Traci Lynn Martin has been paddling since March, aiming to set a world record by circumnavigating all five Great Lakes in one year.
Martin, a 50-year-old competitive endurance kayaker who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, wakes up each day feeling like she’s been hit by a train. But she keeps paddling her surf ski kayak. So far, she has completed 3,436 miles and become the first person ever to circle the three biggest Great Lakes in one year.
Wednesday morning she left Vermilion and reached Edgewater Beach in Cleveland nine hours later, just after 7 p.m.
“It was a really good day,” she said Wednesday night. “It’s probably the calmest since I was on Lake Erie. It was probably one of the best days I’ve had since I’ve been on Lake Erie. It’s been a real challenge to make any forward progress in Lake Erie. I feel like I’ve been off the water more than on because of the wind and the waves.”
Thursday the wind will be worse and she thinks she’ll only make it 10 or 15 miles. But while the water has been merciless, the people have been wonderful, Martin said. While around most of the lakes, she’s camped with her support driver in a trailer, on Lake Erie she’s had to spend only one night in the trailer.
“So many people offered to help,” she said. “It’s just phenomenal.”
Originally Martin, 50, of Kansas City, Missouri, planned to complete 8,600 miles, by paddling through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean, around New Brunswick and along the eastern seaboard. That would have given her the world record for longest paddle in a year.
But an ice storm on Lake Huron in March pushed her back a few weeks. Martin now worries she won’t finish lakes Erie and Ontario, after bad weather kept her in Vermilion for four days.
“I’m running out of time,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m going to get Ontario and Erie done. But I’m going to do my best and keep paddling until Dec. 31.”
It’s a crazy ambitious journey, which Martin spent two years researching before quitting her job as a neonatal intensive care nurse. She has camped on the shore and depended on strangers for lodging, food and donations. Her hands have grown swollen and raw, and she has missed her three kids every day.
But Martin keeps going, inspired by the 2015 death of her mother, who regretted not accomplishing more of her dreams. She wants to prove that people with chronic illnesses don’t have to quit their passions.
“I realized that life to too precious of a gift to take for granted and to keep putting off the things that you want to do,” Martin wrote on her website. “During those days sitting with my mother, I decided that I was ready to live my life for me.”
Martin focused on the Great Lakes in part because of the years she spent paddling on Lake Superior. She can’t carry too much gear in her surf ski, a long thin kayak built for speed, where she sits on top of the cockpit. At times, friends paddle beside her. But often, she’s alone in the lake.
“There is pure JOY and excitement of being out on the water alone… battling the wind and waves and surf… there is a deep sense of gratification when I am able to conquer these conditions… when I can box up my fear and set it aside.”