Pedaling to Hawaii: Biking Across the Ocean

Pedaling to Hawaii, by Stevie Smith

By Stevie Smith

Picture a frustrated office worker of twenty-five, unimpressed with the prospect of more years of grey mediocrity.

One rainy, miserable Monday, Stevie Smith resolves to grab life with both hands and embark on a thrilling adventure – an idea that came to be known as “the last great First” – to go around the world entirely by human power.

Although he had never been on an expedition of any kind, had no knowledge of the sea or money to fund this hugely ambitious journey, Stevie and his friend Jason manage to cycle down through Europe, cross the Atlantic Ocean in Moksha, their purpose-built, ocean-going pedal boat – taking 111 days to pedal the 7,500 kilometers to Miami – then cycle and skate across America, and pedal 3,500 kilometers across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.

Pedaling to Hawaii is hilarious, entertaining, and refreshingly non-heroic, packed with thrills and spills as the intrepid and sometimes blundering duo make their way around the world. It is also a meditative account of a search for simplicity, integrity and freedom. This compelling and thoroughly honest account will inspire people of all ages, from the young and restless to the more mature who refuse to accept that the opportunity for adventure has passed them by.

In this excerpt, we join Stevie and Jason as they embark on the second leg of their incredible journey, across the Atlantic Ocean by pedal boat.

Day 1, Lagos

9.30 am: Moksha glides underneath the footbridge and past the marina, heading for the open sea. A small crowd is gathered upon the bridge.

Someone shouts down, ‘They’re finally leaving!’ I vaguely recognize him – a security guard at the harbor. His emphatic glee is a bit discomforting. Others clap and cheer, though some (perhaps holiday-makers, newly arrived) with a bemused look who aren’t too sure what or for whom they are cheering.

One of the many bearded and big-hearted, semi-alcoholic sailors in town trots awkwardly along the quay, waving and shouting something inaudible.

Jason pedals and steers us around the pier. We enter the swelling, vast ocean. I’ve enough nervous energy to send me to the moon. The sandstone cliffs are a luminous orange from the morning sun. Seagulls swarm above a fishing trawler returning to port. Its bow wave pummels into Moksha’s side and I have to steady myself as we pitch and roll violently in its wake. The former rhythms of wave and swell soon return.

I take over at the pedals after two hours and Jason mumbles a few undecipherable words – about not feeling well, perhaps – before disappearing into the sleeping compartment.

About an hour later I feel like I’ve had enough of the Atlantic. I just want to be still, to relax without my whole body being thrashed around from one side of the boat to the other. My neck is sore from the effort of keeping my head upright. My knees are burning and my backaches. I feel sick and so tired that I have to keep slapping my face to stay awake, keep pedaling; keep an eye on the horizon for ships.

As the daylight fades the thought suddenly occurs to me – there’s no going back. The effect it has on me is unexpected: I sense enormous relief because there’s no need to be brave anymore. It’s like parachuting: you need courage before, and only before the jump, while there’s the freedom not to jump, the opportunity to be a coward. There are no such choices now, thank heavens! There is only this seemingly infinite expanse: 4,250 nautical miles of ocean to pedal across at walking speed.

Colors fade to shade of grey and finally, but for the silvery flecks of surf on breaking waves, there is only blackness.

‘This is real, isn’t it?’ I find it all too strange for useful adjectives.

‘Very.’ Jason replies and yawns, wiping one eye.

pedalling moksha

‘Guess what?

‘I can’t. What?’

‘You’re never going to believe this, but…I’ve never spent a night at sea before in my life.’

‘No, neither have I.’

Day 3

I remain quite nauseous, Jason too. He wears these funny-looking, lurid yellow anti-sickness bracelets on both wrists, a last-minute package posted to him by his mother, though he claims they don’t work.

I sit at the pedal seat, lolling from side to side in the swell, trying to balance an army-issue aluminum plate of food on my lap. The smell of the boil-in-the-bag bacon and beans alone is enough to make my eyes roll in disgust. I keep my eyes closed and muster all my strength of will to take a mouthful and keep it down.

Round the Clock Pedaling

We have established a round-the-clock pedaling routine, swapping over every two hours in the daytime and every four hours at night. It is a harsh rota but we can’t see a way around it, there being only one bed to sleep in while the other pedals and keeps a lookout.

pedalling inside

There have been several ships today, though not close by, passing in grim silence across the horizon. I sometimes slip into morbid fantasy, a horrifying collision.

The crashing roar of its bow wave as it approached, the smashing and splintering of wood, raking and tumbling along its towering metal sides as it plowed past, and the thunderous beat of its massive propeller – and at that point, I always scurry back to reality, and extra vigilance.

I land the ‘graveyard shift’ from midnight till 4 am. The wind has freshened to a force five and the ocean regularly spits white, foaming globs of seawater through the open hatchway.

I scan the horizon for ships when Moksha rises to the height of the swell and wait for the next glimpse as we descend into the troughs. I have counted five ships so far, mostly heading west. The last one passed within a mile of us.

At least I think it was west. The compass light is broken – the only light we didn’t think to buy spare bulbs for. On the first night, we tried, at minute intervals, holding a flashlight with one hand and a pocket compass with the other to maintain a vaguely southwest heading, which was very irritating.

pedalling prow

For the last two nights, I have been using the stars. Provided that Orion’s Belt remains in the left-hand corner of Moksha’s overhead ventilation hatch, then we are heading southwest…ish. Jason has a similarly vague arrangement with the moon.

Day 10

Last night’s pedaling shift was otherworldly. It felt as though the ocean was leading us by the hand in a delightful waltz. Instead of the usual violent pitching and rolling we were smoothly cradled and swung from one wave to the next, accompanied by gentle gurgling and slapping sounds that echoed through the hull.

Just after 3.00 am a black, oily fin breaking surface. I scrambled from the pedal seat and stood in the open hatchway as a small pod of dolphins encircled us. I stood there long after they were gone.

Day 28

pedalling calm

A funfair ride in The Twilight Zone is the best analogy I can think of to describe this life. Imagine being at the fair and saying to yourself, ‘This is so much fun I wish it would never stop!’

Now imagine if it didn’t: your world keeps shaking and rolling when you step from the roller-coaster; it continues as you drive home in your car, throwing your head and shoulders from side to side every few seconds; you can never stand without holding onto something; you must strap yourself into bed in order to sleep and wedge pillows in around your head.

For how long do you think this would be fun? Five minutes, ten, fifteen minutes? And how long can you stand it without screaming for escape? An entire day, a day and a night, two days, three? But this is a reality now, the reality of the Twilight Zone, how can you not stand it? You must learn to live with it. But how do you live with a reality that is so annoying?

Today, approaching the end of our first month at sea, we are now west of the Canary Islands, the last scrap of land this side of The Atlantic. It means that there is no escape, no option but to live in The Twilight Zone for another three months, or longer.

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