One Man, One Row Boat, and 2,485 Miles of Ocean: The Colin Sanders Interview

Posted by Dave Taylor

Oct 19, 2018 1:32:04 PM

Nite Ize Field Team member Colin Sanders accomplished a feat most would consider impossible when he rowed for 83 days straight to cross the Atlantic, alone, in a rowboat. We were able to talk to him about his adventures, struggles, and triumphs -- and about how this massive goal was fueled by wanting to help others.

 

Q: Hi Colin! First off, tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into ultra long distance rowing?

About four years ago I decided I needed a grand adventure, something that would challenge me physically, mentally, emotionally and even financially. I spent a lot of time skiing in the mountains when I was younger and always suffered from the altitude. Climbing Everest was out. To be honest, climbing Everest seemed mundane in some ways anyway, since thousands of people have summited at this point.


Solo rowing the Atlantic was different and definitely more unusual. Few have done it and it fit my personality better. When people ask me why I rowed across the Atlantic Ocean my answer is typically “ego and self-gratification”. Sometimes I wish there was a more profound motivation but at age 64 I think I had something to prove to myself, that I could take on something incredibly tough and succeed.

Q: How does a multi-week rowing journey work? Do you row for 8+ hours a day and rest the other 16? Heck, don’t you drift while you're not rowing? 

I rowed for 10-14 hours each day. At the beginning of the trip I had a routine where I rowed for three hours then took 15 minutes off. Again and again. As I got further across the ocean and started to wear down physically I had to shorten the shifts and take more frequent breaks.

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I would usually start just as the sun was rising because rowing in the dark just isn’t fun, particularly when the seas are rough.

When I stowed the oars at night I just drifted. Depending on how big and steep the waves were that evening, I had to decide whether to drift free, put a warp off the stern or para anchor.

Note: A “warp” is a thick line that provides drag and some directional stability downwind and a para anchor, also called a drogue, is about the size of a bushel basket and gives the boat enough drag to produce excellent downwind stability.

It was always a fine line because I always wanted to pick up as much free distance as possible by drifting and the MRE drag I had, the less I would drift. Insufficient directional stability downwind could end up turning the boat sideways to the wind and waves and even end up with the boat capsizing.

And capsize it did. New Year’s Eve while the boat was on the warp. She got hit by a large wave as it broke and ended up rolling over and over several times. Anything not locked down flew everywhere, including a liter of olive oil!

The boat righted itself but after composing myself I had to go on deck in the pitch dark - in a really choppy sea with big waves - to pull the warp in and set the drogue. Setting the drogue isn’t easy even in the smoothest of waters because it uses a bridle attached to each side of the stern, but in big waves, high wind and darkness? It was very tough.

Q: How do you train for a rowing marathon like you did? You just rowed across the Atlantic Ocean! How on Earth did you prep for that?

I had a really great trainer. It was a partly strength in the upper body, but a lot more about core strength and flexibility. We spent a lot of time on stretching to ensure that my back and core were the strongest possible. I actually spent very little time with an indoor rowing machine because it has little in common with ocean rowing when you often only have one oar in the water at any given time. 

Q: Your Trans-Atlantic journey was from Puerto de Mogan in the Canary Islands to English Harbour in Antigua. How did you choose that route and did you ever run afoul of whales, sharks or enormous cargo ships en route?

Actually, that particular route is the classic course to get across the Atlantic Ocean. Originally, I was going to head for Barbados, but I just couldn’t get far enough south to make that a viable destination. Halfway across Stokey my UK-based navigator said, “You’re going to Antigua, mate!”.

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I did see the odd cargo ship but really not that many ships at all. Part of that is the vastness of the ocean: They could have been passing within five miles and I would have never known. In terms of wildlife, I remember seeing one pilot whale, lots of dolphins and several swordfish but no sharks at all.

Q: What’s one aspect of the row that was the toughest?

The emotional and mental side of the journey was the most difficult. Being completely alone for 83 days was hard, especially in tough sea conditions. The loss of my music 28 days out was a real blow to my emotional state too: I had spent a year curating downloads on Spotify, never realizing that you have to sign in every 30 days to keep the downloads active. I didn’t know that and one month into the trip suddenly had no music at all. I ended up giving monologues and speeches on a wide variety of subjects that I knew something about, singing songs, coming up with thought experiments, and trying not to go crazy out there in the middle of the ocean. It wasn’t easy, but I made it! 

