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Adventurer sets off on trip to circle Lower 48 states

Around America

Posted: Friday, July 08, 2005

SEATTLE (AP) — Professional adventurer Renata Chlumska's plan to circle the United States by kayak, boat and inline skates may be the first such excursion of its kind, but her solo trip beginning Monday has a very personal motivation.

When the first Swedish woman to climb Mount Everest was planning the trip nearly four years ago, she planned to go with her fiance GJoran Kropp, a famed Swedish climber best known for biking from Sweden to Nepal with all his gear, climbing Mount Everest alone and biking back.

But Kropp was killed in a fall from Sunshine Wall near Vantage, a popular climbing area 135 miles southeast of Seattle, in September 2002, not long after the couple had moved from Sweden to Issaquah. Kropp's death still deeply affects Chlumska, 31, and she plans to travel the 11,200 miles around the edges of the country as a memorial to him.

Chlumska told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer she has little interest in setting a record on the trip she's calling the ''Around America Adventure.'' She is doing it for the experience, the time in nature, the people she'll meet.

''For me, what's important is to do every kilometer, every mile, under my own strength,'' said Chlumska, who also works as a motivational speaker.

On Monday, she will launch her kayak from Lake Union, accompanied by a kayak armada of friends and family.

Chlumska, who thought of being a gym teacher, has always had a zeal for sports and the outdoors. She competed in cycling and diving, and enjoyed parasailing and horseback riding.

In the summer of 1995 she took a basic rock climbing class. Kropp was the teacher.

''I fell in love with the sport and I fell in love with the instructor,'' she said. ''Fortunately, he fell in love with me too.''

Their relationship became a partnership, too, with Chlumska helping Kropp with his speaking engagements and guiding business, in addition to his expeditions. She was not fazed when he became famous.

''GJoran made it very clear in the early part — 'My first priorities are the mountains,' he told me. I guess I was kind of OK with that. I suppose I also thought, 'Well, I'm going to change his mind.' Don't all women think like that?''

When Chlumska traveled to Everest with Kropp in 1996, she was inspired by the mountains and the top female climbers she met there.

''I imagined female climbers would be like Hungarian shot putters — big, hairy women — because it is a male-dominated scene,'' Chlumska said. ''So I said, maybe if they can do it, I can do it.''

After Kropp's Everest climb, the couple biked 4,000 miles back to Sweden from Nepal over four months. After his death, Chlumska had a long period of reflection.

''The question was, 'What am I going to do now? What is my life going to look like?' ''

After a time, she found herself thinking about her plan to circumnavigate America. She decided to attempt it alone. But when she flew to Seattle in March 2003, immigration officials at the airport sent her back to Sweden. They had questioned her 3-month tourist visa, saying she clearly would need more time to finish her stated goal.

The next two years were filled with legal consultations. She finally arrived here in May and started preparing for the journey, which she figures will take 18 months.

''I feel like it's such a victory just to get to this point,'' Chlumska said.

On her kayak, Chlumska will carry water, food, a tent, sleeping bag, several cameras, plus a laptop for posting on her Web site, a cell phone, satellite phone and a solar panel to charge them.

She'll also pack a special trailer for the kayak, a harness, inline skates and poles. When the weather is bad at sea, she'll likely skate on land, pulling the estimated 180 pounds of gear behind her.

She'll pick up a bicycle in San Diego and pedal over to the Gulf of Mexico.



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