I did it guys! I paddled 1508 miles along the Wahington, Oregon and California coasts. It's something I've wanted to do for 15 years. I didn'tknow how it oud go - it's a committing paddle. It's easy to make one bad decision that can have far-reaching consequences. The ocean is impersonal - any consequences of porr judgment are simply matter-of-fact. The ocean isn't trying to kill me. It's also not a beneficent force. It's not good judgment to romaticize it.
It's stunningly beautiful though. And big. Somehow, to get to be so tiny in that immense, impersonal beauty is perhaps the luckiest break I've ever had.
I really did get to be IN it. Whales and dolphins and migrating birds right up next to my boat; waves breaking against and over rocks in the slow, inexorable, beautful way they do; surf zones and still green water protected by massive sea stacks; sea lion and sea bird rookeries that leave you not knowing whether the smell or the sound is most ridiculously breath-taking.
Through all of it, I got to do something that I'd wanted to do for 15 years, that terrified me, that pushed me to use the knowledge and skills I've spent 15 years learning; and something that changed my soul with the beauty and the fact of living on the beach for 100 days.
At the same time I was doing this, Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) staff were forging the way without me; they were out of their confort zones too. THey worked with over 300 Chicago youth, helping them get out of their own comfort zones. While I was on the Lost Coast searching for landable beaches amongst mountains that come to the water's edge, CAT was in the Apostle Islands exploring sea caves and crossing between islands; young people who had never paddled before encoruaged each other and had each others' backs so that they were able to paddle 7 miles in a day. It was grueling; they didn't know if they could do it; there were tears - and it was an amazing thing that they accomplished together.
My experience and theirs has been renarkably parallel this summer. The growth that stretching creates is still latent - I don't think any of us know yet just how we'll be changed.
What I do know is that all of us will be changed by the beauty, the challenge, the fear, the community of poeple coming together.
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I’m 5 weeks into this adventure, and its definitely not been what I expected! I thought it would be more remote. I think I thougt it would be both harder and easier.
What it HAS been so far is incredible, grueling, terrifying, stunningly gorgeous, really hard, exhausting, absolutely amazing. I’ve seen whales from far away and right up close; I’ve camped in some of the most sublime, some of the most ridiculous, and some of the most miserable (and definitely the most illegal...) campsites I’ve ever camped in; I’ve paddled 11 more miles in a day than I ever have before; I’ve seen the Pacific calmer than I thought it ever got and capsized three times in surf (always rolling up); I saw sea otters, often with babies, almost every day in Washington and dolphins (or porpoises? I don’t know the difference, but don’t tell anyone!) every day in Oregon; I’ve paddled along headlands and sea stacks, beaches and sand dunes. It’s been unbelievably stunning - and I’m just a third of the way in. (I‘ve paddled almost two full states!)
I’m on sabbatical. This is for me. But sabbaticals are also about your work. They allow you to get some space to breathe again, and to be able to see the bigger picture again. I‘ve been grateful to get to not be involved in, or have to think about or know about, the day to day stresses and surprises of Chicago Adventure Therapy. My staff have been really wonderful on that front.
But I’ve also thought about CAT - about our young people, our staff, the organization... As I’m out here seeing amazing beauty and meeting all sorts of people (that was definitely not what I expected - check out my Facebook page to meet some of them!), CAT is introducing over 300 Chicago youth to outdoor sports. To camping, rock climbing, hiking, and yes, kayaking. These young people usually have no idea what to expect, and the experience isn’t what they would have expected if they did. CAT is also holding the sport open for a smaller group of young paddlers. This group staffed a booth at Outside Magazine’s inaugural Outdoor Experience show in Chicago this past weekend. They’re heading to the Apostle Islands for a 5 day trip in just a couple weeks. Some of them will camp for the first time, some of them will load their gear into a kayak and camp from a kayak for the first time. Hopefully most will get to paddle in sea caves and make a crossing to an island.
