Epic journeys often start with buses on rocky backcountry roads, chartered planes to remote peaks, lost luggage, new languages and that first step to the edge of the world.
Julieta Gismondi (Jules) and Lou Anne Harris started their epic journey from the middle of New York City by loading up their Stand Up Paddleboards at Pier 84 in Midtown Manhattan. It was early fall 2015 and they would spend the better part of the next 5 months on a self supported paddling expedition to Miami.
Both women have extensive SUP experience, from racing to multi-day paddling trips. Jules had been SUPing for over 7 years and Lou Anne over 5 though both had been kayaking for years before that.
Last May, Jules circumnavigated Long Island by herself, and wanted her next big adventure to be with a partner. She met Lou Anne at the Manhattan Kayak Company where they both work as guides. They knew that after the summer season ended, the boathouse would close for the winter, and an opportunity for not just a multi-day trip but a multi-month adventure would open.
How did you two decide on this route?
We were looking at different options; the lakes in New York or the route from Chicago to New York, doing the Mississippi or doing the Great Loop.
We settled on this one because it was going to be the warmest option. It wouldn’t be so cold. At least not all the time. The route has been done from Key West to Maine before but we were based in NYC and it was the easiest way to start, instead of traveling with our gear to another start point.
Is this route unique?
This route has been done many times before. And though we were the first to do it North to South by paddleboard, we weren’t really looking to go do something no one else has ever done before. It was more about finding the new adventure for ourselves. If we could make it mean something along the way and help some amazing organizations with it that’s even better.
What organizations were you supporting through this trip?
The first is Mission Blue — Sylvia Earle’s oceanic conservancy organization. We’re fundraising and trying to raise awareness as well as taking water samples.
The second is First Descents — they support young adults and kids with cancer and their families. They do fundraising, awareness, and organize outdoor adventures and excursions. With First Descents it is the same thing: we’re trying to raise awareness and funds.
[You can make a donation here.]
In 2014, you two competed in the 100-mile paddle from Los Angeles to San Diego. Was that good preparation to test how you’d be as a paddling team?
I wasn’t ever really concerned. It never crossed my mind that it would not be good. There wasn’t ever a conversation or anything trying to figure out if it would work personality wise or anything like that – it was like, well, you want to do the trip? Yeah? Let’s go. Okay.
What were the toughest parts?
The bay crossings and finding camping spots where there’s nothing along the coast.
All of them.
They are physically really exhausting. You’re just out there and there’s no protection, no nothing. There’s just a big stretch of just paddle.
As for the campsites … you didn’t plan out where you’d be camping for the night and just have to find a spot on shore?
Pretty much. We had a route planned and a bunch of waypoints and information about where the marinas were and where the beaches were and where we can potentially camp and stop if the water got rough. At the end of the day it depended on how many miles we’d done that day, which depended on conditions. It was great when we got to the destinations we’d planned for, but sometimes where we ended up depended on how far we’d gotten the days before.
You always have to look ahead a few days so you don’t mess up the campsites and stop options along the way. It’s always planning. You can’t just get up one day and be like, yeah sure let’s paddle until sunset and then just crash at whatever beach. That’s not possible; I wish it were.
Was worst-case scenario you just kept paddling?
Yup, our very first night we were kicked out of the beach in Staten Island — like you have to get up and paddle and get out of here. If we couldn’t keep paddling, we’d just get off the water and camp wherever we need to.
What’s the most rewarding? Most fun part?
The bay crossings and finding campsites that work are super rewarding. Pretty much the same things that worried us are, when they turned out okay, the most rewarding.
Why do you decide to do this?
There’s no one specific thing, not one big dream. It’s an experience, it’s something we love to do, it’s an adventure, it’s a challenge, it’s an experience that I think everyone should have. If you have the desire to have one big adventure in your life, I mean, just do it. Before we left everyone told me, “Oh, I always thought about doing a trip like this or a trip like that.” They just don’t or they haven’t. It’s so easy to find reasons not to do things. I think if you have that fire, the fire that makes you want to experience things, especially at that magnitude — you should do it and have that experience no matter what may happen along the way. I’d rather have it and have that story to tell instead of saying, “Oh, I wish I’d done that.”
Sarah L. Knapp is the a Brooklyn-based entrepreneur and founder of OutdoorFest – a ten day outdoor adventure festival in New York City and Mappy Hour – a global community of outdoor enthusiasts in urban centers.
In 2014, she was invited to speak at Outdoor Retailer on the importance of “face time” for brands and was nominated for the Outdoor Inspiration Awards in 2015. In March of 2016, she will spearhead a panel on outdoor recreation in cities at South By Southwest Interactive.
She is a NY State licensed hiking & camping guide, Wilderness First Responder and Ski Patrol Wannabe. She believes that the best way to explore a city is by bike and the best place to get know someone is in the outside.