Bryan Smith is leading a team of whitewater kayakers on a month long expedition to Russia’s remote Kamchatka Peninsula. Funded by the National Geographic Society’s Expedition Council, the team will be attempting several source-to-sea first descents of previously un-run rivers, as well as working with a diverse team of scientists, NGOs, and locals to help show how important Kamchatka’s river ecosystems are in the long term survival of wild salmon.
On the eve of departing for an expedition to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, one of the wildest places on Earth, the scene could easily be depicted as chaos. Boxes upon boxes of freeze-dried food, dry bags, outerwear, kayaks, paddles, and camera gear littered as far as the eyes can see. Things get packed and re-packed, team members debate items of importance, appropriate quantities of gear, and look for reassurance in each other that preparedness is being achieved. It is an energy that is almost impossible to capture. A buzz, a focus, a mindset that team members can barely express themselves. It is a combination of excitement, adrenaline, anxiety and focus. For me it is the moment I live for. That sense of being on the cusp of something big. Something unknown. Adventure in its wildest sense.
Just ten hours out from a 6 a.m. flight that would take us thousands of miles across the globe, the question became redundant. I’d look at Shane and ask, “How are you doing?” The answer was almost as predictable. He would quietly mumble, “O.K.” Then the question would bounce to Ethan, Rob, and Jay and back onto myself. How are you doing? A daily expression that for most people is an honest engagement in conversation, but hours out from the biggest expedition of your life, it is a question purely derived from nerves. The answer is consistently a pathetic, boring OK from every person I ask. But this question becomes more loaded as the hour of departure creeps in. It is an SOS call out to my team members to feel out if they need help. A check in that helps me settle my own nerves, knowing that everyone is spinning the same questions around and around in their head. Do I have everything I need, did I tie up all the phone calls and emails I needed to, do we have our logistics completely sorted and what will happen when we hit the ground. It is an insane glut of information that keeps cycling through each of our heads and about all we can say is “I’m doing OK”.
Then clairvoyance. The reality of departure sets in. We load six kayaks onto the roof of Shane’s truck and nine more laden duffels of gear, food, and supplies into the back. The preparations are over and the reality of the expedition begins. We will have many hurdles along the way, but none bigger than being able to just let go and push off. Being able to commit to the expedition and cut the teather to daily routines is the most critical moment of an expedition. Sure there will be trials and tribulation in the field, but there will also be knowns by which to base those decisions on.
Actually embarking on an expedition, the pushing off is the hardest part.
(Editor’s Note: But they made it!)