erden eruc human-powered circumnavigation
(Ryan Heffernan)

Around the World in 1,026 Days

To fulfill a longtime dream and honor the memory of a fallen hero, a Turkish-American software engineer decides to circle the earth by bike and rowboat, powered solely by his own muscle, lungs, and heart. A little obsessive? Maybe, but look closely at the journey of Erden Eruc and you’ll see something else: one of the most incredible adventure stories of our ti

erden eruc human-powered circumnavigation

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Who is the man at the oars, alone in the middle of the ocean? What is his purpose? Ten-foot swells roll beneath the little boat, ferrying it into the troughs, then lifting it, presenting the horizon in queasy undulations. He drives his feet against a brace plate, dunking the carbon-fiber blades, putting the full power of his Popeye forearms and blocky shoulders into his strokes. The oarlocks groan; the Calderdale slips a few more feet through black water.

erden eruc biking human-powered circumnavigation Map check in Stockton, California.
bodega bay erden eruc human-powered circumnavigation The Pacific toe-dip at Bodega Bay.
erden eruc nancy board human-powered circumnavigation Nancy Board.
erden eruc Eruc rowing the Calderdale near San Francisco.
Eruc’s trail around the globe.

The date was December 3, 2007. Erden Eruc, a 46-year-old Turkish-American software engineer from Seattle, had been on the Pacific for 147 days, struggling forward in a 24-foot plywood rowboat. For weeks there had been rain on and off; his world was sodden and gray. Salt sores—burning red boils raised by chafing and sea spray—covered his arms and thighs. He was roughly halfway between Northern California, where he’d started, and the eastern coast of Australia, his destination, a distance of more than 10,000 miles. He’d recently reached the equator, where crosscurrents, fierce winds, and powerful waves had forced him off course. A man in a rowboat generates only about half a unit of horsepower, so Eruc was often at the mercy of domineering seas. He checked his GPS coordinates and confirmed what he feared: for the past 16 days he’d been rowing in a vast circle, getting nowhere.

Only a few people have crossed the Pacific by rowboat, but for Eruc this was merely the start of a far more daunting objective. In July 2007, he had set out from Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco, hoping to become the first person to circumnavigate the planet solo, entirely under his own power—no motors, no sails, no means of propulsion other than his strength. His plan was to travel across three oceans and six continents by boat, bike, and foot, more than 40,000 miles in all.

Historically, groundbreaking around-the-world voyages like this have attracted enthusiastic public attention. In 1967, a quarter-million cheering Brits greeted Francis Chichester when he sailed into Plymouth, England, at the end of his solo circumnavigation; he was later knighted and put on a postage stamp. But there was nothing like that for Eruc. Potential sponsors balked at signing on; the National Geographic Society told him in 2001 that it preferred short, focused projects. He was able to coax a Novara mountain bike from REI, where he worked part-time for a while after losing a corporate tech-consulting job in 2000. Though a few other companies chipped in—weatherproof panniers from Ortlieb, a boatload of wholesale dehydrated food from Mountain House—his journey was lonely and largely anonymous.

Eruc founded a non-profit, Around-n-Over, and assembled a support team, including his wife, Nancy Board, a human-resources executive from Chicago; Bill Hinsley, an environmental program manager in the Bay Area; and Graeme Welsh, a boisterous Australian hairdresser and part-time bartender whose duties weren’t exactly clear other than being the Life of the Party. Fundraising didn’t bring in enough, so Eruc tapped his own nest egg and borrowed. The circumnavigation, which played out between 2007 and 2012, put him more than $200,000 in debt.

In the summer of 2012, against all odds, Eruc was closing in on the finish line with a 2,389-mile bike trip from Louisiana to California. I’d been following his expedition from a distance for several years, checking out progress reports on his website. Eruc would go silent for weeks and months at a stretch, but I was riveted: 161 days spent rowing the Indian Ocean, three months on a bike in wildest Africa, almost a full year grinding across the Pacific. The risks were considerable—failure, madness, death—and the scale of the project completely preposterous.

As it happened, Eruc’s bike trip would take him through northern New Mexico, where I live, and he agreed to let me ride with him for a few days. Two weeks later, I met him in the town of Springer, crunching into the gravel lot of a low-budget hotel where Eruc and Board, who had driven down from Seattle, had stopped for the night.

