We asked Karl Kruger of R2AK Team Heart of Gold to share a glimpse into his life of adventure. In 2017’s Race to Alaska, Karl became the first and only person to have paddled unsupported from Port Townsend to Alaska on a stand up paddleboard.
What compels you to make the choice of adventure?
Living adventure is to swim in the ephemeral and unknown. I really enjoy swimming in the unknown. It feels like home to me. It feels real and valid, like I am using my skills to do something worthwhile. Simply ‘getting by’ in life holds no interest for me. I am not motivated by money or possessions. I am motivated by experience and the deep learning that happens while you are out testing yourself. My experiences in the outdoors have made me a better person. I want to always remain on that path. It may mean I’ll end up with a cool little dog doing tricks for money when I get old, but I’m not worried about that.
Have people treated you differently because of your accomplishments?
Yes. This has always been difficult for me. I never set out to be an inspiration to anyone. A lot of people have told me that I’ve inspired them. I think that’s really cool…I don’t understand it though. I think that most people have dreams and desires that never see the light of day because of the fear of failure, or of being laughed at, or any number of other awful reasons. It only takes a bit of courage to rock your colors and not worry about what people might say, and it feels DAMN good to just settle in and be yourself. The funny thing is…once you do that, people like you better.
Were there things you had to give up—friends, habits, objects—to achieve your adventure goals?
Yes. On every level. Once you make the decision to undertake a project, every aspect of your life is at risk of being considered for omission. There is no room for doubters, negativity, or habits, foods or activities that have a negative effect on your ability to move forward towards your goal. Everything in your life has weight to it, and there is a limit to how much you can carry. It pays to remain disciplined about who you choose to spend time with, which books you read, and which activities you engage in. I quit drinking beer because of the high sugar content. I don’t eat many carbs either; my diet is focused on performance and recovery.
Did you get out of your accomplishments what you thought you would?
No. You never know exactly what you will bump into when you set out to do something hard. It is the mental trajectory that you can never plumb ahead of time. It is always (or at least usually) obvious what physical difficulties you might meet. It is the mental and spiritual aspects that are difficult/ impossible to predict. In the end, I have been met with constant self-improvement from these experiences though. So, I suppose in that regard, I have found what I was looking for.
Has living such an adventurous life changed how you view struggles or challenges? Has it changed how you live?
Yes. I have lost several good friends to the inherent risks of adventuring. This alone has taught me how important it is to live as large and beautifully and with an open heart as you possibly can. Life is short; it is important to do what makes your heart sing loudest. I owe my lost friends a debt. I will carry their spirit forward into the next adventure. When you think about how tenuous and fleeting this life is, you gain a broader perspective. So many people waste their lives being consumed by worry over material things. I can’t imagine chasing a worldview so superficial and meaningless. How many monetarily wealthy, but spiritually/emotionally/personally destitute people have you known? I am in search of a very different form of wealth it seems.
Are people scared of you because you’re such a badass?
LOL! Don’t know…
Although…a friend and I put together a killer weekend clinic series to help folks train for SEVENTY48…and nobody signed up! I can’t believe it.
Best and worst moments from taking risks?
OMG…so very much cold, hungry, and tired. One good story though: I almost drowned at Hanalei Reef while surfing one time…huge swells…I went over the falls and was held under for 4 prolonged hold-downs…4 waves. I remember thinking,’This is how people drown.’ After the last hold-down, I came up like a man possessed and was barely able to get out of the impact zone before the next set came in. I had saltwater running out of very orifice. I was vomiting uncontrollably, and miserable. I was lying on my board on the shoulder of the wave and trying to catch my breath when a sea turtle came up right in front of me. It exhaled in my face and looked me in the eyes. It let me touch its head gently. It made me feel better. I kept puking while the turtle dove down again and again, and returned to me after every dive to look at me and let me touch it. I spoke to it gently. I kept puking and sputtering salt water out of my nasals, and my arms felt like lead. The turtle stayed with me until I was ready to paddle back to Hanalei beach. It dove one last time and never came back. All at once, one of the closest calls of my life, and also one of the most beautiful.
Do you binge watch Netflix like the rest of us? If so, do you do it eating ice creaming or doing push-ups?
LOL!!! By the time I get home at night, all it takes is a horizontal position, and I’m out.
What the hell is so special about completing Race to Alaska on a SUP? And when you owned a perfectly good sailboat!
I felt that SUP needed a kick in the butt. I see huge potential with SUP over long distances. Additionally, I am attracted to projects that have not been done before. There is an additional challenge to figuring out something for the first time. Paddling to Alaska was really fun; I learned a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude. Plus, I wanted to see if I could do it.
Has running around doing incredible adventures taught you anything worthwhile?
Yes. I am constantly reminded of the frailty of life. My experiences have deepened my appreciation of the fact I’m alive at all, and I fear wasting my time here. I need to get busy…time is wasting…I feel like I have barely scratched the surface.
I plan to paddle the Northwest Passage by SUP in summer 2019. It is the next thing…