PARKINSON'S CAN'T DESTROY OUR LOVE - reflections #1

“I told him that this (Parkinson’s) wasn’t part of the contract and that he could leave if he wanted to,” - Sandra.  

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It is 05:00. It is dark. Eyes closed, I lay silent. I listen. I listen to the wind. I listen to the waves striking the sandy, pebble-strewn Kanali beach.  At the beginning of my journey sound meant little. Now, it is a major source of information. It tells me how my day is going to be. Rubbing my eyes, I open the tent flap to gaze across the Ionian Sea. It’s calm.  It’s a window. The weather app warns of an approaching storm. I must complete 35 km to Lefkada before noon.

The first stroke is firm. I am confident as I head towards Mytikas. I feel experienced after six months of paddling. I breathe in and say a short thank you. I say thank you every day. I don’t know why, I just do it.

FISHERMEN 

The sun hasn’t risen, but the fishermen have. I see the bobbing lights of several fishing vessels. From a safe distance of 200 to 300 meters, they follow the coastline like an ocean-going caravan. Sun rays ricochet against the water. Small ripples form.

For 45 minutes, I paddle between the fishermen and the shore. I see them. Maybe they see me, maybe they don’t. I approach Akra Mytikas, the point. I need to get around that point.  It’s choppy. The wind is stronger and small ripples are now waves. I brace myself for a tough slog to Lefkada.

I reach the outer point, swing the kayak 45 degrees left, paddle 100 meters and meet silence. The wind is gone. The ocean is calm. I think, wow, what a difference seven kilometers make, what a difference getting around the point makes. Crazy.

Only ten meters from land, I watch house after house appear and disappear. Dogs bark and the scent of burning wood hits my nostrils. It’s true. Due to tough economic times and a tripling in the cost of heating oil, Greeks are burning more wood.  I remember reading that wintertime particle pollution had increased by around 30% in Thessaloniki. I am west, Thessaloniki is north. I keep a steady course towards Preveza.

ROD STEWART: TONIGHTS THE NIGHT 

Two parallel runways in the distance remind me of the black racing strips on the hood, roof and trunk of my 1976 Camaro. The car is history, but this journey is very real. The Aktion International Airport is vacant, very vacant; So vacant that I start to think about my Camaro. The eight-ball stick shift, the leather bucket seats and the time a group of girls drove it for an hour without releasing the emergency brake. I hum Rod Stewart’s, Tonight’s the Night, and smile as I remember some good memories.

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The outline of Lefkada’s Stavrota Mountains is ahead of me.  I can’t see the lower mountains as they spread out from the higher peaks, falling towards the sea, forming plateaus and valleys of different heights. I just see peaks.

Ahead of me are some of the most photographed places in Greece: Porto Katsiki, Kathisma and Egremni. I want to get there.

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Though the wind is picking up and still 13 km between me and Lefkada, I choose a straight line across a bay which shelters the village of Nikolaos.

To my right, whitecaps are forming. What is happening behind me or to the left is irrelevant. Forward is reality. I really, really don’t want to get caught in the middle of the storm. Sensing the approaching storm, I dig into the sea. The power of toned arms and stomach muscles, moves the kayak forward. I paddle hard for 30 minutes and see a distant fishing boat disappear behind a grayish sea wall. It’s there I want to be. There, the waters are calmer. There, I am safe. There is the entrance to the The Lefkada Canal.

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The Lefkada Canal runs for around 3.5 miles through the low-lying land at the NE end of the island and divides it from the Greek mainland. I duck my head as I paddle under the drawbridge. Six sail boats meet me. They are waiting to exit north and as I glance southwards, I silently wish them good luck.

They don’t see the fast approaching, massive formation of dark, deep purple clouds. I do and paddle even harder. Fifteen minutes later, as I enter the Lefkada Marina, the wind is howling, and white caps are everywhere.  I don’t care. I made it. I am safe. I pull my kayak onto the pier, stretch my arms toward the sky and watch six northbound sailboats douse their sails.

HEY MATE WHERE YOU COMING FROM 

“Hey mate, where you coming from,” he says. In the middle of taking off my windbreaker, I can’t see him.  My head is stuck. It’s dark. He continues, “Looks like you need a cuppa.”  What’s a cuppa, I immediately ask myself.

Finally through, I look up, forge a smile and reply. “Just a short 35 km paddle from Kalani, but actually I have paddled over 4500 km from Norway.”

“You what? Are you crazy. Wait, let me get my movie camera.” The Aussie disappears into his sailboat and comes back with a handheld and coffee.

Colin and Sandra, his English wife, are spending the winter in Lefkada on their Beneteau sailboat.

The coffee is warming, like the sailboat’s saloon.  Colin is filming. He says he posts things about the strange people he meets. (Thanks Colin).

Sandra talks from the galley. “We met online and quickly found out that we shared a love for flying.” Her hands shake and her speech is static. “I owned a vintage French aircraft, but we sold that and bought another plane when we moved to Australia.”

The couple flew all over Australia, landing in small airstrips in the outback, on long beaches and roads.

WE FLEW ALL AROUND AUSTRALIA CAMPING UNDER THE WINGS OF OUR PLANE.

 “I can’t recall how many times we pitched the tent under the wings of our plane,” she reminisces, while looking at Colin. I can see a deep love, despite this enormous game-changer sickness. 

Five years into their 15 years of marriage, Sandra was hit with Parkinson’s. She spent time in a care center, but decided to fight the best she could. Inspired by a book on how to battle Parkinson’s, Sandra decided to live life the best she could and that meant getting out of that care center and back on her feet. 

“I just didn’t want to fade away. We decided to buy a sailboat and here we are.”

Supporting herself against the galley cupboard, she says, “I am so thankful that these galleys are so small. Here, it’s pretty near impossible to tumble down onto the floor.” She has a canny sense of humor. Typical English.

HE WAS FREE TO LEAVE.

Sill filming, Colin laughs, stands up and walks to give her a hug. 

“We wouldn’t have it any other way. The living accommodation here is perfect for Sandra. We can use all the time we need to go the two meters from the galley to the sofa,” he says laughingly. 

We talk about love. 

“You guys amaze me,” I say. “It must be so difficult to handle the challenges.” 

“Not really,” says Colin. “For better or for worse, we love each other. Parkinson’s or any other challenge is no reason to stop this fantastic love affair that we began just about two decades ago.” 

Sandra heads towards the sofa. She moves slowly. Laboriously in fact. She reaches out to the closest object to brace herself. She makes it and plunks herself down. I thought she just might disappear into that cushion and how does she ever get out.    

“The Ionian Sea is calmer than most areas. We intend to stay here as long as I can manage and as long as Colin can assist me with the daily challenges,” she explains.

“By the look of things, I am not suffering from lack of food,” says Colin. He rolls his head backover letting go  a deep hearted laugh. “She’s a great cook.” 

Love has no limitations and conditions, believes Colin, who had his own bout with leukemia.

“Sandra has supported me, I support her.  “Together we are an awesome team.”

“When I discovered I had Parkinson’s I told Colin this isn’t what you signed up for,” says Sandra. 

We talk about unconditional love. Is it an obligation or a choice? When loving your partner unconditionally does it mean loving—or staying—no matter what. We agree that the power to love, to give love, and to walk away from love always resides within us. 

“Maybe it’s old-fashioned, but every interaction has to come from a place of love, not duty,” Colin says.

WHY WOULD I TURN AWAY FROM HER BECAUSE SHE HAS A HANDICAP?

I listen. 

“Love has few boundaries and it is not a one-way street. Both have to be committed. Sandra and I have to pull each other up to the best way of loving and not tear each other down.” 

I watch. 

There is a twinkle in her eye. She has a good understanding of acceptance and challenge. He is laid back and understands that, for now, time isn’t an issue.