Though I had a general idea of what Eruc looked like, he still surprised me in person. Now 51, he was stocky, almost portly, hardly the sinewy castaway I’d expected to see. His thighs looked like two huge hams wrapped in Spandex. He was friendly but formal, and he spoke in a slight accent, carefully, as if he was used to explaining things. An engineer to the core, he would respond with a dry “Correct” if you said something he agreed with.

Before we set out, Eruc eyed my feathery carbon-fiber race bike. He picked it up. “Wow, that’s light,” he said. I tried to lift his steel touring rig, but it must have weighed five times what mine did. “Well, this will make us even, since you’re in such good shape,” I joked, but Eruc didn’t laugh. A tough 80 miles lay ahead, and he was putting on his game face. We slathered on sunscreen. Soon we were rolling west under turquoise skies, toward pine-covered hills rising in the distance.

I MIGHT NEVER HAVE heard of Erden Eruc if he hadn’t been involved, a decade earlier, in one of the most shocking climbing accidents in recent times. As we spun along on a two-lane New Mexico road, he talked about the events that would change his life forever.

Eruc grew up outside Istanbul. When he was 11, his father, Cemal Eruc, took him to climb Mount Erciyes, a 12,848-foot peak in south-central Turkey, seeding his son’s interest in adventure. As a teenager, Eruc was a standout student and athlete, attending school in Belgium and Istanbul, and he was a nationally ranked wrestler in both countries. He moved to the United States in 1986, earning a master’s in engineering mechanics at Ohio State and, later, an MBA at George Mason University in Virginia. He spent the next six years noosed in business attire, helping set up computer networks and custom software programs for IBM and other companies.

One day in 1997, at his office in Silver Spring, Maryland, Eruc found himself staring at a world map tacked up on a wall. He imagined going back to Turkey, where his father and brother still lived, and he wondered if it would be possible to get there using only human power. By then he was spending his vacations mountaineering, and his growing interest in self-propelled expedition led him to the book Ultimate High by the Swedish climber Göran Kropp. In 1995 and 1996, Kropp had ridden his bike from Stockholm to Nepal, towing all his gear and supplies. He then soloed Everest, without oxygen, and rode back to Sweden.

At a time when merely surviving Everest was considered impressive, Kropp’s achievement defied comprehension, and he was lauded in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air as one of the most audacious climbers on the mountain. People were drawn to his charisma, optimism, and bottomless capacity to encourage others to put their dreams into motion. Kropp and his glamorous fiancée—Renata Chlumska, a model and adventurer—drew crowds wherever they went.

By 2001, Kropp and Chlumska were in the process of relocating to the U.S., planning to settle in Washington State. Kropp was sponsored by Helly Hansen, and a corporate publicity tour brought him to Seattle, where Eruc was living. “Erden was giddy and shy, almost like a kid,” recalls Ryan Hayter, the Helly Hansen rep who was working with Kropp back then. Eruc told Kropp about his idea for a human-powered “journey home.” Most people reacted with cynicism when he mentioned it, Eruc says, but Kropp lit up. “When are you going?” he asked excitedly. “Do you have sponsors yet?”

The two men stayed in touch. In September 2002, they went rock climbing at a central Washington crag called Frenchman Coulee. Its main feature is the Sunshine Wall, a series of blocky basalt columns with predominantly southern exposure and warm, sun-soaked routes. Late in the afternoon, they made their way to an 85-foot climb called Air Guitar. The route’s line is a tall dihedral with a crack in the center for ample protective gear like cams and hexes. It’s rated a moderate 5.10a.

It was Kropp’s turn to lead, and he tied in and started up with confidence. Eruc belayed, paying out rope. Just before Kropp reached the final anchors near the top of the route, Eruc heard a commotion. Small stones peppered the dirt at his feet; he felt slack in the rope and looked up. Kropp had fallen off the wall and was hurtling toward him.

Instinctively, Eruc swept out his arm, trying to take in as much rope as he could, but it was too late. With a horrible thud, Kropp hit the ledge where Eruc stood, then rolled off and fell another 25 feet to the trail. He wasn’t moving.

