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Athletes & Explorers

Jul 05, 2019

Outdoor Moms: Class V Kayaking vs. Class V Parenting

Natalie Anderson, world-class whitewater kayaker with a PhD in studying the way that rivers change over time, is raising the tide for the next generation of female competitors

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

Parking my truck in the driveway, there is barely enough room to fit between the piles of kayaks lining the edges of the yard. As I enter the house, the chaos continues. Trains, cars, and coloring books cover the carpet, while books, articles, and laptops are spread across the table. Peering out the living room window between hangers of drying kayaking gear, I spy two-year-old Davis having a small fit in the yard as Leif, his towering 6’7” father, explains that he cannot ride his Strider bike without his helmet. Davis storms off into the house as best as any 2-year-old can, and crawls into his mother’s lap. Natalie is sitting on the couch, laptop in hand, trying to polish up an academic paper on Driftwood and Rivers in the Mackenzie Basin of Canada. She holds a PhD in Fluvial Geomorphology from Colorado State University, boasts numerous scientific articles to her name, and is one of the best whitewater kayakers on the planet. But to Davis, she is jungle gym, cuddle buddy, and mom.

Photo: Leif Anderson

Natalie started kayaking in college. She attended rolling classes in the pool twice a week, which is where she met her very first boyfriend, and now husband, Leif. Leif holds a PhD in Theoretical Physics, has a 3-foot long blonde mullet, and is also one of the best whitewater kayakers in the world. Leif has been kayaking since he was 12 years old, and has had a significant influence on Natalie’s kayaking progression. “I don’t think anyone who is successful at anything at a high level can get there without other people helping drive them there. You don’t get there by yourself. There would be no way I would be where I am now with kayaking without Leif.” The summer after Natalie learned to roll, her and Leif spent their time traveling to whitewater parks and waves around Colorado and Jackson Hole. Natalie progressed quickly, and by her third season in a boat, she was paddling class IV-V.

For years, Natalie has been at the top of the game. One of the best paddlers in the world paddling some of the hardest whitewater and throwing some of the most advanced tricks. Even so, she has always been one of the most underrated athletes out there. She was paddling the same hard stuff as everyone else, throwing just as big of tricks as anyone else, but still felt like she was a bit of an outsider in the international kayaking scene. When I asked her why, she answered, “We didn’t travel around a lot in the circles of people who are international. A lot of it is about who you know and who you hang out with that makes or breaks what circles you are in… but we were always up at the Slave River (where not a lot of other paddlers visit) and doing our own thing with our PhDs. I mainly just boated with Leif, and I was happy doing what we were doing. I didn’t really care enough to change things and put effort into making a name for myself.”

Natalie surfing The Ruins, Ottawa River, Canada.
Photo: Leif Anderson

Another reason Natalie felt like a bit of an outsider – “Leif and I don’t party. We weren’t socializing at the after-parties and events where you would be meeting people and planning trips and such, and that is where a lot of the bonding happens. Leif and I were always in our own separate world where we were respected, but not necessarily known or on people’s radar.” All of this, however, has changed this past year. Natalie and Leif moved to White Salmon, Washington, which is often considered the whitewater mecca of the world, and where the majority of the world’s pro kayakers gather to train. “When we moved to White Salmon, I started boating with other people more and interacting more with people at parties. I honestly think the lack of recognition I received came down to us just not boating with other people much. But I don’t have any regrets with any of that because the few people I have formed bonds with, I have very strong relationships with.”

Relationships are important in a sport like whitewater kayaking. A sport where you need to trust that your paddling partners will always have your back, and that you will always have theirs. Natalie puts great emphasis on forming lasting bonds with her friends and kayaking partners. She has spent the past year focusing a lot more energy on creating strong relationships with other paddlers in the White Salmon community, and it has paid off for her not only socially, but also athletically. “You can gain recognition in the paddling community through races and competitions, but most of the time you actually just gain it through personal interactions and friendships. And by simply being a good person. When you go kayaking with other people outside of competition is when you gain respect. So if you paddle with other people more and have recognition outside of competition, you then go to the competition feeling more confident without the need to prove anything to other people.”

Natalie throws a big trick on Molly wave, Quebec.
Photo: Leif Anderson.

