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Kristen Blanton and Matt Jozwiak are the duo behind the analog outdoor photography blog Hello America. The pair began their odyssey together years before we approached them, setting out on the classic American road trip documenting their experiences with beautiful film photography. When we reached out to Matt and Kristen to send them on a Sperry odyssey, we told them that we wanted to send them on a real-life adventure at sea to capture photos of the world’s largest animal. The only twist – Kristen is terrified of them…

Written by Kristen Blanton.

I do not want to be on a boat in the Pacific Ocean searching for whales to swim with. As much as I try to psych myself up for the week ahead, dread remains. It is the honest and depressing truth. I am abashedly afraid.

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To a rational person, the fortune of swimming with the blue whale is a delicious opportunity. To me, it’s a death rattle. Anxiety ebbs and flows and I realize there is no preparation in confronting my one fear. We trolley and listen for the exhale of our first whale. I struggle to relax under the weight of my bulky wetsuit, forehead painted with the sign, “This-is-my-nightmare-get-me-out-of here-now-please-and-thank-you.”

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Matt is my antithesis. He is the first ready and the first in the water. He deals with me kindly. He understands the depths of this fear I’ve had since pre-adolescence, but makes no excuse for me. He extends his hand. I accept and dive in to the water.

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We board sea kayaks and the search begins. We paddle in the direction of the first blow. Suddenly, she releases. Whoosh! the air soars violently.

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I shriek and cry a little–or a lot, I can’t remember. I don’t know if the two come from fear or the beauty. Paddling quickly, we inch closer and luck lands us on top of our first whale.

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“Get in the water! GET IN THE WATER!” everyone screams. Panicked by the elated yelling, I lift my stiff body into the frigid water and am face to face with a 100-foot blue whale. There is a quote from Beasts of the Southern Wild, “When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me.” This plays on a loop in my head during my first encounter with this beast. This thing? This enchanted creature… why have I been so paralyzed? THIS magnetic and graceful creation is delicate, pure. Her elegance consumes me.

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I’d be untruthful if I said I overcame my anxiety. In fact, each encounter left me more anxious than the last; each time I would muster the nerve to get back into the water. Yet when I laid eyes on the whale, I would melt back into her trance, relishing in gratitude, forever changed by the wild.

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