Missouri woman seeks to be first to circumnavigate all the Great Lakes in one season

Traci Lynn Martin sets off on the next leg of her attempt on the Guinness World Book of Records for the longest documented voyage by kayak, seeking to circumnavigate all five of the Great Lakes in one season. photo by Roy Eaton

LITTLE CURRENT—Traci Lynn Martin hails from Kansas, Missouri (not Kansas City, Kansas she admonishes), which is a long way from the big water of the likes of Lake Superior or Lake Huron, but the competitive surf ski paddler has set her sights on being the first person to circumnavigate all of the Great Lakes in one season—and looking at the schedule, she is quite likely to pull it off.

Ms. Martin stopped by the North Channel dock of Roy and Margaret Eaton and she and her logistical support driver and co-ordinator Marv Kuziel joined the Little Current couple at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre for dinner last Monday evening, where The Expositor caught up with them.

“Two men have tried before but failed,” she said. “No woman has ever attempted it.” Ms. Martin has already completed the rounds of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, making her the first to complete those lakes in a surf ski (a type of sea-going racing kayak). She has clocked exactly 2,530 miles so far (impressive, but it sounds so much more so as 4,071.64 kilometers, tease the Canadians at the table).

When her journey is complete, she will have completed 4,000 to 5,000 miles (6437.376 and 8046.72 kilometers, respectively), depending on the route she takes. “I originally thought it would be 5,800 miles (9334.195 kilometers),” she admitted, with a number of spots she would have liked to have paddled through, “but it is more important to finish off all five legs.”

“A surf ski is similar to a kayak,” she explains, “except that the paddler sits atop the vessel rather than inside it. A surf ski is typically longer than a kayak, with a deeper cockpit. Despite its typical instability, a surf ski (with an experienced paddler) is a very effective craft for paddling in big surf and waves. Surf Skis were created in Australia.”

Ms. Martin started out on her odyssey on March 9, slipping into ice-filled waters in a wet suit and pushing her way through the slush and ice flows of early spring breakup, towing her kayak behind her. “It’s okay if she pulls it herself,” noted Mr. Kuziel, who was allowed to break a trail through the ice ahead of her, but not allowed to touch the kayak itself. She plans to finish her journey into the Guiness World Book of Records (as the longest documented non-stop voyage by kayak) by December 31. “Actually, I am hoping to finish before that so I can spend Christmas with family and friends,” she said.

Currently, according to Guinness World Records, the longest solo journey by a surf ski is by Gerhard Moolman (South Africa) when he covered a distance of 3,822 miles (6,152 km) on a surf ski between Hout Bay, South Africa, and Lamu, Kenya, from 20 April to 23 October 2002.

Ms. Martin’s face is wind burnt and sun scorched, the backs of her hands are red and frankly look quite painful. She suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and had to cut short her paddling the day before due to a flareup.

So why is the American nurse and competitive paddler undertaking this ordeal, a challenge that has defeated two men before her? Is it the bragging rights? No.

“I work as a nurse,” she said. “A lot of people who come into the hospital have given up on life. But you have to get up, you have to do it. They say to me ‘I hurt too bad.’ I do understand, but you can’t. No matter what illness you have, you cannot give up. You have to keep doing the things that you love. You will find life is better if you keep doing those things you love doing. But whatever you do, don’t give up on life.”

Ms. Martin has a message.

Where on her journey so far has she loved what she is doing the most? She doesn’t hesitate. “The Apostle Islands, paddling through the sea caves,” she said. “Pukaskwa National Park on the Canadian side. The North Channel has been very special, Sleeping Bear was very spiritual.”

Ms. Martin has a gofundme account (JustAroundThePointe), a Facebook page where you can follow her along her journey and an Instagram account of the same name and, of course, there’s Twitter @StellarTourD4ce.