EJ’s Epic Nile River Trip- A River Facing Death

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I think it is important to that I both share the wonderful experiences from my trip, but also make sure you know that the Nile River Rapids that are left for kayaking, will be getting dammed up in 40 months if the illegal dam isn’t stopped.    First the fun stuff….

This trip, Alec, Hayden, Nick, Dane, and I all traveled from Atlanta, Georgia to the Hairy Lemon Island of the Nile River.   It took about 3 days to get there as our kayaks didn’t make it the first day, so we spent the day at a guest house in Entebbe, the capital of Uganda.    We were all anticipating the awesome month ahead, with warm weather, warm water, big water, great training both technically and physically.     Emily would join in after two weeks and Nick would leave after three weeks as Tucker wasn’t making this trip.

My goals for the trip were:

1. Get in top physical condition- body weight 158, time trial time- new record, and increase flexibility to same level as 1990.

2. Improve my wave moves and be prepared for USA Team Trials, and the World Championships

3. Catch Nile Perch, and have fun fishing on the Nile.

My physical training regimen was a combination of kayaking, and push-ups, and pull-ups.

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Everyday, every workout (2 times/day), I started the workout out with a time trial course I set a few years ago.    It is a simple attainment course that starts at the eddy at the Hairy Lemon Beach, and finishes at the Eddy below Nile Special where you wait in line for Club wave.    I have a starting rock and finish rock and it is done precisely the same way every time, about 50 times during the trip.   My all time best record was set last year, 8:26.   I have only broken 8:30 2 times before this trip.    My first run last year was a 9:37.      This year’s first run was a 9:07.      Each session I focus on my forward stroke, my exact pacing in each section, where to sprint, where to back off, and of course, my lines on the way up.   There are five main challenges to this attainment that are very difficult to get all 5 right in one run.   The starting ferry has shallow rocks to deal with, micro-eddies, and a couple of places where you can go high or low around rocks.   The water level is never quite the same and the lines can differ as much as 10 seconds in the first 1 minute depending on your choices and pacing.    The second is the mandatory reverse paddling of 60 back strokes.    I do them in the last big pool before you have to cross the river.  The challenge there is that the pool is full of waves that crash over your stern and almost stop you unless you time  your strokes and edge to lift your stern up.    The third big challenge is the big ferry across the entire Nile River with two main jets of current to deal with.    Both Jets of current move around, build up, boil out, fade right or left, and are so unpredictable that each time it is read and run and hope to get lucky.  How far you paddle upstream in between the two is a tough choice.  If you try for the upper wave and miss it, which is 70% of the time, you lose a ton of time (30 seconds).  If you fire straight out you only have a 10% chance of surfing over at all and a 50% chance of being boiled downstream and faded backwards slightly a loss of up to 30 seconds.    A good crossing means you are firing across the center eddy and have a clean eddy line and you bow drops down into a wave for at least part of the ferry and you catch some kind of surf over and enter the eddy on the other side high.       The fourth challenge is entering the far eddy and getting upstream quickly.    The eddy is a massive circular eddy that is pushing you back towards the middle of the river.   Driving full speed into the eddy and keeping your speed going until you get deep enough to be carried upstream takes about 20 seconds of sprinting and good boat control.   The boils and waves try to throw you off, not to mention that you are physically exhausted at this stage (unless you were going slow and then you are going to be slow anyhow).    Finally, there is a small attainment at the very end that is a beast to get right every time as the timing is everything on it.   The upstream eddy fills and spills out and the lower eddy rises up and down as well.    The right timing means you get up easily, like entering a lock and the water switches over for you quickly and you carry on.   The wrong timing and you hit a big hill of water rushing at you that you can’t climb over and you get stuck in a blast waiting for it to even out so you can charge and scramble up with no speed (20 second difference).     From there it is a 10 second sprint to the rocks at the top of the eddy to the finish line.       Whew…    Every session I did this time trial and I got stronger, more flexible, better cardio shape, and better lines over time, but I got stuck at 8:29 and had three of them over my second week.   Dane was also doing this for conditioning and we decided to race it together.    He wanted to go first and I followed 10 second behind him.    We took slightly different lines out of the start and I caught him by a couple of seconds.    I charged hard in the flat section and by the time we were doing the big ferry, I took the low line and passed him.   He was just behind me at the beginning of the ferry but I got pushed low by a boil and he had a clean ferry and passed me back gaining his time back.    We sprinted up to the finish for the last minute and stopped our watches.    I asked him his time- 8:25, the new course record.  I looked at my watch, 8:25 the same!   Awesome- we both now shared the course record.    I had one more week and on Saturday AM my final workout at the Nile River,  I had my best time ever, and the new course record of 8:24, a great way to leave the Island.

