me with Harry “Spike” Grove, classmates from
Arsenal Technical High School, Indianapolis, IN, Class of 1962.
Ellie Beals, sister of Matt Beals, and dog Hoss.
Ellie’s mom and I house-shared as single parents back in the 1970s. We had a collective of five kids between the ages of 4 and 9. Ellie was the only girl. The above paddle was the maiden voyage for my new kayak (Ocean Kayak, Scrambler XT). Two of the boys (one of mine and one of my friend’s) just kayaked Hawaii with me… to help me celebrate… both also celebrating their birthdays (4/6 and 5/8).
Arizona was one of the early states that I paddled with a new friend, Vickie Walker. Watson Lake in Prescott, AZ.
In Washington state, I got to paddle with new friend Gary Lepak… we have since paddled together many times. Gary designs and builds his own kayaks and paddles.
One of the most memorable paddles was the panhandle of Idaho… where I ran across a moose family, up close and personal.
Video of the Moose Family. Excuse the first part of the clip where the wheels of the kayak cart are in the way. I don’t seem to have a video editing program at the moment.
This is the water thoroughfare that goes between Upper Priest Lake and Lower Priest Lake and it is declared “wilderness” – no motors allowed and no development on the shores.
In 2010, I kayak 21 more states. They were:
Wisconsin was one of my favorite paddles, because it was the hardest paddle I have done. I paddled from the Apostle Island National Lakeshore out to this Sand Island Light - lighthouse, and then had to returned against the waves, winds and currents. Being still pretty much a beginner at kayaking, I had paid no attention to the wind at my back on the way out. I know better today.
If you can see a tiny speck of white in the middle on the horizon, that is where I had to paddle to… it took over three hours of the hardest paddling I have ever done, without a break, to reach the shore. I tired to signal for help but no one could see my black paddle against the black water. If I rested for even a second or two, wind would push me many yards back out farther into the Lake. Keep in mind, I had already paddled three hours to get to the Lighthouse. Once I did get to shore I thought I would collapse on the beach, but I had so much adrenaline pumping in my body, I had plenty of energy to get the boat out, up off the beach to the van and loaded…. then I was out like a light.
In New York, (below photo) I got to paddle with Matt Beals, brother of Ellie Beals above (I used to babysit him when is was about six years old). May 16, 2014 we paddled together again, in Hawaii, for my 70th Birthday.
Matt and Cherrish Beals, kayaking off Maui, Hawaii, May 2014
In Massachusetts, I got to paddle with new friend Kay Gleason, a very interesting lady, she had her own online business selling old maps, and also had a wooden canoe or kayak in her shed which she had built. We launched right from her yard on Secret Lake and she was 80-something.
In North Carolina, new friend Judith joined me – in her brand new inflatable kayak. We lost track in counting all the Great Blue Herons we spotted on Jordan Lake.
In Florida 2010, family members (sister, niece and nephew) joined me for a paddle on Thanksgiving day. Santa Fe River at Columbia State Park, High Springs, FL.
While still in FL, friend Gary Lepak caught up with me again for another paddle in a home-made catamaran kayak that he build, designed to either sit on, kneel on, or stand up on. Amazing and fun guy to spend time with and we have now kayaked a number of places together in Washington and Florida.
Later, December 30, 2010, Gary and I did another paddle and I wrote on Facebook: Gonna finish off 2010 MY WAY with a final paddle of the year with my good friend Gary of WA state. We are going to kayak six miles through Ichetucknee Spring State Park.
I did a video clip which Gary posted on u-tube. Video.
In the Spring of 2011, I went to GA, and David Hair did some work on my bike rack. I hung around to visit with other vandwellers there. Lots of smokers, a few dogs, a cat, too much time inside watching t.v., good meals and great company, lots of laughs but the exposure to allergens made me sick for the first time since I hit the road, and I ended up in the hospital. Only time since 2008 that I have been sick. Living outside is not a choice for me, it is absolute necessity. I wrote this three years ago this week: (from hospital in Dalton, GA)
I might have to become a coffee drinker.
OK... this is officially the pits. My body is exhausted and my psyche isn't far behind. I need someone to talk to. Went to sleep about 1am thinking, I can breath better... tomorrow will be a better day... then woke up 2 hrs. later coughing my head off with yellow aliens jumping out of my body. I fantasize about camping on a lake shore and getting in my kayak at the break of dawn... and paddling out for hours, coming back for some hot oatmeal and then resting, or sketching, or doing genealogy.... not laying in this dammed uncomfortable hospital bed coughing my brains out. GO home Aliens... go home. Leave me alone... I got 21 more states to kayak (waiting for the coffee to add some instant cocoa to it)(coffee can be a bronco-dilator and it works). I need someone to talk to.
Other than that incident, the worse medical issues I had on my adventure was an eye infection and knocking my teeth out. I wrote this in July 2011 - The prize for kayaking 10.5 miles in Tennessee is donating a tooth to the tooth fairy. I'm at the dentist seeing if they can glue it back in???? (it was a crown), got it fixed in IL but knocked it out again later. Finally got it pulled in Mexico and an implant put in 2013. As of May 2014 have not yet returned to MX to get the permanent tooth. Ughhh.
In Ohio, Cheryl Simmons (birdwatcher on Yahoo Vandwellers) and her husband went on a paddle with me, down the Mad River.