Eruc’s left biceps was numb where the rope had wrapped and cinched tight, leaving an angry red brand. His face was hot; it was hard to think. He unclipped and scrambled down. Kropp’s helmet had shattered, and there was a great deal of blood. Eruc tried CPR, but he knew it was hopeless. An American Alpine Club investigation concluded that Kropp had slipped and fallen, caught his rope on the carabiner gate and snapped it, then popped out the remaining protection as he came down. He’d been killed on impact. There was no evidence to suggest that Eruc was responsible for the mishap.

Though Eruc had already begun planning his trip, Kropp’s death drove home how little time humans really have, how everything can change in an instant. He’d collected a small stone from the base of Air Guitar, stained with Kropp’s blood, that he would keep with him for the entire journey. He told his wife he wanted to set out as soon as possible, in part to dilute some of the anguish but also to memorialize his hero. “I felt like I’d been called,” Eruc told me. “It was as if I had been handed the torch.”

NEAR CIMMARON, NEW MEXICO, we started up a long mountain pass. Eruc wasn’t particularly fast—on steep inclines, he even got off his bike and walked—but his ability to plod away with Zen-like focus was astonishing. I began to understand the qualities that pushing and pulling yourself around the planet required.

A few months after Kropp’s death, Eruc’s original circumnavigation plan had grown into a “Göran-size” effort he called the Six Summits Project. The idea was to circle the world, tagging six of the Seven Summits en route (including Everest but excluding Antarctica’s Vinson Massif, since Eruc couldn’t imagine reaching the continent under his own steam). In February 2003, he left Seattle on his Novara, towing a Bob trailer loaded with more than 100 pounds of gear and supplies. He rode north through snow and slush for 2,300 miles to Petersville, Alaska, where he set off on foot, climbed Denali, and then rode home—with one detour. After the climb, he met up with Board in Homer, Alaska, where they were married on the shores of Kachemak Bay, the ceremony performed by two tribal elders while bald eagles circled overhead.

In early October 2004, Eruc rolled out of Seattle again, this time heading east. He pedaled 3,980 miles, arriving on December 25 at the Miami Children’s Museum, with the goal of then rowing from Florida to the Panama Canal. That plan fizzled, but early the next year he bought a used ocean-rowing boat, the Calderdale, after selling some property and taking out a loan. To train he joined a rowing club in Seattle run by the late Emil Kossev, a former world champion from Bulgaria. Eruc had no rowing experience, but Kossev believed in him. “I can help you,” Kossev told him. “You are crazy, but I can help!”

In May 2006, Eruc completed an Atlantic crossing, traveling roughly 3,400 nautical miles from the Canary Islands to Guadalupe in 96 days. The next year, he picked up much-needed financial support from the Aktas Group, a Turkish manufacturer that donated $100,000.

But the period from his Denali climb to his Atlantic crossing amounted to what may be the world’s longest warm-up. By the spring of 2007, Eruc was preparing to launch his journey anew, starting and finishing in California, so that the loop would circle the earth contiguously, making what he considered a true and complete circumnavigation. He first set his sights on crossing the Pacific, a voyage three times longer than the Atlantic row. He meticulously refurbished the Calderdale—new sliding seat, new hatch covers—and began provisioning for what might be as much as 300 days at sea.

On July 10, 2007, Eruc departed from Bodega Bay, bound for Australia. He angled toward the equator, bearing south of the Hawaiian Islands. Land vanished. He settled into his new routine: wake at sunrise, boil water for granola or freeze-dried eggs, row for a few hours, filter water using a solar-powered desalinator, row more. In the afternoon, he would reward himself by listening to his iPod. “Physical fitness was certainly necessary, but it was all low intensity over a very long period of time,” Eruc says of the trip. “The challenge was keeping myself mentally acute, managing discomfort. I’m not trying to conquer nature; I’m trying to be in harmony with it. I’m trying to become the sea.”

That was never easy. His sliding seat broke, a serious mechanical problem that threatened to end the trip. He improvised a fix using a plastic storage case. Then his desalinator failed, forcing him to rely on a hand pump that required an hour of hard labor to produce about a gallon of drinking water.

