Kayaker paddles 1,600 miles -- from Canada to Mexico Man with one leg first to make trip

October 13, 1993|By Seattle Times

Alone in his kayak, miles from shore, Steph Dutton watched the changing seascape as he paddled and fought his way 1,600 miles from British Columbia to Mexico's Baja California.

Oregon was wild, dangerous and exhilarating, and Northern California offered frequent sightings of whales, dolphins and sun fish. But ocean waters off Southern California offered more trash than signs of life.

"Party balloons, cigarette wrappers and beer bottles. I picked them up every day and dumped them out of my kayak at night," recalled Mr. Dutton, a Granite Falls, Wash., resident who on Saturday became the first kayaker to complete the "B.C. to B.C." route.

Mr. Dutton's 54 days of paddling is even more remarkable at second glance. Mr. Dutton wears an artificial leg, the result of a 1978 car accident.

His record-setting trip was sponsored in part by National Handicapped Sports. He was met along the way by kayaks paddled by other disabled athletes, including Mark Wellman, a paraplegic who in 1989 scaled Yosemite's El Capitan.

Mr. Dutton launched his kayak Aug. 3 in Victoria, British Columbia, and arrived in Ensenada, Mexico, 67 days later.

Along the route he marked his 43rd birthday near Oregon's Cape Blanco Aug. 21 and celebrated his wedding anniversary at Pismo Beach on the central California coast Sept. 22. His wife, Due, was able to share those events as a member of the road crew that met him on shore every night to set up camp.

He paddled an average of 30 miles a day, excluding 13 days he took off during the voyage, usually due to bad weather.

The Oregon stretch was the toughest, with 17-foot swells and 28-knot winds caused by a hurricane that had blown through Hawaii several days earlier.

"Every day I set out I was just firmly determined I was going to make it to my destination. At times it gets scary out there," Mr. Dutton said.

One of Mr. Dutton's sponsors built two orange-and-yellow kayaks for the journey. The 18-foot "Sea Star" was for speedy travel through relatively calm waters, while the wider, 16-foot-9-inch "Raven" was for conditions such as he encountered in Oregon.

The Oregon leg of the voyage consisted of "whole days of concentrated effort of not capsizing," he said.

"One day it hit me so hard it tore the spare paddles off my boat and tore the helmet off my head and the charts off the boat," Mr. Dutton said.

Mr. Dutton calculated his voyage required more than two million paddle strokes. "I was in good shape; I trained for 18 months," he said. "I'm still in good shape, although I've lost 10 or 12 pounds, and my shoulders have been bothering me considerably."

Mr. Dutton, who works for Eddyline Kayaks in Burlington, Wash., as an instructor, tour guide and ambassador, said it's hard to explain why he made his voyage.

"I didn't want to prove anything," he said. "I love sea kayaking; to me a sea kayak is supposed to be out in the open sea. I've loved sea kayaking since I was a kid."

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