Returning to Quartzsite in the Fall of 2011, I joined the Gem and Mineral Club, became a rock sawyer, learned to do lapidary and became a Foreman in the Lapidary shop. I learned to cut and polish my own stones. In Jan. 2012, I interviewed in the big tent for a job with BLM. Summer of 2012, I worked for California Land Management (for BLM) at two campgrounds in the White River National Forest out of Rifle, CO, Meadow Ridge Campground and Meadow Lake Campground. I was terminated before the end of the camping season due to a forest fire shutting down my forest. I kayaked a number of times at Meadow Lake (used to be called Meadow Creek Lake).
August 22, 2012 I wrote: I lost something... but I don't want to find it again. Yesterday when I attended the appreciation dinner for work, my tight jeans that I could barely fasten without pain a month ago, were dragging the ground, cuffs catching on my heels. What the heck? So after I pigged out at the dinner, I went out and bought bathroom scales... and woozy... I have lost about 40 pounds since arriving in CO in May.... That's a total of 80 pounds since 2009. I feel like a different person. I walk easily with no effort and no pain. Walking up and down to the lake I don't even pant or huff and puff. It's all very amazing.... and I beg, please folks... get healthy... you just won't believe this feeling. I am now within 15 pounds of my goal/ideal weight... and I haven't even been working at this weight loss.
October 20, 2012 I wrote: I just had the greatest SKYPE session today with my two baby grandkids. William (Will) looks just like his daddy and Zoey looks just like her Mommy. I told Zoey I was coming to see her next summer and she hollered and began doing what she called her "happy excited dance." She danced a long time. Will isn't talking yet, but put on his fireman Halloween costume and paraded it for me... and threw me lots of kisses when it was time to hang up. He even leaned into the computer to kiss me through the camera when I did the same. I'm gonna love next summer. July 2013 Post on Grandkids.
I took each of the kids for a short paddle on still water. They really seemed to like it a lot. (trying to locate photos of them on the water with me)
June 2013 – Kayaked with my friend Lauren Neher in Idaho. We are "rafted-up" for a little break. We spent some time at Lake Lowell in the Toolies area - very high/tall plants and there were these giant carp, tearing them up by the roots, I guess to feed on whatever they dislodged. We also kayaked a ten-mile long stretch on the Snake River from Marsing to Homedale. Water got a little choppy and with Lauren in an inflatable... his was hard to handle. The old Ocean Kayak, however, was just as good as ever. It felt very good getting back on the water.
Alaska I kayaked in August 2013. My sister Cheryl and her hubby Troy made it possible for me to continue doing art work, my blog, and the family genealogy by replacing my computer when it died. When I got to Alaska to kayak my 49th state, it was Cheryl’s hubby Troy and son Keith, who picked me up at the airport. The three of them housed me and drove me from Anchorage to Seward for the Alaska paddle, spending two nights in a motel, and buying all my meals. They would not let me spend $1, just so I could kayak Alaska at the Holgate Glacier. I wish Cheryl could have gone out on the paddle with me… but because of her… it was a great experience. I dumped my husband’s ashes in the Seward port… he was born in the area. RIP David Swankie.
Alaska Expenses: My son, Chris Bailey, a former pilot got me a discount pass for the air fare round-trip cost me only $134.70 total. The kayak tour cost $440.43, and Tips $13 for a total of $588.13 for Alaska.
L-R: Nephew Keith, bro-in-law Troy Smith and sister Cheryl.
Alaska is the first state that I did not use my own personal kayak, but instead I went with a tour group. I don’t like being with a group and prefer solo paddles, but that’s too risky in those frigid waters, so this was the only sensible option. Actually turned out better than I expected. They paired me up with a gentleman my age, Gary Powers, who had not been feeling well, because I was an experienced kayaker and strong enough to paddle for him too. His wife and son were in another tandem kayak.
And finally, l kayaked Hawaii, as planned and dreamed, on my 70th birthday, May 16, 2014. My 50th state to kayak. Some family and friends joined me in Hawaii for the celebration: Richard from Seattle, Beals from Grand Island, NY, and Sosa-Baileys from Houston, TX. Hawaiian Expenses: Airfare about $440.00 round-trip, $70 for shuttle to and from airport, $100 for kayak tour which my son paid for. Total $510 plus tips and misc. expenses not yet summed up but less than $200.00.
L-R: Me, son Richard Bailey, Cherrish and Matt Beals, Senora Sosa and her daughter (my sister-in-law) Ruth Sosa Bailey (me in background). It was a very special end to a great adventure. Thank you all.
All I know for sure, is that I’m living life to the fullest (it’s what David Swankie asked of me on his death bed), I’m happy, and healthier than I have ever been and continue to get even healthier still.
My motto has been: “It doesn’t get any better than this… until tomorrow.” but I am now not sure there is anything better than Hawaii.
My final thoughts… Never give up!!! Don’t accept limitations. Push the envelop… then push it again. Set goals for yourself that others may think are crazy or impossible, but know in your heart and mind and soul the whole while that they ARE possible. Don’t say you are going to TRY to do something… just say you are DOING it!!!! Trying leaves too much room for failure and failure is not an option if you are going to live your life to the fullest.
Aloha and Mahala. I love you all.
Hau’oli la hanau to ME!