One night while asleep in the Calderdale’s “cabin”—a sarcophagus-size stern cavity that Eruc entered by wriggling through a small square hatch—a rogue wave picked up the boat and rolled it to starboard nearly 170 degrees, pinballing him around inside. Another night, waves whipped the bow so violently that he woke up the next day unable to turn his head. He made a neck brace by hand-stitching old sponges inside a towel, forming a plump sausage that he fastened with spare Velcro.

Squalls came and went. He watched them approach, blotting out the sun, creeping around him, frothing the sea. Steep waves, 15 and sometimes 20 feet high, forced him to develop a bronc-busting rowing technique, bracing a foot on the gunwale and standing, hands on the oars, while the boat rocked 60 degrees or more. If the waves broke from the stern, he learned how to surf them, shooting forward, he says, “like an arrow out of a bow.”

“I never felt afraid of the rough seas,” Eruc told me. “The storms were the most exciting part. It’s when I had the most fun.” The boat was equipped with an Argos emergency beacon, but except for one brief false alarm, when it was set off accidentally, he never used it.

On nights when this water world was at peace, Eruc would lie in the hold, typing dispatches on a PDA with his thumbs (he could transmit them by satellite phone) or reading while listening to marine creatures on the other side of the hull. He learned to identify them by sound. Sharks made a sandpapery scrape, sea turtles a dull thud; bluefin tuna flew by with a torpedo-like whir.

Once, he sat aboveboard late into the night, drifting through the doldrums, the ocean dead calm. Innumerable stars burned fiercely overhead, blending with the phosphorescent plankton shimmering in the oil-smooth water. Eruc stood and stared. He couldn’t tell where the reflection ended and the sky began, and he had the miraculous sensation of floating alone in his little boat through the middle of space. He raised his arms and shouted joyfully into the void.

ERUC NEVER REACHED THE South Pacific. Conditions pushed him due west, tracking just north of the equator, to the Philippines. After 312 days at sea (a new ocean-rowing record), he was down to his last week of rations, with typhoon season about to start. On May 17, 2008, he postponed the row and called for help on his radio. Soon he was clambering aboard a Philippine boat called the Primrose.

The rules of human-powered circumnavigation, such as they are, allow for interruptions: you can pause your trip so long as you restart it at the same location, traveling in the same direction. (Which Eruc did, eight months later.) The other requirements—as established recently by Guinness World Records, the top international arbitrating authority—include starting and finishing in the same location, crossing the equator, and touching at least one pair of antipodes: two points on the earth’s sphere that are directly opposite each other, connected by an imaginary line going through the center of the planet—like, say, the North and South Poles.

The antipodal requirement means that you have to travel both above and below the equator, providing an elegant solution to a tricky geometry problem. The “truest” circumnavigation of the earth is a so-called Great Circle, any loop that’s the length of the equator itself: 24,901.5 miles. Tagging antipodes ensures that a circumnavigation will at least equal this distance, though the exact route might meander a bit. Such definitions are vital: without a clear understanding of what circumnavigation actually means, the term is vulnerable to some controversial interpretation.

Only two other people had ever attempted a human-powered global circumnavigation before Eruc: Canadian Colin Angus and Briton Jason Lewis, who finished in 2006 and 2007, respectively. These men have long been locked in a heated debate about the merits and legitimacy of each other’s achievements.

In 1994, Lewis and a close friend, Stevie Smith, who conceived the journey, biked from London to coastal Spain and then hit the Atlantic in a 26-foot pedal boat called the Moksha. Neither had any ocean experience. Smith, 27 at the time, was an office-bound environmental scientist; Lewis, 26, was an itinerant window washer and lead singer in a grunge band called Dougal Goes to Norway. They figured they could leverage the circumnavigation to raise awareness for environmental issues—while claiming one of the last great adventure prizes at the finish.

The Atlantic thrashed the Moksha, which (fortunately) was designed to self-right after capsizing. One day while Smith was pedaling, a massive wave pitch-poled the vessel, flushing him overboard. But a trailing line wrapped around his ankle and allowed him to haul himself back aboard. After four months, the men finally reached Miami, but by then they were barely speaking, the close quarters having turned small aggravations into major sources of friction. They decided to head across the U.S. separately—Smith by bicycle, Lewis on inline skates, though he’d never used them before.