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Besides the kayaking, I was also playing lots of disc golf and running the holes, as well as some ultimate frisbee.      100 push-ups each day, minimum, plus pull ups.  Unfortunately I still have an arm injury that makes the pull ups something I couldn’t really train hard with .

On the water,  we did lots of competition rides, timing and judging each other, doing the ‘World Championships Finals” each time (3 rides 1 counts).       Dane and Nick beat me most of the time, but I had my moments as well.  I had some workouts where I couldn’t do anything wrong and could do any move any time and it felt awesome.  I also had plenty of workouts where I got stuck on something, or flushed a lot.     It wasn’t really that complicated; when I was paddling happy, and really just showing off, I paddled well.  when I was paddling serious, or trying too hard, I didn’t paddle as well.

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Emily showed up to the Island and was also on a mission and it was fun watching her do my Pear Sports workouts.  She was doing my Run, Jump, Push, Run Workout daily.   It is so amazing to watch Emily on a wave as she is just so talented.    This will be a great world championships for her.    Stephen Wright, Jessie Stone, Nick Troutman, Dane, Alec, Mathieu Dumoulin were all there training hard and were all killing it in the Rock Star.

Most days I would go fishing for a short period as well.   Nile Perch are just amazing fish, and there is nothing like them in North America.   Paul, the owner of the Hairy Lemon said that they would cook them up if I brought a couple in.     One of the days I went out and caught two- one in the morning and one in the evening  with only about 1 hour of fishing time.     I was using my new Ardent Reels and Cashion Rods and Tuf-Line braided line.   A swim Bait caught one, and a crank bait caught the other.   My first one was out of an old fiberglass canoe that Paul has and in the middle of the river.   I had to hold on to the rod and paddle one handed across and eddy line to get to a safe place to fight it.

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This was my first ever Nile Perch and it was amazing!   Hard fighting, sweet jumps, and successful landing.     I managed to catch another one that evening from shore at the Hairy Lemon Island, wading out below Island Number 3.  It was smaller, but still awesome.   I had enough fish to feed all 24 island inhabitants at this stage.  I cleaned both of them and left them in the Fridge for Paul to organize the cooking of them.

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I had another project on my plate while on the Hairy Lemon Island.     Anyone who knows me, knows that if I am not doing something productive and challenging, that keeps me completely busy, I am not truly having fun.   I reconnected with my book publisher, Stackpole Books, at Winter OR.    My direct contact there, Judith Schnell, offered for me to write more books for them.    I don’t have time to write books, typically, but, when in Africa, I do.   I am usually making an instructional video, or writing there.   My first book was my first “EJ’s Rolling and Bracing” book.

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The text is done, and Jessie Stone did the editing of that book for me, cleaning up all of the little writing errors and structural issues I had.  She edited my Strokes and Concepts book in 1998.  I went on to write my second edition of “Kayaking with Eric Jackson- Strokes and Concepts” .   Danny Stock is now editing that book, and he edited my Playboating book back in 1999.      I took all of the photos in Uganda, using my GoPro Hero 4 Silver.    This was a big project, which meant I wasn’t always able to play games with the kids, hang out at night, etc…, but I was happy as I could be, knowing I could accomplish this project while on the island.     Since there isn’t any electricity on the island, I brought down my Goal Zero Sherpa 100 solar kit.   It kept me fully charged with my GoPro cameras, my iPhone, and my computer!   It was amazing.   This is an awesome solution for anyone who travels and needs power and has sun to provide it.

