Team members: Robert McCall
Hometown: Leicester, Leicestershire UK
Race vessel: Seaward Quest X3 Kayak, we think
Human propulsion: Robert McCall and a paddle
At least until the day when The Handmaid’s Tale gets re-classed as non-fiction, right now we live in an era when how you are born is less likely than ever to define how you get to be. For thousands of years most folks stayed one to none standard deviations from how they plopped into the world. First born son of a king? From the screaming regal moment when they wipe the goop from your eyes and cut the cord, you’re a king. Born into slavery? You’re gonna spend your life enslaved. Unless you got the nod to sing the high hallelujah, whatever man and/or lady bits you got in the beginning dictated +/- what leading roles you were offered on the global stage. Haters gonna hate, and the struggle is still what it is and a million miles from fair and easy, but it’s more possible than maybe ever to jump the line when biology and chance got it wrong and the thing you are is different than the born-to circumstances the world assigns. Royals can chuck it all and move to Canada; at least on this continent slavery is largely temporary and recreational; surgeries, hormones, and RuPaul exist. We’re nowhere near judgment-free self-determination, but compared to the forever of human history, things seem to be loosening up.
Our point? These days, even the English can become whitewater kayakers.
Imagine the English countryside. What do you see? If you’re like us, it’s sheep, long rock fences, more sheep, and some old guy wearing tweed. Imagine that’s accurate, then imagine you are a young boy with marmite-stained teeth seeking the whitewater adrenaline of the Class 5 Colorado-style rapids depicted in the Mountain Dew commercials of the early 80s. You know you are meant for trick boating the canyons of the Rockies, to do the Dew, but you are trapped flatwater paddling in the bucolic hellscape of Britain’s rolling hills. No hormones or surgery exist for that mismatch of self and circumstance.
In an act of defiance and self-definition, Team Zen Dog didn’t stuff down their truth, marry a beard, and learn to suffer in silence. Robert did what any courageous whitewater identifying person would do: find the nearest elevation and water flow and start living into his truth.
Since the 20-years-ago time when Team Zen Dog trained and then taught whitewater kayaking in the French Alps, this one-man voyage of self-actualization has unfolded himself to himself and the world, one paddle-stroked endurance race, one marathon, one hate and sufferfest event at a time. He’s run up the Matterhorn and across entire countries (ok, Lichtenstein), paddled nonstop and 125 miles downriver (at least 8 times) on the Devizes to the Westminster race, and the 444 miles of the Yukon River Quest. Why? Because that’s Robert’s true form, and at least since 2014 he’s been working up to the R2AK he saw when we nailed $10,000 to a tree.
Despite his quest to find himself, we know he’s found his tribe of fellow adventure-identifying hooligans because of his plan for his race vessel. From his application: “Here’s the fun bit. I can’t sort a boat until I know I’m in as it’s cheaper to buy there than ship… but when I’m in it’ll almost certainly be a Seaward Quest X3 Kayak.”
He’s going to buy his boat when he gets here for the race. That’s R2AKAF.
A whitewater-identifying Englishman who has no idea what actual boat he’s going to paddle, on the longest, most unsupported version of himself that he is aspiring to become? Regardless of how high your hackles got at the first paragraph of this thing, you’ve got to give a nod to the self-actualized spirit of adventure that Team Zen Dog is living into, and that he might have landed the community who will welcome him as he is.
Give us your tired, wet, and driven masses, longing to be free.
Welcome to the R2AK, Team Zen Dog. Like your same-named hotdog stand promises: we’ll make you one with everything.