With her newly-received recognition among the international kayaking scene, Natalie entered this season with more confidence than ever before. The first race of the year was the Little White Salmon creek race, and Natalie won by over ten seconds. Her first ever win at a high-profile competition. And that was just the start of her season. Natalie also took home the win at the East Fork Lewis race, and placed 15th at Unleashed – a multi-stage competition on the big spring waters of Quebec. 15th may not sound like a high placing, but considering she was competing against some of the world’s strongest MALE kayakers in the world, it is actually pretty dang good! But the competition that Natalie is proudest of was this past weekend in Banks, Idaho. The North Fork Championship.

Natalie competing in the finals of the North Fork Championship. Photo: Leif Anderson.


This was the eighth year of the North Fork Championship, and the first year the event hosted a women’s category. Previously, women were allowed to compete alongside the men, but lacked their own category. Because of this, only two women – Katrina Van Wijk and Nouria Newman – have ever qualified to race the finals course. This year, however, there was a full women’s division racing not only the qualification course – a class V rapid named S-Turn on the North Fork Payette river – but also allowing for five of the fastest women on the qualification course to race the finals course on Jacob’s Ladder. Jacob’s Ladder is infamous for it’s fast hydraulics and dangerous features. It’s the definition of a class V rapid. Four years ago, Nouria Newman made history when she qualified against the men to race Jacob’s Ladder in the finals. She placed 8th among the 20 finalists and set the standard as the best female kayaker in the world. But this year, five women earned the opportunity to prove their skills in one of the highest-viewed whitewater events in the world. And they did just that.

“It was an amazing experience to be there for the inaugural year of women having a class. I feel like I accomplished my goal for the event, and I feel like the female class made a good showing and paddled well as a group. We all ran really good races, and I am proud of and happy with how we all paddled.” Natalie says her goal for the race was to show the crowd that the women’s class deserved to be there. To prove that they were good enough, and to show the next generation of women that they are also good enough. And by qualifying for the final, and racing clean and smooth lines, it appears she did just that. “One of the goals for me for competing in this event was to be out there and to be seen by the next generation of female paddlers so that they can see me do it, and then come out in the future and do it better than me. I want them to see us paddle here and then be inspired to train for the event and eventually do it better than us.” Women don’t compete against each other to beat one another. They compete with one another to try and raise the standard for competition among their gender. “So many people came up to me and told me they were inspired by all of us women, and that’s what made the event worth it. That’s what you remember.”

Natalie competing in the North Fork Championship 2019. Photo: Leif Anderson.

Raising the standard for the next generation is exactly what these women have been doing not only this past weekend, but for the past several years. Three of the five female finalists are literally raising the next generation. Mariann Saether, Pavlina Zasterova, and Natalie Anderson are all mothers of children under the age of 3. “I am just proud of the fact that three of the women who competed in Jake’s are moms of kids under 3. I find it very inspiring and fun to paddle with Mariann and Pavlina. We see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, and it is always nice to not be the only one doing something.” Natalie balanced training and parenting by trading off practice laps and childcare with Leif, while also trying to sneak in enough rest to fend off the nausea she has been experiencing from her current pregnancy (oh yeah… did I mention she did all this while three months pregnant with her second child?).

From left – Mariann Saether and her son Benjamin, Leif Anderson, Natalie Anderson, Davis Anderson.

Now that this competition season is winding down, I asked Natalie what her next kayaking goal will be. Her answer? “Get a consistent hull to hull airscrew before my 2 yr old son does. Time is running short!”

Cover Photo: Leif Anderson.
Video: Boof and Destroy Entertainment Feed.

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Athletes & Explorers

Jul 17, 2019

Alone Across Antarctica Part 3: Nowhere to Hide – Børge Ousland’s World Record Legacy

Norwegian legend Børge Ousland, who navigated unknown landscapes in 1997 to become the first person ever to cross Antarctica alone, has a message for would-be record breakers.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

In a 5-part series Alone Across Antarctica, The Outdoor Journal connected with the greatest living polar explorers to discuss their solo missions across Antarctica, the most inhospitable environment on the planet. In Part 1, Colin O’Brady detailed his most recent world record attempt. In Part 2, Captain Louis Rudd explained what it took to survive his simultaneous 56-day journey. In this installment, Børge Ousland recounts the first-ever solo crossing of Antarctica and shares his perspective on the latest record-breaking attempts.

Børge Ousland is a Norwegian explorer and adventurer, among the best who have ever lived. As the first person ever to cross both poles on solo expeditions, Børge is a leading expert on polar exploration.

