In 2016, Kev became the first person to SUP Sri Lanka's longest river, The Mahaweli from source to sea. Here's a blog from one of his days.
I awoke at 4.45am feeling wide awake, although it was still dark I thought 'I'm going to get up and get moving!'. I fell back asleep. Next thing I knew it was 6.30am and I didn't feel so wide awake. I was sorry to leave this camp spot and knew I'd be hard pushed to find another anywhere near as good. The shallow beach landing, shady trees, plentiful wood supply and gorgeous view. As I began paddling, I felt for the first time like I was truly isolated. Miles from any kind of civilisation, wild jungle on either side of me. Blue flashes streaked up and down the banks as kingfishers searched for prey. Tree tops crashed with the sound of monkeys leaping from branch to branch. All manner of insects chirped, buzzed and clicked. But for all the noises around me, there was an eerie silence upon on the river.
Mild rapids followed and on the approach to one I saw another crocodile-head-shaped rock directly in my path. But this one was moving across the current. Just as I realised there was actually a crocodile only ten metres in front of me, its head sank below the surface without so much as a ripple. I estimated the head to be nearly the width of my board, two and a half feet. My heart began exploding in my chest, could I go left? Could I go right? No, I had to paddle straight over the top of it. I put my paddle blade deeply and powerfully into the water, wanting maximum speed and minimum splash. My eyes darted at the water around my feet as I moved over the spot at which it sank. Gripped with fear I was alert and ready. My attention was quickly diverted as I had a fast, rocky rapid to negotiate.
For the next hour I was fully on-edge. The squawk of a bird would make me jump. As I was beginning to settle, I heard a huge thrash and splash twenty metres to my left. As quick as I could turn my head, it was gone. There was nothing else it could be. No other animal was big enough to make a splash like that. Where was it? All I could think was 'it's coming for me, it's coming for me'. I was telling myself that it must be scared of me, that's why it dived into the water. If it wanted to attack me, it would stay hidden. My eyes scanned left to right steadily and constantly. I was inspecting every rock I could see. Just as my nerves began to settle, another big splash. Their camouflage was just too good. Croc rocks and logodiles everywhere, but I couldn't see an actual crocodile before it saw me.
The river widened and rocks rose out of the water like an imposing labyrinth. I stood on tiptoes trying to spot a route through as the current began to pick up. I chose the best exit point into the main channel of the river two hundred metres down and would visually trace a path back towards me, solving the maze. My eyes had become accustomed to recognising shallow and deep water from distance so I could weave my way through these rapids without dropping to my knees.
As I exited into the main channel, I spotted two figures crouched on the right hand bank and another wading thigh deep throwing a net. He would slowly creep four or five steps before casting the net into a perfect circle. I was surprised to see anyone out here as there was nothing for miles around on the map. I paddled over and greeted them. They knew no English so I asked them one of the three words I knew "Kimbula?" They gestured that there were no crocodiles here, but there were on the other side of the river. I was impressed by their confidence to wade in this water knowing they were less than a hundred metres away.
I came to a point where the river split in two to create an island two kilometres long and a kilometre wide. I decided to take the inside right hand route which appeared to have more water on google satellite. Even if it did, it soon became very shallow. My fin bumped on the rocks making me wince. Towards the end of a shallow chain of rocks the current picked up into a short, powerful rapid. Its noise had been drowned out with all the small whitewater around me and I was taken into the fast flow. There was a loud bang on the fin and I sighed, dropping my shoulders. The nose of the board twisted around ninety degrees and I drifted sideways along the river. I was without a fin once again. Less speed and less control the day I enter crocodile country.
The realisation of having no fin and no replacement didn't impact on me as much as last time. I knew I could handle the board and make slower progress. It just required a lot of concentration and effort without taking a break. I heard some branches crackle on the left bank and I saw a dark body slide into the water. It stayed on the surface just long enough for me to see my first full crocodile. Only six or seven feet long, it sunk silently into the murky water. Now I could see it, and the fact that it wasn't as big as I'd imagined the others to be, the fear was much less. The mystery of not knowing what just made that noise or what was beneath me was much more terrifying.
I could see a large sand bar a kilometre or two up ahead and decided that would be my camp for the night. I paddled my SUP into the corner where the sand met the jungle and dragged the nose ashore. I went for a stroll down the sand to search for two suitably spaced trees for my hammock. The first thing I noticed were large circular prints in the sand, eighteen inches in diameter. Unmistakable elephant tracks. These went between the water and jungle at regular intervals creating wide trails. I'd heard elephants come to the river in the evening so I needed to get a fire burning quickly. Wild elephants are extremely dangerous.
