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SUNY Plattsburgh Expeditionary Studies Student Gary Goldfinger Circumnavigates Isla Angel de la Guarda, Mexico

This winter, I found myself in a place so remote that if anything went wrong, no help would come. The closest civilization was 30 miles away.

These were the circumstances for my final college course, the Senior Expedition. This course brought together all I learned in the Department of Expeditionary Studies in one final test.

My task was a kayak circumnavigation of the second largest island in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, Isla Angel de la Guarda, with three friends, Dan, Wyatt and Blake. After four months of preparation and a 68-page research paper, the product of another required course, Expedition Theory and Planning, we were going to Mexico.

The Adventure Begins

I’ve traveled to Mexico before to climb the volcano Pico de Orizaba and the cliffs of El Potrero Chico, but this was to be my first paddling trip.

On Jan. 3, after 10 hours of driving down the Baja California Peninsula, we finally saw our destination — the blue waters of The Sea of Cortez and our island, vaguely in the distance. Were we really about to paddle around this thing? It looked huge!

We couldn’t even see the ends of the island; this was going to be an adventure.

After a rest day to gather our final supplies, we were off. None of the local residents thought we would be able to complete this paddle since they considered winter to be off-limits for paddling.

As outdoor professionals — I and my entire team worked for Anacortes Kayak Tours Washington state — we were well prepared but quickly learned the source of this attitude … the winds. We had come and trained for winds, but the ones from the north that plagued us each afternoon were surprisingly strong.

Followed by Nature

Three days in we got to our favorite part of the trip. Coming around a large cliff, we were soon surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of sea lions. Each beach we passed had at least 200 sea lions on it, and, as soon as they saw us, they started barking and waddling into the water.

This was a little intimidating, but we soon realized they were curious and trying to play. They followed our boats for miles, coming closer and closer. Soon they started bumping our boats, and one even jumped completely over Blake’s boat!

A Welcome Fit for a Hero

After 12 days and 160 miles of paddling, we found ourselves back where we started. The initially skeptical locals, who had been convinced we would die under the strong winds, treated us like returning heroes.

After we agreed to their request to give a talk and slide show of our trip, we were back on the road, far from the remoteness of Isla Angel de la Guarda but, for me, one step closer to graduating from college.

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