The Problem with Transitioning

22 10 2012

To start this oddly – I could of course, be wrong… but it has worked for me. You best stop reading right now and go to the end of my wordpress to start at the start. This article addresses what makes it easier for others and by extension easier for yourself. It does not change what happens or the time it takes to happen; just how it is done. Fair warning – this article is a bit more ‘scattered’ than others, it meanders a bit to get to the true course.

The real challenge in life is when we feel things have be wrong for a long time and we now have the ability, power, money, confidence, support to make positive change for ourselves that we think everybody else will just ‘go along with it’.

If you are in transition, how many hours do you spend in therapy talking about being the new you vs the struggles of getting others to see that person? Over the years I have become better and stronger, but it cost me nearly everything I had known (and that too is a familiar story). I wrote this article in 2009 about the Losses – Coming Out Transgender. I said in that article that 25% of your past friends, family and the like remain. Even with the title of my wordpress, Amy is long gone.

The truth is now, that there were no survivors that crossed the barrier with me. My very best friend, best man; he could not walk the last bit with me when he saw how happy I am and how everything had turned out for me. He was there for me every step while I was struggling. He was there for me over a decade ago when I came out to him and told him about my childhood and hormones for the past 15 years. He was the last of my long past to fall away, lost when all has been going great these past years. He knew how to be with me as a struggling transgender friend, we separated when it looked like I had worked it all out and was content with where I was and about myself.

Also, the truth is, if you have been true to yourself and in your actions, then only when others lie to themselves while with you would that leave them unaware. Sometimes, the people you out yourself to cannot imagine what is happening.

I am going to swing out on a limb here and say that transitioning, the way it is set up through modern society and modern medicine is wrong. There, I did it, I used that word; when I think very few things can be labelled ‘wrong’.

I have watched countless people struggle in this are, so here is some advice. Please read through and tell me where the flaw might be. We live in a society where we now think that making some kind of grand social announcement then proceeding on course is the way to go with transitioning. Pretend with me if you will…

Pretend that you are a machinist, working down at the local shipyard, living in the town you were born in. You decide, based on figuring out who you are, that you are moving to Prague to study classic piano.  Now imagine the reaction (and noted lack of encouragement) that you are likely to receive at work, with your family, your close friends if you just come out and say “I am now a composer, and will be living in Prague”. Sure some of them would be supportive, but behind your back they would laugh and say ‘nice dream’. Now try it a different way.

Instead of making this grand announcement after you have figured out who you really are… you start taking piano lessons. In fact, at lunch you practice on a small electric keyboard, every day out in your car. You spend a couple years learning, that way, when you are in Prague you can concentrate on what you know you really want to do, composition. While you are doing these lessons, you play at every opportunity.  You have now practiced enough Czech that you great coworkers with “Dobrý den!”, every day. When asked about the the language, you comment that you are learning a new language. Finally, you start selling off all the things that you will not be taking with you on the move.

It is about then that others will ask you what is going on. When you explain that you do not see yourself as a machinist living in this town forever, they go ok… now it is making sense. When they think about it, they have noticed that you are proficient at the piano and have been speaking that other language. There is little question in their minds that you are serious about this, that what is coming has been well planned and that this is something you really want.

Now try it the other way…the way it sounds to most people when you come out as transgender or transitioning.

Come out to your family, friends and coworkers and announce that you now want to be called Bronco Billy the Cowboy and you are going to be a Rodeo Star. “Can you ride a horse” they ask – “No, not yet, but I am going to learn”. “Have you even practiced roping?”. “Well, I am going to buy a real rope soon”. So, they ask, “You want us to call you by just Bronco or Bronco Billy”. You respond “My name is now Bronco and I am a Rodeo Star – please make sure you get all that correct and never refer to me as my past” And, just like anyone you know that would make this announcement to you, it sounds a bit crazy. There is no doubt that some would think you lost your mind!