 “Yes, we don’t know what the future holds, but for now, we are here. We will sail and live our life the best we can. When we cannot tackle the personal challenges anymore…..we will cross that bridge when it comes. But for now, our love is sacred ground,” says Colin. “Sickness cannot take this from us.”

He kisses her softly on her right cheek. I close my notebook. The writing is over, but this memory is embedded, deep, forever in my heart.   

DISASTER - I LOST MY TRAVEL DIARY BUT MEMORY IS INTACT!!!

The journal - last seen.  

The journal - last seen.  

Nov. 23 - 25: Seven months of notes, people’s names, addresses and reflections, are gone. On Nov. 23 somewhere between the Athens and Oslo airports,  I misplaced my personal diary.  

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Possibly at McDonalds between frenchfries and a coffee,  or on the plane hidden in the net meshing between a vomit bag and a magazine. As long as I don’t lose my memory, I will remember the journey. But, it’s a small disaster. 

My personal travel journal is gone. Gone - seven months of written travel logs. Gone - reflections. Gone - people’s names and addresses.

My personal travel journal is gone. Gone - seven months of written travel logs. Gone - reflections. Gone - people’s names and addresses.

Carelessness. In times when I am rushed or have other things on my mind, I lose focus. I have to add the loss of the black diary to several losses during the trip including a water pump, kayak straps, sponge, toothbrush, shampoo, fleece, one Nike shoe, one iPhone, two power banks, one paddle, one Piece Prize cap ... and a number of other things. 

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To avoid clutter during the trip, I reduced the number of dry bags from eight to four. I sent home clothes and equipment that I didn’t need. I find that the lesser amount of things to take care grant a greater overview of what I have. Easier to manage. 

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Maybe its just like getting fit. You have to build the muscle to be focused. Hah, which muscle can I train in my brain. 

RESTLESS NIGHTS AT HOME

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I wake up not knowing where I am. The last few nights have been restless. I dream about routes, weather, and ocean conditions.  The waking up process is turbulent. It takes time to orient myself and I feel I am going through some type of extreme travel metamorphosis before I figure out where I am.

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I have never undertaken such a journey before and all these months of extreme pressures and experiences have left their mark. Obviously my brain is still working. And I am still in a processing information mode looking to solve problems.  

Makes decisions.

I now realize that during the months of kayaking, I have been processing information, preparing and making decisions while I sleep. :) Haha. Surprise.

Creates and consolidates memories. 

OK. The black bound travel journal is gone, but I read that while I sleep my brain is busy forming new memories, consolidating older ones, and linking more recent with earlier memories. So, all is not lost.

Makes creative connections. 

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After a stressful paddling day, I slept 10 hours. Exhausted. I went to bed worrying about a section of the Albanian coastline and how to get around it. When I woke up I had the answer. Sleep can be a powerful creativity-booster. Haha.

But how to get my black book back? I don’t think I will find that solution. ( have contacted the most ). 

THE UNKNOWN IS OVER.

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Queens Leriotis Hotel gave me a seaview room for €30. I wake up to the sound of waves gently hitting whitewashed, ocean-worn rocks. The veranda cement floor is cold. I take a deep breath and feel the comforting rays of a warm sun strike my face. I smile as I gaze across the relatively calm Adriatic sea. “Yes now you are silent,” I say to myself. Thin fists grip the steel railing and I watch a flock of noisy seagulls hovering over one lonely fishing boat. This is my last day in Greece. The end of the Piece Prize journey. The paddling is over. The fear is over. The unknown is over. 

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The shower is warm and four day stubble is no opponent to a new, triple knife-sharp blade.  I am thinner. My hair is longer. Cheeks are leaner. My teeth are still crooked   - somethings don’t change. 

She greets me - kalamera- and pours a warm cup of coffee. Breakfast is simple. Bran flakes with small chocolate puffs. A bit sweeter than my normal morning intake of yogurt, almonds and banana. The coffee is cold so I ask for a double espresso. 

Back on the veranda, the sun hits my face. It’s -7 in Oslo. I rest. I think. And listen to those crazy seagulls.  

I hear a pling on my phone. It’s a message from Tassos at the Olympiacos kayak club. An athlete wants to buy the kayak. Can I come within 30 minutes.  I say yes and grab a yellow cab. 

We talk about victories, defeats and the memories that define who are.  

We talk about victories, defeats and the memories that define who are.  

I met Tassos yesterday. A world champion kayaker, he is soft spoken and we have a sense of deep appreciation for each other. Intuitively we know what our ambitions have cost. Intuitively we know how fast achievements become history. Intuitively, we understand that memories define who we are. We hug. 

Tassos in his prime, a world champion.  

Tassos in his prime, a world champion.  

Respect for this Tassos!! 

Respect for this Tassos!! 

He introduces me to Nikos, the soon to be new owner of an EPIC SPORT X18. He is a great guy. A bit shorter than me, he is stocky with arms of steel. He is a paddler, a rower. Maybe I could paddle further on a long, drawn out day, but this guy would kill me within a 20 km range. We are both happy.  The money will go to charity and there is no sadness as I sign the kayak  “To my friend Nick. Thank you,” Mark Fuhrmann  

The complete package with signature. :)  

The complete package with signature. :)  

Tassos shows me his medals and we talk about victories and defeats. He is a mainstayer and has a place of deep recognition in the club. I look at his pictures and medals hanging on the wall. It is part of him. I feel proud to be standing beside him. I hope we meet again. We shake hands and then he whizzes off on his scooter. 

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Nikos - the proud new owner of an EPIC. 

Nikos - the proud new owner of an EPIC. 

Nikos - what a nice guy. Wouldn’t want to compete against him though.  

Nikos - what a nice guy. Wouldn’t want to compete against him though.  

Nikos and I walk around the harbor and stop for a coffee. He says we can learn from history and shows me pictures of how the harbor looked before the walls were constructed. The beaches are gone.  The fishing boats are gone. Seaside restaurants have come. Million dollar yachts have come. Times have changed.  We shake hands. He goes right. I go left. 

The 30-minute walk back to Queens Leriotis is swift. I throw two plastic containers, a small volume of sea-moist nuts and some tattered clothes into the bin. I jam what’s left of my gear and remaining kayaking clothes into a €14 blue duffle bag purchased yesterday.  I pick up the double set of Carbon paddle oars and take the elevator down four flights to ground zero.  She smiles and I pay the bill.  I remind her to watch ANT1. I should be on the eight o’clock news. 

Christmas came early at Queens Leriotis hotel.  

Christmas came early at Queens Leriotis hotel.  

I take one last look at the hotel’s Christmas presentation and push through the glass doors onto the street. 

The man in the yellow cab offers to drive me to the airport for €40. It’s a good price. I take it. Four years my younger, he works 12 to 16 hours every day. I see a tired but determined man. I see a good man.

Taxi driver - working hard, wanting a better life.   

Taxi driver - working hard, wanting a better life.   

He, like most of the people I talked to, want a better Greece. I hand him €50. He saw me on the news and we take a picture.  Arm in arm with a stranger, we share the connection of being part of a family. He smiles and tucks the crisp ATM retrieved bill into his pocket. I don’t know why, but we thank each other. 

I check in with Norwegian. The man with the Norwegian uniform fastens a luggage label around the straps. I watch the bag disappear.

I can carry these on, right?

I can carry these on, right?

He weighs my carry-on and then tells me that I probably won’t be able to carry those duck-tape wrapped, double set of EPIC carbon paddles onto the plane.  I say “... it will go just fine.”  He looks at me, pauses and smiles. 30 minutes later while pasting a freshly printed Norwegian luggage label on my newly plastic-wrapped oars, at a cost of €5, he says, “I told you so.” He lifts his head. Our eyes meet. He smiles. I smile. We small talk and then I make my way over to special cargo counter 77. I rearrange my Telenor toque as the mummy plastic-wrapped paddles dissappear on a black, fish-scale conveyor belt. 

