When I am at the sea in a kayak it is an experience that touches me in many ways. An experience that first of all makes me happy, but it is also an experience that lets me get closer to myself. An experience that connects me to something bigger than myself. It’s an experience that becomes deeper when I’m on longer trips and journeys. That’s why I call the blog Kayak Pilgrim.
I am a pilgrim at sea.
What does the word pilgrim mean?
“Pilgrim, a person who makes a pilgrimage […], that is, a journey with religious purpose and symbolic content to a sacred place. […] The pilgrim reaches, in a symbolic but concrete sense, a goal, a centre, an ascent to a higher spiritual state, paradise, the true home.”
“The pilgrim is typically dressed in a particular garment […] observes a series of ritual rules and lives purified and ascetic on the way to the goal.”
“The term pilgrimage […] has also been used to refer to the modern, rootless, atheistic “pilgrim” of the modern age who has longing in him but no goal. This type is centrally characterized by Par Lagerkvist: “To be a human is to hunger for something that does not exist” […] Vilhelm Grønbech used the term “pilgrim myth” in a similar way about the restlessness and rootlessness of modern man and his flight into ideologies and utopias, […]”
Finn Stefánsson, Symbolleksikon, 2009, Gyldendal.
Described in other words, a pilgrimage is thus:
- A journey to a sacred place.
- A journey that is a ritual, where the goal is symbolic, and which leads the pilgrim to a higher state.
- A strenuous and dangerous journey, a journey that also requires asceticism – a simple life.
- A journey which, in the modern interpretation, is a remedy against the rootlessness and formless longing that ravages modern man.
What, then, is the goal? Where does the pilgrim at sea goes?
I sat out on a long journey along the west coast of Sweden in the summer of 2018. The goal of the journey was not a specific place, but the experience itself: being alone at sea.
My pilgrimages in generel could be on foot, but after five knee surgeries that is no longer possible, and here the kayak comes in as the optimal alternative: a humble vessel propelled only by my own power, only by my will, only by my body. A sea kayak can cope almost anywhere and in almost any conditions. And I really like the sea.
Life as a pilgrim at sea, travelling in a kayak, is an ascetic life. Space limits what you can bring along. Comfort is limited to tent, sleeping bag and stove. You get up in the morning, eat and get ready while planning the day’s trip in humility for the sea and the weather. You break camp and pack your kayak. Head out onto the water. Come ashore and set up camp. Eat and sleep. And again the next day.
But still, day after day, everything is new.
Pilgrim in the modern world
How to travel in the modern world in a way that makes traveling a liberating act. Where you are not bound by destructive monotony, where things and their value are not the limits, and where the rhythm of travel is in your blood.
The journey by train, plane or bus is no good. In these machines, travel is left to others. In a car, you are in charge, but the layer of alienation is too thick. No, on your feet, in a boat, either kayak, canoe or sailboat, or perhaps on horseback. This is where the way must be found.
Alternative air travel might also be a way: gliders, balloons or electric planes with solar cells. But the high-tech is a kind of roadblock and a new layer of alienation, with all that implies in terms of financing, construction and logistics.
And those giant cruise ships. It’s not people travelling, it’s a whole city in motion. The pilgrimage that has become a celebration of consumerism.
So, I’ve chosen the sea kayak.
Pilgrim at sea
For me, being a pilgrim at sea is a journey to a place within myself. I don’t know this place, but I sense it somewhere in the mist, in the darkness. I know it is there, there are sagas about this place, fragments of stories that can be glimpsed behind the fluttering veil. I want to go there!
I must follow the longing that has always rippled within me.
It is a ritual, and being in nature is an essential part of that ritual – being out in the open, being in the mountains, or in the woods. Now it’s become the sea, and that’s good.
It makes me happy to be close to that primal force. The force that is both in the physical world and also somewhere deep within myself, so deep that it is no longer just a part of me, but of all people.
The goal of my travels is the sea in this double sense.
The eternal pilgrim
Pilgrimages have always existed, and are still a major part of all the great religions. Here in our time, it has also become something the a-religious (and the modern religious) set out on. The number of walkers on the pilgrimage route to Compostella is extreme, and other routes, including here in Denmark, are widely used.
I am not interested in pseudo-religious destinations. I am neither a-religious nor religious. I have my own authentic ritual – my own sacred goal – I can just set off.
I stated in the kayak at Hornbæk and paddled north, at one point I turned around and paddled part of the way back.
I’ve been on other trips, and I’m going on yet other trips. Both in the home waters and far away to distant places where wild nature reigns. Or to places where cultures over the centuries have shaped the landscape, but always the travel is as simply as possible – as near as possible.
The simple life
Why asceticism, which, according to the quote above, is also part of pilgrimage? The answer is the simple life. Not the new-age product called Simple Living, but that which is nothing but the journey, and the things you do on the water and in camp.
This simplicity almost follows naturally when you travel by kayak. In a sea kayak, a pilgrim at sea is naturally limited by how much one can fit in the cargo holds, and while there can be a lot, you’re not close to being able to live the comfortable city life.
The asceticism that naturally occurs becomes not that of deprivation, but something that creates a mental space. A space where I make new discoveries and gain new insights.
Wilderness life is not a matter of survival, as various TV programmes portray it.
When I was young, I also partly had the idea that the two things were linked, but in reality, I did not understand this link, and I still don’t. For me, the wilderness is liberating.
The dream journey of a pilgrim
Daydreams of trips and journeys at the water create images in the mind and longings to venture out. Create ideas and suggestions of where future pilgrimages may go, places where experiences that meet the expectations thus created can take place.
But the dreams in the sleeping bag when on the actual trip…?
I was in the tent early in the morning. It was perfectly bright, we were in Finnmarken in northernmost Norway, hiking in an incredibly desolate landscape. Despite the midnight sun shining, the night cold had left a layer of hoar frost on the inside of the tent, where condensation from our breath had thickened.
The other two were still asleep, but I had just awoken from a very vivid and powerful dream. I won’t go into the details of the dream – it’s mine. However, it was clearly linked to the place we were. We had camped in a valley where a small river flowed down from a large lake, down towards the much larger river that meandered through the landscape we had been hiking through for a few days. It was obvious that the Sami had used the place long ago. There was a ford, and hidden in the grass and moss were stone rings from the lavvus, and remnants of stone fences from folds for the reindeer.
The dream was made of this place, and the creatures that visited me in the dream were of the landscape.
There are many other dreams, and it is a strange experience that they can be something that is part of a particular landscape. Traces that are left, both in the world and in the mind.
At sea again
I’m going out as pilgrim at sea again. I let my trail be the wake of the kayak. The sea kayak moves in the border between the sea, the earth and the air. On the shore, where the fluid, wild and untameable meet the solid, shaped (often in vain) in many places by us humans over millennia.