FLEMINGTON, N.J. — In a few days from now, Tyler Carnevale will be on top of the world — in the physical and spiritual sense.
He will be rowing about 1,200 miles across the Arctic Ocean with five other men, trying to complete the kind of record-breaking endurance adventure he lives for.
For the next three weeks, Carnevale and his boat mates will row on a schedule of two hours on, two hours off, around the clock, in a place where, this time of year, the sun never sets.
Of course, 24 hours of sun doesn’t make it warm. Just less cold. The men will row in three layers of water and wind protective clothing, knowing they will never be able to stay completely dry and comfortable.
“We’re going to be wet and cold, probably the whole time,” said Carnevale. “But at least ice won’t be a problem this time of year.”
At 23, the Flemington resident is the youngest member of the international crew and the only one without prior rowing experience.
The spare boat has no sails and no motor. There is no trailing support boat to supply food or water, or medical attention. The six rowers are on their own, in one of the most desolate places on earth, rowing through treacherous cold and wind-whipped waters, bunking up in a tiny cabin to sleep or rest during their two-hours of off-time.
“We had to post a $25,000 insurance bond with the local search and rescue operation,” Carnevale said.
That can be translated like this: We know we’re going to have to come and get you, so pay now.
But when you look at the resumes of the men in the boat, it’s clear they know what they’re doing.
“The preparation is everything,” Carnevale said. “In some ways, it’s harder than the row.”
The captain of the crew is Iceland’s Fiann Paul, a legendary ocean rower who holds three world records for sculling across the world’s seas. If all goes well, the Arctic will be his fourth. Paul has a charitable foundation and this expedition is raising money to build a school in the Himalayas.
The second skipper is British rower Alex Gregory, a two-time Olympic Gold medalist and five-time world champion.
India’s Tathagata Roy, also a second skipper, was a member of his country’s special combat forces and a survival expert.
Carlo Facchino, a Californian, was part of a four-man crew that won last year’s Great Pacific Race, rowing 2,400 miles from Monterey, Calif., to Honolulu. He has done eight Ironman triathlons, a 500-mile bike race and more.
Tor Wigum of Norway was a member of that country’s national rowing team and once crossed Greenland on skis.
Most of the crew members have advanced degrees in the sciences or engineering. The first leg of the journey began in Tromso, Norway, two weeks ago, and arrived in Longyearbyen, Norway’s northern-most archipelago on Monday. Carnevale is joining the crew there as they restock the boat for the second leg of the trip across the Arctic to Iceland.
“This was presented to us not so much as a rowing event but an endurance challenge,” said Carnevale.
His own list of accomplishments includes a climb to the top of Indonesia’s Mount Agung and completing Peru’s Salkantay Trek, climbing three-miles high over 46 miles of rugged terrain.
When he applied for a seat on the boat, he figured it was a long shot, since he had no rowing experience.
Several skype interviews later, he was in. It’s not hard to see why. Carnevale speaks with great passion about adventure and exploration, and finding the unbeaten path to bring himself physically and mentally to extreme edges.
“There is no greater feeling than achieving different challenges,” he said. “To stand on the top of a mountain or finish a long trek, knowing you did it — even if you’re the only one who knows it.”
Carnevale said the expedition leaders told him “after two or three days the physical challenges disappear and it’s all mental.”
That translates to this: Once the body is maxed-out, the mind must take over. And win.
“I’ve never really embarked on an endurance event and failed at it,” Carnevale said.
The story of how this young man from Hunterdon County ended up in the Godforsaken icy waters between Longyearbyen and the little herring fishing village of Siglufjorour, Iceland’s most northern town, starts right here in New Jersey.
It starts at places like Round Valley and the Delaware Water Gap, where Carnevale would hike and explore with this family.
It starts with his grandfather, Ray Richkus, armed with National Geographic magazines, instilling in his grandson that there’s a great big world out there way beyond Little League and youth sports.
“I think his parents are mad at me because they wanted a normal kid,” Richkus joked. “They wanted him to play baseball and that kind of stuff.”
Instead they got a kid who followed his grandfather into the wild.
“He hears the same drummer I do,” said Richkus, 76, who lives in Annadale.
That drummer brought them from the Jersey parks, to the canyons of the Southwest, to the mountains of Spain. While other kids were playing on travel teams, Carnevale was traveling with his grandfather, rafting on Lake Mead in Nevada, watching the running of the bulls in Pamplona, exploring the crannies and cultures of the greater world.
“He taught me not to follow the crowd,” Carnevale said. “You find and follow your own route.”
That route has taken Carnevale to 30 countries, including Iceland in 2015 to study glacier science while a student at the University of Maryland.
The Arctic rowing crew will carry an Explorer’s Club flag as the team will be the first to row the ocean in both directions. The Explorer’s Club, founded in 1904 to further worldwide science and expedition, has among its members Adm. Robert Edwin Peary, the leader of the first group to reach the North Pole, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the first to climb Mount Everest, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who brought a club flag to the moon.
When the row is complete, Carnevale will be in that company. The crew is already planning an Antarctic row where, yes, ice could be a problem.
And no one could be prouder than his grandfather. Richkus accompanied him to Norway for the launch, and will be in Iceland when they arrive.
In the meantime, Richkus said, “I’m just going to bum around up there. I’ve arranged to stay at work on two organic farms.”
And the drum beats on, for both grandfather and grandson.
Information from: The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger, http://www.nj.com