Mark Fuhrmann slides into his kayak, parked on the grass behind the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, testing if there’s adequate room for his legs with all the gear he’s packed in there.
He’s had to pack very light – kayaks don’t offer a lot in terms of trunk space – but with enough gear to see him through a year of paddling.
On Wednesday, Fuhrmann was preparing to leave for a 10,500 kilometer solo kayak trip called the Greater Loop that will take him from Halifax through the United States (as south as Florida), and back to Halifax next June. Fuhrmann was ready to head out Wednesday morning, but the weather wasn’t. With 20 knot winds out on the open water, I have decided to leave first thing Thursday morning instead.
Being alone out on the water doesn’t bother this 64-year-old Canadian-Norwegian.
“There’s an affinity for nature all of us have but we never really experience that. The majority of people all they see 365 days a year is asphalt and sidewalks,” he said.
“I don’t mind being alone because I know I’ll get my quota of people along the way.”
He’s counting on meeting all kinds of people in the next year, not just to keep him company paddling or when he needs to find a spot to set up his tent, but to listen to their life stories too.
reverse the bad
Fuhrmann, who grew up in the rough mining town of Atikokan, north of Thunder Bay, has been living in Norway for 34 years. I have recently retired from a public relations company he co-founded and sold his house to pay for this trip. He has no connection to Nova Scotia besides the fact that his sister lives in Antigonish.
“I went to Norway as a love refugee. I married a Norwegian girl and unfortunately, she died of cancer 10 years ago.”
This mega solo kayak trip is in her memory, but also to find people who have emerged from their struggles to make the world better. He plans to bump into them along the way and tell their stories in his travel blog.
He named his tour Reverse the Bad because he was inspired by a woman he met in France years ago. She was left by her partner when she found out she was pregnant. When Fuhrmann met her, she was cycling with her one-year-old daughter from Brussels to Barcelona to raise money for a girl in South Africa.
“I’m looking for people who had challenges in their lives, who haven’t let the challenges destroy them as a person… but they’re actually using the challenges they have to make a difference in other people’s lives,” he said.
“I’m hoping to meet them, and I’ll be doing small interviews along the way.”
Before his trip has even started, already Nova Scotians have reached out after he posted about his journey on a local kayaker Facebook group. A few people stopped by Wednesday morning to paddle with him, and others have offered places to say along the coast.
Ed Dowell, with Kayak Halifax, was helping Fuhrmann prepare on Wednesday. Dowell said he’s not surprised by the East Coast hospitality and that Fuhrmann’s trip is inspiring for local paddlers.
Almost, but stopped by bad weather
Fuhrmann said the Greater Loop has been attempted by solo kayakers but no one has completed it. Steve Chard, from Dorset, England came close.
He set off in Halifax June 1, 2018 and returned on Aug. 16, 2019 but Chard missed several sections of the loop because of poor weather.
“This is my chance to come back and say thank you to everybody who helped me,” said Chard, adding he couldn’t come back until now because of the pandemic.
He was in Halifax on Wednesday, helping Fuhrmann prepare. Chard plans to paddle with Fuhrmann, especially along one of the sections he missed on the Gaspé Peninsula.
Chard’s best advice for Fuhrmann is to keep an eye on the weather.
“You’ve got to live by the weather forecast,” he said.
Sharks, bears and guns
Fuhrman, who paddled from Oslo, Norway, to Athens, Greece, in 2018, has his biggest challenges nailed down to five: the instability of the ocean, bears along certain stretches of the Great Lakes, alligators and snakes in the southern states, and a seal colony around Cape Cod that attracts great white sharks.
“And then Americans with (their) no trespassing and their guns philosophy.”
Fuhrmann said he plans to paddle about 30-40 kilometers a day. He has food and a tent with him and intends to just find a spot to sleep each evening.
He gets asked why a lot and he’s done a lot of deep thinking on his answer.
It mostly comes down to because he can.
“There’s a lot of things in life that you sometimes wait to do things, but life changes completely. It moves and changes so rapidly.”
He said he figured that he has the ability and resources (not just financial resources, but the ability to plan a trip like this). Fuhrmann said he believes we’re here to help other people and that comes in small actions.
“Because I want to contribute to society in what small actions I’m doing, and I want to raise money for people who can do things that I cannot do,” he said.
Some might not consider a 10,500 kilometer solo kayaking trip “small.”
“When you undertake a 10,500 kilometer tour that’s a huge endeavor, but the only way you can reach that is through small increments, and in life it’s the same way.”