This Great Lake is the most challenging to paddle

Traci Lynn Martin on shore next to her kayak [Credit: Kristina Cooper]

Superior is the largest, but the Erie is the toughest. At least that’s what Traci Lynn Martin says, and she’s in a position to know. The Missouri woman is currently trying to set a world record by paddling around the circumference of all five Great Lakes.

Martin’s journey began in March, on Lake Michigan, and after several months of kayaking, she should be finished the journey this month on Lake Erie. Now having spent a significant amount of time on all the  lakes, Martin feels qualified to say which one is the toughest.

“People have been asking me if the hardest lake was Superior and I’ve been telling them no, the hardest lake has been Erie,” she told the Buffalo News. “Erie has absolutely been the most challenging.”

Traci Lynn Martin kayaking near a lighthouse
“You can’t sit in your chair and just exist. You have to be active and continue doing the things in life that you love,” Martin told the Buffalo News. [Credit: Bruce Leigh]

Erie is “feisty,” says Martin. The lake’s roughness is partially a result of the fact that it’s shallow, which means slower winds can create big waves. Another of Lake Erie’s challenges, says Martin, is the season. Kayaking in December, Martin said, makes her feel “like an ice cube,” and it aggravates her rheumatoid arthritis, which she was diagnosed with in 2010.

Martin, a 50-year-old nurse who worked in the intensive care unit, said that part of her reason for taking this trip is to prove that people can achieve great things in spite of the limitations of illness. “If I can paddle 3,600 miles with rheumatoid arthritis, then if you have a chronic illness you can get up out of bed and do the things in life that you love, whether it’s walking your dog, gardening or painting,” she said.

Martin was also inspired by her mother, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2015.

“Before she passed away she told me if I had any dreams or anything I wanted to do, to do it now and not to wait or put it off because you never know when your life’s going to be over,” she said. “People put off what they want to do because they think they have all this time and suddenly they’re passing away with all these regrets.”

If all goes according to plan, Martin’s journey will end up being a full 3,900 miles, which will make her the world record holder for the longest nonstop solo trip on a surf ski in one year. She has already paddled 3,500 miles and should reach her goal by the end of December.

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