Originally from California, Teresa Diehl always longed to come to Australia’s shores – now she’s not only living here; she’s kayaking around them. The whole country. Solo. Unassisted. She’s been going for two months, has travelled 300km and has 35,700km to go. Beached in Townsville while she repairs her kayak and attempts to replace all of her electronic equipment that was inundated with water, we took the opportunity to chat to this people-loving teacher about her staggering feat.
“I am doing exactly what I am asking the students to do: Create a goal outside their comfort zone”
What made you decide to circumnavigate Australia in a sea kayak? Three years ago I met a fascinating man, Mel Patterson, on Trinity Beach. He had an open canoe. I always go up and talk to everyone, so I walked up and said, “G’Day mate; where are you from?” He replied, “I just came from Darwin, and I’m on my way to Sydney.” Incredulously, I replied, “In that?”- “Yep, It’s a great lifestyle”. I could see it really was his ‘lifestyle’ as his skin was leather and he had a warm smile on his face. I ran home, got some tea, biscuits, and a notepad. When I returned I asked him all sorts of questions for three hours. The original idea began as a great way for me to revisit the Whitsundays, but ‘circumnavigating Australia’ started coming out of my mouth, and kept coming out, so now it’s too late to go back (laughs).
You have been doing talks along the way – where are you doing them and what are you talking about? I’ve spoken at Batavia Maritime Institute, Geraldton Senior College, Murdoch University, and Oceanwise Expeditions’ Whale Shark Tours in Western Australia. I spent six weeks in Yarrabah [Far North Queensland] and did many school talks, and just interacted with the community and council members to make them aware of options available to young people. When I speak to students, I invite them to create goals that are outside their comfort zones and then work backwards to create the steps to achieve them. Next week, I will be speaking to schools in Cannonvale.
Have you done anything like this before? No, I am leading by example. I am doing exactly what I am asking the students to do: Create a goal outside their comfort zone, determine what needs to be done to accomplish it, finance it, learn the skills they don’t know to achieve the goal, and set intermediate reasonable goals – these are what can they do daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and in five years or longer to create the achievement they desire.
“My first day, the weather forecast was for possible showers in the afternoon. I experienced two storms, whiteout conditions, passed Cairns five times because of being blown backwards by the storms, and ended up paddling 12-and-a-half-hours straight unable to stop, even to eat because my kayak would be blown sideways.”
When did you leave and – once you have got your boat repairs and technology issues sorted – where to from here? How long will the whole journey take? I departed December 22  from Trinity Beach. I lost contact with Mel Patterson so, in his honour, I wanted to start at the exact place we met. Additionally, I hoped to catch the northerlies in this time frame and if I had any difficulty it would be easier to find support. I am certainly glad I made that decision! I have had so many set backs that I’ve lost most of my chances for northerlies, but I have had so many great adventures and met so many wonderful people – I can counter ANY excuse a student may come up with to tell me why they ‘can’t’ go to Technical School or University. I will continue south from Magnetic Island depending on weather, how many schools and communities would like me to speak, and many other considerations. I expect the entire circumnavigation concluding back in Trinity Beach to take about three years.
How many hours do you usually paddle for a day? It completely depends on weather, terrain, water and supply availability, and landing and launching conditions. In ideal conditions, I can comfortably paddle 27km to 50km a day. My first day, the weather forecast was for possible showers in the afternoon. I experienced two storms, whiteout conditions, passed Cairns five times because of being blown backwards by the storms, and ended up paddling 12-and-a-half-hours straight unable to stop, even to eat because my kayak would be blown sideways. So I know I can paddle for at least that long and when I paddle the Bight and Zuytdorp Cliffs, I will be paddling up to 40 hours straight because there is no place to land.
What do you do with the rest of your gear – do you have a support person following you? I take everything I need with me. I do not have a support team, however, I do have kind individuals who send me equipment as I need it – either it has broken or I don’t need it with me now, like warm weather gear. That is part of the project: I want to push my own limits and be completely responsible for the life critical decisions I will face along the way. I do not want anyone else responsible for me or my wellbeing, however I have coaches, quite a few committed ‘worriers’, and I do my best to keep them posted about my safety. I have a GPS, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and Personal Location Beacon (PLB).