My adventure and theirs are similar. Our expectations can’t compare to the real thing - how hard it is, how incredible it is, how beautiful it is - or the people we meet along the way. My adventure will change me. It already has. It will do it some more. Their adventure will change them. Our adventures challenge us and change us and push and stretch us and expand our souls in similar ways.
A woman who is creating a documentary about CAT conducted a Facebook Live interview with me yesterday, while I’m at anairbnb with my mom waiting out 4 days of really strong wind. One person commented that I’m their hero. CAT youth are my heroes. They’re doing what I am, and thy’re doing it with a hand life dealt them that is a whole lot harder to work with than the hand life dealt me. They meet challenges with grace (and some swearing and frustration along the way - me too!) and perserverence (my 46 mile paddling day doesn’t hold a candle to what some of our young people have to deal with day after day after day). Many of them find in CAT activities the strength they didn’t know they had. Many find community they didn’t expect.
Here’s what a few young people have had to say about CAT.
** I'm thankful for the therapeutic effects of being on the water, I'm thankful for all the genuine support coming from CAT PC instructors. Despite battling through depression, paddling is that 1 thing I really look forward to, it makes me feel relaxed yet accomplished.
** One thing that I loved about Chicago Adventure Therapy is they accept all different kinds of ethnicities, backgrounds, sexual orientation. It was no discrimination. We weren’t looked down upon for being poor or homeless or a gang member. It was just all about paddling and all about building a community…These people are more like my family, a family that I never had.
If you’re inspird by my adventure or theirs, I hope you will make a donation to CAT. You will be changing people’s lives.
Thank you so much!
Andrea Knepper, LCSW
Founder and Director, Chicago Adventure Therapy
I created this fundraiser long before I started the adventure. Here’s what I wrote first. I imagine you can see already the changes in me. The changes in our young people are similar. — I'm paddling the US Pacific Coast this summer - from Canada to Mexico. It's an exciting and daunting endeavor. People keep asking why I've chosen this coast - why not head north along the Inside Passage where there's a bit of protection from the open ocean and so many fewer people and cities along the way. All I can say is that my family is all from Oregon. I grew up playing on the Oregon Coast, and have a hard time thinking of a place I find more beautiful. The wildness of it is part of the beauty. I've wanted to take this paddle for 13 years - I'm at that place in my life now where I've got the skill, I won't have a body that can do it forever, I haven't taken many vacations since I founded CAT, and CAT is at a place where I can leave it for a summer. Where it's GOOD for the organization if I leave for a little bit. So here I go...
I'm raising funds for Chicago Adventure Therapy on this expedition. Since our pilot program in 2007, CAT has worked with over 1500 Chicago youth, getting them outdoors to climb, paddle, camp, or meditate. We introduce youth to sports and venues they woudln't otherwise get the chance to experience; when young people want to stay involved, we make that happen. We've created a remarkably diverse group of paddlers; we're white, black, Middle EAstern and Latinx; we range in age from 1 year old to retired; we are poor, homeless, and affluent; we're high school drop-outs, college graduates, scholarship recipients and PhD's; we have zero paddling experience to 50 years on the water, novice to highly skilled.
After more than 10 years running the organization out of my home, this year, while I"m on sabbatical paddling and fundraising, the organization is moving. We're looking for industrial space in Chicago for gear storage, meeting space and a small office. We're also buying a commercial trailer and a 12 passenger van to pull it. We travel 4,000+ miles in a low mileage year, and we've had some problems with our trailers and our vehicles. So this spring we've launched a capital campaign to get space and to buy the trailer and van. This expedition will also help with those costs.
I hope you will contribute generously. It's not every year we lay down such important infrastructure. It's not as exciting as a paddling trip - but it will allow us to run so many more paddling trips, and to add a new layer of safety and community-building for those trips.
Thank you so much!
You can follow along on the expedition Facebook page.