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It is hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since my first trip to the Nile. Really it feels like it was just a few years ago that we were first here. So many things have changed but the essence of this place and the river remains the same. I remember so clearly my first trip down the Nile – all the big rapids, some of which are now under water because of the dam, and the great play spots, which are still great! The first time I saw Hair of the Dog, Nile Special, and Malalu, I will never forget and all with eddy service – a big change to the Zambezi where we had spent a lot of time hiking back up to spots with our boats. Ironically, I think I had one of my coldest shuttle rides ever coming back from Malalu the first time there. Funny to think of in an equatorial African country. It’s also interesting to think that EJ’s malaria on that trip was my inspiration for starting Soft Power Health. What’s also so awesome is that we are all still paddling, loving being on the river, learning new stuff and still challenging ourselves. Back then, I never imagined what would have come from that fateful trip here to the Nile and I don’t think I would have seen myself doing what I am doing now. There was definitely not a mapped out plan in my head. Soft Power Health today has grown a lot since the early days and provides malaria education and prevention to rural communities, family planning outreach to rural communities, and primary and preventative healthcare to everyone who comes to the clinic.

Clay and EJ are still doing all kinds of amazing things on the river and off. And I continue to be inspired by both of them. Emily, Nick, Dane, Courtney, Stephen, and Haley have replaced Jay, Chris Emerich and Steve Fisher from our first trip and it’s been great to be back here with all of them. Unfortunately on our first trip, EJ missed most of our paddling days because he got malaria after our first day on the Nile. He was the sickest I had ever seen him. In all my time of paddling with EJ, he had never missed a day of paddling for anything so when he said he could not paddle; I knew something was really wrong with him. Overall, it was very lucky that EJ could be diagnosed and treated so quickly. As I would later find out, EJ had Falciparum Malaria, which is the type of malaria that can kill you. Nothing you want to mess around with. Uganda turns out to have the world’s worst malaria problem and malaria kills more people here than any other disease. Malaria is probably the single biggest drain on the economy here and responsible for keeping many people in a cycle of poverty. At the clinic, for the first time, we have seen a drop in the prevalence in malaria and I hope that this is in part due to all of education and prevention outreach programs we have done over the years.
In 2003, EJ, Clay, and I were paddling transformers and there was no Jackson Kayak. Very hard to imagine now!!We were all happy with our boats and how they performed here but we had no idea how light kayaks would become and how design would continue to get so much better! Since then I have been so lucky to paddle every new Jackson boat here on the Nile – it’s been super spoiling and of course a great place to test and train, especially in the winter! So as I sit here listening to the kayak design conversation and the play boating move conversation, I am struck by how much has changed and how much is the same. Back then, I was taking all my photos with a disposable waterproof camera and internet was not even a remote possibility here. Now, at the Hairy Lemon, nearly every kayaker has a computer, digital cameras, and Internet access through a cell phone sim card. Go Pros are the norm. In 2003, the Hairy Lemon was in the process of being created. There were very few people paddling on the Nile apart from the safety kayakers who accompanied the rafts downriver, and Nile River Explorers was a sleepy river camp with some very interesting toilets.

While many things have changed a lot and most for the good here, my favorite thing about this trip so far is that we are all back here paddling together and enjoying how great it is to be on the Nile with all the changes that have happened here and in our lives. Maybe a little wiser about some things – like taking malaria prophylaxis – but still enjoying the paddling as if it were for the first time. Life is very good!