Tuesday, June 29, 2010

paddling: Seattle to San Diego - Margo Pellegrino

I'm interrupting the normal tuesday postings for something I think is important. This post is long, but well worth the read!

There's been quite a bit of news lately about the world's salt water, especially the Gulf of Mexico. So it's timely that one woman is about to start a 2 month paddle from Seattle to San Diego as a way to raise awareness about the state of the oceans.

We (our family) are scheduled to leave on 7/9 for a semi-annual reunion trip down to the Gulf Coast on the Florida Panhandle, and that's one more reason why I think Margo's trip is important. We'll be there to "enjoy" the realities of the ongoing oil spill. I can't help but wonder how many of the "Drill baby, Drill!" proponents are rethinking their stance these days. Fewer than I'd hope, probably. But back to Margo.

Margo Pellegrino has already paddled from Miami to Maine, and along the length of the Gulf Coast in similar quests, and now she's about to do this, starting from my outrigger club's "beach" on Lake Union.

Margo starts on her paddle on 7/3 and a number of us will accompany her west to the Ballard Locks. She'll go on from there to cross the Sound and end her first day at Port Ludlow. Which, for those of you who aren't familiar with this area, is a hell of a long paddle for a single day. And it's only the beginning for Margo.

One other thing: This trip is largely self-funded. Margo has been the beneficiary of some donations of equipment, but the actual costs of the trip are being carried by the Pellegrinos. There's a link at the bottom of this page if you feel inclined to support her effort.

I've not yet met Margo, but I had the pleasure and honor to "interview" Margo through email about her Pacific Coast paddle, and have condensed that exchange in this post.

The Trip and Why

I started by asking Margo to briefly describe her trip and why she's making it. "I'm paddling from Seattle to San Diego in an effort to reach as many folks as possible to educate them about the problems facing the ocean as well as solutions through a sustained media campaign.

"While the ocean is a pretty big place it's definitely facing a crisis on a variety of levels. We can either keep going in the direction we're going, and mess things up to the point of no return, or we can do something different and fix things. I'm hoping to generate some press and attention on the many problems our ocean faces, and what we can do to make things better.

"I also hope to get folks excited about exploring their section of this watery planet-the best way to protect something is to get everyone to value it, and in order to get folks to get folks to value it, we need more of 'em out there experiencing and enjoying it."

The trip is roughly 1500 miles and will take her about two months, "conditions permitting." To plan the trip she's used Google Earth and contacts at various Surfrider chapters, environmental organizations and paddling clubs. "Nothing beats local knowledge, especially from paddlers and surfers," she says.

She leaves Seattle from the Seattle Outrigger Canoe Club Beach on Lake Union (Waterway 18) on July 3, hoping to be joined by as many paddlers as possible.

"Saturdays are generally bad press days, but I really want to paddle with folks for this kick off, and Saturday is the best day to do it."


When I asked about preparation for the trip, she was modest, but her numbers reveal a lot. She tries to run 5 miles a day and paddle 5, with longer (20 - 50 miles) paddles on weekend days. She also bikes when she can, mentioning doing 100 miles on her mountain bike and then qualifying this with a comment that "you can do anything if you go slow enough".

Gear and Equipment

Margo will be paddling a Pueo from Kamanu Composites, using Kialoa paddles. For safety she'll have a PFD that was originally donated by MTI for her Miami to Maine paddle and, she says, is showing how well it's been used, including as a bumper when she ties her canoe up. She'll also carry a personal location beacon, a VHF radio and a waterproof cell phone. When paddling she'll have a GPS (which she tries not to look at before noon), one water bag, and snacks to eat while under way. She'll stop each night, staying with people along the way or camping where necessary.


Margo will have a "chase car" following her as much as possible on shore, and hopes to also line up a few escort boats in case of unexpected weather changes.

And though she's paddling alone in an OC1, she says this is not a one-person paddle. "In no way do I look at this an an individual endeavor. This trip could not be done without the aloha spirit of many, and the ocean-loving ohana of paddlers, surfers, and those that just love the ocean."

When the weather turns bad, she says that for the most part she will continue on. "Most of the time there's no option but to keep going.... If you haven't left the dock yet, you stay put. If you're out, you hope you can get in when things settle down. Generally, you have to push through."

She will rely on her chase car for help with landing logistics, especially if things don't go as planned. "If things kick up, I might have to cut a paddle short... if I can get in. That's where having a chase car partner is so crucial."

In the car will be June Barnard, who's hiked most of the West Coast, along the coat and can provide some valuable insight as far as landing options go.

The Trip Itself

You can see details about the trip, as well as a map with tentative stopping spots on Margo's web site:


Some of the legs she has planned are long paddles. To give you some idea of the size of the bites Margo is willing to take chew, on her first day she plans to paddle from Lake Union to Port Ludlow. That's out through the Ballard Locks, across the sound, and north beyond the Hood Canal Bridge. And that's her first day! She hopes to reach California by late July (7/22).

When I asked how she prepares for long paddling legs, she said she likes to "eat a lot and drink a ton of orange juice. Food like ice cream that is also a liquid is like wonder food."

She likes to start as early as possible each day. "Start as early as possible and don't look at the GPS until noon. The earlier the start the better."

As far as challenges while on the water, she says "On the ocean it's very mental. The swells can lull you into a trance, and sometimes for no reason you can freak yourself out.... I think the biggest challenges are going to be staying warm (at least my feet) and coming in [landing]."

As far as concerns, she says that it comes down to "cold water, those 20 footers that sometimes come from the Andalusians... the rocks along the coast and of course the fog!! Oh yeah, and the guys in the gray with the really pointy teeth!"

Family as Motivation

Married, Margo has 2 young children who serve as a primary motivator for her paddling trips.

"I've always been aware of stuff, and always been disturbed by the folks that take our oceans for granted and just trash it in a variety of ways, but I really got serious about [doing something] after having my kids. After all, it's not like we'll probably leave them a ton of money, but the
least we can do is leave our resources the way we found 'em.... How could I not? I want the world to be perfect for my kids! Don't you? I guess I figured that this is one thing I could do to make a difference -- it's kind of like getting the most bang for your buck.

"I hope to get folks to think about what challenges they can make for themselves to make things better for our ocean --and our future."

Another motivation is the example her father provided her. "He always said, 'Don't just talk about it, do it.'... I feel I need to carry out his legacy, although I will in no way ever be the amazing kind of person he was. He was just a sponge for information and knowledge."


Margo's web site (she'll be blogging about the trip as she goes)

Margo's support page (you can make a donation here)

Blue Frontier Campaign:

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