Q: What's your favorite Nite Ize product and why?

I started out with a lot of Nite Ize gear, but to be honest, it wasn’t until I was doing the actual row that I realized the excellent quality of all the products. The Gear Ties I used every single day. It was typically so rough at sea that it was critical that they quickly and easily secured equipment on the deck. I also used the S-Biner Marine to secure equipment that I viewed as “mission critical”, including my multitools and water bottles. They were on deck every single day and at the end of the journey none of them had a single spot of rust. I could hardly believe it, because so many other tools or pieces of my kit rusted or corroded with the constant salt water exposure. The Nite Ize equipment never, ever corroded!

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Q: Are you ready to circumnavigate the entire Earth in your boat now? What is your next grand adventure?

Ummmm no. The Atlantic was enough at 4000 km (2485 miles). Not sure what my next adventure will be, but it’ll be something. I have lots of living to do yet!

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your charity A Million Possibilities?

I raised about $150K for Community Living Ontario. Community Living supports people like my son Jeff, who has intellectual disabilities. We came up with the name “A Million Possibilities” hoping to raise $1 for each stroke I took crossing the Atlantic. Ultimately, we didn’t raise a million dollars but we were still very happy with the results. 

Congrats on your remarkable achievement, Colin. We look forward to hearing about your next adventure!

 

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Topics: Adventure, Field Team, outdoors

Mike Hanson, Disc Dog Trainer Extraordinaire

Posted by Dave Taylor

Aug 16, 2018 10:00:00 AM

There are a lot of different customers who rely on Nite Ize gear, but few have cuter co-workers than Mike Hanson. Mike is a member of the Nite Ize Field Team, a disc dog trainer and has traveled the United States competing with his various dogs at flying disc competitions. We caught up with him for this interview…

Q: Right off the bat, all your dogs are female:  Jordan, SiZZle, and, MaggEY. Why female? Are they better at catching or staying focused?

I prefer females based on personality. They have a touch of individualism that when trained correctly, makes for a good team.

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Q: Tell us all about your dogs! Tell us their names, ages, how  they joined your family and their personalities. 

MaggEY – 12-year-old Border Collie mix. She is my first dog and the pack leader of the house. She has the best personality and is the best dog I have ever owned. She was rescued in Colorado Springs, CO. Her litter was thrown into a field, and she was the only dog that made it. When a group went out to look for them, they found her under a tree stump whimpering. She went on to win five Colorado State Championships, three World Championships, and has performed before hundreds of thousands of people. She has performed for all of the major Denver sports teams and local colleges. I am truly lucky to have her come into my life.

Cooper – 11-year-old Border Collie mix. He was rescued in Paonia, CO. His disc career was cut short due to a freak accident in which he jumped off of a third floor balcony of an apartment complex. He survived the fall, but his budding disc career was over. He now has the best life a dog could have at our house--chasing squirrels and ensuring there are no monsters under our daughters bed.

Jordan – 8-year-old Border Collie. She was rescued in Gunnison, CO. She is the smartest dog I have ever owned. She learns so fast and is always willing to work. She might be cross-eyed, however, because she can’t catch a disc very well at all. She enjoys going for hikes and playing disc golf with me when she is not pretending to be a disc dog.

SiZZle – 2-year-old Australian Shepherd/Border Collie/Cattle Dog mix. She came out of the birth canal chasing a disc. She has so much energy, and is always willing and wanting to please. She is our “up and comer” and is turning into an amazing dog. I can’t wait to see where she takes us.

Q: How did you get into training your dogs to catch flying discs? Most dogs live for fun, but bringing a stick back is a lot easier than jumping up and catching something mid-flight!

We went to a competition in Littleton, CO for the Colorado Disc Dogs. MaggEY and I spent the day watching them and at the end of the day, they gave us a disc and a couple of tips. The next day I took her out, gave her a throw, she ran it down, and we were hooked. From there we went and learned online from watching YouTube routines. The rest is history.

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Q: What competitions have you participated in with your dogs?

