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The River Where?

This story was taken from a letter to a friend describing a 6 day 90 mile river trip down the Red Volta in Ghana. Actually only the first 15 minutes of the trip were described, but that was all that was really necessary!

It just so happens that I have completed a 6-day African abbreviation of the word adventure. I can safely say that it was one of the most physically and mentally challenging undertakings of my life. This was full scale pioneering of territory barely explored by any human being. The experience was intense and demanded an unshifting focus nearly 24 hours a day. It was strange to live so simply, the day was occupied with the necessary and often tedious tasks of survival. When one could relax, it was appreciated much like a cats nap in the basking sunshine of a summer day. Mindless rest.

We began our voyage from a bridge crossing, just off the main road. For some reason we had quite a shoving off party. Many people showed up to bid us safe journey, they were all probably interested in seeing if we were going to chicken out! As for me, I was already emotionally attached to the challenge, stubbornly oblivious to the risks of floating down an African bilharzia river.

The minute we set off in the water questions began materializing in my mind. Questions I hadn't thought of previously like: "when was the last time I paddled a canoe?" My memory couldn't provide a definite answer, just childhood fog, "this should be an easy skill to pick up"! Suddenly a rock appeared in our direction of flow, it looked pretty detrimental to the condition of my out-of-control boat. Fortunately we had just turned the corner out of range of the cameras and onlookers views who had seen us off. I directed the boat away from the rock and into a patch of adjacent mid-river shrubbery. The boat caught and lurched sideways into the rock I had tried to avoid. The impact catapulted me out of my seat and into the swift currents of the river. SPLASH! Sometime during this unexpected propulsion, my glasses flew from my face and into the charging waters. Here I stood 5 minutes after the start of our adventure, in the middle of an African river, wet and nearly blind! There was no way to locate my glasses, the river had stolen my sight. I climbed back into the boat, my dignity on my dripping shirt sleeve and continued the down the river. I negotiated the boat past a few more obstacles while trying to overcome the unfortunate circumstances of the latest events.

No more than 10 minutes later I managed to sideswipe another large rock, but this time capsized the whole boat! Once Doug (my paddling mate) and I figured out a scheme to right the boat and salvage our liberated supplies I noticed that our boat was no longer water worthy. A large, gushing, seamline hole had filled the boat in minutes. With my confidence beaten down to nothing I thought that our trip was over. 15 short minutes on the Red Volta and I was boatless, blind and hopeless.

With the boat broken but ashore I set out, wading along the river to find Andy (the trip designer) and the rest of our team in the second boat. "One of the boards of our boat has been totally split," I told him. Andy offered up some much needed optimism as we hacked our way back to the other boat up river. Andy saw the leak and laughed, "shit, that is trouble," he said. Andy had an idea. "What are you going to do?" I asked. "The board has been totally separated!" "The only thing I have seen work for plugging leaks is to load it with soap." Luckily soap in Ghana is sold in long rectangular 3-foot bars and we had brought along plenty. We puttied in some key soap along the crack in the boat and the once gushing leak was magically annealed. This soap puttying became part of my morning routine. Every day I would wake up, flip the boat over and putty up the crack in the hull with soap. The boat made it and is still in the water today! I have a new respect for large bars of key soap and its mystifying versatility! I guess I also learned a lesson in optimism, although it didn't help my vision any!