Luckily there was dry wood everywhere and within thirty minutes I had a large fire burning with some hefty, thigh-thick logs to throw on throughout the night. I went back to the river bank and dragged my board into the bushes. I hung my hammock between two trees which had a huge dead log along the back of it, blocking the path for any elephants that may pass through. I imagined them batting me around in my hammock with their trunk like a punchbag.
I balanced my metal pot full of noodles, carrots and tinned mackerel on two burning logs, watching it gently bubble. As the mixture thickened, I removed the pot using a wad of leaves as an oven glove. The sun had just set behind the trees as I spooned my third mouthful into my face, noodles hanging from my mouth. I looked into the distance down the river and saw a queue of grey figures slowly moving across the river. "Elephants!" I shouted. I ran to the waters edge, as close as I could get. I was still around a kilometre away as I watched them majestically stroll across the river in single file. I counted eight, seven adults and a small one towards the back. My camera couldn't quite capture them so I just stood there as the light faded watching them disappear into the jungle on the opposite bank. A truly magical experience.
I returned to my noodle dinner and thought 'they're now on my side of the river, I could be seeing them later.' And with that, I flicked my head torch on and went in search of more wood. With a huge pile stacked up, my belly full and mosquitoes on the hunt for blood, I retired to my hammock. I seemed to instinctively wake every two hours as the fire had reduced to embers so I could climb out and rekindle. This happened until 1am when I fell into a deep sleep, not to awake until morning.
In the brutal US Winter of 2012/2013, Kev canoed The Mississippi River from it's source to the Gulf of Mexico over 146 days. Here's a blog from one of his days:
Day 105. Sunday, December 29th, 2012.
Mile 845 - Mile 803
I woke up to hear my tarp being pelted with rain. I checked my watch and it felt like Christmas Day when I read 03.15, I didn't have to get up for two hours and drifted back into a deep sleep. When the alarm went off at 5am, the rain had thankfully stopped. I got out of the tent and everything was soaked. Pools of water had collected on the tarp and there was no chance of relighting the fire. One good thing about the fact that it had rained - it isn't cold enough to snow. The temperature fluctuates so much that I need to enjoy these days without ice over everything. I loaded Orca at first light then slopped around in the mud to push off on the mighty Mississippi once again.
The wind was dead calm and my paddle cut through the water with ease. This afternoon was forecast for a tailwind so I should be able to make some good headway towards Memphis for New Year's Eve. But then the inevitable happened, a southeasterly headwind. It seems every time I get my hopes up, Mother Nature teaches me a little lesson. It became so fierce I hunkered down into the bottom of the canoe (for aerodynamics/laziness) and slowly floated to the coming bend in the river. I sat up and began eating an apple when I saw a barge coming up behind me. I can judge their pace pretty well now and knew I had time to cross the channel to the inside before he came. So I nonchalantly continued chomping on my apple. I turned back shortly after and found him closer than expected. The wind must have slowed me more than I thought. Not wanting to get caught on the outside of a bend risking the wheelwash, I began paddling into the middle. The tow-boat was coming up much faster than I anticipated and began honking a loud horn at me. The wind and current were making my crossing far too slow, I was never going to make it. I made the decision to double back and head for the bank taking the lesson on the chin: act early, eat apples later.
After three hours I spotted a ramp into a huge grain industrial plant and pulled up for a stretch. There was a man sat on a chair with five fishing poles rigged up in front of him. He had a thick southern accent and introduced himself as 'Petey'. He was fishing for catfish, they feed on the fallen grain and can grow to huge sizes. He told me he once caught a 70 pounder with a head ‘This big!’ Classic fisherman tales. As I paddled back out in the river he shouted "Be safe now. This river ain't for playin'!" So I called back "Don't worry. I ain't playin', I'm working!" It actually felt like work today. After another hour’s paddling, I'd had enough. I wasn't tired or in pain or hungry or thirsty. I just didn't want to paddle. I put Ol' Painless in the bottom of the canoe and just leant on my knees staring at the water. I felt empty. This went on for a few minutes before I snapped myself out of it. I picked the paddle up and focused on Memphis, only fifty or so hours away. Short term goals yield long term results.
