300 Days of Paddling: A Resolution Success Story


headshotWe all make (and break) resolutions. But last year, Unalaska local, Josh Good, resolved to paddle 300 days within the year. And he did. January is quickly disappearing, but there’s still time to make your 2016 resolutions. Learn how Josh chose a goal, stayed motivated, accomplished it and the results he ended with.

I’m a 5th grade teacher, and each January I assign my class to think of reasonable and accomplishable New Year’s Resolutions. Doing my best to provide a good example, I always participate in the assignment as well, but in the past, my resolutions have either been things I would’ve done regardless, or have gone the way of most resolutions and have been forgotten.


For 2015, I decided to change all that and go big. I set the goal of paddling 300 days in a year. While in certain parts of the world that would be an easy feat, but an area dubbed “The Birthplace of the Winds,” Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, are where I call home. The Aleutian Islands are the historical home to some of the most accomplished kayak paddlers of all time, Native Alaskans indigenous to the area, the Unangax. Major competition. 300 days, even with 65 days off, was a lofty goal.

With 2015 behind me, here’s the good and bad, the ugly, the inspirational—the steps I took and the things I reminded myself throughout the year to motivate me to fulfill this challenging resolution.


Make a logical, and accomplishable resolution
It began with a bit of inspiration from two friends. One was nearing completion of his 2014 resolution to run two miles or more, outside, every day of the year. Another friend who had recently borrowed one of our kayaks for an afternoon, had asked how often my wife and I used our kayaks, and my response—not often enough. So why not paddle 365 days in 2015?

A few friends quipped that I’d never make it because of our weather. But I figured on all but the most extreme days, there would be an area protected enough to paddle. But what about travel? I’d be out of town a few days, and while I might be able to find a boat, paddling on each of those days was a bit out of the question.

I reasoned I needed a few buffer days. I also decided there had to be a minimum paddle time. So, I chose 300 days for at least 30 minutes each day—a goal that had some logic behind it and was reasonable.

Day 26_web
Day 26.

Tell people & keep track
By New Year’s Eve, I was set on my goal, and everyone knew it. Some said that it would be an awesome achievement, and others said it could never be done—because of the weather, of course. New Year’s Day came and went, and my first buffer day was gone, but by the end of January 2, 2015, I had 299 days to go. By telling my family, friends, even my co-workers and students, I had people everywhere keeping tabs on me, keeping me accountable, and asking about my progress toward my goal.

Then make a log. You can keep track of whatever it is you’re striving for. As the year went on I was always talking about or being asked what day I was on. I set up a log, which I organized to total up hours, count down days, and allow me to comment on the weather, sea state, and anything else I deemed worthy. I also kept track of who paddled with me on individual days. In the end, the log was a demonstration of changing seasons, weather patterns, and wildlife behaviors, but most of all, it provided a countdown and kept me honest.

Daily Log_web

Overcoming obstacles
Wind and weather: 300 days of paddling is a big deal, regardless of where it takes place—I spent over 200 hours in my kayak—but you have to admit, it would be much easier in certain parts of the world. The formation of the weather systems that affect the entire North American continent are happening outside my door in the Aleutian Islands. Throughout the year, I found that the wind itself wasn’t the biggest issue, but the williwaws, gusts of wind our area is famous for, hold the biggest potential for capsizing. When bracing or leaning into the direction of the prevailing wind, gusts often come from an opposite direction, thus pushing the already leaned paddler closer to blowing bubbles.

Waves: Breaking waves were a problem, but occurred less often than people were afraid of. A swift and well-timed seal slide provided a slick entry, and proper placement in regards to wave direction—whether they be wind chop or big swells—allowed me to paddle through just about any sea state. Landing in rollers was pretty intimidating, but grew easier with patience, experience, and a bit of luck. But boat wakes proved a potential hazard. When paired with certain wave types they can cause some serious breaking wave trains, but despite Dutch Harbor/Unalaska being one of the nation’s biggest fishing ports, there were very few boats that would create a wake large enough to cause concern, and it became quite apparent, rather quickly, which boats have the potential to cause the concerning waves.

Cold: Unalaska is the southernmost city in Alaska. But it still gets cold. Watersports are limited within the cold-weather, outdoor activities because eventually that water freezes. There were a few days in the year when I was breaking through a thin layer of ice in the more protected waters, but ice meant calm. And calm days are easy days—regardless of temperatures. The cold really got to me when the waves hit and formed ice on my boat, paddle, gloves, and beard.

A frosty paddle into Captain’s Bay.

Proper Gear and gear/body maintenance: throughout the year I definitely ran into more than a few issues with my gear and my body. At first, there was a bit of soreness, surprisingly the worst of which was in my hands. Besides the bit of expected soreness, a few injuries threatened to sideline me along the way, the worst being a lower back injury. Loading and unloading my kayak from the top of my SUV every day wasn’t too much of an issue, but as with everything else, it was complicated by the wind. The chiropractor was a bit amused when I said I was going to go kayaking again tomorrow—and the next day—regardless of some pretty debilitating lower back pain. The injuries passed, but as the early months passed, it became pretty obvious that I needed to beef up my game on cold-water gear. A neoprene mystery sea hood (the bill was key) replaced my beanie or ball cap, and 3.5 mm neoprene natural gloves replaced the 1.5 mm liners inside my ski gloves. A bit later in the year, as my skills and confidence continued to improve, the dry top came out, and eventually a dry suit. A pair of paddling shoes replaced my clunky rubber boots and a new PFD replaced ol’ trusty to round out the new gear for the year. As far as old gear went, I had two bigger issues with gear, one being a broken paddle—had to get out the spare—and a crack in my boat. I fixed the boat and sent in the paddle for repair; I managed to stay on the water and kept crossing off days.

