Erin Bastian is an adventurer and expedition leader. Her love of sea kayaking (she’s a qualified instructor) has led to some epic adventures on sea, including paddling an incredible 800km down the west coast of Patagonia (one of the world’s toughest wildernesses), Chile, in 33 days.
She’s pretty awesome on bike and foot too, cycling 1300km around Iceland, and training for her upcoming running challenge to run the 190km-long, jagged mountain ridge of Corsica’s GR20.
Here, we kick off talking about Erin’s Chilean sea kayak expedition in Patagonia.
You’re a sea kayak instructor. How did you first get into kayaking?
I grew up in Cornwall which as plenty of coastline to explore. As a water baby it was inevitable that at some point I’d jump into a kayak. At college I discovered sea kayaking and haven’t looked back!
Have you always loved the outdoors?
Yes! I was always covered in mud as a kid living on a farm. My mum used to love hiking and I was the only one in our family who loved going with her. My brother and I used to spend all our time on the beach, surfing and rock-pooling. The outdoors has always been part of me and I couldn’t imagine life without it.
You kayaked 700km around the Mediterranean, but the wilderness of Chile is a different beast. What inspired your Patagonia kayak adventure?
Yeah, Sardinia was my first really big trip. I decided to go there because I thought the Med would be calm (I’m wiser now) and I could drive down with my boat. Trying to complete the full circumnavigation of Sardinia as winter was kicking off, it was no surprise we didn’t quite complete the challenge.
The wilderness of Chile appealed to me after Sardinia because I want to go remoter. Sardinia had shown me how far I could travel in a kayak, and also showed me I could cope with really difficult paddling conditions. There’s a saying ‘If you jump and fall, the next time you jump, you jump higher’ and that’s what I did with my second expedition to Patagonia.
How long did planning the Patagonia expedition take?
To plan Patagonia it took me 9 months. The logistics were complicated, and to make it even harder I don’t speak Spanish. It was too difficult to take kayaks out there with us, so we had to buy them in country and sell them at the end. The Navy also control the waters, and require a very thorough assessment before they let you out onto the water. On top of that we would need to be completely self-sufficient for 5 weeks; food, fuel, and equipment all had to fit into our kayaks.
Did you do much physical training for your trip?
No, I can’t say I trained for the trip. I’m a kayak guide in the UK summer so I have a good base fitness being on the water paddling everyday. The first week was physically tough as the boats were so incredibly heavy, but as you get stronger and the boat gets lighter it becomes easier on the body. You just get used to kayaking 35km each day.
What was your biggest worry before you left for Patagonia?
Because the trip was so big to me when we started, it was really difficult to see us reaching the finish line. The catch was that we would have to reach the finish, as between our start point and finish point was nothing but wilderness. It was the most committing trip I’ve ever set out on. I worried a lot about keeping the team safe as I was leading, and needed to be making the right decisions to keep us all safe. I had to break the trip down into one day at a time. It was far less scary to think we need to paddle 30km a day, instead of [a total of] 800km.
Tell us about the weather during your expedition – it sounded pretty hardcore at times!
The weather was a bit of a shock. I knew Patagonia was renowned for its strong winds and unpredictable storms, but I guess you never really know what that would feel like until you’ve experienced it. Yet again this trip challenged my paddling to the very limit. I came home a far better paddler then when I left. One thing I love about expeditions is the fact you’re 100% committed! In order to complete your journey you have to deal with whatever hits you – there is no easy way out.
I read that at one point it rained so much your clothes were constantly saturated. Being so cold and wet must have been a huge mental challenge…
I have never been so wet, and so cold. It rained for 10 days solid at one point. The only dry things I owned were my sleeping bag and a single set of thermals for sleeping in. You had to be incredibly disciplined not to let those dry things get wet. I remember one morning not wanting to put my wet sock on, so I just kept on my tent sock. I regretted it straight away… five minutes later those socks were wet and would stay wet for another week.