Børge became the first man to complete a solo and unaided journey to the North Pole in 1994. Then in 1997, he made the first solo and unaided crossing of Antarctica from coast to coast, covering 1,864 miles (2,845 km) from the edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf to the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. In his world-first solo crossing of Antarctica, Børge set out from Berkner Island in the Weddell Sea and reached the McMurdo base by the Ross Sea 64 days later, hauling a 390 pound (178-kg) sled. He used a windsail to help propel him on parts of the journey.

Børge is so dedicated to polar exploration that he even held his wedding ceremony at the North Pole in 2012, flying in guests via helicopter.

The Outdoor Journal connected with Børge to discuss his solo crossing of Antarctica, a world’s first, and how the latest record attempts by Colin O’Brady and Captain Louis Rudd stack up in the history of polar adventure.

WORLD’S FIRST SOLO CROSSING OF ANTARCTICA

TOJ: What initially inspired you to attempt the first solo crossing of Antarctica?

“We all have that need to overcome something difficult in life.”

Børge Ousland: That trip was up for grabs back in the day. I had skied across Greenland. I skied solo to the North Pole in ‘94, that was my big test. In polar conditions, you’re up there in the elements fighting yourself, overcoming difficulties and problems, and it’s just you, and you have to find these solutions and answers. And that’s fascinating for me. But the bottom line – the platform I’ve built my expeditions on – is adventure. I always liked the outdoors. I like to ski, I like to sleep in tents, I like to be physical, to move around, and be in the “here and now” in nature.

Børge Ousland hauled a 178 kilogram sled across Antarctica for 64 days.

The good part with the expeditions is that you are here and now. You focus on the weather, the equipment, the progress and not something that is going to happen tomorrow, which is more or less what we’re doing in daily life.

It’s also fascinating to look at something that nobody has done before and think, “Maybe I can do that.” Then you start to think about it and then finally you get that belief in yourself that, “Yes, I can do that!” And then you make it into a plan and you go. So it’s not about being first or greatest, it’s about overcoming something. I think we all have that need to overcome something difficult and get those victories in life.

This project is not just a trip starting from when you put your skis on. It’s one year of preparation and it’s the whole package, which fascinates me. It actually took me two years to do it. I went there in ‘95 but suffered blisters and frostbite, which got infected, because my gear was not windproof enough. After skiing solo and unaided only to the South Pole on that trip, I still thought I could do it, so I spent another year arranging sponsorship, training, pulling rubber tires, optimizing my equipment, and then I went again in ‘96 and I made it.

TOJ: Some of the explorers that inspired you were Amundsen and Nansen, who worked in teams. What drew you to take that extra step to go for a solo journey?

“Going solo is a mental experiment, it’s inner travel.”

Børge Ousland: In ‘93 I was on an expedition with my friend and we got separated in a whiteout. I wondered how it would be to be out there just by myself. So that’s how I first got the idea to go solo. Before I started on my solo trip to the North Pole in ‘94, I had never spent one night alone in a tent. I think that was a big mental leap. For me, going solo is mostly interesting from a mental and philosophical point of view. Physically, it’s more heavy to go solo because with a partner, you can share the tents and the common equipment, but overall it’s more or less the same. Going solo is a mental experiment, it’s inner travel. It’s hard because you can’t share the memories and joke with your partners but on the other hand you have a totally different dialogue with nature and yourself because there is no one to lean on.

Børge Ousland setting up overnight camp on Antarctica.

TOJ: Before a trip, is there any way to replicate or train for that sense of isolation?

“When the helicopter left me on Antarctica, I never felt so small in my whole life.”

Børge Ousland: I don’t think so. Actually, I did go to a sport psychologist who helps athletes win gold medals in the Olympics. I got a little bit fed up with him because he was just asking questions while I wanted to hear tangible tips on how to make it. But he understood that the point of asking all these questions was actually the right recipe because the whole deal was to make me get to know myself better, because on the South or the North Pole, there is nowhere to hide. You meet yourself. Good sides and bad sides. Feeling alone, or afraid of not succeeding, those feelings will come. If you accept that these feelings are a part of yourself, you’re in a better position to deal with them. So the answer is in yourself. But nothing could prepare me for when the helicopter left me there on Cape Arctichesky on my first solo trip. I never felt so small in my whole life.

A TRUE COAST TO COAST ROUTE

TOJ: Can you explain the process of selecting your route from Berkner to McMurdo, and the difference between your route and the one selected by O’Brady and Rudd?

“On the South Pole, there is nowhere to hide. You meet yourself. Good sides and bad sides.”

Børge Ousland: I planned my route based on aerial photos taken by the US Navy back in the 1950’s and 60’s. I just had a little copy of the images from that era with me and my map was 1 to 250,000 so I was just probing unknown landscapes down there.

