Darack makes solo kayaking trip look easy, fun

January 10, 1999
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Nobody ever told Ed Darack, 27, that it might be difficult to climb mountains, take breath-taking photos, write and publish his own books, or decide one day while recovering from surgery to kayak the length of Baja California, solo.

He just thinks about these things and does them.

Darack is an unassuming, matter-of-fact kind of person. He graduated from UC Davis in 1993 with a degree in physical geography and began trying to make all the things that interested him – mountaineering, photography, wild places – part of his life.

He taught himself photography and taught himself – with the help of people he met on the trail – how to climb.

His first book, which he self-published, was "6194 Denali Solo." In it he described climbing Mt. McKinley. His second book, published in December 1998, is a far cry from his first effort.

"Wind, Water, Sun: A Solo Kayak Journey Along Baja California’s Desert Coastline" (Poudre Canyon Press, $29.95) is a beautifully published book complete with maps (Darack also is a cartographer) and 106 color photographs. It is the story of his two-month journey in a sea kayak tracing the interior coastline of the Sea of Cortez.

"Wind, Water, Sun" came about as a result of a Jeep accident in November of 1995. The accident took place when Darack was leaving Mexico and his injury was misdiagnosed several times before his hip was surgically repaired at the UC Davis Medical Center.

"Winter (in Northern California) is often overcast and depressing and I was laid up in bed for weeks recovering so I had to have something to look forward to," Darack said.

"I was thinking about going to Baja and doing a kayak trip. I just had to do it," he said. Never mind that he had expensive medical bills to pay and equipment to buy. The answer came in the mail with an offer from a credit card company that was too good to refuse.

"I put my expenses on the credit card and paid it off later after two weeks driving a tomato truck," he said.

In the meantime, he bought his equipment including a new sea kayak.

"Sea kayaking is an excellent way to travel, very natural, very easy to learn," he said. Of course, he’d never done it before but like most obstacles that didn’t stand in Darack’s way for long.

On April 1, 1996, he convinced his buddy Mike Kay to drive him and his equipment to the northern end of the Sea of Cortez – a road trip with its own adventures.

When the time came he said goodbye and paddled off in an extremely overloaded vessel into the muddy Colorado River Delta.

"I had to drag the kayak across along mudflats a number of times," said Darack. In fact, one of the most compelling photos in the book (pgs. 82-83) is a double-page shot of Darack straining to pull his fully loaded kayak across a seemingly endless tidal mudflat. Lesser men would have given up there and then.

But the mudflats were nothing compared to Darack’s next obstacle, which was an incredible wind storm, "the black wind," which occurs once or twice in a decade. The storm came up so quickly that Darack might have drowned had he been in the water. Fortunately, he was on land when it hit.

"Unfortunately, the wind drove sand in my ear and gave me a very painful ear infection, real agony," he said. An old Mexican woman gave him hot garlic to put in his ear. That eased the pain. American campers gave him antibiotics and that cleared it up.

"I never really felt lonely because my mind was always busy," he added. "You reach a strange place when you’re paddling for 10-12 hours a day. Memories are funny, you can’t remember pain. Negative memories seem to be sieved out."

But he had to worry about his equipment, his three cameras.

"I was there to take pictures," he said. "That kayak was one big camera bag for me. I stashed the tripod on the deck of the kayak and that was ruined by salt by the end of the trip."

Later, Darack nearly lost his kayak when another wind blew up.

"The kayak was filling up with water and I had to jump out and start swimming with it. I washed up on a rocky beach, a point of land I didn’t know existed. It was a close call.

"I was stranded on the beach for three nights and the wind was just incredible, a norte that oftentimes will blow for two weeks. I was worried about running out of water. I was able to catch fish, trigger fish. I built a driftwood fire. It was pitch black, no boats, no lights. I’d listen to the coyotes in the distant canyon. I’d grill fish for dinner and in the morning the grill would be licked clean by the coyotes. I was worried about them getting into my water."

But once again he was able to continue, reaching the end of the peninsula. His timing was perfect.

"I finished the journey just as a hurricane struck," he said. "The swells were enormous, the biggest waves the locals had ever seen. I came in on one and I just barely made it," he said.

He left his kayak on the beach and as far as he knows it’s still there.

One of the striking things about Darack is his casual attitude toward his hair-raising adventures.

"You can just as easily die driving down the freeway, especially in tomato trucking season," he says.

For a preview of "Wind, Water, Sun" with photos, go to www.wind-water-sun.com.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books [ Click Here ]

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