 

My Goal Zero Sherpa

My Goal Zero Sherpa

A dam is being built downstream that will flood the rapids of Nile Special and more, making them lost forever and forever making it so people no longer go to Uganda to go kayaking.   Businesses flooded out (like the Hairy Lemon), homes flooded out.    The locals are clear cutting the jungle, “since it is going to be underwater anyhow” and the monkeys and other wildlife are losing their habitat.    This dam is illegal and can be stopped.   Corruption by the Chinese government and the Ugandan Government is creating the issue.    Please watch this video for an idea about what is going on.. Also watch for more information from Jessie Stone on how to help stop it.

After I did my final training session, I had a new mission to go on, a Personal First for me.    Murchison Falls of the Nile River.    This is a section of the Nile, downstream of where I was training, where the entire river squeezes through a crack in the earth and drops 80 feet in a thundering, crazy mess of water into a gorge filled with wildlife.      The area on both sides of the river is part of the Murchison Falls National Park, which is home to massive herds of elephants, zebra, giraffe, etc..  Lions, Hippo, and crocs make up the scary ones.    It is also the home of the “troubled crocs” as they call them.    Crocs are protected in uganda and even if it has killed many people, it is illegal to kill it.    What they do it tranquilize them, transport them to Murchison Falls gorge and release them.    One of the latest ones released there was on  a National Geographic TV show and it was speculated that this croc has already killed over 120 people.   It is over 20 feet long.    Of course the animal that kills the most people in Uganda each year is the Hippo.    These water cows are anything but cow like in personality.    They are very territorial and are one of the only animals on the planet that kill for sport.    They are not just common on the River in the park there, they are EVERYWHERE!   Since this was my first time going to Murchison, and I was going on a very special ticket, a situation that only happens once/year, I was both very excited and very nervous.    I went to Murchison as part of the Murchison International Invitational Fishing Tournament.   I was on a team with Jon from Nile River Explorers, Paul from Hairy Lemon, Jack the former bartender at NRE.    The fishing tournament is three days long and has 60 competitors out of 21 boats.    It is a catch and release tournament, where you catch, measure, and release your fish back to the river.    Nile Perch, Catfish, and Tiger Fish all count.

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Jon

Jon

Paul

Paul

We made the pre-dawn run from Jinga where the Jon lives to Murchison Falls- 7 hours away, mostly on small dirt roads, pulling a boat on a trailer.

What I was nervous about, was the fact that it is too crowded to fish with 4 people in the boat, so we would be taking turns fishing from shore….  Hmm..  we did a scouting mission the night we got to Murchison to test the boat, etc.. and hippos were in every eddy, crocs littered the banks and waters, and some were 30 feet up on the shore pointed down to the river as if they were hunting anything that came out of the water, or walked along the banks.    How could this be safe?

 

The first morning of the competition, we had the “gorge” which meant we got to drive our boats further upstream than any tourist ever gets to go, and get out of the boat and walk the rest of the way, scurrying along steep cliffs and raging waters to get to the top eddy below the falls, something that tourists never get to do, of course.    This is one of those once in a life time experiences, but I still wasn’t sure how it was going to play out and just how to avoid being eaten.    We raced the other 7 boats that were fishing our section that day to the top of the gorge and went from third place after the horn went off, to first place right until the final part of the gorge in the whitewater where a group from Kenya with a faster boat passed us.    We managed to eventually get up to the highest eddy that you can get to in a boat and Jon said, “OK anchor us!”…Damn, I was thinking…  This doesn’t seem like a good idea… “Uh- you mean jump out into the water, pull the boat in, walk through the water, to the grassy edge and put the anchor down, right?”     We just passed crocs everywhere and this was a known hangout.   I didn’t see any at the moment, but…   OK, Splash in the water, grab anchor, run to shore place it.  jump back into boat..    Everyone was now grabbing their rods and Paul asked if I had my “gorge bag” ready.    We already planned this most epic part of the entire trip the night before.   A lightly packed back-pack with lots of water, lures, stuff to measure the fish, a snack.   It was 95 degrees or more, and humid.    Paul was planning on running and scrambling up the banks to the “crease” and “Cauldron” which are as high up as you can go in the gorge, and require bush wacking, tough scurrying along slippery rocks exposed to the river, which is, of course, full of crocs.   He gave me last minute coaching,  “OK- rod pointed backward, remember rocks are slippery, watch out for red ants, if you slip in the water, just throw your rod, and climb out right away, and expect a croc on your tail.”   “OK, I said, let’s go.”    We did the up and over logs, duck under thick brush, and finally got to a tricky rock to get around and it was super steep and the brush was all of the way to the edge.   You had to push the brush back while precariously on the edge of the rock and the brush pushing you towards the edge and nothing to hold on to.   Just at the crux, I started getting bit by red ants which were everywhere and all over me.  I managed to get past the point, off the rock and on safe ground before swatting them off.   Nice adrenaline moment.    We were getting close,  but Jon gave me one more “out” opportunity as the final move was along the edge, on slippery rocks and put us at the very top, but he didn’t want to encourage me, as it isn’t a gimme move.    I am good on my feet and really wanted to catch a perch at the base of the falls, so I followed Paul, who has been there many times before, each year for this annual tournament.   (The reason the Park allows this tournament is because they give the park some really big gifts to help prevent poaching.    This year it was a Yamaha motorcycle for getting deeper into the park and watching for poachers and a boat/motor to patrol from the water as well.   They overlook the typical rules for this group of adventure seeking fishermen during these 3 days).

