(CNN)Two men have set out in a kayak, eager to become the first travelers in centuries to reach Scotland from the Arctic Circle.
What would make them challenge nature and themselves in an attempt to make this self-propelled, 1,200-mile voyage? To spend days and nights at a time in a kayak on frigid, untamed seas, at times paddling instead of sleeping beneath the midnight sun?
It’s a journey that has “an element of all adventure,” explains kayaker Olly Hicks via Skype from Trshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. He’s about halfway between Iceland and Norway on a day that the weather has him stuck on dry land.
“We rely on a compass and GPS so we can know exactly where we are at any given time,” says Hicks. But even if the sea poses the same challenges as it did centuries’ ago, nowadays there are satellites in the sky above them — satellites that can power their Iridium sat phone. “That’s a huge step forward, so at any place on our route, we can place a phone call to anyone in the world.”
Despite advances, they are still exposed to the wet and cold. They’ve spent more than four days and nights at a time in their boat in the ocean.
Sleeping in a kayak at sea is “an experience I would not recommend to anybody,” says Hicks, describing the process of bedding down inside the “invariably pretty wet and horrible” cockpit after setting up a zippered canopy overhead and deploying floats to stabilize the kayak.
They can spend five or six hours at night this way. “You sleep pretty fitfully,” he says. “You’re listening out for ships that may come because they cannot see you, listening for changes in the weather, changes in the drift, and you can feel that. And you’re trying to keep as warm as you can.”
Food is vacuum-packed rations — dehydrated meals and snacks — divided into a day’s portions and then taken aboard the kayak at intervals when they meet up with support vehicles.
If all goes well, it won’t be long before their final destination, Scotland, is on the horizon. Hicks says this last leg might be the hardest yet, due to weather conditions this late in the season, the exposure they’ll face so far from harbor, plus the men’s mental and physical fatigue.
To head out over the horizon again into the unknown, says Hicks, “it takes a huge force of will to do that.”