Personal development happens when you’re faced with hardship and adversity. That’s true whether you’re embarking on an epic outdoor pursuit alone or waiting out a global pandemic. It forces you to battle your inner demons. To understand what it’s like to cope with that at an extreme level, we spoke to Captain Liz Clark, a surfer, sailor, and environmentalist. In 2006, she set sail from California, venturing south to Central America and into the Pacific aboard her 40-foot sailboat, Swell. Since then, she has surpassed over 20,000 nautical miles, more than half of which she completed solo. — as told to Wesley Grover
This feature was published as part of a bigger story, Inside the Minds of the World’s Greatest Solo Adventurers. To read the other features, see:
My biggest voyaging fear is the power and unpredictability of the ocean, which I can’t say I’ve overcome. I’ve learned to manage with thorough preparation and knowledge of my boat, doing my best to have reliable weather information, and, over time, developing my own kind of spirituality or relationship with the unknown that helps me have faith that everything will work out (especially if I’m living in my truth and listening to my gut).
I’ve faced my share of adversities out there—scary storms, lightning, mechanical failures, a mysterious leak in the boat that took 3 haul-outs and a year and a half to fix, and being a minority and a woman in foreign places. I’ve learned that adversities are like springboards for personal evolution if you’re able to search for the positive in the situation, practice your virtues, and let go of trying to control everything. For me, it’s been about changing my attitude toward hardship. That’s what has made it possible to endure discomfort, disappointment, hard manual work, not knowing where my next paycheck will come from, and long, dark nights sailing upwind.
That doesn’t mean I never get overwhelmed—I do! I’ve just learned to let that come, then let it go, buck up, and deal with whatever I have to do. Being alone out there was really scary at first—not only because I had to handle everything on my own, but because I had all this time to think about the parts of myself that I didn’t like. Once I started doing the work of slaying those inner demons, dealing with past traumas, observing my unhealthy patterns, learning my emotional triggers, I felt more love for myself, which made being alone much more enjoyable.
I do it to experience the beauty of remote ocean wildernesses. To find fun, uncrowded surf. To live on my own terms, lessen my impact on my beloved Earth, taste true freedom. To open my mind by meeting new people and learning how others live. To search for truths about life and our great mysterious universe!