By Tyler Bradt
I always envisioned my trip around the world with the Wizard’s Eye would be like a college education, the ultimate test of my skills and mind against the raw power of the planet, in an environment in which I had almost no experience.
My education has been anything but orthodox, I was eager to learn from anything that wasn’t a textbook. I grew up on a ranch in Montana, developed a passion for whitewater kayaking, and soon found myself in a traveling high school for paddlers. Two years in my father told me school was too much of a financial burden. Returning to public school wasn’t an option so I worked a summer laying hardwood floors. I ended up making just enough to buy a plane ticket to the White Nile in Uganda, Africa, where I promised my parents I would finish high school.
In my first three weeks I ran up a $1,700 bar tab and forgot the PIN to my debit card allowing me to access my last $300. In need of a plan, I convinced the sketchiest company on the river that I was a highly qualified raft guide. The next morning, after a particularly long night, I learned I was the head guide of a six-raft trip. I stumbled through a dodgy safety talk and put in, then missed the finial eddy and dropped in above Bugigali Falls. I forgot to tell my clients to get down, but somehow luck was on my side and we came through clean. With the boss watching we put paddles in the air and I was off on my first day as a guide. I worked the next six months as raft guide, tandem kayak guide, and started a kayak school to pay off my debt to the bar, managing to finish high school in the process just like I promised.
Over the next few years I traveled from Alaska to Chile in a car powered by vegetable oil. I paddled in Madagascar, broke two world-record waterfall descents, then broke my back on a 95-footer in Oregon. Six months later I paddled the largest rapids in the world, the Grand Inga, with a fused spine, narrowly surviving the experience.
After that I was left pondering some serious life questions. I had accomplished my childhood dream of making it to the top of my sport; however, I was beginning to burn out from the mental fatigue of fearing for my life around every corner of the river. Like a high stakes gambler, I was wondering when it was time to walk away from the table before losing everything.
On a sailing trip through Mexico, I began dreaming of what I saw as the ultimate test: an adventure-sport circumnavigation of the world by boat. Obviously there plenty of obstacles between me and my dream, the least of which were 50,000 miles of deep, windswept oceans. I made my life’s journey to not let anything deter me from my dreams and soon began, what would become, the greatest education of my life.
Over the past four years I have been living out that dream aboard the Wizard’s Eye. Now, about to embark on the final leg, I can reflect on a few things I’ve learned.
Lesson 1: Make it Happen
It took four years to figure out this puzzle. In the end I learned there’s only one way to do something and that’s doing it. My finances never came close to matching my dreams, and to make things worse, I was trying to raise money at the apex of a recession. Eventually I convinced two of my closest sponsors to do what they could and borrowed $20K from my brother. A month later I bought the Wizard’s Eye and the expedition went from dream to reality. If you’re brave enough to take the first step, the universe will show you the way.
If you wait for everything to be perfect, you’ll never begin. There’s only one way to see the entire path and that’s one step at a time. I bought the Wizard’s Eye for the deal of the century, and it turned out to have a quagmire of issues. The previous owner, who built the boat by hand, was on his deathbed and I never met the guy. He wasn’t able to explain to me the snake pit of an electrical box, what switches did what, how the rigging worked, where the tanks were or why they kept overflowing the moment the engine was turned on. The steering cylinder broke twice, and the replacement cylinder was the wrong size forcing me to fly back to the US for a new one. We finally managed to make it far enough off shore that we were past the point of no return and, although things continued to break, we fixed them as we went and made it across the Pacific. Hand steering the entire way.
Lesson 2 1/2: Learn to Sail
I used an old trick I learned in school and took the shortest, easiest path to figuring this out. I invited along my good buddy who was a competent sailor and, while we didn’t have to time to practice before the trip, I learned a lot crossing the Pacific with him. The lesson here is if you want to get good at something, surround yourself with people who are better than you.
Lesson 3: Be Prepared
Preparation is the difference between failure and successes, and in an incident we had on the Pacific Crossing, life and death. Fishing line had wrapped around our prop and we were dead center in the Pacific, at least two weeks and thousands of miles from any single piece of land, going nowhere fast. I was trying to clear line off the prop when I got tangled up in a Portuguese Man O War, making it on deck before quickly going into anaphylactic shock. Our third crew member, Jordan, was a paramedic and our med kit was stacked. I got Benadryl down before my esophagus began to close and at the last possible moment, Jordan jabbed an EpiPen in my thigh saving my life. If we didn’t have that EpiPen I would have been buried at sea years ago.
Lesson 4: Whatever Happens, Remain Calm and Don’t Screw Up
It’s one of the most important things you’ll ever learn in dealing with intense situations. If it’s interpersonal, never get angry. If it’s blowing 50 knots, and you’re pounding into a storm when your engine breaks down, don’t panic. If you’re 40 feet down free diving and a shark swims up, really don’t panic. Any of those high intensity emotions only cloud your mind, worsen the situation, and leave you worse off than before. Any good adventurer can set his emotions to the side and rationally, collectedly handle any situation.
Lesson 5: The World Is Huge
It’s seriously massive, and I had no idea. At the same time I learned sailing is the slowest most expensive form of transportation there is.
Lesson 6: Be Positive and Optimistic
Reality is what you make it. Any pessimism or negativity will manifest itself in negative outcomes. Be positive, be kind, be compassionate, and good things will happen.
Lesson 7: Focus on What’s Important
Things I found most important in my life: Friends, family, mountains, and rivers. Whitewater kayaking. Deep-rooted friendships. Being surrounded by genuine, driven people. Ambitious life challenges. Photography. Diversifying my life experiences through exploration of sport, culture, spirituality, and the natural world.
Lesson 8: Find the Flow; The Path of Least Resistance, Simplest Path Possible
Never force anything and be open to the signs around you. Be sporadic and go with your instinct. Don’t let your mind override your intuition. Never be in a hurry and don’t let the clock rule your life. You know when you’re in the flow and you know when you’re out of it. Like an ocean current, it’s not something you see, it’s something you feel.
Lesson 9: Simplicity is Everything
Simplicity reigns king on the high seas. If it’s complicated it’s going to break and you better not be reliant on it. It’s a good life metaphor.
Lesson 10: Go to the Emergency Room
If you’re traveling in exotic places and you come home sick, don’t go to the family practitioner down the street. Go straight to the ER. It’s probably something weird that nobody really knows about. In my case, I picked up Leishmaniasis on a kayaking expedition in the Colombian Amazon last summer. My lips are slowly being eaten alive by parasites while I wait for the CDC to give a species specific diagnosis. If I had gone to the ER in the first place, it wouldn’t have even been an issue. But don’t worry, it’s not going to kill me and chicks dig scars so it’s all good! Meanwhile, the final leg of the Wizard’s Eye expedition, Colombia to Mexico, hangs in the balance of the protozoa happily living in my face.
To learn more about the expedition visit: https://vimeo.com/wizardseye