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What fueled Erden Eruc’s around-the-world voyage?

Thursday, July 26th, 2012 | Posted by

Eruc Erden rides the last dozen miles to Bodega Bay. (Kent Porter / PD)

By ANDREA GRANAHAN / West County Correspondent

Erden Eruc, 51, made headlines and broke new records when he pedaled up to Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay last weekend. He was ending a five-year journey around the world on human power alone that began in Bodega Bay on July 10, 2007, and involved rowing three oceans and bicycling three continents.

Along the way he forded rivers, paddled past Australian crocodiles, dodged Somali pirates hoping to kidnap him for ransom and avoided headhunters in Papua New Guinea.

At the docks, Erden and Nancy Board, his wife of nine years, triumphantly shared a champagne toast to celebrate the event. Then he answered a few questions.

You spent a lot of time alone at sea, rowing 312 days on the Pacific for a world record. What kept you going day after day?

A combination of inner drive, promises I had made, a fear of failure. I did it one stroke at a time, one day at a time.

I created my own game of rewards. If I wanted to listen to music, I would make it my reward in the evening after I rowed all day. I set goals. If I rowed so far, I could eat the can of pears I had been saving for three months. That way the inner child that wants immediate rewards was kept in check by the inner parent telling it, “You can’t get it yet. You must earn it.”

What were the most frightening moments?

I was never really frightened, although I certainly had my “Aw, shit!” moments, like when I had a bicycle accident in Tanzania. I lock into a problem solving mode at times like that.

Mountain climbing trained me that way. When you are facing an unexpected obstacle, you don’t think about what’s under your heels. It doesn’t matter if there are five feet or 500 feet below you. I listen to the wind or the birds, get calm and then plan the next three or four moves.

It’s no different on the ocean. Beforehand I try to visualize the worst scenario and make plans for it, get the equipment I might need and be prepared to improvise. When the unpredicted thing happens, I instantly think, what can I do to solve this?

Eruc Erden and his wife, Nancy Board, celebrate his arrival in Bodega Bay. (Andrea Granahan photo)

What were the best moments?

One was standing atop Mount Kilimanjaro with my wife and my father. It was truly a high point for me. There were 12 people who met me in Africa to make the climb.

And, of course, finishing up at Bodega Bay. I had bicycled over 130 miles that day starting at 3:45 a.m., and it was great knowing that the next morning I could sleep in, no more miles to cover.

Was loneliness ever a problem?

No. At sea I stayed in touch with emails and satellite phone. I thought of it more as solitude than loneliness. The biggest challenge was boredom.

Nancy met me at various points along the way, in Africa and again in Australia. And on this bicycle ride from Louisiana to Bodega Bay, she met me in Springer, New Mexico.

You raised money along the way for schools in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Africa, Turkey and Papua New Guinea. Tell us about that.

When I was setting up the Around-N-Over organization, I had a choice to make in a profit or nonprofit corporation. I didn’t want to profit; I wanted to serve society.

All along the trip I tried to connect with children. I held teleconferences and sent dispatches. I raised money for boarding schools in rural Turkey – money for boots, clothing, books.

In some poorer areas the kids never even see running water before they get to the school. I am trying to broaden their horizons, let them know they can overcome challenges.

Now that you have accomplished your mission, what will you do?

I will join my wife in Missouri, where she is caring for her mother who is in Hospice. Then we move to Australia where Nancy has a job.

First I will rent our home in Seattle and pack up. I need some down time to reflect, and then I will write. I will always have something cooking in the background.

What about more journeys?

That’s entirely up to Nancy. She has been incredibly supportive as I have done this, so it’s only fair that I leave that up to her now. Maybe she will get bored with me hanging around and tell me “Go row another ocean!”

For more information about Erden and his historic voyage, visit around-n-over.org.

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Andrea Granahan is our West County correspondent.
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