To fulfill a longtime dream and honor the memory of a fallen friend and hero, a Turkish-American software engineer decides to circle the earth by bike, rowboat and on foot, powered solely by his own muscle, lungs, and heart. A little insane? Yes definitely, but look closely at the journey of Erden Eruc and you’ll see something else: one of the most incredible adventure stories of our time.
The date was December 3, 2007. Erden Eruç, a 46-year-old Turkish-American software engineer from Seattle, had been on the Pacific for 147 days, struggling forward in a 24-foot plywood rowboat. For weeks there had been rain on and off; his world was sodden and gray. Salt sores—burning red boils raised by chafing and sea spray—covered his arms and thighs. He was roughly halfway between Northern California, where he’d started, and the eastern coast of Australia, his destination, a distance of more than 10,000 miles. He’d recently reached the equator, where crosscurrents, fierce winds, and powerful waves had forced him off course. A man in a rowboat generates only about half a unit of horsepower, so Eruc was often at the mercy of domineering seas. He checked his GPS coordinates and confirmed what he feared: for the past 16 days he’d been rowing in a vast circle, getting nowhere.
Only a few people have crossed the Pacific by rowboat, but for Eruc this was merely the start of a far more daunting objective. He was hoping to become the first person to circumnavigate the planet solo, entirely under his own power—no motors, no sails, no means of propulsion other than his strength. His plan was to travel across three oceans and six continents by boat, bike, and foot, more than 40,000 miles in all.
The modes of transport included a rowboat to cross the oceans, a sea kayak for shorelines, a bicycle on the roads and hiking on trails, along with canoes for a few river crossings.
The Start: Crossing the Pacific
On the 27th of July 2007, he had set out from Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco and Land vanished. He settled into his new routine: wake at sunrise, boil water for granola or freeze-dried eggs, row for a few hours, filter water using a solar-powered desalinator, row more. In the afternoon, he would reward himself by listening to his iPod. “Physical fitness was certainly necessary, but it was all low intensity over a very long period of time,” Eruc says of the trip. “The challenge was keeping myself mentally acute, managing discomfort. I’m not trying to conquer nature; I’m trying to be in harmony with it. I’m trying to become the sea.”
Across the Indian Ocean to Africa
After he’d ticked off the Pacific row and then paddled, hiked, and biked through Papua New Guinea and biked around Australia he climbed back in his Calderdale rowing boat and rowed across the Indian Ocean, to Africa, earning another milestone by becoming the first person to row across three oceans. He hit land in Madagascar, fighting through 200-mile-wide whirlpools, called mesoscale eddies, to reach the mainland at Mozambique. He’d arranged to have his bike, the road-worn Novara, shipped to the port town of Nampula, and from there he headed north toward Tanzania. In a few weeks he planned to rendezvous with Board, his father, and a few others for what would be a successful climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, the third of his hoped-for six summits. (He had also climbed Mount Kosciusko in Australia.).
He cycled across Africa, which was much harder than he anticipated and even with so many miles behind him, Eruc was unprepared for the challenges of sub-Saharan Africa. Maps were unreliable. Roads were often little more than sand tracks through the bush. He crashed routinely, bloodying his knees and bruising his arms. In Mozambique, there were no hotels, no stores, barely provisions of any kind. The heat was punishing, and on some days he could find no potable water, only warm bottles of Coke.
Africa to South-America
In Lüderitz, on Namibia’s rugged coast, Erden reprovisioned the Calderdale, shipped around Africa by container, and prepared for his third and final ocean crossing. He rowed north toward the equator, bound for South America. After another 153 days at sea, he landed in northern Venezuela. A local cycling team loaned him a bike and organized a peloton to escort him on his short ride from Güiria to Carúpano.
Through the Caribbean
Then it was back into the Calderdale for an arduous three-month pull due north, through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. During the last few days, as Eruc neared American shores, he entered one of the most dangerous sections of the entire trip. The Gulf waters were loosely studded with oil platforms, their hulking structures lurking in the mist, towering 100 feet above the water like a fleet of alien spacecraft.
For three days Eruc sat at the oars, catching only a few hours of sleep. The platform struts presented a lethal hazard: if he was driven into one by wind and waves, it would smash the Calderdale to pieces. He couldn’t risk crawling into the hold and sleeping, no matter how strung out he felt. On the third morning, nearly delirious, he saw land. He’d been aiming for Corpus Christi, Texas, but conditions had forced him northeast, to Cameron, Louisiana. Within a few days, he was back on U.S. soil, with a grand total of 876 days spent in the Calderdale, making Eruc the most experienced ocean rower alive.
