Sitting in Aswan I had a sense of relief. While there were still 1,200km to go it was counting down. No more borders to cross, teams to build, approvals to get beyond those for Egypt. The end was in sight. While I was loving this journey, the thought of reaching the end did make me smile.
I had a few days to rest and relax before I was joined by Nadim who was going to paddle with me through Egypt. He is a 24-year-old paddler, adventurer, incredibly talented artist and teacher. Turns out he is also extremely good at dealing with the authorities! Something I don’t think he anticipated spending quite so much time doing… More of that later.
LOCKED AND LOADED
This was going to be first time I was going to be paddling a fully loaded kayak. In Sudan there was a support boat for most of the supplies. No such luxury now. While it was going to make it harder paddling I was really looking forward to being self-sufficient again. The kayak was heavy – two of us struggled to move it – would have to have been around 70-80kg at the start. On the upside, this was going to be the ultimate 1,200km resistance session that will hopefully have me flying once I’m back in my 12kg surf ski!
SAFE AS HOUSES
There are various different police units in Egypt, including the Water Police who were our main point of contact. These were the people to give us the go-ahead to paddle on the Nile through Egypt and they were incredibly helpful and cooperative all the way through.
To begin with we were on our own on the river and camping, but as we made our way north, the police decided we needed greater protection.
This meant staying in hotels most of the way and having a police escort on the water. We got passed from one set of police to the next with Nadim fielding a lot of calls from them all the way. There were police escorts to and from the hotels – more often than not we’d have a police car in front of our taxi and a police van behind. I felt like travelling royalty!!
There was one day we were dealing with monster headwinds and couldn’t make the agreed stopover point. We’d just got through one of the locks and there were police stationed on a boat the other side. We ended up camping on this concrete platform next to their boat. Was kinda cool and was a well ventilated room with a view.
The police were amazing – at no point did they make me feel like a burden and I know I must have been. One time there were five police in a boat next to me! They would move my kayak as necessary, store it at the police stations, they were great.
The slight downside was we had to punch out some long days on the river to get to places deemed secure enough for us to sleep or from one jurisdiction to another. Our maximum was 92km in one day that had us paddling into the night.
I am incredibly grateful to the police for being so supportive and ensuring my safety throughout. They constantly to try to make sure all tourists are protected and safe in Egypt.
There wasn’t a huge amount of time for sight-seeing, but we did manage one stop at the Temple of Abydos.
Abydos has been a sacred site to the Egyptians since predynastic times. Wepwawet, the jackal-headed god, held it sacred and believed that he “opened the way” to the world of the dead through Abydos. The ancient Egyptians have always held their dead in high regard and revered them with respect.
There are a number of temples there with three of great significance. One of the main ones, Seti I dates back to some 1,300BC. It contains seven chapels, a list of the kings and many beautiful detailed reliefs.
You can’t help but wonder how on earth they constructed these huge temples. The detailed carvings are amazing.
I stopped in Cairo for a couple of days on the way through. I had the tremendous privilege of going into the British embassy and meeting the British Ambassador, Sir Geoffrey Adams KCMG. We had a great chat and I got to see a little of the embassy which is a stunning colonial style building.
Before I knew it was time to be back on the river for the final 260km. That morning I got pretty emotional. In August 2017 I had been here as part of my reconnaissance trip to Egypt and Sudan. I had been out for a kayak at the very spot I was about to launch from. At the time I had thought, when I do the expedition and get to this point, I’ll be so close to the end. Now I was actually here. I could hardly believe it.
CLOSE BUT NOT CLOSE ENOUGH
The plan was to do the last 260km in four days. I was without Nadim for this section. The first three were tough going and long days.
What was due to be my final day I woke up in the early hours with an upset stomach. I won’t share the gruesome details except to say I lost a lot of liquids. Come about 9am I was beginning to feel weak and faint. I spoke to one of my crisis team – we made the call it was time to go to hospital. I knew I needed an IV to get some fluids in me asap. I grabbed a few bits and a waste paper bin in case I needed an extra chunder and shuffled like grandma downstairs.