I have chosen the ‘change before announcement’ course every time, in every instance; the one of doing it myself first, then others get to see the plan. I was the person who said “No, I can’t do that this weekend, I have to do 30 hours more work on my boat”. I said “I am going out sailing for practice” when asked about going out in winter weather. When I talked about the watermaker installed or the solar panels, people nodded. All this was while living on the boat. When it was finally announced that we were going off cruising, people said “It looked like that” – not “Are you crazy, you are going to die”. Now I tell you I have sailed 16,000 nautical miles and lived in many different life conditions. I tell you I have backpacked, bussed and hitchhiked in several countries. Now, when I tell you that I am going to Columbia this winter and Vietnam next summer to trek around – you say “sure, that sounds about right”. Those things are all true. When I tell you I am building a vehicle for long distance road travel… you might say you would not BUT that looks exactly like what you would expect from me. In fact, if you have read this blog, the outdoors part and vehicles does not surprise you.

The journey of Transition is no different than following your heart, desire and beliefs for anything else. The pathway chosen is often made harder because what you are asking is for other people to accept that you are something that, up until then, never occurred to them about you. No one is surprised about a change when they can see the work towards it. In fact, once they notice the work, they often go along and support it very easily.

So, my advice is two fold. What not to do:

Change your name first and announce that you are now to be a woman to all your friends, family and coworkers (usually in that order as you build confidence). Making such a strong tack seems like a right of passage with transitioning BUT, like Bronco Billy and the rodeo, it is asking a lot of your support and social structure to make the leap with you.

What to do:

Start soft, like learning to play the piano (which I also do).  Start by changing your clothes slightly, grow your hair, fem up. All this takes time and you would have to do it anyways after making the “grand announcement”. Get fem, go on HRT then when you make the name change and ‘come out’, most people will already have figured it out OR at least be able to see that the course you are on is happening already.

Now before you beat me up, I am not saying do not become who you really are, just that you consider others as well as yourself when you transition. It should make it easier to take the same journey as others. Although I have, through sailing, bussed and backpacked through my earth journeys; the road, as always, less travelled.

Make it easy on yourself by thinking what makes it easier for others to understand. Otherwise, coming out as the new “Bronco Billy” the (now decided) rodeo star is an easier stretch than coming out as Sarah the woman. I am out.

Robot or Alien; and the CAVE

16 01 2010

 Robot or Alien.

It is a simple question, which are you? You know already, stop right now and answer before reading further.

The second, harder question is where are you? This pertains to the cave.

I usually write about the transgender subject area and leave most of myself out of the comments. Times are a changing. I am out more and offering others the chance to express and examine themselves.


Have you read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? The lesson of the cave is considered a fundamental question about us and how we see the world  and what is real (have you ever seen the Matrix?). Take time to read the summary – or for those with less time, watch the video after the story!

Inside The Cave
Socrates begins by describing a scenario in which what people take to be real would in fact be an illusion. He asks Glaucon to imagine a cave inhabited by prisoners who have been chained and held immobile since childhood: not only are their arms and legs held in place, but their heads are also fixed, compelled to gaze at a wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which people walk carrying things on their heads “including figures of men and animals made of wood, stone and other materials”. The prisoners can only watch the shadows cast by the men, not knowing they are shadows. There are also echoes off the wall from the noise produced from the walkway.

Socrates asks if it is not reasonable that the prisoners would take the shadows to be real things and the echoes to be real sounds, not just reflections of reality, since they are all they had ever seen or heard. Wouldn’t they praise as clever whoever could best guess which shadow would come next, as someone who understood the nature of the world? And wouldn’t the whole of their society depend on the shadows on the wall?

Release From The Cave
Socrates next introduces something new to this scenario. Suppose that a prisoner is freed and permitted to stand up. If someone were to show him the things that had cast the shadows, he would not recognize them for what they were and could not name them; he would believe the shadows on the wall to be more real than what he sees.

“Suppose further,” Socrates says, “that the man was compelled to look at the fire: wouldn’t he be struck blind and try to turn his gaze back toward the shadows, as toward what he can see clearly and hold to be real? What if someone forcibly dragged such a man upward, out of the cave: wouldn’t the man be angry at the one doing this to him? And if dragged all the way out into the sunlight, wouldn’t he be distressed and unable to see “even one of the things now said to be true,” viz. the shadows on the wall?