From there he rode his Novara bike all the way back to Bodega Bay in California – where he had started his trip – averaging 80 miles per day.
When he finally dipped his foot in the Pacific again, 5 years and eleven days had past since his departure. But he had accomplished the impossible.
Total Mileage and days needed
Eruç logged 66,299 km (41,196 mi) in accomplishing this first entirely solo and entirely human-powered circumnavigation of the world. He had crossed the equator two times, passed over twelve pairs of antipodal points (points at exact opposite sides of the world) meeting all the requirements for a true circumnavigation of the globe. His five years and eleven day trip meant the world record time for a human-powered circumnavigation. The total elapsed time of over five years included several long periods of downtime spent away from the route, for a total of about 26 months, with Eruç always continuing again from the exact location where he had last stopped. Excluding the downtime periods, he had traveled a total of 1026 days, or about two years and ten months.
He spent 161 days rowing the Indian Ocean, three months on a bike in wildest Africa, almost a full year grinding across the Pacific. The risks were considerable—failure, madness, death—and the scale of the project completely preposterous.
Eruc had founded a non-profit, Around-n-Over, and assembled a support team, including his wife, Nancy Board, a human-resources executive from Chicago; Bill Hinsley, an environmental program manager in the Bay Area; and Graeme Welsh, a boisterous Australian hairdresser and part-time bartender whose duties weren’t exactly clear other than being the Life of the Party. Fundraising didn’t bring in enough, so Eruc tapped his own resources.
To finance the expedition, Eruç and his wife had sold condominium properties in Washington, D.C. and Seattle, as well as a second car, and moved into a rental property. Eruç also withdrew the funds from his 401k retirement plan. The total spent out of the couple’s own assets was approximately $216,000. Their organization’s sponsors and donors contributed a similar amount in cash and products, including his bicycle, bike trailer and panniers, a liferaft, desalinating watermakers, energy bars and freeze dried foods
The human-powered circumnavigation plan had been expanded to include summitting the tallest mountains on all six continents as a tribute to his friend and fellow adventurer Göran Kropp. Kropp had gained world-fame with his Ultimate High odyssey where he had ridden his bike from Stockholm to Nepal, towing all his climbing gear and supplies. He then soloed Everest, without oxygen, and rode back to Sweden. Kropp died in 2002 in a tragic accident while rock climbing with Eruç.
Due to a lack in funding and time constraints Eruç only climbed 3 of the 6 summits during his circumnavigation. He hasn’t given up though and hopes to climb Everest, Aconcagua and Elbrus in the near future.
By the end of his circumnavigation, Eruç had set several ocean rowing world records including the first person to row three oceans, the most continuous (non-stop) days at sea by a solo ocean rower – 312 days on the Pacific Ocean the first rower to cross the Indian Ocean from Australia to mainland Africa (in two segments), the first rower to cross any ocean from the southern to the northern hemisphere and the longest distance rowed across the Atlantic Ocean at 9,817 km (6,100 mi), as well as the most experienced living ocean rower with 876 days at sea and 28,581 career nautical miles.
A documentary film called Castaway With Purpose is in production as of 2014 that will feature Eruç’s circumnavigation.
Achievements & Awards
To top this kickass-ness of here follows a list of ERDEN ERUÇ impressive achievements and awards:
- 2013 Citation of Merit – The Explorers Club
- 2013 Adventurers of the Year list, Outside Magazine
- The first solo circumnavigation by human power: 2014 Guinness Book of World Records
- Fastest human powered circumnavigation: 5 years 11 days
- With a total of 876 career days spent on the world’s oceans, the most experienced ocean rower alive
- With about 29,000 nautical miles, holder of most number of miles rowed in an ocean rowing career
- First person in history to have rowed three major oceans
- First person in history to have rowed mainland to mainland across the Indian Ocean, Australia to Africa
- First person in history to have crossed an ocean from the southern hemisphere to the northern
- Holder of the longest distance record for a human powered crossing on the Atlantic ocean, and specifically by rowing: about 5,415 nautical miles
- The longest distance on the Caribbean Sea – about 1,709 nautical miles
- Second person in history to have rowed mainland to mainland from Africa to South America
- 2010 Vancouver Award – The Explorers Club
- With 312 days spent on the Pacific Ocean, holder of the Guinness World Record for longest time at sea by a solo ocean rower