I wrote a post three years ago about resolving not to resolve. A bit cavalier but I really was desperately serious about attaining any resolutions I set. At the time, it wasn’t that I was hesitant to cast my goals into the wind for all to see, it was my fear of the inevitable inaction that would follow. You see, I wasn’t wholly sold on me or my skill set. Truth is I lacked the drive to make it (follow my passion, write my books, pitch my stories, edit manuscripts, essentially freelance the eff out of life) work.
So, what has changed? Frankly, it’s just time, and if not now, when won out six months ago.
Back in the freelance game full time, I’m taking a different tact: My only resolution this new year is to find inspiration by looking backward. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reviewing notebooks from the last five years, each filled with references to people, places, ideas, and stories. I’ve also been rereading stories I wrote that landed in respected publications as well as the pieces I crafted but failed to publish.
There’s one I keep coming back to; it was a short assignment about a guy I met while on assignment for Backcountry magazine on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far east. I was paid for my work, but it never found its way onto the printed page. I suspect it got swept up, filed away, and forgotten due to someone else’s life taking an unexpected swerve.
But reading it now is inspiring to me. Not because of the story I penned but of the person I met all those years ago. An open and curious mind and an adventurous and unmoored spirit facilitated our crossed paths and that is what encourages me most. You can read it below.
In the meantime, cheers and may you find what inspires you most,
Last summer, a passing storm forced Mstislav (Slava) Sokolovskiy to dig deep and suffer through what he called “a roaring, breaking mess.” Sokolovskiy was solo and circumnavigating Paramushir, an island in the Pacific Ocean’s Kuril chain that links Russia to Japan via a Morse code-like transcription of land. Steep waves catapulted his kayak vertical as a swift wind conspired to sweep him sideways, making any forward movement impossible. It’s what Sokolovskiy refers to as his “hour of terror” before taking shelter in a volcanic cove. And while the 186 mile solo-paddle around Paramushir was a first (according to Sokolovskiy) and impressive, this feat is not what makes him notable. Rather, it’s Sokolovskiy’s devotion to the sport and his commitment to establish a foothold for kayaking on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.
Closer to Anchorage than most of Russia, Kamchatka sits on the edge of the Asian continent; a California-sized toothy blade dotted with towering volcanoes, remote rivers and roadless tundra. Surrounded by water (the Sea of Okhotsk to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east), the peninsula is home to 325,000 people.
Sokolovskiy first visited Kamchatka while attending college in Moscow. He spent four summers working with volcanologists before relocating permanently to Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka’s only metropolis. Inspired in part because he liked kayaking and figured other residents would too and because he needed a job, Sokolovskiy founded the Kamchatka Kayak Club in 2006. Since then he has grown membership from two – Sokolovskiy and his girlfriend Anechka – to more than 30 locals, including four qualified as guides, and 700 non-locals.
Sokolovskiy lives in the old section of Petropavlovsk where a five-minute walk puts him on the shore of Avacha Bay. Despite the sprawling jumble of candy-colored, soviet-era buildings and commercial fishing vessels populating the harbor, the Bay offers a surprisingly remote feel and an exceptional setting for new paddlers to progress their skills before accessing the Pacific’s more notorious seas. Avacha also pairs nicely with Sokolovskiy’s primary mission: introduce resident Russians to kayaking.
Because of Sokolovskiy, paddling in Kamchatka, in relative terms, has exploded. Pragmatic in his approach, he recognized he first had to teach basic skills. “In 2006 we had just six people,” he points out. By 2008, there were 23 and in 2009, Sokolovskiy had enough proficient paddlers to produce and cast the first Russian sea kayak film “Salt.”
But it hasn’t been easy. There are no paddling outfitters on the peninsula and the Club manages the only rental fleet in town – twelve Necky kayaks. Resourceful and smart, Sokolovskiy continues to promote Kamchatka’s potential to industry vendors and outsiders, keeping tabs on his campaign efforts to inspire tourism. In 2008, 12 paddlers travelled to Kamchatka, followed by 32 in 2009, 47 in 2010, 40 in 2011 and 53 this past summer. Tim Kennedy, an Astoria, Oregon-based kayaker, was one of them. He appreciates Sokolovskiy’s labors. “Kamchatka is remarkable,” he says; “and he [Sokolovskiy] gets it.”
Let’s hope so. At 29, Sokolovskiy works year-round to develop his vision of a paddling culture. Despite obvious challenges, lack of suppliers and accessibility, he’s hopeful. “In 50 years 50 to 80% of explorers in Kamchatka will have kayaks.” While that figure seems optimistic, momentarily captivated by his confidence, it’s easy to imagine good things happen to people like Sokolovskiy.