After some time on the surface, however, Socrates suggests that the freed prisoner would acclimate. He would see more and more things around him, until he could look upon the Sun. He would understand that the Sun is the “source of the seasons and the years, and is the steward of all things in the visible place, and is in a certain way the cause of all those things he and his companions had been seeing”.

Return To The Cave
Socrates next asks Glaucon to consider the condition of this man. “Wouldn’t he remember his first home, what passed for wisdom there, and his fellow prisoners, and consider himself happy and them pitiable? And wouldn’t he disdain whatever honors, praises, and prizes were awarded there to the ones who guessed best which shadows followed which? Moreover, were he to return there, wouldn’t he be rather bad at their game, no longer being accustomed to the darkness? “Wouldn’t it be said of him that he went up and came back with his eyes corrupted, and that it’s not even worth trying to go up? And if they were somehow able to get their hands on and kill the man who attempts to release and lead up, wouldn’t they kill him?”

I have lived in the cave, at different times, about different things. I may still continue to live there, about certain things that I think are real and sound real, but are just the shadows and echoes. I have thought to be in love; many times in my life. Those times were shadows and echoes. One time I met a person who broke my chains and showed me the shadows and noises for what they were – then lead me into the sunshine, I was blinded. My eyes were corrupted – I was never be able to return to the shadows of the cave and be happy with their movements. The murmurs and echoes of the object bearers offered no comfort any more. This is the awakening that changes all. It can happen about nearly anything and nearly any time. There are times I want for the shadows, but there is no return for me.

Me, I escaped the cave years before, freed in so many ways. This is not to be taken as pleasant though. I often explain it like the loss of innocence rather than the gain of enlightenment. I have also pulled others from the cave, sometimes just breaking their chains was enough to free them, sometimes I led them to the surface. In one case, a person returned to the chains and shadows – wearing a mask to hide their return (having been exposed to the outside). A person can never fully return and be comtent with shadows and echoes.

For the full, correct version, check out this video. I really like this version. It is longer, but worth it.

So why bother with the Allegory? What do we have to learn here? It deals with two subjects at the heart of human substance:

  • What is real?
  • How do we fit into the reality?

That brings us to the simple question, the one I enjoy asking friends. Are you a Robot or an Alien?

I leave you with the challenge to look at yourself. It is up to the interpreter to figure out if they are a robot or an alien and what they even mean. Me? I am an Alien and always have been. Is one better than the other – better for what purpose? There are lots of Robots and Robots who wish they were Aliens. There are also Aliens disguised as Robots. It works both ways… Robot or Alien?

“Even with the prospect of Death…” (better watch that full version of the video).

Losses – Coming Out as TransGender

11 11 2009

rememberance day crossKind of an odd day… and I have been reflecting on this for sometime now, here it is coming all together. I have avoided personal writing, for my own reasons – I have also satisfied my urges for personal writing by keeping them as drafts, here. This is article is a bit more personal.

Today is Remembrance Day. Have you forgotten what that is – or are you reflecting on it as an American, wondering what it really means?

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Armistice Day is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 (major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice). The day was specifically dedicated by King George V, on 7 November 1919, to the observance of members of the armed forces who were killed during war.

Oddly enough, I found myself playing Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2, today. I reflected on what it means for people to lose others. We have losses nearly every day, a Policeman was killed in Seattle, some die in a plane crash, another with swine flu – many in vehicle accidents; the highest killer of all people under 25.

military cemetery

I had buried all my grandparents by 18 (carried the caskets of 3 of them). My father and biological mother (I cast her ashes in the Cromarty Firth in Scotland on a sunny November day) are both dead. All that is left for me of immediate older family is my mother who no longer remembers who I am or anything of my childhood – she was the last to know the child who was David (I think that is the first time I have ever mentioned that name!). I left my country, left behind friends and family more than 20 years ago now. Ad to that the experience I have had as a Wilderness E.M.T. and I think I know something about loss.