I make my way to row 20, seat D. I sit down and secretly glance at those closest to me. The plane escalates down the runway. The  girl across from me taps her left foot nervously. The tall, lanky paddler in row 20, seat D, thinks, “This has been a great day.”   

Journies start, continue and finish. I am at peace with that.  

Journies start, continue and finish. I am at peace with that.  

No journey is trouble free.  

No journey is trouble free.  

Sometimes you have to retreat and let the bad weather pass.  

Sometimes you have to retreat and let the bad weather pass.  

EVERY ACHIEVEMENT DEPENDS ON OTHERS

Nov. 20 - 22: I head out across the channel from “Agios Georgios” to mainland Athens. Wow. Major traffic - huge container vessels, tankers, tug and pilot boats. I think clearance was a must for this route. It’s heavy with ocean transport. The wind picks up. I stick close to the islands and then choose to cross when I feel the wind is calmer. 

The number of large vessels moving in and out of this straight was overwhelming.  

The number of large vessels moving in and out of this straight was overwhelming.  

The wind is challenging and cold.  

The wind is challenging and cold.  

By the time I cross it is really blowing. I spot a small rocky beach. It’s around seven meters wide and I head for it. Good move. The winds increase as well as the waves, the whitecaps and swells.  I stay in this little cove for six hours, eventually making a little fire in a small cave-like space. I wedge my way in and find a comfortable position on my life jacket to avoid the wind. 

I light a fire and wonder about how many hours I will be here. 

I light a fire and wonder about how many hours I will be here. 

I arrived at 09:00 and left at 15:30. A wise choice. 

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I paddle towards the entrance to the Piraeus ferry port. I  am astounded at how fast the vessels approach. I see a ferry coming on my left. I wait, it passes. I meet the one meter wake head on. The mouth of this busy entrance is around 50 meters. I paddle hard but fail to look to my right. I should have. A rapidly approaching Navy vessel - that I didnt even see - was on my tail. Fortunately I was a just about over and made it. Hah  Was a bit shaken by that.  

Across. I will spend my last night here and then paddle to the next harbor called Marina Zea tomorrow at 11:30. 

Across. I will spend my last night here and then paddle to the next harbor called Marina Zea tomorrow at 11:30. 

In Piraeus with  5 kilometers to final destination.  

In Piraeus with  5 kilometers to final destination.  

Nov. 21 - I paddle to Marina Seas and take a last picture of the small cove where I spent the night. 

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I meet the press and conduct a number of interviews. I meet world champion kayaker Tassos who has kindly offered to store the kayak In the club. I wash the kayak and put it on a rack. The journey is over. I will sell the kayak and donate it to charity - most likely an orphanage called Smile of a Child.  

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I am have achieved a major milestone, of which I heard, is a powerful motivator. What now? Did I feel a super sensation when reaching the goal? Not really but I felt proud. Some classify achievement as securing a long saught after material object. But for me this will not be the case.

The heartfelt meeting places, those unique intersects with people truly brought pure joy to my heart. This is already embedded in my mind. Somehow, I feel that these will last a lifetime. No oil changes on a Porsche. No major maintenance on a mansion. Just a simple joy of knowing that I have played a small role to encourage people to think small. Small acts of kindness. And, I believe many will remember this silent person who - from out of the blue - intersected their life.

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I know my journey may be insignificant in this colossal universe, but I am just one of thousands of people who want to make their commmunities a better place. Together we are signicant. Oh yes, my journey is small, very small. But together we are better. I believe that. 

Lady fishing on the shore of the Corinth Sea. 

Lady fishing on the shore of the Corinth Sea. 

I believe that every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together.  The moment we choose not to reach out and help those who come our way, is the moment of division.  

Happy guys on the island of Salamina.

Happy guys on the island of Salamina.

Peace is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together. I have experienced hundreds of hidden pockets of kindness through the 15 countries that I have travelled through. People reaching out to the isolated. People reaching out to the homeless and needy. 

Henry Ford said: Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.

Let us be a family. Peace begins first and foremost to see humanity as a family. Not refugees. Not the homeless. Not the poor. But as a family.

THERE IS NO TOMORROW TO REMEMBER IF WE DON’T DO SOMETHING TODAY!!

Nov. 17 - 19: Before I started the Piece Prize journey, I did three things weekly for 12 months: jog, yoga and row. 

Iconic Corinth  - Pegasus 

Iconic Corinth  - Pegasus 

Jogging is A to B. You start, decide your finish line and do it. Jogging is about determination and endurance. The mental and physical requirements of running align perfectly with tasks of kayaking.  Setting and attaining goals and overcoming frustration – these are all things that strengthen my ability to cope with what the oceans throw at me. For me, running improved my coping skills and ego strength for long-term endurance. 

The lights of Corinth (Nov.17) I paddle close to 70 km from Akrata to Corinth. A grueling tour. I could not have done this without training and the months behind me. In Corinth, I find a cheap room and sleep for ten hours. Exhausted. I shower and don’t remember my head hitting the pillow.

The lights of Corinth (Nov.17) I paddle close to 70 km from Akrata to Corinth. A grueling tour. I could not have done this without training and the months behind me. In Corinth, I find a cheap room and sleep for ten hours. Exhausted. I shower and don’t remember my head hitting the pillow.

Yoga. In a kayak, sitting in a 45 degree position for hours on end, causes legs and bum to go numb. I needed flexibility to help lengthen and stretch my muscles in a safe, effective way. Through 6.5 months paddling, my body has performed well. No numbness . 

In the Corinth Canal - Nov. 18th

In the Corinth Canal - Nov. 18th

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Rowing: Rowing is intense where rythym is the key. I used a rowing machine to help build and tone my muscles, strengthen my cardiovascular function and increase my stamina. 

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I hit rough weather once passing the Corinth Canal. I find a beach to spend the night and listen to the thunder and watch the tent get bright as lightening exposes the sky.

I hit rough weather once passing the Corinth Canal. I find a beach to spend the night and listen to the thunder and watch the tent get bright as lightening exposes the sky.

Sometimes I just don’t want to paddle. I am scared, anxious and then I say.....”just do it”. 

Sometimes I just don’t want to paddle. I am scared, anxious and then I say.....”just do it”. 

I don’t know if I have mastered the art of preparation, but I know that it is more than just being focused on the details, outcome and possibilities.  While these things are important, preparation means that I have armed myself with not only the necessary tools, resources and knowledge to get the job done but I am also prepared mentally and physically. Haha!! Mentally - I think I am still in tact.  But I can say that I am tired of not knowing what is before me and where I will lay my head each night.

Nov. 19: Today I see the lights of Athens. I look back on my journey and realize that preparation has been so important. Yes - ok I could have done more - like master several kayak techniques, but journies are about starting and experiencing. 

Nov. 19: Today I see the lights of Athens. I look back on my journey and realize that preparation has been so important. Yes - ok I could have done more - like master several kayak techniques, but journies are about starting and experiencing. 

Often we get so caught up in preparation that we forget the joy of the journey ahead of us. Negative thinking is one of the biggest obstacles towards achieving my goals. If I constantly think that I don't have what it takes, I will never start a new paddle day. Humor columnist Erma Bombeck observed, “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.” It takes confidence to talk about a dream and even more to pursue it. And sometimes confidence separates the people who dream and pursue those dreams from those who don’t.

There is no tomorrow to remember if we don’t do something today - that’s what I say. 

A simple guy, on a big journey.  

A simple guy, on a big journey.  

DARK CLOUDS MAKE MY DAY.