Were there any particularly hairy or dangerous moments during the 33 days?
We had our far share of hairy moments. Sometimes the weather would change with no warning. Sometimes we’d set off, and within minutes you’d hear this deep rumbling sound as gusts of wind raced down the side of the steep mountains, before they’d hit you. The sound used to make my stomach churn with fear. There weren’t many places [to stop] in the steep-sided fjords, so we’d have to battle on until we found a spot to land.
What was your personal highlight of the Patagonia trip?
Although it was tough, I loved every moment! In particular the day a fishing boat appeared, and came over to check out what we were doing. They were so pleased to see us that they gave us a king crab. It was the first fresh food we’d eaten in weeks. I will also never forget the icebergs that floated around with the currents, and the glaciers which would drop straight into the sea. The landscape was just mind-blowing.
Which pieces of kit could you not live without?
My NeoAir Thermerest Mattress. We never found a flat spot to sleep so it managed to iron-out the worst of the bumps, and it also survived a lot of very spiky pitches. Felt like a miracle some nights. Also my dry suit – I’d put it on first thing in the morning and not take it off until I climbed into my tent at the end of the day. Without it I would have been far, far wetter!
Your attitude to adventure is very inspiring. Does it come naturally, or do you regularly push yourself outside your comfort zone?
Thank you, but I’m an incredibly average girl. In my eyes if I can do it then anyone can. I love dreaming up adventures and making them happen. I guess I’m just a doer. Many things still scare me. I’ve often found myself in the deep-end wondering why an earth I let myself get there, but I’ve come to realise [that] those are the moments I get to grow and figure out what it is I am really capable of. We are so much more capable than we let ourselves believe.
Your next big challenge is on land – running – can you tell us more about it?
Yes, I have a dream of running the GR20 which is a long distance (160km) mountain trail in Corsica. A few years ago after circumnavigating Corsica with a couple of friends we had a spare day at the end, and so decided to climb up into the mountains. It was stunningly beautiful. I decided there and then I needed to do the ridge.
Have you got much running experience or will this be a great physical challenge?
No. I am a terrible runner! This will certainly be the toughest physical challenge I’ve attempted. I figured if I could surprise myself with what I can achieve in a kayak, then maybe I could do the same with other sports. Really, it doesn’t matter to me how fast I do it, I just want to experience these amazing mountains in a light and fast way.
How will your training change with this new challenge on the horizon?
I’m really trying to build more endurance on my feet. Increasing distances and choosing running routes which really challenge me with regards to terrain. For once I’m really having to put in the physical ground work before taking on a challenge. It’s not been a easy road so far as injury keeps setting me back, but I figure the mountains aren’t going anywhere and when I’m ready it will be all that more rewarding.
Expeditions are expensive. Do you have sponsors who help with kit and cost?
You’re right there. I seem to spend all my money on adventures, but they are worth every penny. I do have some gear sponsors for my expeditions which is a big help, as I don’t have to spend out extra on ensuring I have all the equipment. They do require a lot of work to secure, and they also add extra pressure to be successful. Sponsorship is often a very hush-hush topic, and people always ask me about it, but the reality is I’ve never received any monetary sponsorship for going on expedition. I’ve funded every adventure myself. In my eyes it’s the best way to do it; you don’t have answer to anyone if you change route, or don’t quite succeed in the goal you originally set out to do.
What advice would you give to would-be female adventurers?
It’s all about trying! If you prepare, stay focused and put your all into something then you will eventually succeed. Adventure is really quite a personal thing – set your own goals, and do only what you’re passionate about, and you’ll have a richer experience. Listen to only the people that believe in you, and ignore those who don’t. They’re just too scared to do it themsleves.
Erin organises sea kayak expeditions and adventures through her new company www.evokeadventure.com. You can follow more of Erin’s adventures on land and sea via www.instagram.com/erinbastian and www.twitter.com/erinbastian, or visit her website www.erinbastian.com.