I lived with my father for nearly a year, back in Canada, as he wound down and died of cancer. I held his hand, with me crying when he died – and took out my stethoscope to hear his last rasping breaths and weak heartbeat cease.

Losses. “Becoming” (if that is what this is – but it is how others see it) transgender, incurs losses.

I came out first, publically, in March of 2007. I thought that I would start to come out publically after I had resumed the hormone treatments in Feb 2007 and had started body hair removal in Dec 2006. Physical changes and personal encouragement from supporters brought me ‘out’.

Before I tell you any stories – here is the data I offer… Of all the people (family, friends, coworkers), who knew / know you, that you tell when ‘coming out’, here are the results I observed:

50% will disappear, fading over a little time (or not) and they will drop right off the radar.

Of the remaining 50%:

75% will react based on beliefs, judgment and experiences that you never knew they had, and the relationship will be changed significantly from what it was. Sometimes this is for the better though.

25% will remain and they will accept you pretty much as you are.

What that means is that about 1 in 8 will still see you as they nearly always saw you. Then 3 in 8 will treat you differently and may hold some concept of who you are – they may also hold judgment and bias that will manifest itself in weird ways. Those other remaining 4 in 8 – they will drop you right away, or disappear quickly, being unable to come to terms with their loss of you as a person in their life.

Now the stories – first the positive, then some losses.

G: He was – and still is – my best friend. He knew that I had been on hormones back in my late 20’s. We had traveled together, camped, skinny dipped together. I told him about the hormones and breasts 6 years ago – and he had seen them when swimming with me. When he was first told about me transitioning, he reacted like I was kidding – like I was trying to say I was going to start cross dressing. It has taken over 2 years for him to refer to me as Sarah to others, he still calls me David to my face (and that is ok). He still struggles a bit with me as female – mostly because he thought that I would become another person. I think he thought that I would become a woman who knew nothing of what I had in my head and who never saw what my eyes have seen. He now seems to understand that we can still talk and play with Land Rovers. He is in the 1 in 8.

C: Thank God, I am working with / for and incredible women who is my direct supervisor with the company I work for and a person I am glad to call friend. She never batted an eye (although she does stare at my chest sometimes). She is the only person I interact on a daily basis with that I can make gender comments to. Like when we were in Safeway and I said “If I give to breast cancer I also have to give to prostate cancer – I can get both!”. She is always about the performance of the individual, not the gender – and she is quick to point out that the ‘innies’ get a harder shake of it. I remember when I told her (I then sent her this blog)… she said, so are you like a cross dresser on the weekend? Standing there, wearing a womans jacket, I took it off and said “I am wearing all women’s clothing, and have been – have you not noticed the make-up and everything else”? I have 7 ear piercings, long hair and breasts… yet, she met me as David and still sees me as ‘him’. C has never ‘betrayed’ me, never slighted me with a careless comment. The relationship is what I wanted – unchanged. I do not want to be Sarah to her.

DragQueenN: He is in the 3 of 8 category. N is a great friend, who became a better friend after I told him. It did change one thing – he still, no matter how much I explain it to him, wants to see me “in drag”. What that means, is that he wants me to look like some kind of performance drag queen! Sorry N. He is nice though (and he is gay) and has treated me great as a woman when we go out – he is the one guy I like going out to dinner with. His Thanksgiving dinners are as the family that I do not have.

The other 50% – who dropped off

J: G told J before I could talk to him. Now he has been a great friend, what else can you call a person who will help you drywall and insulate in your garage, live on your boat (and help pay for it), help you through a divorce?… the list goes on. I never got another email from him. I have seen him on three occasions in the past 2+ years at social Land Rover events and he treats me like I have an infection, that is contagious, in a cloud 20′ around me. WTF? 

J is the most glaring example of the 50% that fall off, but he is joined by

L: Who I at one time considered a soul mate and more, was the daughter of lesbians and feigned understanding and support until the truth caught her up – the lie that she held. L suffered from the Peter Syndrome – in private, she was all about support, but in public and with people she knew (in any way), I found that she did not even mention our relationship, about living with me or who I was. In the end, even with her here, I found that she would introduce me as a friend, David, while loving Sarah. L denied knowing me publically.

