Hippos, Crocs and paddling the Nile: A quest to make life less ordinary

Watching the sun come up on New Year’s Day 2016 Sarah knew she needed more out of life. She felt driven by a desire to lead a life less ordinary, but struggled to discover just what it was she craved so badly.

Tired of feeling like a square peg being pushed into a round hole, Sarah resolved it was time for change. That was the easy part, working out what that looked like was a little harder. After delving deeply and exploring countless options, she hit upon an idea – she was going to paddle the world’s longest river, the Nile, from its source in Rwanda to its end in Egypt. Anyone who’s been on an expedition or big adventure will have an idea of just what’s involved in organising something like this, let alone executing it.

It took two years to get to the starting point and not surprisingly was a very steep learning curve. There were courses to go, like swift water rescue technician and wilderness survival, and much to work out. This included when to go, what equipment was needed, how to get approvals and trying to find people to join her.

Finally, on 27th October 2018 paddles finally hit the water. “That moment when paddles hit the water was amazing. Suddenly, all the stress, the two years of work, reconnaissance trips, slow progress, the problems and obstacles, were behind me. The leap of faith had paid off. I couldn’t stop smiling.” It was the escape from her corporate life she was seeking, and it transformed into the most incredible life-changing adventure she could ever have imagined.

All images taken from Sarahs personal pool: ‘Day 1’

She began in Rwanda, rafting with three Uganda rafting guides. It wasn’t long before the first drama hit in the form of a 1,500kg angry hippo, who bit into the back of the raft. This was on their first day in hippo territory and set Sarah up for long stressful days trying to avoid a similar encounter or worse. Thankfully the big crocodiles she saw were less troublesome.

Despite the stress, a human powered descent of this river proved to be a unique way to see the countries Sarah travelled through: Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan and Egypt. It allowed her to experience the culture of these amazing countries. Unfortunately South Sudan had to be skipped for security reasons.

Image: ‘The End in Uganda’

Security threats were never far away, with the risk of kidnap being the key one. Sarah had engaged a team back in Australia who provided intel reports and kept an ear out for any hostile chat online.

Always having to be ‘on’ was exhausting, particularly when combed with long days of paddling. Once Sarah got to Sudan she switched from raft to kayak, a sport she was more familiar with. The Rowing and Canoe Club in Khartoum went out of their way to help Sarah achieve her goal. They also made her feel very much part of their paddling family and provided endless kindness and generosity, something that was a theme for this trip.

Image: ‘Reaching Khartoum’

Paddling through the Sahara was an almost surreal experience, with the soft yellow sand dunes coming down to the river’s edge. “Watching the sun set over the river and desert is something I’ll never forget, and is something I miss,” says Sarah.

Image: ‘Sarah and the Sahara’

After nearly six months since paddles hit the water, and after the homestretch through Egypt, Sarah reached her destination.

Image: ‘Egypt’

“This trip made me come alive like nothing else. I think I’m going to be forever chasing that feeling!”

Image: ‘The Finish’

Sarah’s memoir about this incredible expedition has been published: ‘Paddle the Nile – One Woman’s Search for a Life Less Ordinary’ and is available on Amazon (paperback and Kindle).

Image: The cover of Sarah’s memoir, ‘Paddle The Nile- One Woman’s Search For a Life Less Ordinary’

Renowned British explorer, Levison Wood gave the following feedback: “Travelling the length of the Nile is no mean feat; filled with adventure, challenges and dangers. Sarah completed this momentous journey with determination and strength. Paddle the Nile is a gripping and motivating read.”