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I wake up tired. Maybe yogurt and raisins will help. I heard the wind and crashing waves during the night. So happy that I tented behind some bushes.  I wake up at 04:00. The waves are pretty close, so I move the kayak to higher ground. Back into the semi wet but warm sleeping bag and wake up at 07:00. The ocean looks ok but things could change fast.  I pack my gear and head out.  Hah.  Didn’t get far. The waves beat the stern and spray keeps me wet.  13 km isn’t enough to make it to the Corinth Canal.  This is depressing.  I pull into a small harbor on the outskirts of “Paralia.” The wind is around 9 mps. I see a newly pruned tree and dry my clothes in the sun. The evening dew is extremely heavy and clothes are wet from yesterday though I made a fire and tried to dry them. 

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I help a couple trying to get their boat up for the winter. He drove the whole boat trailer under water. The boat was floating above the trailer and the wind was making it difficult. I told him to pull the trailer up by at least three meters. He did and I winched it into place. I wonder how rusty those wheels will be after the winter. Later the wife came back with food. :) Yes!!! 

I am soon in contact with the locals and meet some nice people. Giorgos is one of them. A nice guy from Athens now retired and has a fishing boat. 

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5 star accommodation tonight. Happy at least to be under a roof. Lightening and thunder is right above me.  

5 star accommodation tonight. Happy at least to be under a roof. Lightening and thunder is right above me.  

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Nov. 15: Waiting. Frustrated. Wind is crazy in the Corinth Sea corridor. Land locked for two days. Last night it rained and the low clouds make it less windy.  I wake up and see calmer water. I move out.  I don’t look behind me and the bridge of Rio/Antirrio becomes a memory. I find a nice place to camp some 42 km later. A little secluded place close to “Diakopto.” Along the way I meet a lady who is fishing. She gives me an orange. 

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Later I meet a man who offers me a cheese pie and a beer. He talked to me while I rested on a beach. I thought he had gone but he was phoning his daughter for some translation assistance. He gives the phone to me and she says that her father wanted to give me food. His restaurant was 50 meters away. I said yes and didn’t regret it. 

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GROWTH IS A PROCESS - REALLY MARK?

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Numerous not-so-good decisions during the Piece Prize kayak journey from Oslo, Norway to Athens, Greece, have had consequences.

Like clothes in a washing machine, these decisions spin in my mind. They irritate me and I find myself questioning, “What if...?” 

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“What if...” I had  phoned the local authority to get out of the river PO, into a boat lock and that peaceful inside passage to Venice. (This would have slashed three extra days getting to Venice. I didn’t phone because in France entering a boat lock was illegal.)

“What if...” I had chosen to wait one hour and not cross the bay to Savona, Italy. (I capsized against a sea wall)

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“What if...I had navigated correctly at Valti, Greece and made a straight line on the outside of the island Petalas to Oxia. (Had to paddle three extra hours to my final destination after already kayaking for eight hours).

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Similarly, many life decisions spin around in my mind and the “What if....” mode kicks in.  Why do bad decisions and experiences seemingly dominate my memory and bring feelings of self-condemnation?

LASTING MEMORIES

The smell of my grandparents farm house, the taste of mom’s chocolate cookies, the thrill of my first goal in PeeWee hockey and the scent of the California coastline (Huntington Beach to be exact)...these are among the hundreds of positive memories that make up the ongoing experience of my life.

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FIND THE BALANCE

Good and bad decisions are part of life. Though my memory likes to replay the not-so-good decisions, reminding me of my stupidity or telling me,  “You could have done better,”  I know that wrong decisions are just important as good decisions. I remind myself that memories must be put into balance. Yes, I do make mistakes, some with small or large consequences, but no one walks through life without blunders, which, due to memory, become part of our self.

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IT’S ABOUT SURVIVAL

The more emotionally or physically disturbing the decision or experience is, the more likely it becomes glued to my memory. YES!!! Being able to recall bad decisions or fearful events is critical to survival and improved decision making in the future.

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IT’S ABOUT HELPING

Our decisions and experiences create empathy: being able to understand the hurts and challenges of others through our own shortcomings or failures has tremendous value. Experience - good or bad - must be shared.  People feel alone with their mistakes and inadequacies, but through our transparency we help others.  Gain experience, use experience and share experience. Simple math.

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IT’S ABOUT THE COMFORT ZONE

I can change the way I think by changing the place I think. Pushing myself to embrace new challenges and experiences during the Piece Prize journey has forced me out of my comfort zone and changed my thinking.  OK, I am not a professional. OK, I have no real experience to undertake such a journey. OK, I will make mistakes.  This is part of the journey. Changing and breaking years of routines, has exposed me to new stimuli, thoughts and emotions.  Though focussing on life outside my own skin, I have achieved greater self-awareness, reconnecting with my true needs, desires and dreams.

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IT’S ABOUT GROWTH

Though easier said than done, let the past be past.  Simply, we cannot change the past. Some live with major scars and spend a lifetime trying to figure out “why me” and “what if...?” I look back and have my own top ten “What I wish I had done differently.” They resurface time and time again, and, yes, I wish I had made that one better decision or handled that one situation differently.

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In a profound way, it is my collective set of memories that makes me who I am.

Life is a process and in our journey we must - if possible - allow memories (the good and bad decisions) to bring balance and not upheaval. Hold your goal with open hands. 

PACK MY GEAR AND FEAR!

Anxious about crossing this channel, you better believe it!! 

Anxious about crossing this channel, you better believe it!! 

Throughout my journey - from Oslo to Athens  - I have been fearful. Fearful about crossing the Elba. Fearful about the Mediterranean coastline. Fearful about the Adriatic Sea and Albania. Fearful about where I will sleep and what is around the next bend. Today I am fearful about crossing a small channel from Antirrio to Rio - Peloponnese region. A sailor in Mosolongonio warned about major currents, large vessels and wind. 

Fear can confirm that I am outside my comfort zone, but now with some 5000 km behind me, I think fear is more the unknown. I want to cross this channel and high winds are expected later this afternoon.  I get up at 06:00. Pack my gear and fear and head towards the bridge. The Rio–Antirrio Bridge, officially the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge, is one of the world's longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges and longest of the fully suspended type. There are four major cement pylons bearing the weight of this massive structure. I set my sight on reaching the first pylon. The further from shore, the more rough the waves. So I just continue, slowly but surely, from pylon to pylon.  Now on the other side, I take a picture. Smile. And whisper a thank you for safe passage.   OVERCOMING FEAR 1. Use past experience  - Fear can be a good thing.  It’s a biological instinct that prevents us from doing stupid things that might kill us. All the waves, currents and extreme ocean situations I have encountered throughout the past six months have given me experience.  Gain experience and use experience.     2. Analayze the challenge and the risk - Like any extreme decision, kayaking in rough conditions is understanding where you are on the linear line of challenge and risk. A challenge is no problem.  One has the skills to handle that.  A risk is where you challenge your personal challenge zone and use your abilities to the max to succeed. Subject to natural or unusual physical and mental challenges such as high waves, wind, currents and the reality of capsizing, cognitive perceptual processing is required for a successful outcome. I try to avoid risks, but in facing the challenge I often encounter unwanted risks.  3. Plan B - Often there is no plan B when taking on extreme risks. Extreme risk has extreme outcomes. My Plan B begins with Plan A: avoid extreme risks at all times, but use knowhow to tackle a risky situation. I don't seek the adrenaline and risk, though my knees where shaking when I made this  early morning crossing. 