We compete in freestyle competitions where you do a two-minute routine with tricks set to music. You are judged on style, athleticism, teamwork, and overall presentation. We also do a “Toss and Catch” competition where you have a 40-yard field with different bonus zones and try to get as many catches as possible in one minute. A fast dog can get five throws to the furthest zone in one minute.  One of our favorite competitions is a long distance competition called “The Hero Cup” where you throw as far as you can and have your dog catch it. I have had catches past 87 yards before.

Q: When you're not tossing discs for your girls to catch, what's your day job?

I run a youth sports program for kids age 3-14 in Littleton, CO. We take kids that have never played sports before, teach them, and give them and opportunity to play. We help over 5,000 kids play sports each year.

Q: What's your favorite Nite Ize product?

The Pack-A-Poo® Bag Dispenser is a game changer for a guy that picks up a lot of dog poop. The fact you can wind your poop bags back up into the dispenser is pretty awesome. I also use the Gear Ties® in my cars for everything. I especially like them to tie the dog bowls to the front of the crates. The SpotLit® is great to have on road trips to keep track of your dogs at night as well.

flying-jump

Q: Back in 2015 you and your dog did the NFL halftime show during Broncos vs. Colts. What did you do and what was that experience like?

My friends and I did the halftime show for the opening night of the NFL season. When MaggEY and I got out to the field, there was no one else on the field- just her and I under the lights at Sports Authority Field in front of 80,000 people doing what we both love to do the most. She didn’t drop a single disc that night. It is an experience that leaves me with goose bumps every time I think about it or tell the story. It is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.

Q: Ever thought about training cats to catch flying discs? How do you imagine that'd go?

I am allergic to cats, LOL. I am sure someone could train them to catch a disc. Good luck on them bringing it back, though!

Mike adds: I love my family and the fact that this sport can be enjoyed by all of us. My daughter, Emma, won the 7-and -Under World Championship with MaggEY last year. This sport allows us to travel and meet friends we would have never known if it wasn’t for our dogs. It is amazing how much these dogs have changed my life and all it took was rescuing one. I encourage everyone to go out and rescue your next pet.

People can find me on Facebook as Mike Hanson and my Instagram is DiscDogMike

 

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Topics: LED Dog Products, Field Team

Cycling Croatia With the Field Team

Posted by Field Team Member Heidi Kumm

Apr 11, 2018 1:24:03 PM

I am a trail runner, not a cyclist or mountain biker. The one time I did own a bike it was a mountain bike + it lived on the trails with me. Riding a bicycle in traffic is terrifying to me -- I don’t trust that the people behind the wheels of all the cars will be paying enough attention to guarantee my safety. Not to mention the fact I don’t necessarily trust myself atop a bike. I’m far more comfortable in my running shoes with only thin rubber between me + the ground.

All of these fun facts were ignored when I decided to cycle the coast of Croatia...in July...for nearly a month...on a cobbled together bike...with my life strapped to the frame.

My game plan was to cycle from northern Croatia to southern Croatia over the course of about four weeks. I needed to venture out of the Schengen Region of Europe to stay within the regulations of my visitor visa + I wasn’t about to just hang out on a beach. I wanted something more, something exciting + something hard. So when it was suggested I cycle the coast of Croatia I jumped all over the chance to take on adventure.

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Instead of thinking about how much was stacked against me I focused on how much fun it was going to be. Not to mention how miserable it was going to be. I was looking at about 400 miles of cycling in the heat of a coastal country’s humid summer sunshine. Needless to say, I’ve had better ideas.

 

Nite Ize to the Rescue!

I mentioned this idea to the crew at Nite Ize about two months before I took off + they were even more stoked about it than I was! They asked how they could support my crazy. Nite Ize specializes in outdoor gear gadgets + some pretty spiffy bicycle accessories. Of course I wanted their help + support! It was a perfect fit! They supplied me with some awesome gear that came in incredibly handy when I was packing up my gear + decking out my new-to-me bike.

The bike lights were amazing + made my bike incredibly visible, which alleviated a lot of my stress about being visible on the highways. I strapped the INOVA STS Reachargable Headlamp to the front of the bike + the LED TwistLit to my back fender. This covered the basic requirements for bike safety, but I wanted more. I love color + what’s more colorful than multi-colored SpokeLits to spice things up?! Yea, no one was going to miss me on the road! But for good measure I packed along bright colors + reflective gear, because safety first!