Lewis lurched across the country. By October, he’d somehow reached eastern Colorado, where, one afternoon, he was pushing along the side of a county highway when he was hit from behind by a drunk driver and thrown into a ditch. He came to and tried to stand, but something was terribly wrong. “Looking down, I saw … my skates pointing backwards,” he wrote in his book The Expedition: Dark Waters. “I was standing on the stumps of my lower legs, tibias jammed in the dirt.”

Two operations and 12 years later, Lewis finally finished his circumnavigation. Smith rejoined him for part of the Pacific leg but eventually bailed, leaving Lewis to travel most of the world by himself, proceeding through Australia and Indonesia, across the Tibetan plateau into India, and then across the Arabian Sea to the east coast of Africa. He cycled north through Turkey and into Europe. When he finally reached London, on October 6, 2007, he collapsed to the ground. “I cried like a baby,” Lewis says.

Lewis, it turned out, had competition: Colin Angus, 41, a professional explorer who lives near Vancouver, British Columbia. Angus was a seasoned outdoorsman who had rafted the length of the Amazon River and trekked across Mongolia, writing books and producing documentaries. For years he’d entertained the idea of a global circumnavigation done only with human power. His research revealed that two people—Lewis and Eruc—were already planning or attempting it but were moving slowly. Angus intended to beat them to the finish.

In 2004, Angus, along with Tim Harvey, a 26-year-old Canadian writer and environmental activist, left Vancouver bound for Alaska. Their plan was to row across the Bering Sea, then ski, hike, and bike across Siberia and Europe, row across the Atlantic, and bike back up through the Americas to Vancouver.

Angus and Harvey didn’t make it farther than Siberia together, splitting up after a bitter dispute erupted over money and agendas. Both pressed on independently, Angus partnering with his girlfriend (now wife), Julie Wafaeis, for the second half of the journey. The couple arrived in Vancouver on May 20, 2006. The trip was impressive, totaling some 26,000 miles, and Angus published a well-received book about it, Beyond the Horizon: the Great Race to Finish the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Planet.

But Lewis and Eruc—along with the disenfranchised Harvey—cried foul. Angus’s voyage didn’t qualify as a true circumnavigation, they argued, because it took place entirely in the Northern Hemisphere—a significant advantage, since it contains much more land mass than the southern. Lewis’ antipodal requirement was well recognized by then, but Angus countered that he had adhered to the “only established parameters,” those laid down by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, an aviation agency in France that verifies balloon circumnavigations. The FAI, though, has said that it “takes no position on surface travel.”

The problem was that no one else did, either—not formally, anyway, until Guinness took on the job in 2007. Angus still maintains that he completed a circumnavigation first, but Harvey insists that he broke at least one major rule along the way. He describes an incident from August 2004, when he and Angus were crossing the Bering Sea and hit stormy conditions near St. Lawrence Island. Harvey says they put up an emergency sail, using it for “about 95 nautical miles” to keep from being hammered back into the Alaskan coast. That alone would invalidate the human-powered claim.

Angus denies that this happened, but Harvey forwarded me an article, published that August in the Nome Nugget, that references the incident. In all the excitement, Harvey spilled the secret to a reporter shortly after they’d arrived in the harbor.

“After we rowed into port and I shared the story, Colin flipped out,” Harvey told me. “He was like, ‘What part of not telling anyone didn’t you understand?’ And I was like, ‘What, we’re just going to lie to the whole world?’ But I was young and naive, and I didn’t want to just go home, so I carried on under the gag order.”

“In some ways I really respect Colin,” Harvey says now. “He’s an incredible athlete, and he knows how to get things done. But he was obsessed with beating Jason and Erden. He was like Captain Ahab, and the circumnavigation was his white whale.”

In an email to Outside, Angus repeated his denial that he and Harvey used a sail, characterizing Harvey as a “liar” whose “motives are purely vindictive, aimed at being as damaging as possible.”

ERUC SIDES WITH LEWIS and Harvey, and he tried without success to get journalists interested in the criteria that, they believed, the circumnavigation should use. “What Colin Angus did was, at best, a polar circumnavigation on steroids,” Eruc says. “When we wrote to the media, we got the sore-loser treatment. But nobody was doing their due diligence. Nobody was asking, What’s the consensus out there? We’re trying to define a standard. And whenever someone makes a false claim and gets recognized for it, it steals from future generations.”

