On the ninth day I arrived to Magdeburg and met the Elbe again. My plan was to go to Prague through the Elbe. I could feel the current. In some areas I had to take 20 strokes in order to move a meter forward. I decided to remain in Magdeburg.
I made contact with a Czech barge company, where I met Vladimir. In his office, I told him what I was planning to do. Vladimir listened without uttering a word. When he finished his workday, I got my first shower in nine days, food, and a night with a proper roof over my head.
Socorro Island, 2006. Here I was, single and unattached, and living the bachelor’s dream—sailing to exotic places, meeting women, getting free meals, having a roof over my head and, at the same time, earning a bit of money to save up for a rainy day. Or so people thought. Real life is a little different—I had to work my butt off 16 hours a day on the boat that provided my board and lodging in Mexico, and I was only meeting females of the animal variety.
One seemingly ordinary day, while I was setting up a buoy for a dive site, I fell in to the water with my dive gear. Captain Dave called out: “Dolphins!” For me, it was more like, yeah, yeah, I’ve seen them before.
The last days of 1998 found me leisurely paddling along a canal. The day was cold, but high above the sun shone brightly in a light blue sky and beneath my kayak the water was as smooth as a mirror. I spotted a buzzard observing his surroundings a few meters away. I stopped paddling and let myself glide towards it.
The kayak was cutting clean, beautiful lines on the surface. All was still. Suddenly, the buzzard took to flight and went after a duck. The buzzard caught his prize in mid-air, bringing it down to the shore with a thud.
From peace and harmony to the sudden drama.
Belgrade, 1999. For most people, January is a time for beginnings and transitions, an opportunity to look back to the lessons of the past, and forward to a positive outlook in the year ahead. It seems that I wasn’t around when the gods were handing out the optimist gene. While everyone else was busy starting on their new year’s resolutions, I was still intent on getting to Africa in my kayak, aiming to finish the journey that I had embarked on the previous year.
With a solid bottom underneath my feet, I straggled to the beach, step by careful step, only to lose my footing when a big wave came crashing on the beach. I let the waves take over, bringing my kayak and I roaring and snorting into the country. I was still alive! The two figures that had witnessed my arrival looked at me with eyes as big as saucers. I remembered nothing of what they said, except that they just stood there and stared at me while I jumped and bounced around like a ping-poll ball to get my circulation going.
The day had been quiet, but later in the afternoon the wind started to pick up. I decided to just paddle to the bridge abutment and spend the night there, leaving the crossing to Copenhagen for the next morning. But it was already too windy in Limhämnsvagen and my kayak was far too heavily laden. In the port of Limhämnsvagen I realized that I couldn’t bring all my stuff with me so I decided to turn around. By then the wind had almost turned into a storm—the wind, currents, and shallow water churned up big unpredictable waves of up to 4 meters high. I got swept out and away from the shore on my way back.
Why did I start to paddle? I have always been interested in water. I have been crazy about fishing since I was 2 years old, I think, and I learned to swim and build rafts early. Rubber rafts were excellent for fishing raids on the ponds of Jamtland, where I come from. My first kayak was a self-made white-water kayak that I bought when I was 15 years old. Some years later, I made long trips through the jungle areas in Honduras and Nicaragua on balsa rafts that I learned to tie together.