Fear can confirm that I am outside my comfort zone, but now with some 5000 km behind me, I think fear is more the unknown. I want to cross this channel and high winds are expected later this afternoon.  I get up at 06:00. Pack my gear and fear and head towards the bridge. The Rio–Antirrio Bridge, officially the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge, is one of the world's longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges and longest of the fully suspended type. There are four major cement pylons bearing the weight of this massive structure. I set my sight on reaching the first pylon. The further from shore, the more rough the waves. So I just continue, slowly but surely, from pylon to pylon. 

Now on the other side, I take a picture. Smile. And whisper a thank you for safe passage.  

OVERCOMING FEAR

1. Use past experience  - Fear can be a good thing.  It’s a biological instinct that prevents us from doing stupid things that might kill us. All the waves, currents and extreme ocean situations I have encountered throughout the past six months have given me experience.  Gain experience and use experience.    

2. Analayze the challenge and the risk - Like any extreme decision, kayaking in rough conditions is understanding where you are on the linear line of challenge and risk. A challenge is no problem.  One has the skills to handle that.  A risk is where you challenge your personal challenge zone and use your abilities to the max to succeed. Subject to natural or unusual physical and mental challenges such as high waves, wind, currents and the reality of capsizing, cognitive perceptual processing is required for a successful outcome. I try to avoid risks, but in facing the challenge I often encounter unwanted risks. 

3. Plan B - Often there is no plan B when taking on extreme risks. Extreme risk has extreme outcomes. My Plan B begins with Plan A: avoid extreme risks at all times, but use knowhow to tackle a risky situation. I don't seek the adrenaline and risk, though my knees where shaking when I made this  early morning crossing. 

Two pictures, two realities. When I came into the bay, it looked calm. Yes. It was sheltered, but 50 meters away it was a totally different situation. The starting point may be totally different than the middle or ending point.   

Two pictures, two realities. When I came into the bay, it looked calm. Yes. It was sheltered, but 50 meters away it was a totally different situation. The starting point may be totally different than the middle or ending point.   

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4. Prepare for a peaceful performance - I stay focused. Been there, done that mentality. I focus on small goals, watching oncoming waves and measuring distances between the pylons. I tell myself this is not over until it’s over. I prime my mind to feel more relaxed naturally and automatically when in a demanding situation. I do not panic. I want to retain clear thought. I keep my ‘thinking brain' on. This calms me. 

Across. Found a cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee and pastery with spinach and feta cheese. Time to charge all batteries while waiting for the wind to recede.  

Across. Found a cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee and pastery with spinach and feta cheese. Time to charge all batteries while waiting for the wind to recede.  

MONICA AND MARTIN MAKE ME THINK!!!

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I meet them at a park-free camping site. Martin and Monica, both 30, are Germans and have fixed up a 30-year old VW van to explore Europe. I walk up to their aluminum table and two chairs. She has arranged some plants on the table. This is a girl who likes the simple things in life. I say hi. Smile. They are approachable, talkative and ready to listen. We both have these traits and the conversation turns to who we are, what we want and where are we going. They are reflective and understand responsibility. They wouldn’t be traveling like this if they didn’t. First Martin spent 1.5 years fixing up a rust bucket into a nice camper on wheels. They have saved money and worked hard. Now, a window of opportunity and a major amount of months to live the life they want.  They want to help others and are looking for an opportunity. 

The wind dies down, I say goodbye and paddle off. I think. I think for two hours while paddling towards Rio,Greece. I think about the meaning of life, my sense of purpose and how to live as an authentic person. 

And now I write and share reflections. Some my own, some others.

A LIFE OF MEANING 

Living a life that has some kind of meaning is one of the most widely held goals in existence — something by which we motivate and measure ourselves.  There are several factors that influence my ability to find satisfaction and meaning in life.

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Develop a Sense of Purpose

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If there is one factor that has influenced my ability to live a meaningful life is having a sense of purpose.

A sense of purpose - like the Piece Prize- fuels a sense of meaning in my life, but it comes second to my role as a parent. I love my kids and they bring to the table a big sense of purpose.  The takeaway here, for me, is having a sense of purpose is an important component in a long and meaningfully lived life.

Prioritize Connection With Others

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During the 6-month Piece Prize journey, the most meaningful experience has been connecting with others.  In addition to being close to my family or friends, these connections have resulted in a feeling of purpose, of which has enhanced my life. 

Do For Others

Giving to others has improved my own feelings of purpose and meaning. Giving can take many forms, of course: donating our time, or our talents — or simply lending a friendly ear.

Helping others has definitely increased my life satisfaction. Lending a helping hand has provided a sense of purpose. 

Giving my time to help others has been rewarding, not to forget the positive impact on the people with whom I have come into contact with.  

 FINDING MEANING IN LIFE

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Finding meaning in life is an ongoing journey, a process that takes time, patience, and resilience. It is not something that occurs magically and without effort. It is not necessarily something that happens at a given point in our lives and is then “done and dusted.”

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Neither does our sense of meaning need to remain fixed: What we find meaningful today may be replaced by a different meaning tomorrow. As life itself changes, so may the meaning we give to it.

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So Martin and Monica, I hope you find what you’re looking for: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=e3-5YC_oHjE

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If we want to succeed in our personal mission, we must be willing to live in an authentic way, one that allows us to express who we truly are — even if this takes courage. 

GREEK HOSPITALITY - LOTS TO GIVE, LOTS TO RECEIVE!!

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Nov. 11: The island of Oxeia is majestic as I paddle towards Athens.  Early morning, good water conditions and I make good time. I take one small break for some yogurt and nuts, then paddle to a small island seemingly in nowhere land.  Here I find a small lighthouse and a church.  The island isn’t more than 50 meters long and 5 meters wide. What a beautiful site.  I lay down and rest after eating more tuna and bread.

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A family has moored their sailboat and come to the small island.  We talk and before you know it, I am onboard eating spaghetti and sipping a nice glass of wine.  Later, they invite me to sleep on board.  I say yes and am now enjoying a good bed all alone on this nice sailboat. 

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I enjoy talking to the two families.  Alexandra is great in English and translates when needed. She made an awesome salad and it was a pleasure meeting these lovely Greek families.

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Nov. 10: Leave Mytikas after sunset and paddle 50km to a beach I saw on the map. Interesting paddling as very shallow waters and had to go out into the sea to get around waves. Reminded me of Albania.  

I needed a rest but no place to get the kayak on land. Chose the best location I could and made the best of it.  

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A quick rest then I set off again. I had spotted a nice beach on HERE and aimed to get there. What a long day but it was worth it. 

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Tent up and hungry. Ate tuna spread and four pieces of bread. Then enjoyed a fire until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Had a nice fire going and warm enough to dry some clothes and a hat. 

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I FIND TRUE LOVE IN LEFKAKDA AND A GREAT GUY CALLED PHILLIP.

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Nov. 9: Up early as the skies look clearer and my weather app says “ go for it.” I head out and make great mileage to a place called “Mytikas.” I meet a couple from Austria and they tell me about A fisherman’s home right on the water where we can get a meal. The table is literally in their backyard two meters from the ocean.  The man cleans the fish and we eat a great meal. This is one of those experiences you cannot buy.  It happens once in a lifetime. What a place. What a meal. What great company.  

Fisherman by trade and one man restaurant during the evening.  

Fisherman by trade and one man restaurant during the evening.  

I taste three types of fish and homemade frenchfries. As I watch the sunset, I realize how fortunate I am to take this window of opportunity. I share the Piece Project with the family and get a hug and tears. They call me a Silent Hero. Peace and kindness exists everywhere.  

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Sandra smiles and says she likes the small galley. “It’s a good space for people with Parkinson’s, it’s hard to fall over.” 

Sandra smiles and says she likes the small galley. “It’s a good space for people with Parkinson’s, it’s hard to fall over.” 