Eruc says he never thought of circumnavigation as a race. What mattered more was style and integrity; after all, weren’t they in this together? He was happy to credit Lewis with the first human-powered circumnavigation—a record he could now add to by completing his own solo version.

By July 2011, he was well on his way. He’d ticked off the Pacific row and then paddled, hiked, and biked through Papua New Guinea and around Australia. Then he climbed back in the Calderdale and rowed across the Indian Ocean, to Africa, earning another milestone by becoming the first person to row across three oceans. He hit land in Madagascar, fighting through 200-mile-wide whirlpools, called mesoscale eddies, to reach the mainland at Mozambique. He’d arranged to have his bike, the road-worn Novara, shipped to the port town of Nampula, and from there he headed north toward Tanzania. In a few weeks he planned to rendezvous with Board, his father, and a few others for what would be a successful climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, the third of his hoped-for six summits. (He had also climbed Mount Kosciusko in Australia.)

Even with so many miles behind him, Eruc was unprepared for the challenges of sub-Saharan Africa. Maps were unreliable. Roads were often little more than sand tracks through the bush. He crashed routinely, bloodying his knees and bruising his arms. In Mozambique, there were no hotels, no stores, barely provisions of any kind. The heat was punishing, and on some days he could find no potable water, only warm bottles of Coke.

At the Rovuma River, on the Mozambique border, Eruc loaded his bike into a dugout gondola he rented from a man on the bank, then poled and waded through the current to Tanzania. Soon he reached a section of road under construction. It had been raining torrentially for the past 24 hours, and the road before him had become a 60-mile knee-deep trough filled with a chocolate slurry of mud, sand, and silt. He plowed ahead, literally, since his rig promptly nose-dived into the muck. Eruc shoved and pulled, grunted, cursed, heaved harder. After an hour, he’d gone only about 100 yards. Later he wrote in a dispatch: “Thursday May 26th was a day when I thought I could actually fail.”

He found easier passage past the flooded construction zone, but his problems continued. On one long downhill, trying to avoid a treacherous driver, Eruc lost control on a rumble strip and was thrown over the handlebars. He crashed on the asphalt, his bike tumbling behind him. He sprained his thumb badly, but he was able to make a crude splint and carry on.

It had been uplifting to reconnect with Board in Africa, but a couple of days after the climb they had a terrible fight. She’d been struggling with her husband’s absence and other stresses. They were now looking at repayment of a huge debt, and she wasn’t coping with the long periods of separation as well as she’d hoped. She’d started referring to the Calderdale as “the other woman.”

“Even when he wasn’t actually on the journey, he was on the journey,” Board told me. “Africa was really tough, and I thought his trip might end there or we would. We were both struggling with it all, and I knew he had gone into a deeper place to push through.”

When I’d first met Board, in New Mexico, she’d been reading Maria Coffey’s Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow, a memoir about the trials of being romantically involved with a risk taker. Board explained later that only recently had she finally accepted who her husband was and what the circumnavigation meant to him—a catharsis prompted by the recent death of her mother, when Eruc had flown in to help during the difficult final days.

“He lifted her twice when she could no longer stand; none of the rest of us could help her up,” she said in an email. “My dad and I had reached our wit’s end. We needed his physical strength to move her. And his kind, gentle way to support her.

“It is not unlike how we saw the tragic accident with Göran,” she continued. “It was as if no one else could have been in that position but him. No one would have honored the man more. No one was more prepared to journey as Göran did than Erden.”

WEST AND WEST AND west: Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia. In Lüderitz, on Namibia’s rugged coast, Erden reprovisioned the Calderdale, shipped around Africa by container, and prepared for his third and final ocean crossing. He rowed north toward the equator, bound for South America. After another 153 days at sea, he landed in northern Venezuela. A local cycling team loaned him a bike and organized a peloton to escort him on his short ride from Güiria to Carúpano.

Then it was back into the Calderdale for an arduous three-month pull due north, through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. During the last few days, as Eruc neared American shores, he entered one of the most dangerous sections of the entire trip. The Gulf waters were loosely studded with oil platforms, their hulking structures lurking in the mist, towering 100 feet above the water like a fleet of alien spacecraft.

