22-year-old barber kayaks across Texas to see his state with new eyes

Texas

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — A young barber from the Hill Country is hanging up his hair clippers for a few weeks to cut across his beloved home state in a kayak. 

22-year-old Ethan West is kayaking by himself across a big chunk of Texas. He started on April 1 in Telegraph,TX (near Junction) where the South branch of the Llano River originates. He is continuing on until he reaches Matagorda Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. He hopes to complete his journey by April 25 and says three committed friends have agreed to pick up him and his kayak once he reaches the Gulf. 

West lives in Mason where he runs a barbershop. He grew up in Fredericksburg and was born in Llano, which is why he chose to start his kayak journey along the Llano River.

At age 20, West hiked the Appalachian Trail. More recently, he was looking for ways to replicate that kind of journey in his home state.

“I realized the rivers are navigable in the state of Texas, and I decided a river trip would be best,” West said. 

A friend told him about the “Abilene Boys”: in 1937 three 18-year-old young men canoed 600 miles of the Colorado River to the Gulf of Mexico. In 1991, the same three men who were in their 70’s at that point, canoed the same exact trip. Their journey started in Ballinger, so West decided to tweak his route to start with the Llano River to make it more personal. 

People have been helping him along the way, for example during the stormy weather Wednesday night, the LCRA set him up in a dry location along the river. 

“We wish him the very best of luck,” an LCRA spokesperson said, explaining that they don’t keep data on how many people make trips down the river to the Gulf.

In his kayak, West has a tent, a sleeping bag, food, a journal, a GoPro camera, an extra oar, rope, a sunhat, and wheels in case he needs to roll his kayak on land. If he needs to, he’ll hop on land and walk to an HEB to re-stock on food. From time to time, people have offered him a place to sleep along the way, but for the most part West camps out overnight. 

He has a GPS affixed to him so that loved ones can know that he’s ok. You can follow his GPS check-ins from his barbershop Facebook page. 

His face is sunburned and peeling, his hands look scaly and weathered. West insists he puts on sunscreen each day, but he sweats it off very quickly. 

So far West said navigating around the “the slab” in Kingsland has been the most challenging

By West’s calculations, his journey will be 547 miles, but he did those calculations with a computer, and he imagines actual distance on the water could be different. As of Thursday, he’s passed his halfway point and caught up with KXAN in Bastrop County just after he’d passed the Austin area. 

“There’s still adventure out there, a lot of people go, ‘oh well I’m going on an adventure, I’ve got to up to Alaska or I’ve got to go across continents’,” West said. “The reality is, I live in Fredericksburg and I found adventure 20 minutes away.”

“I guess what I’m saying is if you want to do something, do it,” West said. “Be creative, go out there and live, especially when you’re in your younger years, go out there and enjoy it, set a high goal, try to meet it, if you don’t make it, that’s ok, that’s fine, but push yourself. That’s what I’d try to leave with anybody watching this.”

West explained that many people he encountered on his trek down the river tell him they wish they could go on a trip like he is. 

“And the irony is that they can, but the reality is that they limit themselves,” he said ” And you know the funniest thing is a lot of people think you gotta get married by 25, own your own house, both you guys got to have paying jobs– no you don’t.”

“That’s not how it works,” he added, then correcting himself, “that’s sometimes how it works, but that s not how I’m going to live life.” 

West plans to have adventures like this throughout this life, but expects this long paddle will be one of his favorites. 

“This will hold a special place in my heart because it’s from the great state of Texas, I love this place it’s where I’m from, it’s my home,” West said. “And when I’m sitting there and I’m old and I’m crusty, I can look at my grandkids and say ‘this is what I did'”

“They will probably be sitting there going, ‘yeah whatever’ but at least I’ll like it,” West added with a smile.

Videos of the Journey

Here’s what Ethan West packs in his kayak

Ethan West talks to a man fishing in Bastrop County

West hoists his kayak over a dam. Video Courtesy Ethan West. 

Scenic spots along the kayak trip. Video Courtesy Ethan West. 

West encounters a snake in the water along the Colorado River. Video Courtesy Ethan West. 

Turles in the Colorado River. Video Courtesy Ethan West. 

West’s kayak moving underwater. Video Courtesy Ethan West. 

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