Nov. 8: I found true love in Lefkada. Meet Sandra and Colin. I spend the morning chatting with these delightful people. Sandra has Parkinsons and instead of sitting in a wheel chair and letting it get worse, they decided to buy a boat and sail. For the last three years Colin has been enjoying some great days sailing around the Ionian Sea with Sandra. Whatever comes there way, this lovely couple have decided that true love means true commitment and regardless of the challenges, they will stay by each other’s side until the end. What an inspiration to meet people who choose unconditional love and look forward to a brighter day tomorrow. True love. 

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Later that day, I meet the Wood family. They are sailing around the world with their three children and are staying the winter at this port to do repairs and get the vessel ready.  Look for them on FB: Mother Ship Adrift.  I spent some time on their vessel.  We talked, sang a few songs and then chatted more with the children. 

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Nov 7: I wake up in a sailboat. The wind was howling and full storm during the night.  Yesterday I met Phillip who said I could stay with him on his Westerly Oceanlord 12.5 mtr “Artemis”.  He is a nice guy who’s been through a lot in life, but he has a giving heart. I need a person with a giving heart, especially when it is storming crazy outside and expected 33mm rain. 

Phillip is a great guy. He wants to use his sailboat for good and allow people to enjoy the sea, far away places and the richness of sailing.  

Phillip is a great guy. He wants to use his sailboat for good and allow people to enjoy the sea, far away places and the richness of sailing.  

A KAYAK FOR CORFU

What do you do when you are paddling from Oslo to Athens and you end up with an extra kayak?

If you are on a mission to prove the power of small acts of kindness, you give it to someone who needs it more than you. Mark Fuhrmann of the Piece Prize has done just that, presenting the craft to the Corfu chapter of The Smile of the Child, a national organization with 13 chapters providing homes for 360 children all over Greece.

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Mark is on the last leg of an epic journey, paddling his kayak from Oslo to Athens. Along the way he has stoppedto recognize “Silent Heroes”, those who give in their communities without asking anything in return. Most of the trip has been solo, but Mark reserved six weeks of the tourfor anyone who felt the call to join him on his mission.

“Travelling alone, I was dependent on the kindness and compassion of strangers, for five months and 5000 kilometers,” he explains. “But the Piece Prize motto is ‘Together we are better’, so I wanted to show that individual determination can be rewarded with companionship and support, even though it may seem impossible at times.”

The first of Mark’s paddling companions joined him in Venice, where they purchased the kayak with a partial donation from The Piece Prize. The last fellow traveller returned home once they reached Corfu. “When the last one went home I had to figure out what to do with the extra kayak.Rather than send it back to Oslo, I was looking for a worthy recipient here on Corfu, my first stop in Greece,” says Furhmann. “As soon as I learned about The Smile of the Child, I knew I had found the right place.”

The Corfu chapter houses 21 children, providing support to an additional 230 children on the island. “We are so pleased to have met Mark, and thankful for the generous gift from The Piece Prize and Mark’s fellow travellers,” says IordanisTsompanakis, head of the Corfu office. “I wish Mark health, strength, and kind winds, on the rest of his journey, and in the future!”

Mark is now continuing solo to his final destination, Athens, where he will speak at the local chapter of The Smile of the Child.

WHAT HAVE I ACHIEVED? - good question.

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Nov. 6:  05:30- Rise and shine. An approaching storm gives me reason to get moving.  I need to make it from “Kalani”to “Lefkada.” It’s a hard paddle the first hour to “Mytikas” but once I get around the point , the water is calm - can’t believe that seven km makes a total difference in water conditions. 

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I try to measure the distance using Route Builder. I regularly use several apps: Google Maps, HERE, Route Builder, YR, and Wind Guru. These have helped me through 4,700 kms of diverse weather conditions and route planning.

I breathe a small sigh of relief as I paddle quietly through a small passage into the heart of Lefkada. Grey clouds approach rapidly. 

I breathe a small sigh of relief as I paddle quietly through a small passage into the heart of Lefkada. Grey clouds approach rapidly. 

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People will ask, “What have I achieved?” This is a difficult question to answer. Life is more than the finish line. It’s the journey.  Not to be arrogant, but I realize that I have actually touched the lives of hundreds of people, encouraging them not to be complacent towards others, but to be an integral part of their community. And to reestablish a sense of the greater family.  Often we think about A to B: A the starting point and B the finish line. Many are not satisfied with their finish line. They think they should have achieved more - a bigger house, a cabin, a hideaway in a warmer climate or free from financial concerns.  

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We fail to see that the most important event in life is what happens between A and B.  It’s the journey that is the achievement. The greatest achievement in my journey has been what I call “the human intersect”. The unique meeting point between two human beings where the life of another person is touched in a genuine and meaningful way.  When I met Jean Marie on a canal in France, we talked, cried, embraced, and left as better people.  When we intersect with others, we touch a soul, a heart and a life.  At the “human intersect”, we accept people at their point of journey and once again affirm  that we are not alone. We realize that we are fellow brothers and sisters and that we are together in this world - not divided, not at war, not at odds with each other, but together in our weaknesses and strengths. The “human intersect” unfolds the greatest human purpose: the opportunity to give, the opportunity to receive and the opportunity for two human beings to share, embrace and to walk away feeling they have value. A ripple effect, we are better equipped to give love, hope and empathy to the next individual at the next intersect.

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Nov. 5:  From Sarakiniko, I paddle through choppy water all the way to “Kanali.” It’s a tough seven hours. I approach a long beach and paddle to the outskirts of the city. By the time I stop the water is calm. Maybe I should start kayaking at night. :) I need to charge my batteries so walk into town for a small meal while sitting as long as a can before the restaurant closes. Sometimes I feel like a parasite, taking advantage of free electricity. 

Silence. Sometimes the quietness is refreshing. Paddle for six to eight hours. Unload the gear. Put on warm clothes. Pitch the tent. Eat. Take a swim. Sleep. Life is simple. Everyday I meet people and we discuss humanity, family, and caring for others. There is an army of good people. Hidden pockets of people who share what they have without expecting anything in return. The news doesn’t give the full picture as the full picture cannot be seen.

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I NEED TO CROSS - but am anxious. Arsenis makes a great cup of coffee. And Alex talks about Askim.

Nov. 4: Felt the wind increase during the night. Need to cross to the mainland but am anxious about the waves. 

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I head into town to get a coffee and wait for the wind to die down.

I meet a great guy at a great coffee bar. Arsenis owns and runs Babel, a bakery serving prime coffee and great pastery with feta cheese.   

Like most people, Arsenis wants to work and create a future. He dreams of backpacking around Latin-America. He will do it. I am sure of that. We talk about peace and challenges. He is a positive, inspiring guy. 

Like most people, Arsenis wants to work and create a future. He dreams of backpacking around Latin-America. He will do it. I am sure of that. We talk about peace and challenges. He is a positive, inspiring guy. 

I come across and paddle all the way to Sarakinio Beach. There a meet a the owner of Alex’s Bar, Alex. He treats me well while closing his place for the winter.

Alex is good friends with the Mayor of Askim. It’s a small world.  

Alex is good friends with the Mayor of Askim. It’s a small world.  

Thw tent is up and am ready for another relaxing evening. 

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Nov. 3: Head out from Gouvia, say goodbye to my coastguard friends and paddle towards Lefkimmi. It’s a 40 km journey without a stop. I camp on the beach and have a small supper in the center. 

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Its a calm day. Make good mileage.  

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A lovely day. Beach is nice. Want to stay here. 

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The river - lovely.

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RED CROSS - BIG HEART IN BUDVA

Silent Heroes of Budva: the local Red Cross

Budva is a small town in Montenegro with a heart bigger than its bankbook. 

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The city has around 11,000 inhabitants, 16,000 including the surrounding area. Of these, more than 20 per cent are estimated to be in need, and some 3,600 elderly have major financial difficulties and are in need of assistance including hygiene, medical assistance, and social contact. Unfortunately, the need is also growing.

