YARMOUTH — Nuts. Crazy. Unusual.
These are words people use to describe Deb Walters.
Another word they use? Inspiring.
The 63-year-old grandmother will embark from Yarmouth on Friday on a year-long solo kayak trip to Guatemala.
That’s right. Guatemala. In Central America.
“I have this slightly unusual passion for long-distance kayaking,” Walters said.
The Troy resident also has a passion for helping Guatemalan families who have to salvage through garbage dumps to survive. After years of volunteering in the country and making two to three trips a year, Walters decided to kayak her way to help. She plans on stopping in cities and towns on the east coast to inspire others to help, too.
“The whole point is to share the stories of children and parents of the garbage dump,” Walters said.
Walters became involved with volunteering in Guatemala through Safe Passage, a Yarmouth-based organization that helps families in the garbage dump. Walters said one of the problems facing the children that struck her the most was education. She said many parents wish they could send their children to school.
“It was such a simple dream and it broke my heart,” Walters said.
Walters got the idea to kayak to Guatemala after stepping down as Safe Passage president and wondering what else she could do. While on her journey, she will be blogging regularly and encouraging others to donate to the cause. All of the money raised will go to Safe Passage; Walters is paying for her trip out of pocket.
Walters does have 45 sponsors, though, who have donated gear and equipment. She will be bringing over 100 pounds of clothing, gear, and technology that will be stored in dry boxes in the kayak. She is also bringing 20 pounds of food and 16 pounds of water.
Organizers who are helping Walters prepare for her journey have been working to find her host families in the cities where she’ll be staying. She also plans on camping many of the nights, although that may be harder in big cities.
Walters has other concerns about her journey as well.
“I always have all these ‘what if?’ questions,” Walters said. “What if you get caught in a hurricane? I’m older, what if my body can’t handle it?”
These worries are part of the reason why Walters has decided to travel slowly and stop often. She also said that the fear is healthy and is a normal part of a trip of this size.
“A little bit of fear is a good thing,” Walters said. “It keeps you realistic and on your toes.”
Walters said this mentality has also helped her to inspire others, whether they’re making big journeys or are working towards smaller goals.
“Don’t let the fear take over and keep you away from your dreams,” she said.
Walters also knows she can’t give into her fears, because of the children counting on her in Guatemala. They have mailed her a small rubber duck to travel with so she won’t be lonely. His name is Patito Amistosto, meaning “friendly duckling.” She plans to post pictures of him to her blog so the children can see where they go together.
Walters has the full support of her children and husband, for which she says she is grateful. She said they will be joining her in different cities along the way during holidays. Walters will also have the help of a friend, who will pick her up in his sailboat in Key West, Florida, and drop her off in Belize. On the way back to Maine, her friend will then drop her off in Florida again, where she will meet her husband to drive home together.
Walters said she won’t be spending as much time in Guatemala as she usually does, but that she’s looking forward to working with families when she arrives. Her main goal is to add to schools and add more grades, so the Guatemalan children can continue their educations.
Walters said she is also excited about spending time alone in her kayak, because this is the biggest expedition she’s ever been on.
“It’s very soul restoring to be traveling at a human pace in a kayak and feeling connected to the sea,” she said.
Walters will depart from the Yarmouth town landing, near Safe Passage’s office, at 10 a.m. on Friday, July 11. She will be have another sendoff from Portland on Sunday at 2:30 p.m..
She said she is looking forward to the support and that the attention her trip brings to Safe Passage is welcome – even if it’s because others find her story somewhat strange.
“I’m not a super athlete,” Walters said. “I’m a regular old lady.”
Deb Walters plans to defy the notion that older people aren’t as physically capable as others and spend one year kayaking from Maine to Guatemala to benefit Safe Passage. She departs Friday from Yarmouth.