By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
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Having spent much of his life isolated in the wilds, Bob Kull is ready to talk about it

Photos courtesy of Bob Kull: Kull shot this double rainbow from the island. He writes on his Web: "When rain and mist and fog came in, the world around me softened and became more intimate and mysterious." Of the photo below, Kull wrote, "... Eyes closed and mind slowly settling, I spent thousands of hours quietly listening to the rain and wind and sea, to my own heart and breathing, to the astonishing sound of silence."
October 29, 2008
Ventura County Star

Bob Kull was on a quest for enlightenment when, at age 55, he decided to spend a year alone in the Patagonia wilderness.

"I went into solitude seeking some ultimate answer that would heal my life and that I could share with others," said Kull, now 62, who traveled to a remote spot off the southern Chile coast with enough supplies to live alone for one year.

The goal proved elusive.

"My notion of what that answer would entail was profoundly misguided," Kull said. "The challenge is to experience and accept the world and ourselves just as we actually are, and deepen our experience of the here and now."

Such is the message of Kull's new book, "Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes" (New World Library). Published Sept. 1, the 320-page hardcover contains the diary of his remarkable year alone.

The book weaves together two different storytelling aspects: "On one level, it's a story of physical adventure and survival in an extreme climate," Kull said in a recent interview. "On a deeper level, it's a fiercely honest account — including the intense lights and darks — of my inner explorations during the year."

Kull, who grew up in Ventura County and now lives in Canada, will return to the California coast this weekend to discuss and sign copies of the book at Tecolote Book Shop in Montecito.

Now a resident of Vancouver, B.C., Kull grew up on Santa Ana Boulevard in Live Oak Acres, the river flat below Oak View, near Ojai.

From kindergarten to third grade, he attended the two-room Santa Ana Schoolhouse that is now buried under the waters of Lake Casitas. He also was a student in Ventura, at the now-defunct Mill School, Cabrillo Junior High and Ventura High School.

Off to an early start

The adventure bug bit soon after he graduated from high school, when he took a solo hitchhiking trip around the United States and returned nine months later.

"I've spent time in solitude since I was a young boy," Kull said. "It's an inner call and if I don't follow it, I lose my center and begin to feel lifeless and at loose ends."

Kull spent years wandering around North and South America, working as a diving instructor, wilderness guide, construction worker, dishwasher, truck driver, bartender, painter, firefighter and professor.

He had traveled up the coast of southern Chile for several years before deciding to spend a year on a remote island by himself.

"It's difficult to find anywhere on Earth to be completely alone for a year," said Kull, who faced additional challenges, having lost his lower right leg in a motorcycle crash years ago.

"I have a prosthetic leg and wanted to be on the coast so I could explore, fish, gather firewood by boat rather than on foot," he said.

Patagonia also was ideal because it was devoid of people, airplanes, boats or industrial activity of any kind.

"I wanted to step out of the human social and technological matrix," he said. "I knew that if I didn't go to a remote location and intense climate, I would be disappointed with myself."

Dual goals for endeavor

In part, his yearlong journey was the fieldwork for his doctoral dissertation into the effects of deep wilderness solitude on a human being. He sought to explore these effects on the body and mind, and to find the answers to spiritual questions he has pondered his entire life.

"My intention was to weave together my intellectual academic work and my inner spiritual journey," said Kull, who began his undergraduate studies at age 40 and now holds a doctorate from the University of British Columbia.

"I wrote this book in nonacademic language," he said, "to share the physical adventures and the spiritual explorations with others."

Kull noted that most books focus on one aspect of our lives: physical adventure, for example, or intellectual thought or spiritual exploration.

"Solitude weaves together all of these," he said. "It does not provide simple 1-2-3 answers to complex spiritual or intellectual questions but rather explores and celebrates the questions themselves and the mysterious wonder of our lives."

From Bob Kull's Web site: "Before I left the small town of Puerto Natales 100 sea miles from where I spent the year, I talked with the ranger in charge of the park where I would be. He reminded me that red tide is prevalent along Chiles southern coast and suggested I take a cat with me to test the shell fish before eating them myself. If the cat stayed healthy, then the shell fish would be safe to eat. A good plan in theory, but it didnt work out that way in practice. We became close and instead of Cat testing shell fish for me I found myself catching fish not only for myself, but for him as well. Happily, the fishing was excellent. A sort of red snapper was the usual catch. One difficulty was that they usually hang out in water from 40 to 80 meters deep. Since it was impossible to bottom anchor, I used sea anchors to slow my drift."

Photo By: Courtesy Photo/Submitted
Photo courtesy of Bob Kull / Bob Kull writes on his Web site: "... Eyes closed and mind slowly settling, I spent thousands of hours quietly listening to the rain and wind and sea, to my own heart and breathing, to the astonishing sound of silence."

Photo By: Courtesy Photo/Submitted
Photo courtesy of Bob Kull / Shortly before his year on the island came to an end, Kull beheld this breathtaking sunrise over the Andes. "The view from my cabin," he writes on his Web site. "If living alone, bathed for a year in such beauty, does not deeply touch a person, something is amiss."

Photo By: Courtesy Photo/Submitted
Photo courtesy of Bob Kull / His first night on the island, Bob Kull slept in a tent that he put up in the dark and that did battle all night with the rising tide. "I set up my tent on a sheet of plywood in the grass thinking it must be above the high tide line. Nope Wrong again. It turned out to be sea grass and, as the tide continued to rise, I shoved more and more 2-by-4s under the plywood, all the while praying and cursing at the sea to give me a break and wondering what I had gotten myself into." Kull went on to erect this crude wood-framed structure away from the beach that did a much better job of protecting him from the sea, the wind and other forces of nature.

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