I never considered going from the bottom of the mountains (like O’Brady and Rudd did). It always stood out to me as a very artificial route because it’s glacier ice, it’s not sea ice. Those ice shelves have been there as long as 100,000 years and that’s longer than those low lying countries like Denmark and Holland. So these ice shelves are ancient and they are part of the inland side. It doesn’t matter if you take away the ice and there is water underneath, which was found out later. I wanted to go from sea to sea. Berkner had been established by a couple other expeditions before. And I knew that it was possible to get out from McMurdo. So I paid a ticket for a cabin on a cruise ship, for several thousand dollars, that would leave from McMurdo in perfect timing with my expedition.

Illustration of Antarctica Solo Crossings; created by Eric Phillips, President of the International Polar Guides Association.

TOJ: Some of the more recent expeditions like Ben Saunders, Henry Worsely, and now Colin O’Brady and Captain Louis Rudd have chosen the inland start on a route that is about half as long as yours. Do you feel like this modern route is a legitimate crossing of Antarctica?

“Many have done the inland start, but you can’t claim an Antarctic Crossing.”

Børge Ousland: It’s a great trip, but it’s not going from coast to coast. Many have done the inland start, and it’s a great way to go to the South Pole, but you can’t claim an Antarctic crossing. You can see it more clearly when you look at a map. They are deleting the shelf ice from the map when they draw it, it looks like ocean. When Colin O’Brady came down on the shelf ice he said, “Now I am on sea ice.” But he’s not, he’s on one-kilometer thick glacier ice which is part of Antarctica. When you see a real satellite image of Antarctica, then you see the true extent of both ice and land. I have a great respect for their achievements but I don’t approve and I don’t have any respect for their claims.

Solo journey’s are more physically taxing because you have to create your own tracks.

TOJ: I tried to research the official guidelines for what constitutes a polar crossing and I found one source which is Adventurestats.com which said, “The start point has to be from a boundary between land and water – the coastline. Permanent ice is considered part of the ocean, not the land.” Which is kind of confusing to me. It seems like it should be the opposite. What is the source for the official guidelines for polar records?

“So it’s not impossible and it’s not the first.”

Børge Ousland: Those guys who made that definition, they did the inland start themselves, and they obviously had a reason for calling that the coast. So those things will be changed in the future. This isn’t something that’s just come up now. I’ve been fighting this battle for over 20 years. I think it was Ranulph Fiennes who was first to call the bottom of the mountains the coast, but his partner Mike Stroud disagreed with that. They were not able to make it all the way to McMurdo and they were totally wasted, so they stopped at the bottom of the mountains and said, “Well, let’s call this the coast and we can claim to be the first unsupported crossing.” And it’s been a controversy ever since. But it’s very good that social media has caused all this interest because people suddenly start to think about it with transparency and finally we can do something about it.

TOJ: One of the things I’ve been trying to make sense of is the “Messner start” because as I research it, I found out that it was not the point that Reinhold Messner was trying to start from, but it was an alternate start point based on a logistics issue with the plane. So is it a misnomer to call that the “Messner start?”

Børge Ousland: Reinhold Messner, he wanted to start from the coast. The guys who flew him had some logistical problems. That was a big issue. He wanted to sue them. He got so delayed so there was no other alternative than starting from where he started. But he definitely did not call that the coast.

TOJ: I read that he was actually furious that he was forced to change his plans.

Børge Ousland: Yeah he was, big time. I think they paid back some money to close the case. So it’s not impossible and it’s not the first.

WHAT CONSTITUTES “ASSISTANCE?”

TOJ: One of the other guidelines on Adventurestats.com says that using tracks created by a motorized vehicle is considered support and it seems like the South Pole Overland Traverse (SPOT) might constitute tracks created by motor vehicles because the big trucks groom the traverse. If that is the case, would that take away O’Brady and Rudd’s “unsupported” claim?

Børge Ousland: Sure it’s support because you can double the distance on that road and you don’t need to worry about navigation. There’s a flag every four-hundred meters, and crevasses are filled up, and you can ski blindfolded there actually. There is no danger at all and it’s so much easier to ski there than going on the side with sastrugi where you have to navigate yourself. They will never be able to claim that trip as unsupported.

Crossing the North Pole in 1994, Borge used simple equipment such as a compass and decades-old aerial photos to navigate.

TOJ: Do the official definitions of “support” and “assistance” make sense to you?