A: She is really in the 25%, but there was a wake of losses that my closest confidant, friend, lover and so much more affected because she was more than willing to share ‘who I was’. She told old coworkers and other acquaintances. She also told her conservative family before she had even worked out what was really happening – let alone how to talk about it. Not once was I there to share my truth. The mother of A was also able to fake support and understanding, for a short time, until I found out that she had portrayed me as a freak to all she knew (and she is the matriarch of the extended family) and her daughter as someone trying to ‘rescue me’. This is where I really learned the term “frienemy”. Honestly, those that have gone – the losses – the real loss is theirs. I gained knowing who are true friends to my being.

The relationships with women in intimacy have been most challenging. Beyond being TG, there has been other complications (like other relationships), but the “TG thing” always has a large bearing. I no longer know what is truth – honesty. There always seemed to be some kind of deception when all that I offered was the bearing of an innermost past that I buried for 30 years behind facial hair and outdoor leadership skills teaching. Being TG and transitioning is hard in intimacy, few relationships of this kind survive the transition phase.

Honestly, the most damage to relationships has been caused by others telling my “TG story” to friends that we both know together. Once you share “the secret” (because that is what it is to everyone you talk to), they will want to tell others; I promise you that.

So, the best way to share your coming out is organize yourself, figure out who, when, where and what you want to say – and in what order. After that, it will change your life, just like your transition will.

I have no regrets after more than 3 years of coming out. I look forward to the continuing journey.

PF OX – the servant of Satan?

23 08 2009

OK, those are strong words, but read on, educate yourself with PF OX’s mission. This is best summed up here… with some interesting propaganda in the ‘about us’ of PF OX.

The original article;

Here is Grishno’s commentary to that story (brilliant writing and delivery). I love her emotion and action.

Now you have read the story – and heard the response. PF OX is a self serving “Christian” group who enjoys the rescuing of Gays, Lesbians and TG’s. People who get confused about sexuality, sexual orientation and gender, wandering to the whim of others, can be equally swayed by the pseudo-Christian group who acts notably, UN-Christian.

This goes back to my statement to everyone, TG and others. If you want to be happy, complete, secure – Know who you are, FIRST – then know what you want (second). If you get confused and do what you want before you know who you then it will be a rough road in your life of empty quests.

Lastly, Come on Christians, act like good Christians – act Christ-like in your understanding, compassion, forgiveness and love for people that you really know nothing about. Christ never said anything about tolerance – and the LGBT community does not need just tolerance, but the higher calling be held to the Christians who express their distaste for the community of LGBT. I am a good Catholic and Christian…

Ed Gillet and Kayaking

23 08 2008

Time and experience changes everyone. Here is a humbling story, from a humble man.

Ed Gillet has been one of my personal modern heros for nearly three decades. I did my first solo paddling on the West Coast of Canada while he was preparing for this trip. I read about him two years later.

Ed was 36 in 1987 when he did this. These are his own words.

Pacific Journey – from California to Hawaii
Ed Gillet’s account of his paddle

When I said that I was planning to paddle across 2200 miles of open ocean in a twenty foot kayak, people looked at me as though I had told them I was going to commit suicide. My listeners projected their deepest fears on my trip. Wasn’t I afraid of losing my way on the trackless ocean, starvation, thirst, going mad from lack of human contact, or being eaten by sharks? They were seldom reassured when I told them of my thirty thousand miles of sailing experience and ten thousand miles of kayaking along the most formidable coastlines in the world. But I was confident that my kayak and I would arrive safely in Hawaii. Most people think large vessels are the most seaworthy ones. But this is not always true.

