If you’re thinking about taking on an extreme challenge for Rowcroft, my advice would be to do it. I’ve just got back from one of the most amazing experiences of my life; it has changed the way I look at things - I also ache a lot!
I started fundraising for Rowcroft in 2014 because my mother died of oesophageal cancer and the support our family received made this difficult time much easier. First I did a skydive, then, earlier this year, I decided I wanted to take on something more challenging, so I signed up to take on the Zambezi Challenge – a 100km paddle down one of Africa’s most dangerous rivers. I completed it in October and now I’m back and missing Africa already!
My first day of the challenge started on the Zambezi in a narrow, flat-bottomed canoe known as a makoro; we needed good balance as you paddle standing up rather like a gondola. As the makoro is vulnerable to attack from hippos we switched to our inflatable kayaks by mid-morning and these would be our vehicles until our final day.
That first day was without question the hardest, we had to cover 27km to reach our camp and be off the river before dusk, but unseasonal weather and high winds were blowing us backwards in the water. With no choice but to continue - seeing an angry hippo at this point was the last thing any of us wanted and that is exactly what happened!
Our remaining days were similar and we had long days on the river, seven hours being typical, with a short break for lunch. The struggle of paddling nonstop each day was made easier by the spectacular views of the river and wildlife. We passed through both the Zambian and Zimbabwean national parks and saw all sort of animals including elephants, giraffes, waterbuck, an enormous crocodile (our guide said it had eaten someone…not sure if that’s true!) and a wide variety of birds, including vultures.
The climax of the challenge was at Victoria Falls, known locally as ‘The Smoke that Thunders’. Swimming to the edge of the waterfall and feeling the full force of the Zambezi flowing past me, crashing down over a hundred metres, was absolutely amazing.
One of my most memorable moments was meeting an angry, isolated, hippo on a narrow section of river. Our guide ordered us to paddle rapidly to the bank and get out; by this time the hippo was mock-charging and making quite a statement! We saw hundreds of hippos on our journey; thankfully we only had a couple of close encounters like this one.
Apart from hippos, the other thing we had to be wary of was crocodiles, particularly at night near the water’s edge. We shone a high-powered torch into the water at night and could see the reflection coming from the crocodile’s eyes. We didn’t spend a lot of time near the edge after that. Generally we felt very safe and we had an armed wildlife officer with us throughout the trip.
Now I’m back it seems strange going back to normal life. It has been an amazing experience and there are certainly parts of it I never wish to repeat but there are also many memories that I will never forget.
The discipline and hard work of training and preparation for a trip like this were totally worth it, and having a focus and targets for fundraising were great motivation. I held a golf day at Dawlish Warren Golf Club which raised over £2000 and had a charity bake-off at work. Rowcroft’s fundraising team were incredibly supportive, just before I went the team made a farewell video and posted it to YouTube, I watched it just before I left for the airport and it put a smile on my face.
So far I’ve raised almost £3000, if you’d like to help boost this total you can still donate by visiting my JustGiving page www.justgiving.com/riverzambezi or texting BEZI50 £5 to 70070 to donate £5.
If reading about my experience has inspired you to take on a challenge for Rowcroft, come along to an exclusive information evening on Monday 30 November at Rowcroft’s Rainbow House from 6.00pm, where I’ll be speaking more about my adventure. Register for free here, or contact Community Fundraising Manager Hayley Norrish on 01803 210835.