ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Sarah Outen became her own psychological coach along the grueling way to becoming the first woman to row solo from Japan to Alaska.
When she would get discouraged by the relentless challenges of the North Pacific Ocean, the 28-year-old British adventurer would lie on her bed in the cabin of her small boat and gaze at the ceiling, where she had tacked up a world map. She would look at how far she had gone and tell herself it was just a bad day or week.
"I'd think, 'Come on, you can get through this,'" Outen said Wednesday. "'You just have to be really tenacious and stubborn."
The pep talks paid off. Now Outen — of Oakham, England — is taking a brief break in the small town of Adak in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. She arrived there late Monday after 150 days and 3,750 miles at sea in her boat, Happy Socks.
Outen said the journey has been the most amazing adventure of her life, full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. She's experienced unforgettable encounters with whales, sharks and the blackest nights exploding with stars. She's battled fierce storms, whiteout fog, exhaustion and a close call with a cargo ship, not to mention the challenge of living in a tiny space amid the turmoil of the ocean while all alone.
There were times deep desperation set in.
"It's a pretty relentless place," she said. "It really contrasts the feeling of just contentment. When things go right and it feels good and you're happy to be there, it's just a magical feeling to be alone in the ocean."
Another of the tricks she played to keep going was to shout out the names of friends as she rowed, contemplating 10 things about each of them. She kept motivational quotes around the cabin. She also treated herself to occasional greens by sprouting seeds that were among her cache of dried foods and power grub. For fresh water, she used a desalination unit to purify ocean water.
Her trek is part of her plan for a global excursion by boat, kayak and bike. Outen plans to fly to New York next week before heading back home to begin training for the next leg of the trip.
She plans to pick up where she left off in Adak next spring, bringing along a teammate, Justine Curgenven, to continue by kayak to Alaska's mainland. The two will then bike across Canada and North America. The last phase of the journey is planned for 2015, when Outen will attempt a solo row across the Atlantic Ocean to the United Kingdom.
The first leg took place in 2011 with a kayak-and-bike expedition from London to Japan. Her first attempt at this year's phase ended in 2012 when she and another ocean rower had to be rescued near Japan after their boats were badly damaged in a tropical storm.
Before Outen's "London2London"project, she became the youngest person and the first woman to row alone across the Indian Ocean in 2009.
The scariest moment of this year's trip occurred on a foggy day toward the end. That was when she almost hit a cargo ship after her radar failed because the batteries were struggling to charge after going without sunlight for a week. Outen figured it was too late to get out of the way, so she went into her cabin hoping for the best. Then a wave from the bow of the cargo vessel pushed her boat to safety.
Among the highlights, she got engaged to her longtime girlfriend during a satellite phone call from the sea. She also got up close to whales and birds and once watched a shark circling her boat as she rowed. It was not unusual for flying fish or jellyfish to land inside her boat. All the creatures that made it on board died except for one jellyfish that landed in the bilge locker. Outen managed to put that one alive back in the ocean.
So even though she lacked for human contact, she had plenty of company among creatures, including fish that accompanied her for long stretches.
"It was really nice to be followed by fish," she said.
Outen left Choshi, Japan, on April 27. After arriving in Adak, she celebrated with a bottle of champagne, a hot bath and clean clothes.
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