“I want to push my own limits and be completely responsible for the life critical decisions I will face along the way. I do not want anyone else responsible for me or my wellbeing”
What’s been the most challenging part? Dealing with breakdown after breakdown and feeling like I have overstayed my welcome when kind people have taken me in. When my kayak or gear is not functioning, or the weather is inclement, I have no control over continuing my journey. I am quite handy: I have built five houses, some from the timbers up, and I am a great cook. If I am allowed to contribute to the household instead of being a guest, my comfort level feels much better.
You have encountered a lot of wildlife – what have been some of the most amazing sights? Whale sharks are one of my favourites, plus dolphins, reef sharks, sting rays, roos, all sorts of birds, flying fish, tonnes of turtles, giant clams, corals, too many reef fish to keep track of and, I am sure, a multitude more that have seen me, but I haven’t seen them. I travel almost silently so I get very close to wildlife, as well as having wildlife approach me on land. I saw a shark that no one can identify for me: a juvenile that was bright yellow with vertical black stripes along its whole body. I saw it approaching West Point on Magnetic Island. It was just a few metres away so I am positive about its colour, markings, and that it was definitely a shark.
Have you met a few human characters too? Too many to count! Most people are so kind, generous, and go out of their way to help me. I am so passionate about Australia, education, and what I am doing – it’s a bit infectious.
How do you cope with the heat and sunburn? If I ever get media coverage, it’s going to have to be pre-coordinated! You cannot even tell it’s me out there: Every square centimetre of me is covered and I wear sunscreen under that. The reality is that if I am stopped, it will be by sun exposure or an infection NOT sharks and crocodiles! When I get too hot, I jump in the water. However, lately, the water is no cooler than the air, but evaporation does help.
How are you funding the trip? So far, I have used my own finances, which are gone. I have received some gear donations and usually when a store hears what I am doing, they give me a small discount or throw something extra in. Now that the trip has begun, I have a vast quantity of people and animal stories to draw upon and passion to share about the adventure that I am currently living! How I actually got to where I am is pretty entertaining as well. I have thought about speaking engagements, and asking for a gold coin donation. After I recreate my presentations that were lost on my computer that was submerged, I would be in a position to do this and I love to field audience questions. I genuinely LOVE people; love to hear their stories; love to hear their values and beliefs, and how they got them.
“Do something EVERY DAY to move you towards your goal. If you get overwhelmed, just look at the one thing you are doing today that is moving you toward your goal”
Any tips to offer in terms of where to go on day or weekend trips based on what you’ve seen? I have been island hopping and they are all worth seeing. Some of the reefs around the local islands are as good as the Barrier Reef. If I am going to camp, I like to be on my own so I seek out remote camping locations, take my rubbish with me, and leave it as I found it.
What training did you do before? I’ve been training for three years for this trip. Interestingly, it did include kayaking, but my fitness really came from commuting by bicycle and yoga. My mantra is I do things I enjoy that happen to be exercise. It makes it easy to stay fit. Yoga gives instantaneous results, which is why I continue to practice it.
Would you do anything differently next time? Raise $500,000 before I started.
Any advice for others undertaking epic challenges, especially mentally? Break large goals down into smaller, manageable goals. Do something EVERY DAY to move you towards your goal. If you get overwhelmed, just look at the one thing you are doing today that is moving you toward your goal. ELIMINATE negative people from your life. If they are family, manage the time you spend with them to levels where you don’t lose your focus on your goal. ‘KEEP YOUR FOCUS’ – Dave Winkworth.
Can you tell us about your background and what drew you to Australia? I am originally from California, have been a teacher most of my life, and have worked with At Risk Children in America from violent dysfunctional backgrounds to mental and physical handicaps. I was a tutor for Western Australia Child Protective Services and this trip is supported by the Western Australia Department of Education. Cumulatively, I have been in Oz over four years. I just had my two-year anniversary as a permanent resident. Ever since I have been knee-high to a grasshopper I have longed to be in Australia. I had the stuffed Koala collection and posters on my wall. Any time I would meet an Aussie in America, I would ask them to please talk to me. To this day, the Aussie accent is my absolute favourite. I am completely passionate about this country, the animals, the people, making a difference to everyone I meet, and positively impacting my small sphere of influence – what that looks like, I have no idea. The adventure unfolds each day!
Teresa is hoping to replace the technology that was submerged. Local businesses can contact her for a donation in exchange for being featured on her blog: platypusyank.com. There is also a donation option for small contributions, which are greatly appreciated and can be put towards equipment replacement and trip expenses. Teresa may also be contacted for speaking engagements through the website.