Survival at sea depends on preparation, experience, and prudence – not on boat size. I turned my kayak into one of the most seaworthy little boats in the world. I did not need to carry a life raft – I paddled a life raft. Inside my kayak, I crammed 60 days food and 25 gallons of fresh water. With my reverse osmosis pumps, I could make unlimited amounts of additional drinking water from sea water. I carried fishing gear, tools, and spare parts. In a waterproof bag I had, a compact VHF radio to contact passing ships, and an emergency radio beacon to alert aircraft flying overhead in case I needed to be rescued. Flares, sig-nal mirrors, a strobe-light, and a radar reflector ensured that I would be seen.

My kayak was as stoutly built as any fibreglass sailboat. I wanted to paddle a true kayak across the ocean – not a specialized sailboat masquerading as a kayak. I used a stock Necky Tofino double kayak with no mast, sail, centerboard, or keel. My boat had a foot-operated rudder and a wooden floor inside so that I could sleep a few inches above the water sloshing back and forth in the bottom of the boat. To stabilize my kayak while I slept, I inflated pontoons which I lashed to both sides of the boat. When the pontoons were deployed I could move around in my kayak with-out fear of capsize. A sailor’s safety harness fastened me securely to my boat.

To find my way at sea I used a sextant and a small calculator programmed to work out navigation sights. I could figure my position to within a few miles – when I could see the sun. I chose the crossing to Hawaii because the summer weather patterns are stable and the winds and currents are almost always favourable. The trip seemed to me to be the kayaking equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. It was the most difficult trip I could conceive of surviving.

On a cold, foggy morning three kayaks glided out of the harbour at Monterey. My wife Katie paddled one of the boats. At the one mile buoy off Lover’s point, we said goodbye, embracing from the kayaks. Pointing my kayak west and heading out to sea was the hardest thing I have ever done. Tears rolled down my face and I could hear Katie crying. I looked back from fifty yards away and I knew that we were thinking the same thought: that we might never see each other again.

I felt foolish attempting to paddle to Hawaii. Who did I think I was to attempt such an improbable feat?

Despite extensive preparation, my confidence was soon shattered by the relentless pounding swell of the Pacific Ocean. I had underestimated the abuse my body – especially my hands – would take on the 63 day crossing. After only a few days at sea, my butt was covered with saltwater sores and I could find no comfortable positions for sitting or sleeping. Within a week, the skin on the backs of my hands was so cracked and chapped that I took painkillers to make paddling bearable.

Running downwind off California, I wore several layers of synthetic pile and polypropylene clothing – the type of clothing which is touted to be warm when it is wet. I stayed warm as long as I wore everything I had, but I was certainly wet.

I was miserable but I spurred myself on with the thought that when I reached the southern trade wind latitudes, warm, sunny weather awaited…

Sailors can have two distinct waking nightmares: too much wind and too little wind. Heading south from Monterey, California, I lived through the first bad dream. The howling grey northwesterlies nearly devoured me. For two weeks I headed southwest before thirty knot winds, surfing down fifteen foot high breaking swells. The seas snapped my half-inch thick rudder blades as easily as you might break a saltine cracker. I needed every bit of skill and strength just to stay upright.

The nights were unspeakably grim. I set out two sea anchors and stretched out on the floor of my kayak. Tortured by salt water sores, I snatched a few moments of sleep while green waves crashed over my kayak, forcing themselves into the cockpit. As the ocean slowly filled my boat, I tried to ignore the cold water soaking through my sleeping bag until the rising tide forced me to sit up and pump out the kayak. Then I settled into the bilge and the miserable cycle repeated.

The cold wind was relentless. When I poked my head out in the mornings I screamed into the wind, “I don’t want to die!” I felt as exposed and as stressed as I had on long rock climbs. I relied on my skill and equipment for survival – even a small mistake could prove fatal.

“This can’t be!” I shouted at the empty blue sky. For about the fiftieth time, I looked at my pilot chart. Sitting motionless in my kayak in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles from land, I cursed the winds that had abandoned me. There was no swell, no wind – no sound. Without the boisterous trade winds and the westward current they spawn, it would take me two more months to reach the Hawaiian Islands. I did not think that I could survive that long. I had been at sea in my twenty foot kayak for thirty days.

A thousand miles southwest of my starting point I found the flip side of the nightmare – calm weather. In the calm conditions, I dried my sleeping bag and clothing and my skin lesions healed, but my progress slowed dramatically.

