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The Leader

Drinking the Grace and Mystery (sidebar)

By Tom Reed
Reprinted from The Leader, Winter 2000, Vol. 16, No. 2

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The Facts

The woman: Victoria "Tori" Murden, 36, two-time NOLS grad, first woman to ski to the South Pole and first woman/first American to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
The boat: A self-contained 23-foot long rowboat christened the American Pearl
The dates: Sept. 13-Dec. 3, 1999
The route: From the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa to Guadeloupe, the Lesser Antilles, a distance of 2,961 miles.
The effort: 81 days. It takes between 1,000 and 2,000 strokes of the oars to move a mile, which means that Murden dipped the oars to water approximately--and conservatively--4.4 million times in her journey.

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The American Pearl

Tori Murden made an attempt to cross the Atlantic in 1998, following the Gulf Stream from North America to Europe, but the Hurricane Danielle caused her to capsize numerous times. After being tossed about the boat's watertight cabin for several days, Murden decided she had had enough and called for rescue when there was a break in the weather. The American Pearl, however, made the trip without her, when it was picked up off the coast of Portugal by a 1,000-foot tanker. It was later flown back to Kentucky, cut apart and rebuilt.

For the second attempt Tori and her now-husband, Mac McClure, found and repaired cracks in American Pearl's hull and used a number of different materials to improve upon the design. They used heavier grade plywood than in the first attempt, and put foam core plywood in others; they also used a different type of paint for the hull, dispensing with the heavier grade marine paint they had used during the first run. In the end, they had sheared some 50-60 pounds off the boat.

To make the crossing, Murden was well supplied with electronics, rescue and first aid gear, food and a water maker.

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What's Next for Tori?

In between dozens of public appearances and media interviews, Tori Murden and Mac McClure were married in a small private ceremony on Jan. 7, 2000, shortly after she returned to her home in Louisville, Ky. Murden is the toast of Louisville and Jan. 27, 2000 was dubbed Tori Murden Day by Kentucky Gov. George Patton. She has been wined and dined by various state dignitaries since her return.

Tori says she hasn't done anything but eat since her return, but she seems to be one of those who rides life rather than the other way around. She plans to write a book on her journey (and is well on the way with her "Letters from the Edge", published during the voyage on the Internet). She also is on an extended leave of absence from a project that is taking shape as a tribute inspired by another famous Louisville resident, Mohammed Ali. The plan is to create an educational institution for young people that would be patterned after different segments of Mohammed Ali's life. "The idea is that we are all capable of chasing our dreams and Mohammed Ali epitomizes that," says Tori.

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The wisdom of Tori Murden

Excerpts from "Letters from the Edge," the journals of the voyage

September 29, 1999
"If I choose not to live an 'every slice wrapped' kind of life, it is because so much of life lies outside the packaging. Out here, I may cut my tender feet. I may sweat. The sun may burn and the wind may sting, but there is richness here, beyond the wealth of nations. Open to all of us, it is free for the taking, but one must not blink. Best to savor the moment. Best to drink in the grace and the mystery, before falling back to a life less sublime. Tomorrow, this will be just a memory. I would not have it any other way. But, I do wish you could see the stars as I see them."

October 16, 1999
"African dust is flying overhead . . . I thought about this for a long time. This dust will accumulate water as it crosses the ocean. As the dust cloud gathers moisture it may be carried high and become cirrus clouds, or altocumulus. Perhaps in a few weeks a large black cumulonimbus cloud will deposit some of this African dust over a Kansas corn field. For a moment, I wanted to be that dust. I wanted to catch a cloud and take a short cut home."

October 22, 1999
" . . . let's not begin the energy revolution in the United States or Europe or any other place where the economy is based on tapping into a centralized power grid. Let's begin with countries that are barely on the map, places like Zanskar, Ladok or Pashmir. What's to stop right-minded individuals (or governments) from taking the latest in solar and wind technologies to light up schools and hospitals in distressed and developing nations?"

October 27, 1999
"(I) long for the smell of green things. I rowed well into the night because I wanted more than anything to take a walk. I'd be happy with any kind of walk, a hike up an icy mountainside with sleet coming down and ice clumping up on the bottom of my snowshoes. I'd walk through a muddy spring torrent with rhododendron tearing at my pack, anything just to be able to put one foot in front of the other for ten steps. What a pleasure this would be."

November 7, 1999
"I no longer wish to meet glorious historical figures in mythic settings, but I want to see friends at home. This does not mean I'd turn down lunch with Jefferson at Monticello, or lunch with Isaac Newton in his study. It's merely that I am now better able to recognize the genius of friends."

November 19, 1999
"As it stands, I would be contented to wait another month out here. As my friend Irv Bailey once said, 'I don't mind living on the edge, but I like living.' I do. I REALLY enjoy living."

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