Børge Ousland: They want to change that now. It’s still in early parts of the discussion, but they wanted to change it to “assisted” or “unassisted” only, then if you have a sail or you have dogs or whatever, that’s just a method of transportation that will be noted under the expedition. So either you’re first or you’re not first, and whatever comes after is just a different way of doing it.

TOJ: O’Brady and Rudd are trying to make a distinction between other solo expeditions like yourself and Mike Horn by saying that you used the assistance of wind power, and that’s why they’re saying it’s a first because they didn’t use any device aside from human power.

“On the first trip to the South Pole in ‘95… I didn’t even have a radio.”

Børge Ousland: For me, the bottom line for being supported or not is if you have some outside help. It’s between being totally self-reliant or not. And then method of transportation is secondary. Because you could always walk instead of ski. Is ski “support?” If you stand on top of a hill, and you let yourself go, you will move forward if you have a ski. It’s just about using the techniques that are available to you to move forward. I never considered that using a ski sail, which I did on parts of the trip, would be a controversy in the future. I couldn’t use it on the way to the South Pole because of the headwinds and I couldn’t use it in other parts because of the sastrugi. Then some guys made up their own definitions of doing a traverse that is the first-ever “unsupported” and “unassisted,” thinking normal people will never know the difference, then it sounds like you’re the first ever to do it, and that’s actually what’s written in the papers.

TOJ: O’Brady and Rudd covered over 900 miles. Do you know what percentage of that was on the SPOT groomed road?

Børge Ousland: As far as I know, it’s half the trip.

I think the main thing for me is to get the truth out and I think these guys did great trips and I fully respect their achievements both in the distance and experience they had, but I’m not approving the claiming of first solo crossing and unassisted. That will never happen that I will agree with that.

TOJ: Do you think that there are some still possible first ascents out there?

Børge Ousland: Yeah, there is: to cross the North Pole solo and unassisted. Because I crossed the North Pole solo but I had to resupply because my sled broke. So that’s still up for grabs.

Børge Ousland enjoying the journey across Antarctica.

SOCIAL MEDIA IMPACT

TOJ: One of the benefits of social media is it allows you to stay in touch with people who care about your journey and also your friends and family. I’m wondering, have you ever looked back and wished that you had social media on one of your earlier expeditions, so you’d be able to stay in touch with people and they’ll be able to track your progress, or do you think that that takes away from the isolation element of any adventure?

Børge Ousland: I’m still doing expeditions for the IceLegacy Project, which I do with Vincent Colliard from France, and every night in the tent we have one to two hours of office work (laughs). I think back on my big solo trips when I didn’t have a sattelite phone, and actually on the first trip to the South Pole in ‘95 when I didn’t even have a radio. I was just by myself for two months. Absolutely no outside contact. I think it was good just to be there with nature and concentrating on my journey and myself.

A LASTING LEGACY

TOJ: Can you describe the origin of the concept behind the Legacy Project and the significance of it on a global scale?

Børge Ousland: It is a very important project. It came about after I circumnavigated the Arctic in 2010. Me and a few friends sailed around the Arctic in a trimaran in four months through the northeast and northwest passage. Those areas used to be clogged with ice and it took six years to do it just a few decades ago. It really shocked me how much the ice had retreated in the Arctic. That’s what sparked this idea to cross the 20 greatest glaciers on Earth, to show what is happening with them, because almost all the glaciers in the world are retreating, contributing to sea-level rise. We want to document and tell the story of what’s happening. Our role is creating awareness as eyewitnesses. And secondly, we have two goals, we want to inspire people to get out in nature, that’s the best way to preserve it. And we’ve done nine glaciers now. Read more about the Legacy Project.

Learn more about Borge Ousland on his website. www.ousland.no/
Instagram: @borgeousland
Facebook: @borgeousland

Stay tuned to The Outdoor Journal for the next installment of our Alone Across Antarctica series. 

  1. Monday 8th July: Introducing Alone Across Antarctica Series 2019
  2. Wednesday 10th: Unbreakable Colin O’Brady Achieves the Impossible Once Again
  3. Monday 15th: For the Love of the Journey: An Interview with Captain Louis Rudd
  4. Wednesday 17th: Nowhere to Hide on Antarctica: Børge Ousland’s World Record Legacy
  5. Monday 22nd: Mike Horn’s Race Against Time
  6. Wednesday 24th: The Impossible Truth on Antarctica

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

Whilst you’re here, given you believe in our mission, we would love to introduce you to The Outdoor Voyage – our booking platform and an online marketplace which only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

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