Gear Disclaimer: I always had my paddle float, pump, a VHF radio, and wore my PFD. It’s not worth it to paddle today and not be able to paddle tomorrow. Safety first.

All the above obstacles aside, the biggest struggle was laziness. There were always plenty of excuses to skip out on paddling, but you have to trust that staying true and getting it done will pay off in the end.

Iliuliuk Creek where I started the majority of my days in. The church is the Russian Orthodox Church of Unalaska, a local landmark.
Iliuliuk Creek where I started the majority of my days. The church is the Russian Orthodox Church of Unalaska, a local landmark.

Mile marker motivations to keep paddling
No matter what it is, there will be something or some reason that you want to stop, give up, or just not continue. Push through and keep going. Remind yourself how far you’ve come, and how great it will be when you reach your goal. Setting mini-goals or celebrating mile markers along the way helps motivate you not to quit.

Day 100: Time had crept along, and it seemed like I was going nowhere and making very little progress toward my goal. Until day 100. The day I hit triple digits, personally, was a pretty big deal. I wrote a short reflection on the first 100 days to share with friends and say thank you. After day 100, people started believing that I would reach my goal.

Day 101.
Day 101.

Day 250: 50 days left. After 250, that seemed negligible. But the real thing was, the hardest months of the year had yet to come. November tends to be the month that people talk about in regards to big storms. There are even famous songs about “The Gales of November.” This year, November didn’t disappoint. I did a lot of weather watching, and did my best to get on the water before the storms hit. By then, my un-used buffer days were dwindling, so the schedule was getting tight.

Day 300: Enough said.

Day 300_web

Change routes & add paddlers
While there is comfort and convenience in following the same route, and everyone always has their favorite (I’m no exception) it was always nice to paddle somewhere new, or unfrequented. While out of town, it was a requirement to paddle in new spots, but there was also the challenge of procuring a boat to paddle. The support of a network of friends around Alaska allowed me to work on my goal while travelling around the state this summer. Travels in Juneau even lead to a few days of backcountry kayak camping in Glacier Bay National Park, providing a complete change of both pace and scenery.

If at all possible, get out with others. While the kayaking community in Unalaska is not huge, nor incredibly active, there are quite a few folks that like to go out on the nice days. But I was often on my own during the gnarliest of conditions (always file a float plan). Throughout the year, nearly 20 different people joined me for a day of paddling, some for their first paddle ever, others for their first time in Unalaska. My oh-so supportive wife joined me whenever she had the chance, totaling 40 of my 300 days.

Unfortunately, I rarely had the opportunity, in all my 300 days, to paddle with someone more experienced than myself. It’s always easier to exit your comfort zone, or at least hover on the border, when you’ve got a partner in crime. If you have a local group of paddlers, get in on that! And learn from the experience of others.

Paddling in Unalaska Bay on a day my wife, Missy, friend, Simon, and a humpback whale chose to join me.
Paddling in Unalaska Bay on a day my wife, Missy, friend, Simon, and a humpback whale chose to join me.

Finish Strong
Nearing the end, it seemed like I was making little progress. The final 50 days dwindled slowly. But before I knew it my number of paddle days to 300 was in the single digits. Back to the keep going—remind yourself how far you’ve come, and how great it will be when you reach your goal.

One of the best things about this year was that I had an excuse to get on the water every day. It may have been a tight squeeze to get my 30 minutes of paddling in on certain days, but as soon as my boat was floating, it didn’t matter how fast or slow I went, how rushed or relaxed I was, I had 30 minutes of paddling ahead of me. While there were some fitness benefits, the biggest benefit was improved state of mind. When faced with the challenges of the 300 days, I often greeted them with a smile and a bit of an uncomfortable laugh or forced chuckle to help release some tension. Even on the adrenaline-filled rough and nasty days, some time spent paddling—floating in the water, the cadence of the paddle, the time alone, always had a calming effect on me.

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Improve Your Craft
By the end of the year my paddling regiment had become routine, I had become incredibly confident in my skills, and my pride in the accomplishment of my goal never faltered.

Throughout the year, I continued to develop, learn, and improve my paddling just by being on the water so often. Off the water, I was motivated to watch videos and read technical articles about paddling. If you live somewhere that classes are offered, I highly suggest partaking in one or two. In my case, there are no kayaking classes within 800 miles, so I taught my own class. I teamed up with the local community center and presented information and provided practice sessions on basic paddling and self rescue techniques. Being able to teach a skill well is the highest form of mastery, plus you’re getting some other people excited to paddle.

Nateekin Bay.
Nateekin Bay.

Whether it was my friends missing me at a gathering, my principal and co-workers eyeballing my paddle pants and shoes in staff meetings, passers-by asking what day I was on, or my wife letting me skip sweeping the floors, the support surrounding me this year was incredible and I wouldn’t have finished without it. I’ve been through enormous swells, chest smacking chop, complete whiteouts, seemingly hurricane force winds and multidirectional gusts, and have put my mind and body to the test. But on the other hand, I’ve been within feet of orcas, comforted by huge rafts of otters, made wakes on glass-like waters, and have watched the seasons of 300 days change from the seat of my kayak. This is the first big New Year’s Resolution that I’ve thought about past January 5th, and the self-pride and satisfaction—not to mention the pride and praise from others—makes my paddle resolution among the best decisions of my life.

Now, what to do in 2016?

Facing north in Unalaska Bay toward the Bering Strait.
Facing north in Unalaska Bay toward the Bering Strait.

Editor’s Note: During the later years of college and through his first years teaching, guest contributor Josh Good spent summers guiding backcountry kayak trips based out of Valdez, in Alaska’s scenic and glaciated Prince William Sound. Now, a 5th grade teacher, Josh lives in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor with his wife and two dogs.