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Another great product that Nite Ize has created for cyclists is the HandleBand mount for your GPS/phone. It straps to your handlebars + keeps your phone right in your view. I quite literally depended upon this gadget! Since my route was created as I went it was integral to have my phone with Google Maps in front of me at all times. I even rigged up some Gear Ties to hold a battery pack to my bike frame so I’d always be able to check my route.

The Gear Ties also came in handy to strap my tent poles to my bike frame + keep all of my cords intact [yup, I took along electronics -- that’s the life of a digital nomad!]. I also found nearly a million uses for the CamJam XT Cord Tightener, which could be paired up with paracord to become a bungee or clothesline or...whatever else you could possibly need with adjustable paracord. We washed our clothes in campground sinks, so we put the CamJam clothesline to good use!

They were also kind enough to send along a cycling jersey to make me feel legit! I am not a cycling short convert, but the jerseys are rather incredible with their back pockets! It’s the little things in life I tell ya.

Adventure Bound // Cycling Coastal Croatia

I arrived in Rovinj, Croatia via bus after more than 24 hours of travel. I drug my bagged up bike over to a tiny park near the bus station, unpacked it + put it all together. Within about 30 minutes of getting off the bus I was on the road, following my phone’s GPS toward a campsite about 10km away. The sense of accomplishment I felt when I arrived at the campground + managed to set up camp without incident was glorious. I did it! I rode a touring bike + didn’t fall over [at least not entirely!]. I had remembered enough of my gear to at least set up my tent. Boom...I had this! I was going to do this!

This all changed the next day when I spent the entire afternoon sprawled out in the shade, willing myself not to vomit everywhere. In my excitement to ride I had forgotten to eat or drink for the entirety of a very hot, very sunny 20km/13mi jaunt. By the time I arrived at camp I was trashed. My ego was crushed...I am an ultra trail runner, I was supposed to be smarter than this!

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Later that day my friend, Sophie, arrived via plane with her touring bike in tow. We were planning to spend the next few weeks cycling together. She knew cycling, I knew suffering. It seemed fool proof.

It definitely wasn’t a fool proof plan. It was a plan made by fools. We knew we were pushing our limits, but we were optimistic. Over the next few days we learned exactly what our limits are + how unprepared we were. Phew. Did you know Croatia is crazy hot + insanely humid in mid-July?! Well, it is. Heat + humidity are brutal, especially for a mountain girl [me!] + a girl from the United Kingdom [Sophie!]. The conditions ate us alive + eventually we gave in. Or, in my mind at the time, we gave up. We rented a car.

 

The car was barely large enough to fit our tire-less bikes into it, but it came with air conditioning + a motor. That’s exactly what we needed in that moment. It took some time for me to accept the feeling of failure that came with this tiny European car, but in the end it was definitely a worthy decision. The car took us inland where we were able to explore Plitvice Lakes National Park + Krka National Park. Both were incredible + would not have been possible with our bikes + schedule.

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We spent a week in the car, then returned it for a few more days of cycling once we arrived in southern Croatia. It actually felt good to get back on my bike as I rode along a nearly empty road leading from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Hercig Novi, Montenegro. It was freeing + calming. I loved it more with every pedal turn. After a few too many days of wishing my bike tires would just fall off I was now plotting how I would take it back home with me.

 

I will always identify as a trail runner first...but at my core I am happy to get outside, however I can. Even atop a bicycle that I learned how to put together in the days before a four week adventure.

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Between the bikes + the rental car we were able to visit Pula, Zadar, Split, Makarska, Plitvice Lake NP, Krka NP + Dubrovnik in Croatia. From Dubrovnik I head to Herceg Novi + Kotor, Montenegro while Sophie ventured north to Munich, Germany. I closed out my Croatian adventure with a stop in Zagreb, then met up with Sophie before we both returned to the mountains of Switzerland.

You can read up on more of the adventure over on my website: Heidi Kumm // Oversharing Life. You’ll find the full story, a run down of the logistics + the details of how I packed my life into a few pannier bags. I learned a lot while roaming + exploring on a bike...so much so that I’m fairly certain I will be acquiring a new bike this summer. While the bike I used in Croatia did come back to Colorado with me there’s a very high chance I’ll be popping my colorful SpokeLits on another new-to-me bike. One created for trails, to mesh a bit more with my trail running ways.

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Topics: Bike, Adventure, Commuting, Visibility and Safety, Field Team, "travel"

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