The huge flooded bends continued, one after another. Huge wide open expanses of water, fully exposed to gusts of wind, flanked by monstrous barges. It's an unforgiving environment. The rough water made for a rocky ride but I needed to keep Orca on a true course from buoy to buoy. Rarely do I fight a strong wind anymore, but when it is trying to blow me backwards into the path of a 1500ft steel boat, I'll decide to make a stand. The boat rocked side to side violently and I felt like I was on a mechanical bull, but I didn't have a mattress to fall onto. I had coffee coloured water which would give me hypothermia within 10 minutes. I just focused on the buoy ahead. As soon as I exited the bend, the heavy water disturbance stopped and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I needed another short break but I was making bad time. I wanted forty miles for the day and I was cutting it too close to make it before sunset. I pushed on, obsessively checking the map for my distance. I finally hit forty miles twenty minutes before sunset and allowed myself to look for a camp spot. The high water level had covered all sandbars so I was left looking in between trees for a piece of land, but it was all flooded. I paddled around a drowned forest for fifteen minutes before spotting a gap when a small beach lay. It was perfectly sheltered from tonight's northerly wind with driftwood scattered everywhere. I checked the map to find I'd covered forty-two miles today. My biggest mileage ever. I built a fire and set up camp with a sense of satisfaction glowing inside me. After eating a huge pan of ricey-sludge, I climbed straight into bed. It must have been 7.30pm at the latest, but I needed sleep. By 8pm I was firmly in a coma with forty more miles planned for tomorrow. Today had been tough. I heaped pressure of time and distance on myself and achieved my goal. In the grand scheme of things it's a drop in the ocean, but these completely personal victories are the memories that will carry me through another day when it gets really tough.
In the brutal US Winter of 2012/2013, Kev canoed The Mississippi River from it's source to the Gulf of Mexico over 146 days. Here's a blog from one of his days:
Day 54. Thursday, November 7th 2012.
Big Soupbone Island - Princeton
I was sat in an inflatable ring and paddling hard, slowly making my way up a huge water slide. It was getting harder and harder the closer to the top I came. When I was within a few feet, a woman shouted out "you shouldn't be here now!" I came to a halt despite paddling as hard as I could and began descending. I ran out of steam and let go of the paddle. I felt the speed picking up and turned to face down the slide. Within a few seconds I was at a dangerously fast pace, but began enjoying it. The slide flicked up and shot me out into the air, I soared and landed on another slide keeping the same frightening speed. After three jumps I saw in the distance there were no more slides, only stairs, concrete and escalators with people everywhere. The final jump sent me flying over hundreds of people and I could see a metal escalator coming toward me. I landed hard and bounced numerous times but felt no pain. I stood up next to a young boy and we stared at my mangled, bloody body on the escalator. My eyes wide open. I said to him "I feel bad for my family, what can I do now?" He looked at me and replied very flatly, "there's not a lot to do now." And walked off.
I woke up with my head still inside the sleeping bag, nicely warm and instantly began analysing the dream. I saw it as anxiety. I'm frequently told that when I reach St. Louis and get past the last lock and dam, the river becomes wild and moves quickly. Although I'm looking forward to it and the mileage assistance it will bring, I'm still very aware of my lack of experience and expertise. I'm constantly asking questions of people who have canoed the river and collect nuggets of information. I can only hope I continue to learn and adapt as I have done over the past fifty-three days.
I popped my head out and felt the -4C temperature air. I quickly pressed snooze and ducked back underneath giggling and bringing my extra layers in with me to warm them up. After 30 minutes of snoozing and mental preparation I made the fast movement of getting out of the sleeping bag and dressed. When I unzipped the tent there was the faint start of dawn in the clear sky. Everything was covered in frost: my bags, boots, map, and the tent had a very thick layer. The temperature made for a long morning preparation, especially with anything that required finger dexterity. My gloves are too large for the tent clips so I had to do it bare handed. The cold damage to my fingers of recent weeks has left them very vulnerable and at first exposure they are rendered useless. I bent down and undid the last clip with my teeth. By the time I was ready to go the sun was rising over the calm water giving out a touch of warmth.
After an hour of paddling I noticed some hunters in a motor boat. Sometimes their camouflages are quite elaborate. This boat was completely covered in leaves and foliage making in unrecognisable. It reminded me of ‘The Shaggin’ Wagon’ from Dumb & Dumber. There was a strong crosswind due today and I began to feel the onset by 9am. Cross winds not only slow your progress but they stop the ability to choose which side to paddle on. I could end up spending hours only using one side of my body. I studied the maps and I was very exposed on the shipping lane that the buoys follow, but I noticed a route through a cluster of islands that may provide shelter. The main problem with this is that there is no maintenance or current. It may be too shallow, or cut off by fallen trees etc. But I deemed it worth the risk. From 10am to midday I meandered through the islands which were shallow at times but I was well out of the wind. I could see the yellow tree tops high on the bluff taking the brunt of the breeze. Upon exiting the island channels, I had five miles of complete exposure to lock 13 across the widest part of the Mississippi River, five miles wide.
