I have recently returned from paddling over 1200km down the Ganges in an inflatable bath tub (aka a pack raft). Aside from being a fantastic trip, full of ups and downs, I can honestly say it was the kick up the backside I was desperately in need of. It has taught me that life for me is most definitely all about new experiences and challenges and it has shown me that I can do something crazy in life, and come out the other side bigger and better for it!
I’m Neil Irwin. A 30 year old guy who lives in London, works in TV industry with a passion for adventure and the outdoors. I’d describe myself as ‘normal’ guy. I don’t work a normal 9-5, but my job involves long and unsociable hours which makes some adventures unfeasible. I’ve done some organised trips before – USA, Nepal, around travelled solo around New Zealand with no set plans.
Being able to paddling down the Ganges was a case of being in the right time and in the right place.
I had heard about a team being set up who were calling themselves ‘Ganges SUP’, the first source to sea descent of the Ganges by Stand Up Paddleboard, and they were looking for a third team member.
I decided to contact the team about being the third team member, however I already had work commitments booked in my diary around the same time as their training trip in Ireland, so it wasn’t going to be possible for me to join as they wanted someone who could commit to the training schedule and the expedition itself. So although disappointed, I reassured myself by thinking that life is full of surprises and other opportunities may arise in the future.
I kept in touch with the team and ended up helping out by doing some photography entirely off my own back to help their crowdfunding and promotional material. Although I work in the TV industry, I am also trying to progress my career in to the photography realm towards the outdoor and adventure scene, so thought this could be of some use towards my portfolio.
Afterwards, the Ganges Sup Team offered me the chance to not only come out and join them on their adventure, but to also take some photos to record the trip. There was just one catch: I would need to source my own way of joining the team on the river – but I didn’t have anything.
A while before I met the Ganges Sup Team, a friend of mine spontaneously asked me one morning whether, instead of going for a coffee, I would like to go pack rafting on some London canals? He told me about the basics of it so I said sure why not?! Bit of a laugh, some fun, something new to try.
For those who don’t know, a pack raft is an inflatable raft made out of heavy duty plastic type material that packs down to about the size of a shoebox, yet is sturdy and tough enough to withstand a lot of abuse.
I had been toying with the idea of buying my own raft for a while after this spontaneous little trip as I enjoyed it quite a lot – however found out just how expensive they are! But after having met the Ganges SUP team this gave me the perfect excuse to invest in one as I would otherwise have no way of joining the team on the river, plus it’s something I can easily keep in London as it packs down so small.
So I decided to use some of my savings to buy my own raft. I collected it myself from Aviemore in Scotland when I took a week’s holiday to explore the Cairngorms and Isle of Skye. I took it for a small test down a nearby river, and realised that paddling in a pack raft in the wild is much more fun than I first thought!
My YES moment
It took me a while to commit to the Ganges adventure; I had many questions, particularly safety concerns. I didn’t even realise crocs lived in the Ganges for a start!
Work was also a concern – going on the trip meant turning down a big project.
Eventually I decided that I would be stupid to miss such an opportunity for adventure because it really ticked all my boxes – for adventure, life experience, new culture, endurance and photography. The opportunity was just sitting there, waiting for me. All I had to do was just reach out and take it. My friends and family were telling me I’d be an idiot to not go. So I booked my flights and made it official!
The trip itself had many ups and downs and even some dark days due to complete exhaustion. But this is exactly what I wanted! There were plenty of good times like realising I had passed 1000kms in an inflatable bathtub, but it’s the dark days that actually stood out more for me. I wanted to test myself - push through my boundaries and see how mentally and physically capable I am, to go to somewhere I had never been before and give myself a life challenge! It’s because of this that I came out the other side craving more, to see what I can do next!
Get out there!
Since returning from the trip, I am even more convinced that anything is achievable. I had no prior experience of endurance trips, yet now I’ve paddled 1200kms of one of the world’s longest rivers! And I’m craving more adventure!
It has reminded me how short life is and to not let opportunities pass us by easily. I have no regrets whatsoever. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.
Another great aspect of the trip is that I had plenty of time to think.
So here’s a few things I wanted to share if you’re thinking of taking on a new adventure:
- Take as many different opportunities as you can to do what makes you happy.
- There’s no reward without sacrifice. Whether that may be time, money or something else, you have to weigh up your options and decide what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish something that could be life changing.
- Speaking of money, don’t let expense put you off. My trip cost me a few thousand in total. Was it worth it? YES! As my dad says ‘You can’t take it with you!’.
- Keep an open mind. Try not to have any preconceptions of what may or may not happen. Just take it all day by day, and at least try to smile and think of the good points through the hard times and give gratitude for being alive.