Rockford, Illinois, USA
February 05
I'm a regular middle aged guy, living in a regular middle class neighborhood, in a regular middle-sized community in the middle of America. I am an expatriate Texan transplanted to the Midwest, and wondering how I got here, and where I'm headed.

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DECEMBER 18, 2009 11:44AM

Solitude, Water, Strength, and Courage

Rate: 18 Flag

When I was a little younger, back before my wife and I adopted our son, I made a point of doing a solo camping trip every year.  These trips were not car camping, where you pitch a tent next to your vehicle in a nearby state or county park.  My camping trips were truly solitary affairs.  Sometimes I would hire a boat to drop me off on an uninhabited island in the Great Lakes or Gulf of Mexico.  Other times I would simply park my car next to a national forest trailhead, and just start walking.  After a couple of days, I would simply turn around and start walking back.

I am a very good camper, and consider myself reasonably competent to deal with most of the potential hazards that can occur when camping for a few days in the wilderness.  I can deal with bad weather.  I always carry the means to treat water if something happens to my own supply.  I’ve never needed to use my first aid kit, but always have it nearby.  If a bear or cougar were to approach, I would know what to do, although I understand that the outcome of some things will always be left up to God or fate or simple luck.

Backpacking with 40 or 50 lbs. on your back certainly entails a challenge to your physical capabilities, at least when you are no longer 20 years old, but are instead a middle aged man.  However, the physical challenge of a solo camping expedition is not the biggest problem I’ve had to confront.  Far more serious for me, at least, is the psychological impact of utter solitude.  You come to realize just how much you rely on human companionship, even trivial human interaction, for mental well being.  When there is no one nearby, the mind begins to entertain thoughts or emotions that are otherwise suppressed.  I can admit a certain tendency toward morbidity and depression when experiencing complete solitude.  There are ways to fight that, of course.  While backpacking, I try to practice a kind of meditation, clearing my mind of nearly everything but the rhythmic pattern of my steps.  I try to stay alert to my external environment, rather than allowing myself to dwell on my internal thoughts and emotions.  It is always a challenge, however. 

Imagine being alone, utterly alone, not for three or four days, but for three months or more.  Now imagine that instead of being in a beautiful forest, or on a subtropical beach, you are in the middle of the ocean, a hot, dark, flat liquid plain whose featureless expanse is broken only by the occasional life-threatening terror of an equatorial storm squall.  You are completely alone, on a 20 foot long rowboat, engaged on an epic voyage.  You are rowing a boat, alone, from Senegal in West Africa, to (if all goes according to plan) French Guyana in South America.  You are rowing that boat for 2,500 miles, carrying all of your own supplies, with no one nearby to help if things go bad.  You are Katie Spotz, 22 years old, about to do something very few people have ever done before; in fact, far more people have been in outer space than have rowed solo across the Atlantic Ocean.  Katie Spotz will be the youngest person to have ever accomplished this amazing feat.  As I type this essay, Katie is on an airplane enroute to Senegal; her odyssey is about to begin.

What will Katie’s days at sea be like?  She will wake up at 6:00 each morning, and immediately tether herself to the boat just in case she should fall overboard.  Once thus secured, she will determine her position, and have breakfast.   All of her meals will consist primarily of dehydrated foods.  Starting at 6:30, she will row for two hours, then stop for a mid-morning meal.  After the meal, she will prepare the day’s water supply by desalinating several gallons of sea water.  At 9:00 she will begin rowing for another two hours until her 11:00 lunch break.  After lunch, she will again plot her position and set her course for the afternoon.  Then it is time for a nap until 12:30, followed by another two-hour stint of rowing.  At 2:30, there will be another lunch break of 30 minutes, then two more hours of rowing.  Dinner is at 5:00.  Once dinner is finished, Katie will again determine her position, and check in with her land team via a satellite telephone (her only human contact during the entire trip).  If the day has gone as planned, she will be 30 miles closer to her destination than she was 24 hours earlier.  If needed, she will scrub and clean the bottom of the boat.  At 6:30, she will start rowing for another two hours, then secure the boat for the night with a parachute anchor that prevents backward drifting.  When ready for bed, Katie will un-tether herself from the boat and enter a water-tight compartment that is about 6 feet long and 3 feet wide for well-deserved sleep. 

Katie Spotz is not taking this adventure simply for her own sense of accomplishment.  She is doing this to raise money and awareness for the Blue Planet Run Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring safe drinking water to places that lack that precious resource.  Since 2002, Blue Planet Run has helped deliver safe drinking water to more than 200,000 people in 18 different countries.  Katie Spotz hopes to raise at least $40,000 for Blue Planet Run, an amount of money that would deliver a lifetime of safe drinking water to well over 1,000 people:  men, women, and children who would otherwise be subject to waterborne bacteria that are the leading cause of premature death in much of Africa and other underdeveloped locales. 

So far, Katie has raised nearly $37,000 for Blue Planet Run.  That amount is in addition to the thousands of dollars she needed to enable her trans-Atlantic journey. 