The further I paddled out, the bigger the waves became. Some waves came over the side of Orca and I needed to bail out. If I tried to paddle directly towards the lock, which was diagonally across the waves, the boat became too unsteady and I feared falling out. I tied the marine radio to my life vest in case I needed to call for help. I varied between paddling side-on to the waves, bobbing violently but somewhat predictably and with the direction of the waves which sat me up a few feet higher and was much smoother. I zigzagged like this for nearly two hours. The paddling was as intense as the conditions and controlling Orca was very difficult. The last half mile to the lock was without waves, but the water chopped just as heavily for no rhyme or reason. The surface looked like many spiked mountains rising and falling. As I neared the gates, the two lock keepers came out to greet me. One informed me that these conditions are common for this lock due to its position on the river and that in worse wind the waves can be huge. I held on to the rope in the lock but Orca kept clattering into the wall so I dropped it to float out in the middle. When the gates opened the other side I was met by calm waters and a gentle cross wind. Two more miles to Clinton and I would take a decent break that my body needed.
The first jetty I saw had two people stood on it, so I paddled towards them. The man shouted out to me as I arrived "Hey, how ya doin?". "Pretty good," I replied "is there a bar, cafe or restaurant around here?" I needed some internet to check the hourly wind conditions, the radio told me that tomorrow would bring unpaddleable headwinds. I had another 37 miles to Davenport where a bed awaited me, a perfect place to be wind-bound. "Nothing near here, but I could give you a ride to my shop? I got wifi, coffee and a fire burning." Terry Krause was a welder working on the jetty and was just about finished for the day. My timing was impeccable. We entered his workshop and I took my waterproofs off to allow the warmth in. He brewed a pot of coffee and put a stool and a chair in front of his furnace so I could warm my feet. I went through the wind conditions and my maps. I was now working out the direction of river vs. direction of wind down to 1/16. It looked as if by 8am tomorrow I wouldn't be able to paddle for nearly 48 hours. I paddled 37 miles yesterday and 22 today, not nearly enough to maintain target average. I spent nearly two hours in Terry's shop drinking coffee and then his apprentice gave me a lift back to Orca. Before I left, Terry gave me a sticker for my boat and a $20 donation. Top bloke.
It was 5pm and starting to get dark. I had 37 miles ahead of me and 15 hours to do it in before the wind hit. I felt quite apprehensive about it as my body was fatigueing, but I had to try. I paddled out amongst the illuminating city lights and tried not to think about the distance. I paddled for over an hour feeling better and better, setting my mindset for the long night ahead. The river out of Clinton flows directly south for a few miles then turns 90 degree west. As I rouned this corner I was hit by a headwind. 'Just a gust.' I told myself. It didn't die down. It was constant and I felt destroyed. I think I recall at one point screaming "This just isn't cricket!" The town of Camanche was 6 miles into the headwind, I would stop there, find some internet and check this wind forecast again. After two more hours of hell I pulled up at a dark landing. I walked up the bank and saw nothing but houses. I knocked on a door to ask if there was anything in the area and a woman directed me to a gas station a mile up the road. I jogged there to keep warm. The women behind the counter gave me a coffee to warm me up and a truck driver talked me through the night's wind. I found that basically, the wind wouldn’t change. I actually felt better knowing this information - I just had to get on with it. I jogged back down to Orca and set off again into the windy darkness.
As every hour passed I put 1200 paddle strokes through the river of treacle. My body was deteriorating badly, numerous muscular pains were cropping up and I feared injury. I surprisingly didn't feel sleepy, having been up for 19 hours. At midnight I noticed a layer of frost over everything in my boat. The cold started to penetrate into my core as I couldn't paddle at a high enough rate to generate warmth. I just felt like I was causing myself damage. I ate a curry, carrots and some trail mix hoping the calories would stop the shivers, which within 10 minutes, they did. Wether it was a placebo effect or not I didn't know, but that was irrelevant. By 1am I felt destroyed and there was no way I could paddle another 7 hours or 20 miles like this. I would break myself. I had to stop. I could see the lights of Princeton up ahead on my right and made a beeline. My paddle strokes and technique were failing badly. The first lights came from houses that I wouldn't dare disturb at this time, then I spotted a marina. I pulled Orca up to a jetty, tied off and clambered onto the boardwalk. I walked up the steps to a building praying for shelter, I was so cold, setting up and sleeping in the tent really wasn’t appealing. I walked around to the front and saw a crack of light under the toilet door. I turned the handle, pushed and a flood of warmth hit my face. A small toilet with just enough room for a sleeping bag. Jackpot!
I skipped back to the canoe, fetched my backpack, sleeping bag and headed back up to my ready made bedroom. I washed and brushed my teeth in a sink, went to toilet in a toilet then hung my hat over the bright white light. The small room was now filled with a soft blue glow. I crawled inside both of my sleeping bags and didn't even set the alarm, I couldn't do anymore paddling before 8am and the wind wouldn't allow me after. I had come 41 miles today (mostly in cross and headwind), and 78 in two days. Over three days worth of miles which ensured I only lost a day to the wind instead of two. I just hoped that all the pains I were feeling could heal before I began paddling again.
16 hours. 41 miles.