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From Source to Sea: Paddling the Nile with Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis - First Female-Led Nile River Expedition - 6,853km from the source in Rwanda to the Mediterranean Sea!

Imagine paddling from the source of a river to the sea - you'd start out high in the mountains, searching for the trickling headwaters that make their way ever so steadily to the ocean, some hundreds or thousands of miles away. Now imagine making that very same journey down the longest river in the world: the Nile.

Sounds crazy, right?

For Sarah Davis, paddling the length of the Nile was more than just a daydream or a far-fetched story; in fact, it was her reality. Coming up, we'll learn more about Sarah's groundbreaking expedition to be the first woman to paddle the length of the Nile and get some great insight into the journey that brought her to the headwaters of the world's longest river in the first place.

The Beginning

Sarah was always an active kid who played sports during her childhood in Sussex, England. After her mom took a job in Melbourne, Australia, however, when Sarah was just 15 years old, she got her start with the local surf club, where she learned to kayak.

Since those early years, Sarah has always been the adventurous type, opting for active holidays rather than opportunities to lounge on the beach, but she wasn’t always on the lookout for ways to break world records in the outdoors. In fact, Sarah started her adult life as in the banking industry, working in the corporate world until she took some time off to be a personal trainer, before returning to her job at the bank.

Soon enough, Sarah noticed something was missing in her life, so she set out to create a life that was anything but ordinary. After watching a handful of documentaries about people who had set out to do some cool “firsts” in the adventure sports world, Sarah realised that the people taking on these big expeditions weren’t superstars or professional athletes - they were regular people with big dreams, just like her.

From there, Sarah set to work trying to find her next big adventure. With kayaking as her preferred activity, she went down the Google search rabbit hole and learned more about what has and hasn’t in the adventure paddling world. Her answer? The Nile.

Planning the Paddle

As you might imagine, however, paddling down the length of the Nile is no easy feat. In fact, much of the challenge comes before you ever leave home.

Perhaps the most unique thing about the Nile is that no one is really sure where it starts. While traditional knowledge pinpointed the headwaters of the world’s longest river as the edge of Lake Victoria in Uganda, a number of expeditions have since set out to find the source, opening a considerable amount of debate in the area.

To make matters more complex, the Nile has two tributaries - the White Nile and the Blue Nile - that feed into the river that flows through Egypt. Since the two tributaries meet in Khartoum, and the White Nile is the slightly longer of the two tributaries, Sarah decided to start her journey in Rwanda, before heading into Tanzania and Uganda.

Finding a starting point was the least of Sarah’s worries, however. Such a large undertaking requires an indescribable amount of logistics and planning to accomplish, so Sarah quickly set to work with getting organised. After two years of a seemingly endless series of spreadsheets, research, marketing, and even setting up a wedding registry-like website for people to donate gear, it was finally time to get out and paddle.

Risk on the Water

As you might imagine, though, paddling the length of the Nile isn’t without its risks. The longest river in the world, the Nile flows through some of the most amazing and remote landscapes in Eastern Africa, starting with its headwaters in Rwanda and ending at its mouth on the Mediterranean.

Thanks to Sarah’s professional career as a risk manager in the banking industry, the process of identifying the possible risks before the trip was a walk int the park. She boiled it all down to five main categories of risk: illness & injury, equipment malfunctions, hostile people, animal encounters, and environmental concerns.

As with any epic adventure, nearly all of those risky elements showed up during Sarah’s paddle down the Nile. Whether it was a parasite burrowing itself into Sarah’s toe, a hippo attack, or getting arrested in Burundi, life was never dull on the river.

Finally Adventure

Although many people would find the moment that paddles finally touch the water to be the biggest leap of faith in an adventure like this, for Sarah, that moment came when boarding the plane in Australia. At that point, she didn’t yet have a rafting team to help her get through the rapids at the beginning of the trip, nor did she have all of her gear in one place.

But, with some determination and a whole lot of grit, Sarah made it to Rwanda and started getting organised. On the 27 October 2018, Sarah finally hit the water, ready and excited for the adventure to come. Over the course of the next nearly half a year, Sarah and her team of amazing local guides made their way to the fertile banks of the Nile River Delta and the Mediterranean.

While many people point to the physical achievement of paddling such a long distance and traveling through such difficult terrain, for Sarah, this adventure was about more than just the paddle. For someone who spent months hurtling downstream on a raft or kayak, it might be funny to think about a paddling trip as a way to take things a bit more slowly in life.

But, through long-distance paddling and other expeditions, we can take the time to stop, think, and realise that we spend so much time running around that we don’t appreciate the journey we’re already on. As with any good adventure, it’s ultimately the why, not the how that matters in the end. Whether you’re a professional athlete or just a regular person, Sarah’s journey reminds us that there’s adventure waiting for all of us, if we just commit to our dreams.

To learn more about Sarah, her amazing expedition to paddle the length of the Nile, and to hear more about that crazy hippo attack, check out her interview on the Tough Girl Podcast!


Listen Now!

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