Pro Tips: Plan an Expedition

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Photo: Greg Panas

Pro Tips: Plan an Expedition

With Expert SUP Expedition Planner Mike Simpson

Mike Simpson is on his SUP when he answers our call, surrounded by lichen covered trees, mangrove canals and silence. He's near downtown Orlando at an undisclosed location and he's found solitude. "A local told me that if you follow the coastline of all these lakes it would be a 12-mile trip. I'm going to do it tomorrow." Simpson has paddled 2,500 miles along the East Coast, around Puerto Rico and down the Connecticut River and is always planning some adventure on his board. Here are his tips for doing it yourself.

Get an idea. It comes from being semi-familiar with a location but having no idea what to expect when you get there. I knew I wanted paddle around Puerto Rico but I had no idea what it would actually take to do it. It could be savage, it could be rugged or it could be easy. It was the former. That's what gets me fired up: I know nothing about a place before I paddle there, but I'll sure as hell know when I'm done.

Find a local. They don't necessarily have to go on the expedition but find out who knows the clues and then find that person and create a dialogue. It might start as one email but you may end up talking to this person three or four times a day before the mission. I'm not this solo, DIY guy, I want as many clues as I can get. I'm asking people that have been there.

Do dry runs. Every trip—no matter how small—is a learning experience. You have to go on those one, two, three-day trips to really learn what you need and what you don't. Then, of course, you'll need the one thing you left behind. On the Hudson River I didn't bring my water filter and I ran out of drinking water for a day. There were all these freshets I could have pumped out of. I brought that filter so many times and never used it. Then I left it and I needed it.

Know your group. If you're doing a group expedition, the whole team needs to do smaller trips together to figure it all out. It's hard, but you need to pick a trip leader. There's gotta be somebody being held accountable, someone that knows everybody's ability, everybody's emergency contact. Group dynamics is everything. This sounds small but it could cost you a friendship. That's how bad group dynamics can get. A lot of people are drawn to these expeditions and there are egos involved. Leave your ego at home.

Stay safe. I'm all about safety. People always ask me, "Why do you bring so much stuff?" Because I've been in the shit, son. I'm not going to be a statistic. I want to do this again tomorrow. I wear my leash and a PFD on flatwater. When you're out there, your safety is your gear, you want to be on good stuff: really good board, really good paddles, really good drybags. Sea kayakers call it a kit. It's a very personal thing. Some people want to take everything and the kitchen sink, some people want to take nothing; I'm right in the middle. I've been cold, wet and up in the middle of the night, one, two, 50 times and don't want to do it again. I like bug spray, I like creature comforts, I like to be warm. Keep it simple though: you're going to paddle, eat, sleep, drink and that's it.

Pick a cause. In 2011 when Will (Rich) and I were talking about it paddling up the East Coast I was like, "If we're going to paddle 2,500 miles I feel like we should bring some awareness." We picked the Wounded Warrior Project.  When Will and I would come through a 30 mile-per-hour, un-forecasted headwind, we would always say, "Those guys in Afghanistan can't stop right now." That's what kept us going for sure.
Be flexible. I can't say that enough. You have to be uber flexible. You may want to make it to a certain spot that day but it might not be possible. You might be stuck somewhere two days but because you're prepared, you'll be all right. I'd rather be on the beach wishing I was on the water instead of on the water wanting to be on the beach. That's where you get close to quitting.

This article originally ran in our 2016 Skills Guide.

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