Last year, our cover story SHARED the story of Melissa & Michael Harlow. They were preparing to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. They sold all of their belongings here in San Elijo Hills (including their home), purchased a 38’ sailboat and set off in January 2016 for a year-long voyage down the coast of Mexico and to the French Polynesian Islands. (If you missed that story, go check it out right here.)
Well, we are thrilled to report – they did it and they lived to tell about it! We are thrilled to have them back in San Diego after sailing 10,500 miles in 10.5 months. The adventure was both EVERYTHING and NOTHING like they expected. The one word they would chose to describe it? EPIC. The adventures. The mishaps. The scenery. The people. The friendships. The stories. The lessons.
There was nothing easy about this trip. The first leg of their trip, they sailed down the coast and spent several months traveling throughout Mexico. They had a pre-established date of meeting their two adult children in Tahiti and so they ended up sailing directly from Puerto Vallarta to French Polynesia. This was 24 days on the water – just the two of them. Can you imagine?
One of the biggest surprises of the trip was the pace. When sailing, you are constantly ‘on’ – always thinking about the boat, weather, water conditions, your safety, the course. At the same time, things are brutally slow. For Michael & Melissa, who are avid hikers and adventurers, those days when they would look at their FitBit and see they had only taken a few steps, those days were painful.
They faced a lot of rough patches as they sailed across the Pacific, but the journey earned them bragging rights and the official Pacific Puddle Jumpers flag. After 24 days on the water, arriving at Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas was definitely a highlight. Melissa describes it as an amazingly beautiful Gilligan’s Island and that they could smell the island before they could see it. Their senses were so heightened after several weeks on the water that they could literally smell the dirt and land as they approached the island. It was a celebratory moment and they were surrounded by 100s of dolphins as if they were being escorted back to land by their new sea friends.
They collected many stories and encounters during their time in the Marquesas. While hiking in Nuku Hiva, Melissa discovered a bright colored red seed that came from a Coral Tree. She is now making some beautiful jewelry from these seeds inspired by the islands. (Of course, this is only after she learned that one of the other red seeds she was collecting was highly poisonous!)
Spending time in French Polynesia was very special. Their son and daughter met them in Tahiti where they had the chance to spend 10 days together as a family. In fact, they all decided to get matching turtle tattoos – something that made them the talk of town to locals and travelers alike. Bora Bora was also an amazing highlight because they witnessed such fantastic water life – from manta rays to sharks and squids that lit up in the water.
It was on this leg of the journey that Michael & Melissa looked at each other and realized they were finished. The idea of traveling all the way back to San Diego seemed daunting and they debated about how they would finish the trip. They considered selling their boat in Tahiti, but eventually decided to bring it on home. Except the plan was that Melissa would fly home and Michael would fly a friend of his who is an experienced captain, out to finish the trip back home with him.
But, that’s not where the story ends. After a turbulent trip from French Polynesia to Honolulu, Michael’s friend decided he just couldn’t finish the trip either. He wanted to go home. Michael was obviously crushed at the thought of how he would finish that final leg of the trip – something he couldn’t do alone, knowing it could be anywhere from 24-40 days depending on weather and conditions. So, he picked up the phone and called Melissa. They determined that they would finish the last leg of the trip together.
Melissa flew out to Honolulu and they set sail for San Diego. That leg was one of the lowest points of the trip. The water was so turbulent – almost violent – most of the time and they wanted to so badly to be home. But, they hunkered down and tackled the journey, which took them 24 days.
While the trip itself was brutal, the people they met and the relationships they formed – both with fellow “Pacific Puddle Jumpers” as well as locals they met along the way – are something they will cherish for all time. Most importantly, they both leave the experience with a new confidence in themselves and their ability to take on anything that life throws at them as well as dealing with the unknown, facing fear and knowing what truly matters.
When Melissa & Michael first left San Diego last year, they weren’t sure if they would come back. Or that if they did come back, what their next step would be. While sailing, they decided they wanted to use some of this time they have carved out for traveling to do the whole ‘RV thing’ and so their adventure continues. Michael and Melissa are currently prepping their boat for sale and preparing to purchase an RV so they can continue their adventure by traveling throughout the U.S. in 2017.
Michael & Melissa are incredibly proud of what they accomplished during the last year (so is everyone who knows them). It takes a brave couple to let go of everything they own, say goodbye to an area where they have lived most of their lives, and trust their hearts to lead them to the next destination.
Stay in touch with Michael and Melissa by visiting their site at www.theadventuretravelers.com. Michael had big plans for writing and sharing the story along the way, but this became impossible when they both had to man their boat 24/7 and while their only time on land was in areas with very limited Internet access. Now that they are back on land, he will be sharing those photos and stories on the site.
You can also see the amazing jewelry Melissa is making from the Coral Tree seeds she collected on her Etsy site.
We wish them both the best of luck on the next leg of their journey and thank them for the inspiration they have given all of us. Sometimes in the flurry of life, we daydream about escaping it all. Michael & Melissa remind us that it’s all a choice. With a dream, some loose plans and a willingness to step into the unknown, you can take on any adventure you envision. So, just do it!