Louise Adie and a group of fellow kayakers in Antarctica.

Louise Adie and a group of fellow kayakers in Antarctica. 

Although Louise Adie did not visit her parents’ home country of Norway until she was 30, her heritage would reveal itself clearly. 

Adie’s parents left Norway after WWII, Louise was born in Trinidad, and the family moved to Trumansburg when she was four years old. All these years later, Adie is hanging up her paddle after 14 seasons as a kayak guide for a company offering Antarctic expeditions for tourists from all over the world. Louise is honest in saying that her body kind of made the decision for her, as she said, “I have had surgery on one knee, and being on a rocking ship did not do me any favors.” 

This “retirement” talk is a bit odd to Adie, as she has never been one to take it easy. Many years ago, before there were “climbing walls,” she was doing technical climbing in the Shawangunk Mountain Range. She was a cyclist, a time trial racer, and a cross-country ski racer for 30 years as well. Many of us can relate to some rock climbing, and some bike racing, but 14 seasons in Antarctica? That’s a bit out of most people’s comfort zone. 

I asked Louise to describe those trips to the bottom of the world, and she said, “The 10-day trips were our bread and butter. We would fly to the southern tip of South America, board the ship then sail down the Beagle Channel to the Drake Passage. It takes two days to get to the Antarctic Peninsula, then we would get off the ship twice a day and either go ashore or take people out in kayaks.” 

As the only kayak guide, Louise’s group size would vary, and she said, “I would often start out with sixteen people per day, and it would whittle down over the course of the trip.” 

The season runs between mid-November and mid-March, and that window of hospitality was dictated by Mother Nature. The rest of the year, Adie explained, transportation via water is halted by ice formation.  

She told the story about the time she was trapped in the rapidly-forming ice, and of that experience she said, “Once in a lifetime was enough.” 

“I was following two Zodiacs (support boats), and they were breaking the ice, but they separated to go around an island,” she said. “I was locked in the ice, and I kept rocking the boat and punching at the ice with my paddle, and while I stayed warm for an hour from all the exertion, I wasn’t going anywhere.” 

I asked if she feared for her life, and she laughed and said, “No, I was within sight of the boat, and the crew was laughing and saying ‘Smile for the camera!’ and ‘Don’t get eaten by an Orca!’”  

So, in other words, the experience went from tragedy to comedy, and that’s a good thing.

Most of her memories will be of the grandeur of the experiences, like a close encounter she described. 

“It was late season, and the leopard seals and the whales were so fat, preparing for the winter,” Adie said. “You can see a huge difference in their size and mobility. A humpback surfaced very close to me—its belly looked like the top of a school bus—and it was a full-size male with an 18-foot pectoral fin. It was so playful, and so interactive, it came up about 5 feet away from my kayak.” Tempted as she was to reach out and touch her visitor, Louise was wise enough to leave well enough alone.

Now, it’s back to Cayuga Lake, where Adie will continue to volunteer as a support kayaker for Women Swimmin’ and figure out what’s next. I doubt she will trade a rocking ship for a rocking chair.

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