I love a good adventure story. I love anything told by a good story-teller. If there is excitement and a little danger in a storyline, and the adventure was carried out with a mix of skill, luck, and guts – I’m in. Add damn fine storytelling with a good measure of self-deprecating humor and I can’t stop reading. Scott Finazzo’s Why Do All the Locals Think We’re Crazy? has it all.
Recently I met Scott at a talk on his new book at the Kansas City REI store. Scott and two friends (all local firemen) decided to build sea kayaks, haul them to the Caribbean and paddle from Virgin Island to Virgin Island. None of the three had any boat building or open water paddling experience. The locals thought they were crazy! I listened to Scott’s talks and chatted after each session which led to this interview.
UNMAPPED TRAVELS: First of all, for anyone who has not read the book, what is it about?
SCOTT FINAZZO: Why Do All the Locals Think We’re Crazy? is the title of my book as well as a recurring thought when two friends and I realized we had been reading adventure stories all of our lives and, with our younger “wild and reckless” years in the rearview mirror, we wanted to create our own adventure. We decided to kayak the Virgin Islands. It would encompass tropical scenery, adventure, and everything that was NOT part of a day-to-day routine that people find themselves in. For multiple reasons we ended up building our own kayaks and chasing our idea of kayaking the islands. As you would expect, nothing went according to plan. We fought and cussed with each other during the building process and certainly experienced an adventure, just not the one we planned.
UT: What is the biggest thing you learned from the experience?
SF: I would say the biggest thing I learned is that, before embarking on an expedition, do your homework. In hindsight I acknowledge how fortunate we were to survive with a pretty good story to tell, but in a lot of ways, we were lucky. Whether you are building boats and kayaking the ocean, climbing a mountain, hiking over long distances and perilous terrain, etc., you need to do research and prepare. While I strongly encourage people to break free of their comfort zone and challenge themselves, when you are going up against mother nature, the odds are against you, so make sure your risks are calculated ones and you’re ready before you set out.
UT: Normally I would ask someone who completed such an awesome adventure if there was ever a time when you thought you wouldn’t be able to do it. But with all the difficulties building, floating, and paddling was there ever a time you thought you would be able to do it?
SF: With our story, that is probably the better question! To be honest, I always thought we would be able to do it. I just didn’t know to what degree. Even though, in the book, I expressed my doubts along the way, I think setting small goals and leaving room for improvisation were key. We certainly had our share of issues (most of them self-imposed), but throughout the process we were always considering contingency plans. “And if that doesn’t work out…” was a common phrase between us. Maybe because we are firefighters and trained to plan in layers, it bled over into our trip preparation and execution.
UT: What is one thing you took that you didn’t need and one thing you did not take that you ended up needing?
SF: I don’t know that we brought anything we didn’t need. We made a conscious effort to keep things at a minimum and I think we did a pretty good job. I would say there’s one thing that I didn’t consider that I’m REALLY glad we brought. Eric packed a small bag of extra kayak parts. A few zipper pulls, nuts, bolts, etc. That turned out to be savior of the trip. Our zipper pulls broke on the first day and had we not brought any extras, we never would have left the shore.
What we didn’t bring, that we could have used was a water desalinator. We carried all of our water for the entire (scheduled) trip, plus a little extra. The water bottles and bladders were heavy and bulky. It would have been handy to be able to save some space and “make” drinking water.
UT: In your presentations – more than the book – you talk about Norman Island. Please tell us why Norman Island attracted you. Also, did you know about Norman Island before or did you find out about it while planning this trip?
SF: When I travel somewhere I do exhaustive research. I want to know as much about a location as I can and that will allow me to prioritize things that I want to see and do. Again, leaving plenty of room for down time and course correction. On my first trip to the Virgin Islands in 2006, I devoured every website I could find that is related to the islands. In doing so, I found that Norman Island, a small island in the southwestern end of the British Virgin Islands, is the reported inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island. Being a wanna-be pirate as a kid, I was taken by the idea of someday going to the real Treasure Island. I am aware enough, though, to realize that there is no documented proof of this and it could very well be a cool story to promote tourism. Either way, when it came time to kayak the islands, this kid was going to Treasure Island!
Thanks Scott for taking the time to answer a few questions.
Being someone with a desire to experience new places and new adventures, I loved the idea of this trip from the moment I learned about Scott’s REI talks. What a great (and ballsy) idea for a trip with friends, I thought. If it had gone as intended, if they were able to pull it off, there would have been an interesting story to tell – not to mention bragging rights back at the firehouse. But, as you learned from the Q & A, the trip didn’t exactly go as planned. There were problems along the way, too many to list even if I wanted to do so. Those setbacks, the unexpected detours in building the boats and executing the trip, the rough seas, drunken yacht parties, being stranded on an uninhabited island, etc. – those are the things that turned an entertaining story to tell at dinner parties into a book worth writing – and reading.
Hopefully your interest is piqued as mine was. If so, check out the links!
Buy this book on Amazon.
Check out Scott’s website.
Check out Scott’s blog.