Seafaring twin brothers paddling from Alaska to Mexico
On March 18, Ryan and Casey Higginbotham set out from Ketchikan, Alaska, on a 2,200-mile, prone paddle board journey to the Mexico-United States border. Lying down, using only their hands for propulsion and without the support of a boat, they aimed to be done by July.
They reached Point Reyes National Seashore Sept. 1, 167 days later and already 60 days behind schedule. They met up with Sonoma County Lifeguard Aaron Pendergraft for a rest day before continuing south to San Francisco. They will reach Big Sur this weekend, with 30 more days of paddling to reach Mexico.
“Right now it’s looking like we’ll finish by mid-late October, but you never know with weather/swell,” the pair wrote from their camp in Carmel. “We’ll see how we manage it with rest because the body is starting to break down.”
The twin brothers, who turned 24 during the trip, are California State Lifeguards from Pismo Beach, and have been surfing most of their lives. They have said they wanted an adventure after graduating from college, “a real experience in a rugged, pristine part of the world.”
Their website, northamericanpaddle.com, describes the trip as “not just a historical waterman’s journey, but a way to raise awareness for greater coastal conservation, an homage to all watermen.”
The Higginbothams’ paddleboards were specially shaped for the expedition by Joe Bark of Torrance, a well known shaper of paddleboards and surfboards. They measure 18 feet long and 20 inches wide, constructed of solid foam a foot thick, with a rubberized kneeling deck, carbon fiber, epoxy glassed and gear racks on the front and back.
The boards are quite light but can tote 60-70 pounds of dried food, clothing, safety and camping gear, the bare minimum needed for extended bouts of solitude. Both have broken their boards, Casey in Florence, Oregon, and Ryan at Cape Mendocino when big swells prevented their safe passage to camp through the surf zone. Both times they were delayed while a new board was made.
They planned to navigate with a GPS unit that lasted a month and a half before it “went down.” They have done the rest of the journey without it, using waterproof maps to help them find their way through the nightmarish maze of islands and inlets along the Pacific Northwest.
Nuts and Bolts
The brothers paddle 5 or 6 hours a day and cover 10 to 25 miles, depending on conditions, and rest every five days.
Their camping scenarios can best be described as feral. They camp on random beaches or up rivers, set up camp in dunes and move out before being noticed.
Without major sponsors, they are funding most of the journey themselves, so tents are the norm, with occasional cheap motels when near shore. For the most part, nights are spent sleeping separately in one-man MSR tents donated by the manufacturer and wearing wetsuits donated by Patagonia.
They backed dehydrated food boxes before they left, and had them shipped to post offices in Canada. Now that they are in California, their mother ships them boxes.
Grizzlies were of particular concern in Alaska and British Columbia, but the brothers never encountered an aggressive bear. Casey did encounter a great white shark near the mouth of the Cal Salmon River in Oregon.