Reasons to be careful… Crocs eat people… hippos eat crocs and people!  742724-angry-hippos-attack-crocodile Crocodile-Attack

When Jon and I made it up to the Cauldron, it was just him and I up there, at the base of Murchison Falls, with crazy raging waters below it, an eddy that the center of it was about 10 feet below the edges as it was a big swirling whirlpool.      It was a “don’t slip here” location but so incredibly awesome.    I casted and had a fish on my third cast but it jumped off.   Jon caught 2 fish before I caught any.    I didn’t have any really big lures, only my bass equipment.  He let me borrow a big Rapala and sure enough second cast, BAM!  caught my first big fish!  It was awesome.     I caught it in the “Crease” a big pourover hole just below the cauldron.    There is no landing zone from where I was casting on the rocks and had to circle around a tree, down about 6 feet of vertical rock, to a sloping, wet, rocky bank where I could pull it in.   Another scary moment where you are getting in strike zone for a croc.  We landed it, measured and released it safely.    It was time to work our way downstream.   I stopped at a big rock at the middle of a swirling eddy and cast a big jig I had a few times and hooked into a monster perch.    It immediately was stripping my 50 pound line like it was nothing, and was running down river.   It revealed itself with a sweet jump, where head and 1/2 of the body came out and it looked like a 60 pounder or bigger.    I had one chance to swing it into the eddy or lose it and tightened my drag down tight and almost had it across the eddy line, but it gave a huge kick and the jolt broke my line.   Still, the adrenaline of that was amazing and if I didn’t catch another fish the rest of the trip, I got what I came for.   The base of the falls, catching a fish right there, and having a big one on like that.    The next two days were on lower sections of river, flatwater, which were still super fun, but the highlight was day one for sure.   I ended up 10th place out of the 60 people, with no big fish, but I caught, three perch, 1 tiger fish, 2 catch fish and all of them on lures.  Most of the guys were using live bait.

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A seven hour trip back to Jon and Trish’s house and one final paddle with Jessie at Super Hole and that ended my month in Uganda.   Awesome!

I am writing this a couple of weeks later, however… and today is my final day where I have Malaria.   Yes, I caught Malaria while down there.   My second time so far.   First time was in 2003, and was the inspiration for Jessie Stone starting her Soft Power Health Clinic there.   This time I caught it while home, and in good form, delirious, Kristine had to sort me out.   High (105) fever, sweating, shakes, the whole deal, on top of a staph infection of the lungs that I caught from a couple of boys on the island that already had me run down.   The last three days has been challenging to say the least.    No sleep, fever, shaking, cold, hot, tired, no appetite, stomach ache from the medicine, and throwing up when I do eat.    Last night was my first “OK” night.  My bed was soaked from sweat, but I slept through it.    I am on my last dose of Malaria medication, the cure.     In theory the parasites are all dead now and I am recovering.   I feel much better today but still not active.     I am able to sit at my computer which is helpful and I expect to be on the rise again now.

I went down to 154, when my low line is 158.   Muscle lost and dehydrated.   Need to start training again…

Here is my video I made which includes Murchison…  See you on the River!!  EJ

 

 

 

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