Add to this a large population of Romanian migrants that Budva is trying to assist with education and care, and you have a substantial burden on a town with few resources to offer.

But there are forces of caring at work to counter this need. The local chapter of the Red Cross is one of those making a sincere effort to help on all fronts, including elder and youth care, and delivering food to needy families in the area.

“The Red Cross in Budva has a real local presence and they are making a difference,” says Mark Fuhrman of the Piece Prize. Mark is nearing the end of his Silent Heroes Tour, paddling his kayak from Oslo to Athens, recognizing small acts of kindness along the way. “The Red Cross is a global organization, but it is making a big difference in small communities, while also addressing global issues like displacement and poverty.

The Budva chapter has received a real boost from young people looking to help, with some 60 youth volunteers registered to date. The local population is also wary of donating blood, and this is another key initiative drive for the Budva Red Cross – to turn the sentiment and encourage more people to give.

The Piece Prize awarded the Budva Red Cross a donation of €1000 to support their sorely needed community aid efforts. Of this, €500 will go specifically to work with the elderly, and the other €500 will go towards initiatives established by the young volunteers, with some being used for new uniforms for the volunteers.

Milica Vucinic, deputy director of the Budva chapter of the Red Cross says: “The doors of Red Cross Budva are open to those ‘unintentional travelers’ for whom altruism is a signpost. When our wonderful new friend Mark Fuhrmann showed up in his kayak, it was like a dream in our everyday lives, and we simply rolled out the red carpet!”

Budva’s volunteers left Mark inspired and motivated by how much every individual can mean to the community and to each other, and his recognition has in turn inspired the Silent Heroes of Budva: “Mark reminded us today that the most generous persons are those who give silently without hope of praise or reward,” says Milica Vucinic.

The Piece Prize spreads hope throughout EuropeMark Fuhrmann, a 60-year-old Canadian born father of three living in Norway since 1986, is on a solo kayak tour from Oslo, Norway, to Athens, Greece, stopping in selected cities to reward silent heroes with a modest Piece Prize, and promote positive values, actions and thoughts.

Silent heroes can be anyone of any age. They may run community organisations, be involved with charity work, be a friend to those in need, do good deeds, anything that promotes positive values and demonstrates compassion for others, regardless of the scale of the activity. In short, they are good neighbours, and good people, and the Piece Prize goes toward helping them continue with their good work.

Since leaving Oslo in April, Mark has stopped in Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Bremen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, Nice, Venice, Zagreb, Split and Budva. The next stops will be in Tirana and Athens. His route has taken him over open seas, canals, and rivers, and will cover more than 5600 kilometres when completed, taking nearly seven months.

For more information contact:Mark FurhmannTel: +47 901 53 003E-mail: mark@blue-c.no

Christina Dupré Roos (Norway)Tel: +47 936 34 449E-mail: christina@blue-c.no

Get involved! You can follow Mark’s progress on:www.thepieceprize.comFaceBook: thepieceprizeBlog: https://www.thepieceprize.com/piece-prize-blog/Instagram: pieceprizeSnapchat: pieceprize

LEARNING TO LOVE IN ALBANIA

The silent hero of Tirana:

Learning to love in Albania

 

Ilir Hoxholli is on a simple mission complicated by a cultural reality: in a place where people need more love and kindness in their lives, they are hesitant to accept it.

 

“Poverty is the toughest reality facing Albania today,” he says. “But hearing a good word or receiving love without demanding anything in return is uncommon in our society. A simple act of consideration can be a cultural challenge.”

Ilir is studying economics at a local university while running his charity organization DhuroDashuri, or ‘Give Love’, encouraging Albanians to work together to alleviate poverty.

He wants Albanian society to learn to show consideration in small ways, like letting people cross the road in safety. “One has to be careful here,” he warns. “Drivers are not considerate of others. We want a city where people show respect for one another.”

 

At an assembly with students at the Albanian College International School of Tirana, Ilir exhorted his audience: “Be kind to each other. Appreciate what you have. The more you give, the better people you become.”

During the meeting, around 30 students raised their hands when asked if they would volunteer for Ilir’s charity. “Some do not understand our work in charity, and what it means to help others and get a smile with out any strings attached,” he told the students. “Just lend a helping hand. Share love.”

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His closing remark brought a spontaneousoutburst ofapplause from the students: “Life is short. Live it as honest and decent people.”

 

The Piece Prize will make a donation of EUR1000 to DhuroDashuri through the Albanian College – TheInternational School of Tirana.

 

 

 

The Piece Prize spreads hope throughout Europe

 

Mark Fuhrmann, a 60-year-old Canadian born father of three living in Norway since 1986, is on a solo kayak tour from Oslo, Norway, to Athens, stopping in selected cities to reward silent heroes with a modest Piece Prize, and promote positive values, actions and thoughts.

 

Silent heroes can be anyone of any age. They may run community organisations, be involved with charity work, be a friend to those in need, do good deeds, anything that promotes positive values and demonstrates compassion for others, regardless of the scale of the activity. In short, they are good neighbours, and good people!

 

Since leaving Oslo in April, Mark has stopped at Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Bremen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, Nice, Venice, and Zagreb,Budva, and Tirana. His next and final stop isAthens. His route has taken him over open seas, canals, and rivers, and will cover more than 5600 kilometres when completed, taking nearly seven months. 

REACH 4 THE SKY - or Corfu!

Oct. 31:  Morning is magic though the sunrises are not as warm as a couple of weeks ago. It is a two hour paddle to Sarandë. We pack and leave. 

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We decide not to paddle all the way into Sarandë and stop to get bottled water in a small village on the outskirts of the city. 

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Here are signs of development. Summer apartments and houses are sprouting up along this Adriatic coastline. People are busy and workers are plenty. 

We decide to cross this bay in one go. Later we hear about two tourists that ran into difficulty with their rental kayaks a couple weeks back. Strong winds blew them further away from shore. The woman perished and the man was saved after 17 hours. He was found in a bad state, dehydrated, fearing for his life and clinging to his plastic yellow kayak.  

We decide to cross this bay in one go. Later we hear about two tourists that ran into difficulty with their rental kayaks a couple weeks back. Strong winds blew them further away from shore. The woman perished and the man was saved after 17 hours. He was found in a bad state, dehydrated, fearing for his life and clinging to his plastic yellow kayak.  

Sarandë in the distance. Goodbye Albania, hello Greece.  

Sarandë in the distance. Goodbye Albania, hello Greece.  

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Corfu is the destination. We cross in two hours and rest in a small cover prior to making our way to Pyrfi, just 10 km from the city of Corfu. 

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It’s getting dark as we arrive. A young guy running a coffee kiosk lets us store the kayaks in his back yard and he finds us an apartment for the night.  

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Once settled into to a small apartment, we find a very local taverna. The owner is roasting pork over an open pit. We eat a heartily meal and enjoy beverages and coffee. Total cost €22 for two.  

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Nov. 1: Kayak a short distance to Gouvia and ask a local marina if we could store our kayaks for a couple of days. 

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They say yes and our kayaks are soon under the surveillance of both port security and the Greek Coast Guard. :)  Now this is service. I find a small room for 150kr and try to solve our transport challenge: one kayak from Corfu to Oslo.

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Lars Erik flies out tomorrow and finding that transport solution is not easy. It’s now 17:00 and we are hungry. Time for the “last supper”.

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For one person? At the Zorbas restaurant outside of Corfu, the answer is yes. I have my own meal to tackle. 

