Wauna resident Erden Eruç (“AIR-den AIR-rooch”), 61, ended his quest to complete his second human-powered solo circumnavigation March 15 in the Philippines after being repeatedly denied a visa to traverse China, which was essential to his trip.
Last year, Eruç became the first person to row from North America to Asia on what was to be the first leg of another record-setting journey.
He launched from Crescent City, Calif., June 22, 2021, bound for Hong Kong. After diverting to Oahu for repairs and then Guam due to weather, he made landfall at Legazpi City on the island of Luzon in the Philippines March 24, 2022, where he was forced to temporarily suspend his expedition to wait out typhoon season.
He rowed approximately 7,800 miles over 239 days, or about 33 miles a day.
Eruç resumed his journey on a borrowed bicycle Jan. 18 from the waterfront in Legazpi, on the east coast of Luzon, pedaling 604 miles over two weeks, mostly in the rain, to Currimao on the northwest coast. There he rejoined his boat and prepared to row approximately 710 nautical miles west across the South China Sea, a busy and dangerous stretch of water dotted with Chinese military bases, to Danang, Vietnam. He would then pedal another borrowed bicycle to China or Myanmar, depending on which country would grant him entry.
His original plan after reaching Hong Kong was to bicycle to Tibet and climb Mount Everest, then continue by bike across western China to Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountain range between Russia and Georgia, where he would summit Mount Elbrus, the tallest in Europe, before continuing to Portugal and the Americas for more of the same.
Both China and Myanmar refused him a visa.
“Myanmar turned down our visa request on account of security concerns,” Eruç wrote in his blog. He had tried, thinking he could reroute across India and Asia Minor, since China had been denying him entry since March 2021 because of its pandemic restrictions.
“It did not make a difference that I would arrive by rowboat after having spent months in self-isolation,” Eruç wrote. “I could have met all of their quarantine requirements while waiting at anchor. ‘No exceptions!’ was their answer.”
Eruç appealed to the Chinese embassy in Manila, saying he could apply again if necessary in person at the Hanoi embassy after making the crossing. “I also asked them to notify their coast guard and navy about my intentions to gain their understanding. Their response on March 12 was short and to the point: ‘Tourist visa is still suspended as of the moment. And the Embassy will NOT contact Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese Navy for you.’ ”
Eruç’s journey was to be a continuation of his first solo human-powered circumnavigation, which he completed in 2012 after five years and 41,196 miles by rowboat, sea kayak, foot, and bicycle. He climbed three of the six highest peaks on three different continents and set 18 world records along the way.
This time he wanted to climb the remaining three peaks on three more continents after reaching them under his own power, what he called his Six Summits Project to honor Göran Kropp, a famous climber who inspired Eruç and who died while they were on a climb together.
Eruç also livestreamed or visited classrooms and civic clubs along the way to discuss plastic pollution in the oceans and sustainable environmental practices through his work with the nonprofit Ocean Recovery Alliance and his own nonprofit, Around-n-Over.
“When I talk to children, my message is to acknowledge our dreams,” Eruç told KP News in 2021. “Often, we become the worst enemy of our own dreams. We find excuses, we find ways that this will not be possible because, like our family, we know our own weaknesses and we fall victim to the same. But it is possible to grow, it is possible to change.
“When I had the idea of circumnavigation by human power it was such a big journey that I had to become the person who could establish world records and historic firsts. When I started, I had no such ambition. What, who, me? When we set ourselves such big goals, the steps that we take have to be commensurate. They have to be giant leaps and bounds. And each one of those steps becomes a journey in its own right.
“And at each junction when I take the next step the naysayers don’t show up. The only ones who matter are those who are standing by me and supporting me, and new people will appear because they coalesce around the dream. It’s not necessarily me — I am just the face, the engine, for the dream itself. What attracts them is the dream. As the dream moves, so do people.”
China lifted its pandemic visa restrictions March 15, three days after denying Eruç entry. Conditions in the South China Sea had also deteriorated too much by then to risk a crossing. Instead of re-launching, Eruç arranged to ship his rowboat home in a cargo container.
“This also concludes my attempt to complete the Six Summits Project in memory of Göran Kropp, which I struggled to keep going since 2003,” Eruç wrote in his final blog entry. “I no longer have the resources to push this proverbial boulder uphill, a Sisyphean task that it has become.”
After covering almost 50,000 miles by paddle, pedal and foot and nearly one-and-a-half times around the globe over 20 years, while summiting three of its tallest peaks, his last entry drew hundreds of comments. One from another climber, Priscilla Moore, read “A dear mentor taught me that the decision to turn back is often the hardest and most heroic. Erden, your courage, strength and great mental stamina are without peer, and a shining beacon for a world running short of such gifts.”
For more information, go to www.erdeneruc.com.
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