For three days Eruc sat at the oars, catching only a few hours of sleep. The platform struts presented a lethal hazard: if he was driven into one by wind and waves, it would smash the Calderdale to pieces. He couldn’t risk crawling into the hold and sleeping, no matter how strung out he felt. On the third morning, nearly delirious, he saw land. He’d been aiming for Corpus Christi, Texas, but conditions had forced him northeast, to Cameron, Louisiana. Within a few days, he was back on U.S. soil, with a grand total of 876 days spent in the Calderdale, making Eruc the most experienced ocean rower alive.

It was June 21. Adhering to a self-imposed deadline, he had a month left to make it to California by bike, where a team from Around-n-Over was planning a grand celebration in Bodega Bay. He bolted for Texas, riding the loaded-down Novara through searing heat that spiked to 104 degrees. He made good progress, averaging about 80 miles per day, a pace he would need to maintain all the way to the finish if he was going to make it on time.

Eruc reached New Mexico on July 6, when I met up with him. He’d off-loaded the Bob trailer and some of his gear into Board’s car. The weather had cooled, and he seemed pleased to have a riding companion. In Taos, we feasted on breakfast burritos slathered in green chile before rolling across the Rio Grande Gorge and into Carson National Forest, where we camped for the night. Board made steak fajitas, and we shared some red wine, turning in not long after dark. From inside my tent, I could hear the two of them giggling a few yards away.

I PEELED OFF NEAR the Arizona border but reconnected with Eruc in California a week later to monitor his final two days, this time following him in a van with photographer Ryan Heffernan. Eruc still had to cover nearly 300 miles; after five years, it was going to be a sprint finish. His buoyant demeanor was gone. The tension had returned between him and Board—where to rendezvous, what to eat—and finally she drove off to “find a comfortable place to stay” for the last night.

We kept close to Eruc. I was a little worried about him. He looked wobbly riding in the dark, along the road’s narrow shoulder. Earlier that day, a trucker had tried to pelt him with a can of beer. In Stockton, a Honda with chrome wheels turned sharply in front of him, almost running him down, the driver leaning on the horn and flipping him off. Eruc continued pedaling into the night, a solitary, hunched figure in our headlights, until he finally consented to a few hours sleep in a cheap motel. We checked in around midnight. When Heffernan and I got up a couple of hours later, Eruc was already gone.

I arrived at Spud Point Marina, in Bodega Bay, a few hours before Eruc was due. Hardly anyone was there. I wasn’t expecting a media frenzy, but I assumed there would be people other than me, a reporter from the Press-Democrat in Sonoma County, and Von Hurson, the wine columnist from the Petaluma Post. It appeared we’d have the exclusive.

Gradually, about 40 supporters gathered, including Jason Lewis, who had flown in from his adopted home of Pueblo, Colorado, Tom and Tina Sjögren of ExplorersWeb, and Tom Lynch from the Ocean Rowing Society. The afternoon stretched into a cool evening. People checked their watches, put on heavier coats. No sign of Eruc.

Then a few cyclists appeared across the bay, including Board, whose mood had much improved. The crowd applauded as Eruc rolled into the parking lot after a 14-hour ride, exhausted but beaming. He had meticulously recorded via GPS every one of the 37,472 miles the journey had taken. Now all he needed to do was put a toe in the Pacific—the symbolic and official completion of the circle.

The crowd trailed him down to the dock, smartphones and video cameras rolling. A large steel gate separated the Spud Point promenade from the boat slips. It was locked. Eruc rattled the handle. An awkward moment ensued when it wasn’t clear if he was going to be able to travel the last few feet. But then Eruc leaped up, grabbed the top rail, and scrambled over the fence, half-flopping down to the dock. He trotted to the slip and put his foot in the Pacific Ocean.

There were more pictures, then the crowd quickly dispersed to an after-party. Suddenly, the marina was empty and quiet. Thick fog crept into the bay, obscuring the far shore. Lanyards clanked against nearby boat masts, and small waves flushed over the rocky shore. In the fading light, the only reminder of the journey was a sheet of paper, with letters scrawled hastily in blue marker, Scotch-taped to the window of the marina office: ERDEN ERUC Arrives today about 5pm—Human power round the world—He did it with Boat, Bike and Boots.

Contributing editor Nick Heil wrote about Danny MacAskill in December 2012.