As night overtook me, I snapped a lightstick and placed it over my compass. However slowly, I had to keep my kayak moving towards Hawaii. Where were the trade winds? The night was so still that the bowl of bright stars over my head shimmered and danced in the calm sea. I felt as though I was paddling off the edge of the earth and into space.

For two weeks I pushed my kayak westward, until I reached longitude 140 west. Nine hundred miles from my goal, the trade winds blew strongly enough to launch my parafoil kite. This colourful flying sail did not replace paddling, but the kite’s pull doubled my speed and I averaged fifty miles a day.

A school of blue and gold mahi-mahi fish played about my boat, frolicking and jumping in my bow wave. Catching them was easy since they always seemed voraciously hungry fighting each other to be first to bite the lures which I trailed behind on a hand-line. I even trained them to gather close to my boat when I knocked on my hull by feeding them cut up pieces of bait. Once a day I slipped a fish hook into a piece of bait and another mahi-mahi became sashimi.

Those days were the best of the trip. The strong trade winds were ideal for paddling. The royal blue surging swells were no more than six feet high and my yellow bow skipped over the waves as if my kayak knew the way to the islands.

Three hundred miles from the islands, I was caught up in a northerly current. The wind shifted from northeast to southeast and the strong current set me north at the rate of thirty miles a day. If that current had not changed, I would have landed in Japan, missing the islands by hundreds of miles.

I thought that if I was soon to become a life raft, I ought to prepare my life raft equipment. I rummaged through my storage compartments, collecting my emergency radio beacon, flares, and signal mirrors. If I were going to miss the islands, my best chance for rescue would come when I crossed the shipping lanes fifty miles north of me.

On my sixtieth day at sea, I ran out of food. My school of mahi-mahi had left me a week before. I had eaten my toothpaste two days earlier. There was nothing edible left in the boat, and no fish were biting my lures. Looking up, I watched a line of jet airplanes heading for Hawaii. I thought about the passengers eating from their plastic trays. My food fantasies were so real and so complete that I could recreate every detail of every restaurant I had ever visited. I could remember the taste, texture and smell of meals I had eaten several years ago. I thought about how I should have gone to a grocery store in Monterey and bought fifty cans of Spam, or chili, and stuffed the cans into my boat.

I had nearly completed the world’s longest open ocean crossing, but I did not feel any closer to land. I had been scribbling different latitude and longitude numbers on the side of my boat, but I had no sense of progress. My kayak trip seemed as though it would last forever. In my 63rd day at sea, I was taking my usual noon latitude sight. When I swung my sextant to look at the southern horizon, I was annoyed by the mountain filling my sextant viewfinder and fouling up my view of the horizon line. “That damned mountain…” I thought. Seconds later, I realised I was looking at land! That dark mountain had to be Mauna Kea, 80 miles away on the ‘big island’ of Hawaii. The island of Maui 40 miles ahead was hidden under a blanket of squally clouds. As the clouds cleared, Haleakala reared its head and I knew I was almost home.

I whooped for joy when I saw land. I had only been pretending to be a sea creature. I was a land creature travelling through a hostile environment. My survival depended on the life support system I carried in my kayak and my support system was exhausted. Nearing land, I felt as though a weight was being lifted from my shoulders.

After paddling and kite sailing all night, I brought my kayak into the calm lee of Maui outside Kahului harbour. The scents of rainwashed soils and lush tropical plants washed over me like waves of perfume. No one greeted me when my bow dug a fur-row into the sandy beach. Stepping onto the beach for the first time in more than two months, I could not make my legs obey me. They crumpled underneath me and I sat down heavily in the shallow water. A local character staggering down the beach asked me where I had come from. When I told him that I had paddled my kayak from California, he whistled. “That’s a long way,” he said. “Must’ve taken you two or three days, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said.

I talked him into helping me drag my kayak up the beach, then he wandered off. Reeling like a drunken Popeye, I lurched off in search of a junk food breakfast.

By Ed Gillet