Austinite snags record for kayaking Amazon River
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Austinite West Hansen set out to accomplish what only seven other human beings have done before him—travel the entire length of the Amazon River, in a kayak.
In fact, more people have walked on the moon than traveled the length of the world’s longest river.
"I was dealing with a different demon every few hundred miles," Hansen said.
West Hansen also set a record by completing the adventure in 111 days. Previous records covered the same distance in 140 plus days. He estimates he traveled a little over 4,100 miles.
Ninety of his 111 days were spent riding the wild water.
"Less than four days ago I was out in the ocean, battling 30 foot waves in the Atlantic at the mouth of the Amazon, at three in the morning," he said.
The 50-year-old Austinite is no river novice. He is a seasoned ultra-marathon kayak racer with records and titles under his belt.
"I am still in the mindset of paddling in the morning,” Hansen said. “At night when I wake up in the mode of getting up and in an hour we got to be on the water."
At times, navigating Class 5 rapids seemed easy compared to other dangers.
"We finally get down to the flat water area where there are no real water hazards, but then we get held up by gunmen. Five times,” Hansen said.
Luckily, no one was hurt after being held at gun point, but one of their cameras was stolen during the final confrontation.
Hansen's teenage daughter Isabella was also part of his 22-member support team dubbed the “Amazon Express.”
She is an eighth-grade student at the Anne Richards School for Young Women Leaders. The elder Hansen asked the 14-year-old to assist in research as part of the expedition.
"I've rarely missed any of his races, ever," she said. "He also asked me to head up the bio-diversity project that he signed on to do with the Pacific Bio-Diversity Institute."
In the end, the team survived the record-setting task, and like a true champion, his trophy is found in humility.
"It doesn't take anybody special,” he said. “It just takes someone to put one foot in front of the other and keep going."
Hansen's adventure was funded in part by a National Geographic grant. A NatGeo television show and a documentary is also in the works.
In the meantime, Hansen is catching up on some much needed rest.