After More Than Three Decades, Michael Perry ’74’s Kayaking Odyssey Nears Completion

If all goes according to plan, October 18, 2017, should mark the end of a 3,200-mile adventure for Michael Perry ’74—an adventure that has spanned more than three decades. Perry, along with his friend and fellow traveler, Tom Armstrong, plan to kayak 120 miles from Hudson, N.Y., to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

“When this is done, we will have circumnavigated all of New England by kayak, traveling through ocean, lake, canal and river, and never once having to portage over dry land,” said Perry, who for twenty years ran L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Center. The journey, which has been completed stage-by-stage, began inauspiciously in 1985.

“Kayaking had only really started to become popular on the east coast a few years before that, and I had begun exploring Casco Bay, where we live, and up and down the coast.” Perry said it hadn’t occurred to him to link together the trips he was doing until one winter’s day at his house in Freeport, where he was idly looking at a map.

“I thought ‘Gosh, I think we could kayak around all of New England and end up in New York City.’ It’s 3,200 miles in all, so obviously Tom and I had to complete it in small stages because we had jobs and families to think about!”

How to circumnavigate New England by kayak (without touching dry land!)

In the same way that some hikers walk the Appalachian Trail section-by-section, Perry said he and Armstrong, accompanied by other friends when possible, planned the rest of their route. Over the following three-plus decades they covered a lot of water, heading down the Maine coast, crossing the Bay of Fundy to Nova Scotia, and kayaking around the eastern side of the province, toward the Gaspe Peninsula and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“East of Montreal we linked up with the canal system, traveling some eighty miles through a system of locks down to Lake Champlain. After kayaking 110 miles of Lake Champlain, we hit another system of locks, getting us down to Albany and the Hudson River, which is tidal at that point. We’re now looking forward to arriving at the Statue of Liberty, where family and friends will be waiting for us at the finish line.”

Video: A memorable encounter in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

The journey was carried out in stages of anywhere between seventy and 230 miles, and involved a lot of logistical planning. Most years Perry and Armstrong were able to fit in about a week’s worth of kayaking.

While Perry wants to encourage more people to take up kayaking, he does not recommend this trip to any but the most experienced paddlers: The open ocean segments could be especially challenging. “The sea is often unpredictable. A lot of times you’re paddling hard just to stay upright, and we have had a few ‘stay focused’ moments over the years.”

Fondest memories? “One of the most memorable experiences,” said Perry, “was padding through the forty-nine-foot-high arch at the base of iconic Perce Rock, in the Gaspe region of Quebec. It’s one of the largest natural arches in the world located on water.

“But for pure adventure,” he added, “it’s hard to beat the ‘commando camping’ experience of pulling your boat onto a deserted beach in the Bay of Fundy and pitching your tent for the night.” And then there’s the wildlife: “We’ve seen whales, dolphins, puffins, but happily no sharks—at least that I’m aware of!”

The key message that Perry has for anyone thinking of taking on a big challenge like this one: If it seems daunting, then consider breaking it up into lots of smaller challenges and see where it goes. All dreams can happen—you just have to be creative in figuring out how.”

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