A Letter from Herman

The Arctic Passage Paddle Update

I want to take this opportunity to thank all contributors, sponsors, followers and supporters who combined efforts last year to make the paddle possible. Your contributions were, and still are, greatly appreciated.

The 2014 portion of The Paddle was a unique life experience; without question, the most interesting aspect was the people I met along the way. I was able to sample a little of life up north by interacting with the Inuit and all the others who have made it their home.

It was also physically challenging; from the long drive up Baja, Mexico to the Northern Territories in Canada, to the unseasonably hot weather along the southern part of the route, to an inflamed hamstring frequently causing me to get out of the kayak to stretch and relax the muscle. The pain was finally unbearable. I was able to reach the hospital in Inuvik and the attending physician advised that it would be irresponsible to try to continue paddling, especially since the next section would be on the Arctic Ocean where the paddling conditions are much more challenging than on the river.

I started a period of rehabilitation in Inuvik while waiting for my wife to make an early return from visiting relatives in Europe. The healing of my hamstring has been a slow and laborious process, but with steady improvement, I am now close to full recovery.

Leaving in the middle of August, we visited the Feathercraft factory in Vancouver, Canada and I tested their latest designs in improved seating options (Feathercraft is the recognized leader of designers and builders of folding kayaks). Since returning to Baja in early September 2014, I was preparing for the 2015 Arctic Ocean paddle and adapting my kayak seat for my hamstring issues.

In November 2014, a devastating occurrence completely changed my life, and with it my plans for the paddle in 2015; my wife, Marijke, suffered a stroke. She is recuperating very well but it will be at least 12 months before she will be completely recovered and we may face some remaining deficiencies. As a result, I have to cancel the continuation of my Arctic paddle for 2015. It hurts me to cut the paddle short and disappoint everyone, but I am sure that you will understand that my wife's return to full health is my priority for the foreseeable future. 

My special thanks and appreciation go to the team of the Baja Blues Fest Organization. These people have selflessly and with a great effort created and maintained this KayakforKids.org web site. They also have very actively propagated the paddle for the benefit of the various charities that they support and been instrumental in obtaining sponsorships and contributions.  Please continue to support the children of Baja via the Baja Blues Fest.

Again, a big THANK YOU to everyone for your support.

Herman Stiphout


Nobody will have escaped reading about my hamstring issues during the Mackenzie paddle.
Unfortunately, the pain and discomfort were such that it became a major factor in my daily activities to the extent that I was looking forward to the end of each day, before even starting to paddle in the morning.

Once I got to Inuvik, I went to the emergency ward at the local hospital and a physician checked me out.
He was a kayaker himself, so when I told him the symptoms and how it affected me during paddling, he knew exactly what I was talking about. He explained the mechanics of how the hamstring muscles are used during paddling and told me that by paddling further I would only aggravate the inflammation.
Also, on the ocean, the paddling is much more physically demanding than on the river and the extra effort could cause muscle spasms, which could put me in a dangerous situation if I should not be able to get to the shore immediately.
His advice was to interrupt the paddle and start rehabilitation immediately. He estimated that treatment would be needed for 3 months, minimum, but more likely, up to 6 months and that it would remain a weak spot.

The decision was tough, but easy at the same time. I have suspended my paddle for this year.

Needless to say that it is a big disappointment; this is the first time I am forced off the water because of a medical issue. However, if I want to look at the positive side; should this happen while on the ocean, I could potentially be in a situation where I might have to be rescued; something I don't even want to think about.

To make the best out of a bad situation, I am attending all the summer events in Inuvik, of which there are quite a few right now. I also plan to do some hiking while waiting for Marijke to arrive in the middle of August. We will then drive back together, taking our time to see the Yukon and visit some family along the way home.

July 13

The Great Northern Arts Festival is still in full swing and I attend a different performance every evening.

One of the great passions of the Inuvialuit is to tell stories through dance and music.
Most of the stories are quite old but still have significance today since they are stories of everyday life. A few examples: the story of a hunter who comes home empty handed after having spent a long time trying to find game. Another story about a successful caribou hunt and how long the community can live off the meat.
A further story about the enjoyment of a family gathering and the cooking of a big meal. There are many more, all handed down from generation to generation.
It seems that each community, or town, have the similar, but not quite the same stories and presentation. Also, some, like in Inuvik, take great pride in wearing traditional costumes for their performances while others, like Paulatuk, have a very relaxed attitude where the only distinguishable type of a costume is that they wear white shirts.
What they all have in common, though, is that each dance only lasts a very short time, from between 30 seconds to roughly 90 seconds.

Last night I attended a performance of a very different kind; throat singing. Two women performed songs that consisted only of sounds. The sounds vary from very soft and subtle to very loud and harsch in indescribable melodies. Some "songs" were calm and soothing, others were fast, loud and rhythmic. Each "song" lasted for up to five minutes. I was able to capture some on video; I hope they come out well.

One evening the audience was given a preview of what is a big event all of next week; the native games.
These are competitive sporting events of sports that one will never see in the Olympics. Some of them are:
single handed ball grab: the athlete balances his/her body on one hand and with the other hand tries to grab a ball, suspended at a certain height. The height is increased until the final contestent cannot grab it anymore.
Another contest is the single ball kick; a small ball is suspended from a pole and the contestants need to kick the ball with one foot. They are allowed a distance of about ten feet to create momentum for the jump. The highest we saw was about 10 feet; incredible strength and power to kick that high from a near standing position.
A third one, quite funny, was rope jumping. The contestant sits on the floor while two people swing the rope.
The contestant has to clear the rope by lifting his whole body from the ground so that the rope can pass underneath; he/she does this by, literally, jumping off his/her butt, using arms to create the momentum.
Everybody had a lot of fun with this one since it not only looks funny but also is quite painful for the contestants landing on their sitting bones between "jumps"; the expressions on their faces told the story.
These games are not only meant to be athletic events; some of the events are to demonstrate the tolerance to pain.
This was very evident in the "toe walking" event in which the contestants bend their toes under their feet and walk as far as they can.
It should be fun next week.

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