One kayak. One grandmother. One goal: 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala.

On July 1, 2014, retired Unity College administrator Dr. Deb Walters set out from Yarmouth, Maine in a kayak, alone, to paddle 2,500 miles to Guatemala. Her goal: raise awareness and funds for Yarmouth-based nonprofit Safe Passage, benefiting children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump.

Deb made it 1,500 miles to South Carolina before a severe spinal injury, and emergency surgery, stopped her. Undeterred, Walters completed her mission by car, kept her speaking engagements and traveled by prearranged sailboat to Guatemala. Now recovered from surgery, Deb re-launched her expedition on September 24, 2015 from where she left off in South Carolina earlier this year. And, in February, 2016, Deb finished her journey in Key West, Florida.

Here’s an update from Dr. Deb herself:

When I started this expedition, my goals were:

  1. to get from Maine to Guatemala
  2. to kayak over 2,500 miles
  3. to use a sailboat to cross from Florida to Belize
  4. to stop along the way to tell the stories of Safe Passage and
  5. to raise friends and funds ($150,000) for the Safe Passage school

So how did I do in meeting those goals?

  1. I have covered the entire distance from Maine to Guatemala. Check out all the blue dots on my DeLorme website that shows that the entire expedition.
  2. I have kayaked and biked over 2,502 miles from Maine to Kay West, Florida.  Because the whole purpose of the expedition was friend and fundraising, I had to stick to a schedule to be able to make my prearranged speaking engagements. That meant that in the first part of the expedition, when the winds or waves of flood waters were hazardous, I had to “motor-portage” me and my kayak.  In the last portion, I have avoided that by instead using my little folding bike during hazardous weather.
  3. After I had to stop kayaking to have spinal surgery, Bernie Horn generously took me on his S/V Polaris from Fort Lauderdale all the way to Guatemala, and we had a huge celebration with the children and parents.
  4. I have told the stories of Safe Passage to hundreds of people along the way, and thousands more have had access to the stories through the hundreds of media stories covering the expedition.
  5. I have raised over $425,000 for the Safe Passage school through small donors, large donors, Rotary Clubs, churches, corporations and The Rotary Foundation.

The expedition has been a huge success!  That’s a lot of miles!  It seems even longer now that I have completed it!

Many thanks to all of the supporters who helped in so many ways to make this expedition successful.

Why did Dr. Deb Walters kayak over 2,500 miles?

  • To tell the story of the children living in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
  • To share how inspiring the mothers are who labor with grit and perseverance for a better life for their children
  • To talk about the success of the Safe Passage model school that fosters critical thinking, self sufficiency and confidence
  • To raise funds for additional grades for the school

How is Deb engaging people in the Safe Passage story?

  • By using a daily blog and other social media
  • By giving presentations to schools and other groups in small towns
  • By speaking at larger events in cities along the route

What was the route?

Deb stayed close to shore from Yarmouth, Maine to New Jersey. She went up the Delaware Bay and down the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk, Va. where she began following the Intracoastal Waterway to Florida. To avoid the possibility of armed attacks on small craft in Mexico, Deb traveled from Florida to Belize aboard the sailing vessel Polaris with Bernie Horn, President of Polaris Capital Management. Once recovered from her spinal injury, she paddled from South Carolina to Key West. For the final stretch Deb will kayaked along a barrier reef and open coast to Rio Dulce in Guatemala.

Who is Deb?

Dr. Deb Walters is a grandmother from Maine, retired cognitive scientist and university leader, Rotarian, Safe Passage Board Member, and kayaking adventurer. Her previous solo kayaking expeditions were in the Arctic, along the Atlantic coasts in the Northeast and the Maritimes, and through tropical waters in Mexico.

  • July 2014 through January 2015: Kayaked over 1,500 miles from Maine to Georgetown, SC.
  • February 2015: Emergency neck surgery and recovery
  • March 2015: Speaking tour in Florida and rehabilitation
  • April 2015: Sailing leg from Florida to Guatemala for speaking tour in Guatemala
  • May to September 2015: Continue rehabilitation and retrain for extreme kayaking
  • September to February 2015: Kayak from Georgetown, SC to Key West, FL


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