Chicken souvlaki

Chicken souvlaki

As mentioned, the majority of the journey has been solo, but for the past six weeks I had the honor of paddling with four fine men. Lars Erik is the final participant, but now his leg is over. Now packed and ready to fly home to Oslo, he has followed the whole Albanian coastline. My Albanian Man was an inspiration and great motivation. Thanks to Endre, Jon Fredrik, Trygve and Lars Erik for an enriching experience. Together we were truly better. 

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DRUGS OR DEVELOPMENT: Gentle people with BIG hearts in Albania - that’s what I have experienced.

Oct.30: Vlore is a beautiful city. We were up early and this lovely man gave us an orange and a bunch of mandarins. 

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We talked to several people who advised us against paddling around the peninsula. The major problems are currents and no safe landing place if the wind should pick up. 

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Though a beautiful route, we safe it and ask a local to drive us. He agrees and we set off just over 07:00. 

We stored our kayaks in a restaurant and in the morning, the driver was waiting to lend a hand.  

We stored our kayaks in a restaurant and in the morning, the driver was waiting to lend a hand.  

The route over the mountains was breathtaking. We stop at the summit for coffee and toast. The drivers son worked there. The father was happy to introduce us.  

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Switchbacks, steep slopes, fantastic view of Corfu, all part of Albania’s wonderful nature.  

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Low hovering clouds. Calm waters. Can’t wait to paddle.  

We stop in Dhermi, repack and get through the first barrier of breaking waves. Off towards Sarandë, 80 km. It’s a hard paddle. 

We stop in Dhermi, repack and get through the first barrier of breaking waves. Off towards Sarandë, 80 km. It’s a hard paddle. 

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Calm waters at first and then the wind picks up as we get closer to our midway destination, Porto Palermo. We paddle around a bend and find a perfect cove to eat lunch and rest our backs. 

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After lunch we cross an amazingly long stretch of beautiful coastline. I feel both priveleged and humbled to experience this journey. 

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From Porto Palermo to our intended campsite will be a 25 km sit-in-kayak-paddle. Everything is silent. No cars. No sounds. Meandering clouds and fleeting reflections on the water - no noise. 

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The white beach we saw on google maps last night is, by far, more beautiful than expected. Wind blowing against us, we approach the shore and beach the kayaks. The whole kilometer beach is just for The Piece Prize. :) 

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Evening falls and the campfire keeps the approaching cold dampness at bay. It’s been a great day. Tomorrow we should reach Greece. 

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Albania has a reputation. What I have experienced is a huge pocket of hard working people with dreams and aspirations like everyone else. With no labor laws, people work day and night. Unemployment for young adults is 25%. People have smiles despite enduring hardship. This country is in a positive current of change and decent people are driving this movement. Drugs, criminality and survival of the fittest, are part of the game, but the underlying strength are people with BIG hearts. 

FOOD POISONING, PEACE ATTACK, WILD DOGS AND THE CRAZY AlBANIAN COASTLINE

Oct. 26: Food poisoning, spent the whole day in bed.  Tight and loose stomach. :) Wendi from Albania College Tirana met us at 16:30 and we   visit the “bunker museum” to get a first hand look into Albania history. Lots of war. Ended the evening trying to eat and Joe took us home to two great comfortable beds. 

Dinner at an Eastern European restaurant didn’t turn out as we had planned. During the night the rumbling began and visits to the bathroom increased every hour.  

Dinner at an Eastern European restaurant didn’t turn out as we had planned. During the night the rumbling began and visits to the bathroom increased every hour.  

Oct. 27: Spend a great day in Tirana at the Albanian College.  Addressed three classes on acts of kindness and local peace. Held a Peace Attack and together with the students handed out 200 hundred hearts. Met a great Silent Hero called Jona Hoxolli (see: https://youtu.be/zl5aVsqKU9M).

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Instead of guns and violence, these students received hearts and a great day. No sorrow, just happiness.  

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The Piece Prize’s Silent Hero in Tirana, Jona Hoxolli - here on Ted Talks- knows about the struggle of Albania and this nation’s challenge to care for each other. See: https://youtu.be/zl5aVsqKU9M

Oct. 28: Ready to kayak from Durres to Vlore. Impossible. Waves are high and breaking. No other choice than to ask for help and get from A to B. 

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30 km of coastline takes 1.5 hours by car. We drive through amazing countryside and see a bit of everything. Lovely.  

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We find a place to spend the night. Take a long walk on the beach. We come back to find most of our food had vanished thanks to a friendly pack of wild dogs. That is, bread, all meats and a nice chunk of cheese. 

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Lots of debris and objects on the Topoje beach. 

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Oct. 29: Up early and paddle. A crazy roller coaster of a trip. The coast of Albania is like Denmark. Shallow and waves. We paddle far out into the sea to get around the challenges.  

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After 20 km, we stop for a break. It was the first suitable area to stop. I don’t know what the sign says, but it was a beautiful beach. 

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We continue to paddle thinking set on reaching  Orikum. No chance. At Vlore, wepull up to a beach and talk to a restaurant owner. He lets us store the kayaks in his restaurant and also finds us a room for 7€ .

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We stayed at a lovely place. The caretaker gave us oranges and mandarins.  

Albania is building. Where ever we go, we see new buildings and nicely kept places.

Albania is building. Where ever we go, we see new buildings and nicely kept places.

Amazing Albania, Amazing People.

Oct. 24: Paddling the Adriatic Sea is challenging.  Leaving Ulcinj we hit turbulence. Wind. Waves and currents. Paddling three kms we round a penninsula and find calmer waters. Called The Great Beach, we paddle 12 kms in calm sea and wonderful rolling swells. 

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The swells change to breaking waves and we are forced further out into the sea. Getting around them is a challenge.  

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Waves break along this 12 km beach and we paddle at least 2 km from shore. We pass Bojana Island and enter Albania.  

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We cross into Albania and paddle by Velipoje. With no place to beach the kayak, we paddle further towards Shengjin. Calm waters but waves breaking on the shoreline keep us from taking a rest. By the time we get to Shengjin, we will have covered some 40 km, sitting in a kayak for 5.5 hours; flat bum. Lol. 

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We arrive in Shengjin and locate the port police to check into Albania. They are nice and helpful, but their  computer systems are old and we cannot complete the paper work. 

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Albania is different. A lot of litter and things are not similar as to Europe.

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We paddle further and head out. After an hour we realize that we cannot make it. Wind is increasing as well as the waves, and paddle back to the port. One hour out, two hours back. We are exhausted. Into the Shengjin port once again, Nikola - riding his bike - stops and says he will store the kayaks. We follow him. 

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Nikola takes us to a yacht. He ties up our kayaks and offers us a place to stay. We then later share a wonderful dinner with his lovely family.  

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Our first time and first day in Albania is wonderful. We meet people who care and are kind. We meet people who are willing to help others. We meet people who are like everyone else in Europe. They want to work. They want to create a future for their children. And, they have a dream; to build a new house.  

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A lovely meal, a lovely family. Albania has so many hidden gems: Nikola is one of them.  I was so impressed with this family. Albania’s strength is the people. Without a doubt. 

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It is sad to see so much value being discarded. Maybe not enough money to maintain things. Europe is different. But Albania is going to change for the good. Just a matter of time. 

Oct. 25: Up early. Great sleep. Nikola took us to a place for coffee and then we came back and packed. The weather is bad. Gusting winds of 10 meters per second. Not good. We ask a local man to drive us to Durres. He agrees and we load our kayaks.  

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We pack the kayaks as good as we can and set off to Durres. I say good bye to the police.  

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Police can be friendly. Mark, the policeman, had spent several weeks training in London. 

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We arrive in Durres and go through several stages of getting our passport stamped. It takes two hours. Finally through, we board a bus and head off to Tirana. A short bus ride and we are here. What a gorgeous city. 

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Tonight I get to take a long shower and shave. Wow. It’s been weeks since the last time.  

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