If you are as excited about Katie Spotz and her cause as I am, you can read more about her on her own website,  You can also learn more about the Blue Planet Run Foundation at 

Good luck, Katie, and Godspeed. 



Katy on boat
  photo by Laura Watilo Blake


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How's this for true Christmas spirit?
Wow, Steve. Christmas spirit, indeed: it's truly generous, what she's doing, and your own reflection makes me value the coming time with family and society even more. And I'm certainly going to remember this if I start to sink into self-pity over having to travel solo on the holidays!

Happy holidays, also. Always good to read you.
I wish her luck. I, too have always been a fan of solitairy camping trips and the longest time I ever spent on one was three weeks and that was a challenge. I can't imagine the stress she will be facing on that long sea journey.
Wow. Now that's a heroine. That's for telling us about her.

Rated for hope.
Saturn, it kind of trivializes our own self-pity, doesn't it?

Torman, I call those solitary camping outings my "Back To God" trips. I don't know about 3 weeks of it, though! That is impressive!

Gwen, "heroine" is a good choice of words!
Steve, that will be quite an accomplishment and a huge boost for Blue Planet Run both in terms of the money raised and the publicity. The watertight sleeping compartment is a smart idea as I can imagine some rough seas at night and sleep is definitely needed when you are rowing a boat everyday across the ocean.
Tough task, but a worthy goal. I hope she makes it. Thanks for the heads up, Pro.
I love camping--the thought of being alone in the forest is far more appealing to me than being alone on a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. I give Katy much credit. This reminds me of the great book I read a few years ago "Life of Pi" which took place mostly on a boat. Good luck to Katy!
if she were to spend months in a tanning pod, that would be charitable spirit. rowing, otoh, is fun, healthy, and will turn her into a celebrity. i hope the resulting book profits will go to her 'water' charity, because water is going to be in short supply very soon.

you are absolutely right about the psychological stress. that can be a killer. some ozzie girl is sailing around the world right now with every electronic gadget known to man. not much stress there, she can press the button and chat most any time.

this rowboat will be as sinkable as a duck, and can support comm equipment too, with solar cells. still a considerable achievement, but a long way from robinson crusoe.
The idea of being away from people has long appealed to me, but I've never done it. Wonder how I would react. This girl is in for an interesting ride. Great post.
Al, it's true she has modern positioning equipment and a satellite phone. She has a self-correcting boat that should turn upright if it rolls over. But it is still a row boat. I don't think many people would agree with you that rowing for 12 hours per day in the tropical sun for 70, 80, or 100 days is a "fun" way to spend your time.

I hope she becomes a celebrity. I'd much prefer to see that kind of athletic celebrity than the kind that has dominated the airwaves lately. But as much as I'd like to see her achieve fame, I rather doubt that she will. Solitary rowing is not much of a spectator sport. Perhaps she will write a book and make enough money to live comfortably. I'd say she deserves that for the amount of preparation and effort it takes to row 2500 miles. And $40,000 given to provide pure water is nothing to sneeze at.
designanator, I can imagine some scary nights in that cramped, watertight compartment.

boanerges, thanks for stopping by.

Karen, I agree that alone in the woods is far preferable than being alone at sea. I don't think I'd do very well at either if it lasted for 3 months.

jimmymac, if you want solitude like that, I'd ease into it for a few days, not dive into it for weeks or months!
Wow. This sentence: "far more people have been in outer space than have rowed solo across the Atlantic Ocean" defly puts the amazing fact of her challenge in perspective. Your reflections on solitude ably reveal the psychological demands. Fascinating story, and very good post.
This reminds me of the saying among writers that "writing a novel is like rowing a boat across the Atlantic." After reading your piece I don't think I'll ever say those words again!

That is real courage. Doing it for others and not her own agrandizement is admirable.
Thanks for the article!
This is a wonderful post. Thanks so much for putting this up. What an incredibly inspirational piece and girl.
Rated and appreciated.
Wow. After just being on the rough seas of a small ship crossing the Atlantic, I cannot imagine --simply cannot --the bravery of this woman. You always come up with current or past tales of interest. Wow.
Pilgrim, it is dealing with that solitude that will be her greatest challenge, I suspect, and that is certainly what I can best relate to.

Alan, good point.

o'stephanie, thanks for stopping by and commenting! Very admirable, indeed!

Dennis, thank you!

Lea, welcome back. Your recent trip certainly provides some perspective!
Water: that mysterious element, so full of life!
That is wonderful! Very much in the Christmas spirit, indeed!

And hey, nice avatar!! :-)
M. Chariot, even your comments are poetic. Thank you for stopping by.

Outside, thank you, too. I recall that someone suggested making the avatar change last week!
Run Katy Spotz, run!
Scupper, you said it! (Or should I call you Forest?)
Great story. I have been following it in the news but appreciate the preface about camping alone. My wife and I spent three months car camping from Texas into Canada and back. Much later we spent eleven days rafting and camping in the Alaskan National Wild Life Refuge. But I've never camped alone. I've also spend some time at sea but being alone at sea for three months is a challenge I'll ignore.