The Arctic Cowboys, a crew of Texas-based paddlers who will attempt to kayak the Northwest Passage this summer, have added a fourth athlete to their team – 31-year-old Rebekah Feaster.
Feaster will round out a lineup that now includes expedition leader West Hansen, along with veteran paddlers Jeff Wueste, and Jimmy Harvey. Joe Watson is the team’s research coordinator. If they complete the expedition, they will become the first to kayak the 1,900-mile passage.
Hansen headed an expedition down the entire Amazon River in 2012 and paddled the Volga River two years later. In 2020, he led a group of kayakers up the Texas coast, from South Padre Island to the Louisiana border.
The Arctic Cowboys expedition – and no, they’re not changing the name despite the cowgirl element – will begin in late July and take an estimated 60 days. The team will paddle from Pond Inlet on the northeastern side of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to Tuktoyaktuk in the southwest. Along the way they’ll face a slew of challenges, likely to include polar bears, sea ice, storms, and frigid water.
Feaster brings youth and skill to Arctic Cowboys
Feaster brings solid paddling chops to the team. She has finished the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile non-stop paddling race from San Marcos to the Texas coast, eight times, and holds the record for the youngest female to complete it solo. (She was 18 in 2009 when she nabbed the record.) She credits her father, a veteran paddler, and canoe teachers Peter and Kathie Derrick, for teaching her paddling skills.
“I like really hard challenges,” she said via a call from Italy today. “There’s something in me that whatever is the hardest thing, I’m going to pick that.”
Feaster hasn’t paddled since last July, but is training for an Ironman triathlon taking place this June.
“Honestly, when I was trying to decide if I wanted to do this, my initial answer was yes, absolutely,” Feaster said. “Then I started thinking about it and I was, ‘Oh shit, that sounds kind of miserable – and polar bears and whales and I don’t know what else is up there.’ And I don’t like cold water. It’s definitely going to be tough for me. I’m a Texas girl and I love heat.”
Hansen is confident in her abilities. He describes Feaster as a “badass paddler” who is “probably faster than the rest of the team.” She’ll bring the advantages – and disadvantages – of youth, he says, and notes that her personality and ability to rise above the fray are spot on for joining the group.
“The life experiences of a woman are different than that of men, so Rebekah’s potentially different perspectives or approaches with regard to expedition nuances or decisions in the field will be a welcome change from the decisions we’ve made during previous expeditions,” he says.
Feaster eager to add female perspective to adventuring
“They’ve always had just dudes on the team for this type of adventure,” she says. “When I have to deal with my period and all the things that involve adventuring as a female – I think it’s going to be good for them. I think it will help them appreciate women in the crazy adventure world. I think they need some young blood on the team as well. I’m looking forward to it.”
She says she loves laughing, and the Arctic Cowboys are known for their story telling capabilities and senses of humor.
“They’re just old geezers who are ridiculous,” she says. “I’m looking forward to them making me laugh, because I know that will happen a lot.”
She says she’s also prepared for “come to Jesus moments” and confrontations.
“I will cry at points, but we’ll have to work through it,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to have some miserable moments where I have to dig deep. But this kind of feels like next challenge. This is a totally different kind of adventure that’s going to break me in a lot of ways, but in a good way.”
Feaster graduated with a music degree from Baylor University, and is a pianist. As much as she’d like to bring her instrument on the trip, she’ll likely have to leave it behind. “The weight seems like a bit of problem, though maybe I’ll bring a harmonica,” she says.
Feaster is currently living in Italy, where her husband is serving a two-year assignment as an F16 pilot with the U.S. Air Force. She’ll travel to Austin in July to join the Arctic Cowboys team.