No one spoke English and I deeply regretted my not having continued with the Arabic lessons I’d started pre departure. Praise be for Google translate. In the room that doubled as reception I tapped in the word ‘hospital’ and looked at them desperately. The police were called. Passport checked. ‘Hospital’ once again tapped into my phone.
Eventually an ambulance pulled up. With sirens. Ok, we might have a bit of overkill here. I got into the ambulance along with one of the policemen. Off we went, sirens still on. I thought about Google translating that we maybe didn’t need the full sirens and speeding through the streets, but that fell into the way too hard basket to try to translate.
Got to hospital and was taken for an initial examination. The doctor spoke English which was a relief. BP was very low due to the loss of fluids. Time for a drip with a dose of antibiotics. There were a few challenges getting the cannula in that had me getting faint again, but they got there eventually.
It wasn’t long before the fluids had the desired impact and I started to feel a bit better. Once the fluids were done I got a taxi back to the hotel with the policeman who’d been with me throughout.
Later that day the police called the owner – they knew I hadn’t eaten and were worried about me. They also wanted to check whether I needed a nurse. Bless them!
I took an extra day to rest and get some food and more liquids into me. Plus I split the last day in two. The next day was still going to be 50km. I was worried it was going to be too much and would make me sick again.
I nervously got back on the water and took it very easy to begin with. The wind built, but as it did, I felt my strength coming back and got stronger as the day progressed.
The last morning though I felt utterly spent. Not just from being ill. From the months of being on the go, endless organising, problem solving and pushing myself. I was ready for a break. The 15km I needed to that day seemed like a long way.
But when I got back to the river, saw the water, I felt good and smiled. This was it. Time to bring this expedition to a close.
The headwinds were strong. Of course they were! But I didn’t care. The only real problem I was going to find was the big waves whipped up by the wind that meant actually paddling on to the Mediterranean Sea was out of the question.
I did my best to take in every one of those 15km and enjoy every moment. As I got closer to the end, I could smell the sea and then see the waves. The tears started to roll. I got as close as I could and called it. This was it. I had made it. Made it to the end of this seemingly impossible dream.
A dream that begun to formulate years earlier. The two years of endless planning and preparation and then the seven months in Africa. The obstacles, fears and self-doubt that had to be overcome. The 1,100km of rafting. The 3,000km of kayaking and the various other forms of transport that made up the rest of the trip. It was all behind me now.
There were so many emotions – such joy and happiness, contradicted by sadness that this incredible journey was over, along with some relief too. And then there was total exhaustion. I’d pushed it hard, particularly this last week and my body was feeling it. I was ready for a long rest.
There was one last treat in store before leaving for the airport. I had the great privilege of meeting and being interviewed by Omar Samra at the British Embassy. Omar was the first Egyptian to climb Mount Everest, the Seven Summits and ski to both the Geographic South and North Pole. On top of his incredible achievements as an adventurer he is an entrepreneur and speaker. It was fantastic to chat to him.
That day, as I left for the airport I saw the Nile for the last time. Tears rolled down my face once again. I couldn’t pinpoint the emotion behind these tears - there were many. A big part was sadness - I was sad to be saying goodbye to this mighty, beautiful river. The Nile had been my purpose, my goal and focus for years. I had been travelling along it for many months. There was grief that this journey was at an end. It seemed like it was a sudden finish and farewell. But it wasn’t just sadness.
At the same time there was also relief that it was done, that there was no more planning, problems to solve, obstacles to overcome along with the constant physical demands. There was exhaustion.
But there was also an enormous amount of happiness and pure joy. Happy to have made it and so incredibly grateful to have been able to go on this amazing journey. I had done it. Or rather we had done it. This wasn’t just me. It is a very long list of people that made this expedition possible. This has been the most extraordinary, life-changing journey. One that will take me some time to really process and fully appreciate.
When I set out I had no idea what was ahead of me or any real expectations. It was better than anything I could have imagined. It has been amazing adventure that challenged me on every level. I have got to not just see, but really experience the incredible countries this trip took me through.
I have learnt so much about myself as well as what it takes to plan and execute an expedition. I come away with new friends, hundreds of amazing memories as well as so many life lessons. Oh and a few thousand photos!
