German kayaker passes through Nome on attempt to circumnavigate North America

Freya Hoffmeister looking out at the Bering Sea from the shore near Nome.
Freya Hoffmeister looking out at the Bering Sea from the shore near Nome. (Photo by JoJo Phillips/KNOM)

Adding to a growing list of adventurers who passed through Nome this summer is Freya Hoffmeister, a German sea kayaker. She’s attempting to circumnavigate North America in her kayak, a trip she expects will take her 8-12 years.

At Hoffmeister’s campsite at West Beach in Nome, the tide was high and creeping up on her.

“The sea has lifted,” she said. “It pushes into the whole Norton Sound. I noticed that early on.”

Hoffmeister arrived in Nome the evening before on Aug. 11 — not by flying into the city, but on her own, via sea kayak. Her last stop before Nome was Port Safety.

A lofty goal is what brought her to this corner of Western Alaska: Hoffmeister is attempting to circumnavigate North America by kayak.

This summer marks year three of a journey she expects will take her about a decade. This isn’t her first experience with circumnavigation.

“(I started) small with Iceland, then New Zealand south, then came Australia as a first continent. (Then) South America, and in between, Ireland,” she said.

This leg of the journey started mid-June in Kvichak Bay. Hoffmeister plans to reach at least Kotzebue before heading back home to Germany to rest for a few months. She will then pick up wherever she left off.

Hoffmeister chronicles her journey in a detailed blog on her website. It covers everything, from paddling conditions, to which remote islands she’s found bear tracks on, to the temperament of her various paddling partners.

One entry is from earlier in August, when a stranded Hoffmeister waited for the conditions to clear up near Stuart Island.

“Day two of my unwanted asylum here… but besides boredom I had nothing to suffer,” she wrote. “I kept myself busy by changing my tent site for the third time, just 50 meters to the right… I went for another walk, this time out to the ocean, and felt happy I was on dry land when seeing the sea state…

“I found blueberry bushes and feasted on them,” Hoffmesiter continued. “Not much more to tell for today…”

Hoffmeister considers her blog not just a way for her followers to keep up with her, but also as source of inspiration.

“Not necessarily to paddle all North America, but just go a bit longer, a bit harder, a bit wider, and just a bit more of whatever they are doing,” she said. “Just getting out of their comfort zone.”

Freya Hoffmeister with kayaking partner Ross Elder, looking out at the Bering Sea.
Freya Hoffmeister with kayaking partner Ross Elder, looking out at the Bering Sea. (Photo by JoJo Phillips/KNOM)

The world-class kayaker is a solo voyager most of the time, though she’s traveled with various paddling partners (of various quality, she said) in her 20-plus years of experience. She met her current partner, Ross Elder, for the first time last week in Nome.

Hoffmeister said she met Elder through less-than-extraordinary circumstances.

“Just like anybody else: online, these days,” she said. “Through mutual friends, I kind of knew he had some experience and knew he’d be likely an OK person.”

Hoffmeister sifted through dozens of interested applicants before settling on Elder, a Florida man whose resume boasts many competitive kayak races.

Elder said he was immediately up for the challenge.

“I read what she wanted, somebody to come paddle with her in Alaska,” he said. “I thought about it for a minute, and then I posted right away saying, ‘I gotta do this!’ You know what I mean? It’s like a lifetime experience.”

Standing on the beach the day before the new pair was scheduled to paddle away from Nome, Hoffmeister surveyed the rough ocean tide.

“I hope that it’s not looking like this tomorrow morning,” she said.

The next morning, Aug. 17, brought the calmer conditions the kayakers hoped for, and the two were on their way.

Hoffmeister’s blog notes her last check-in was just before Port Clarence on Aug. 21. She and Elder will complete this leg of the journey in late September in either Kotzebue or Point Hope — weather permitting.

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