Kayaker’s journey makes stop at Wheeler

Kayaker’s journey makes stop at Wheeler

The Westerly Sun

NORTH STONINGTON — Follow your dreams and never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.

That was long-distance kayaker Rich Brand’s message to Wheeler Middle and High School students Wednesday as he stood near the vessel he calls home: a 17-foot custom-built ocean kayak that carries every necessity for his two year, 7,500-mile round trip from New Orleans to Maine and back again.

“I’m a professional adventurer,” said Brand, 40, who lives in Denver. “I’m not homeless, I’m just without a white picket fence and a garage-door opener. But this thing gives me beach access every night, gets me to some of the coolest places in this country.

“Home is where your heart is, and my heart travels in this kayak.”

Part of Brand’s adventure includes giving inspirational talks students along his itinerary, which is known as “the Great Loop.”

“I believe in being the person I wish I would have known when I was your age,” he said. “I did not know adventure, I did not know people who chased their passions and went out and just did it. I learned to embrace what you love and do what makes you happy.”

With what he described as “only eight miles of kayaking experience,” Brand committed to paddling the length of the Mississippi River in 2014 as a fundraiser for a children’s charity. Since then, he has kayaked the Pacific Ocean from Seattle to San Diego.

“I’ve been told I’m crazy more times than I can count,” he told a roomful of Wheeler seventh-graders. “There are so many reasons why I shouldn’t do it, but I had one reason why I should and that is because I believe I can actually accomplish it, I believe I should do it.”

Brand also encouraged the students not to be deterred by physical limitations when setting their goals.

“I’m six feet, four inches, 275 pounds, and that’s 125 to 150 pounds over an average kayaker,” he said. “If you’re big or small, short or tall, if you want to do something, don’t let size be a limitation.”

A graphic designer and photographer by trade, Brand said that sponsorships have made the two-year trip financially possible.

“The boat was custom-built for me, all my camping gear, paddles, food and clothing — it’s all sponsored,” he said.

While describing his adventure — eating freeze-dried meals, building driftwood forts on deserted beaches, and carrying a laptop in a watertight bag — Brand also showed photos of his encounters with whales, manatees, stingrays, sharks, dolphins, crocodiles, flamingos, eagles and seals.

Rebecca Schilke, a reading specialist at Wheeler, said Brand’s visit aligned well with the school’s summer reading program, which included four books related to the theme, “Get in the game.”

“He was willing to take two days out of his trip to be here, and I just thought what a great message — he has such a passion for kids to explore the outdoors,” she said. “And what a nice way to culminate our whole idea of ‘get in the game,’ because that can have lots of meanings — educationally, physically and exploring the outdoors.”

Brand commented he hoped his journey would inspire children to find and explore their passions.

“It’s important to show kids what’s possible — kids are great imitators and I’m giving them something to imitate,” he said. “If I can do this for two years, they can do something for the weekend. They may not do this grand of an adventure, but maybe they do their own adventure.”



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