As I said above, this trip was only possible because there were so many people who helped to make it happen. First and foremost are my wonderful sponsors:
Shaw and Partners Financial Services who came on board as a sponsor from the day I announced my plans. Not only that but they raised funds and donated money to CARE Australia, the charity for this trip. Earl – I cannot thank you enough – without the generosity of Shaw and Partners I would never have been able to even start this trip
Big Water Rescue Equipment who supplied all my vital white-water safety equipment – the best there is on the market. The throw bag in particular got used extensively – from creating barriers at night from grazing hippos, to tying a boat to a trailer, securing the kayaks and more. Alan and Catherine – thank you
Kathmandu – this was where much of my camping equipment came from and the all important GPS
Braca-Sport, Bennett Paddles and Canoe Innovations who provided the paddles. Braca are the best paddles on the market – the choice of everyday paddlers through to Olympians. I had two sets with different blade sizes put together for me by Bennett Paddles (the best place to get your paddles in Aus! Thanks Greg)
Nile River Explorers gave me all the rafting gear to use, the repair kits and put me in touch with the team for the rafting sections. On top of that they put me up at the fabulous Explorers River Camp – a gorgeous place to stay in Jinja, overlooking the stunning Nile. Thanks so much Jon – I couldn’t have done this without your support
Vaikobi who provided my paddling clothing – it certainly got tested on this trip! Super comfortable and very durable - highly recommend it for all the paddlers out there. Thanks Pat!
Neris Folding Kayaks – gave me one of their folding kayaks. Great for anyone looking for an easily portable kayak
Borika Mounts – they put mounts on the kayak for the GoPro. They offer a variety of mounts for all types of boats
Peak Dynamics - they provided assessments of my decision-making capacity as the physical and mental stress took their toll throughout the trip. Very insightful and valuable assessments to go through, thanks Sandy
Mayo Hardware – the supplier of value who generously donated money to my expedition. Thank you James!
Nurmi Accountants – also generously donated money to the expeiditon. Thank you John
Nuzest who kindly gave me a selection of the incredible supplements
Sportslab who helped make sure I was in tip top condition before undertaking this challenge
On top of that SO many of you donated money and bought equipment for me. You legends, you were all so generous!!
Then there were all the people who gave me advice and helped me organise things as I went. As much as I tried to have everything lined up before I left there was a lot arranged as I went. Throughout people helped me organise things, giving up their time and putting in a huge amount of effort to make my dream a reality.
Plus the amazing paddlers who joined me. I could not have done this trip with out them. It was wonderful to share the journey with them.
Then there was all the feedback throughout the trip. I cannot tell you how much all your comments and messages meant and the difference they made to me. At times it could be a bit lonely and tough going physically and mentally. All those messages gave me a lift when I needed them the most.
This is all a huge debt I couldn’t pay back in multiple lifetimes. The words THANK YOU do not feel enough. I am eternally grateful to you all.
I’m back in the UK for a month with family and friends. Time for a bit of Mum’s input to help put me back together again! Then I’ll be back in Australia – I can’t wait to be home!
I’ve had a few interviews which have been fun. A couple on BBC local and national radio channels and a live TV interview on BBC South East. There has also been an article on the Red Bull website about my expedition and Spiegel Online for the German speakers amongst you. Stoked with all of that!
I have some speaking gigs coming up which I’m really looking forward to and plan to do more of these. Then I will most definitely be writing the book.
I also need to unravel and rebuild the body which will take a bit of time, but I cannot wait to get back in the gym.
Oh, and of course, there’s planning the next adventure…plans are already formulating. Watch this space!
Before I set off once again I hope to hear that some of you have gone on adventures of you own and followed big audacious dreams. Remember we tend to only regret the things we don't do... Day one or one day? It's your call.
"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world." Harriet Tubman
I'm still raising money for CARE Australia - if anyone would like to donate just pop over to the link here. Every cent counts and is hugely appreciated.
Finally, if anyone has any questions about the expedition or there are aspects you'd like to know more about, please do let me know.
Thank you all for being part of this journey.