Endurance paddler West Hansen has officially postponed the Arctic Cowboys kayak expedition through the Northwest Passage this summer.
Hansen, who paddled the entire Amazon River in 2012 and the entire Volga River in Russia two years later, had planned to lead a three-man crew as they attempted to become the first to kayak 1,900 miles between Tuktoyaktuk and Pond Inlet in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. But the Canadian government’s announcement this week that it will open the border to vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9 comes too late for Hansen, who said he needed to launch his boats by Aug. 1 to make it through the passage before cold weather hit.
“Given last year’s postponement and the fact that Canada started vaccinating late in the game and has low supplies of the vaccine, I was pretty realistic about the chance of a postponement, so it wasn’t a huge surprise,” Hansen says. “I was hoping, given the relatively sparse population of Nunavut, that their vaccination efforts would have been more successful by now.”
The expedition is now scheduled for summer 2022.
The postponement is the third for the expedition, originally planned for the summer of 2019. Weather and funding issues delayed the original trip, and the Canadian border closed to visitors in March 2020 due to the Covid pandemic. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, about 51 percent of the total population of Canada has been fully vaccinated as of July 20.
Although the Arctic expedition was put on hold, the team has put in miles on the water. Last spring, they paddled the length of the Texas coast from South Padre Island to the Louisiana border. And in February, when a storm blanketed Austin with snow, they donned dry suits and cold water gear for a shakeout run on Lady Bird Lake while temperatures hovered in the 20s.
While that gave them a taste of the cold, the Arctic Cowboys haven’t had any practice fending off polar bears, which they’ll likely encounter in the Arctic. Polar bears can smell prey a kilometer away and swim 6 miles per hour.
The paddlers will also face challenges such as orcas, storms, and cracking sea ice during the expedition, which Hansen predicts will take about two months.
“The delays give me more time to hone in on details and to apply for more sponsors,” Hansen says. “The level of determination hasn’t changed. Thus far, we are self-funded, so this gives us more time to put money towards the expedition.”
Hansen has stashed his food and other gear in his storage room for now. While the big expedition is on pause, he says he’s spending more time training.
Hansen and the two other members of the Arctic Cowboys, Jimmy Harvey and Jeff Wueste, finished eighth overall and sixth in the unlimited category at the 2021 Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile paddling race from San Marcos to the Texas coast last month.
“After several years away from regular canoe and kayak racing, I’m slowly starting to get back into it and do some training,” he says. “I’ve taken a lazy month off since the Texas Water Safari, (and) now I’m easing back into running and paddling. I’ll enter some of these short races as incentive to work out.”
The newly freed-up schedule will also allow Hansen to do some hiking – and perhaps a trip to the Azores with his wife to celebrate the couple’s upcoming 30th anniversary.