■ BY SUE ERWIN
Dr. Dirk Rohrbach didn’t mind the gusty winds or the heavy fog on Monday morning as he paddled through the Pass from Cayo Costa State Park toward the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse.
Upon arrival, he carried his 17-foot kayak up the beach, securing it to a fence while he took a tour of the lighthouse with Barrier Island Parks Society Executive Director Sharon McKenzie.
The accomplished German adventurer embarked last week on a nine-day, 100-mile kayak voyage along the Great Calusa Blueway.
Rohrbach is a German physician, public radio journalist and National Geographic author and photographer. For the past eight years, he’s spent much of his time working as a travel journalist, book author and photographer.
He is no stranger to the United States. He’s been coming here for nearly 30 years and has been to Florida before, but this is his first visit to Lee County.
“I’ve always enjoyed photography, so about eight years ago I started this nomadic existence and found the courage to dare to take this adventure,” he said. “I think the East Coast is similar to Europe, so I’m looking forward to exploring the West Coast,” he said.
In the summer of 2013, he traveled across America with his bicycle and camera for a project called “Highway Junkie.” He collected small-town American stories and photographs for a book published by National Geographic.
His associate, Claudia Axmann, had planned to travel to Boca Grande with Rohrbach on Monday to document the visit, but she decided not to paddle through the Pass. The thick fog appeared too risky with all of the audio and video equipment she had packed in her kayak.
Rohrbach prefers taking unconventional travel routes on his adventures. Depending on the location, he’ll travel by bus, train, or sometimes he’ll take “Loretta” for a spin, his 1974 Ford F-100 pickup.
Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau helped coordinate the itinerary for his trip but expects to spend only a few hundred dollars. The organization hopes to grab the attention of future visitors from Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Area hotels are “comping” his accommodations, and providing goods and services free of charge. He also plans to buy his own groceries and cook his own meals.
Rohrbach expects to paddle about 12 to 20 miles a day on the blueway, stopping to meet locals and experts on the area’s history and culture.
In April 2018, details from his current trip will debut in a 15-minute vignette for German public radio.
Rohrbach’s journey will be featured in “50 States – A Journey into America,” a five-year project in which he aims to document the people, places and experiences that make the United States special. He’s a little more than a year into the process, covering 9 to 10 states annually.
Rohrbach completed his visit to Boca Grande touring the two island lighthouses and exploring the island by bicycle.
You can meet the adventure journalist at the annual Calusa Blueway speaker series at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at the Wa-Ke Hatchee Park Recreation Center, 16760 Bass Road in Fort Myers, where he will be speaking about his paddling adventures. Admission is free.