An Epic African Paddle Adventure

Environmental scientist and adventurer, Ross Exler, is passionate about bringing awareness to the African Great Lakes system. So passionate, in fact, that he’s embarked on a 1,000-mile kayaking trip even now, during the (North American) winter of 2018…

ross exler kayaks in africa
Ross Exler began his African kayak expedition in late December

Ross Exler shoved-off at the end of December, 2017 for the first solo, unsupported, human-powered crossing of the African Great Lakes system. He plans to paddle the lengths of Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Victoria and bicycle the land stretches between them.

Altogether Ross’s expedition includes about 1,000 miles of paddling and 600 miles of biking through some very remote sections of Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.

The Significance of the African Great Lakes System

As a conservationist, Ross has committed to this venture hoping to raise awareness of this extremely ecologically-important part of Africa.

Few people know about the African Great Lakes, yet they represent 25% of the fresh, unfrozen water in the world—even more than the Great Lakes of North America.

The African Great Lakes

The lakes hold 10% of the world's fish species, thousands of which are found nowhere else. Ross estimates that as many as 200 species have become extinct in Lake Victoria in the past 30 years.

“This bleak scenario is thankfully not inevitable. Strategic conservation efforts and community investment can mitigate these impacts—but not without people taking notice of the region. So long as the African Great Lakes are relatively unknown, they are at increased risk.”

Lake Victoria, especially, is extremely important for those who live on its shores or on one of its many islands. Over-fishing, water pollution, deforestation, draught (80% of its waters come from rainfall)—all contribute to threats to both fish species and the livelihood of its human population.

Ross’s Goals for His Solo Expedition

Ross’s overall goal is to track the range of environmental conditions in the African Great Lakes system. He wants to come away with a very intimate understanding of the environment and its issues, then share his knowledge with as many people as he can.

Ross’s personal goal is to complete the trip and come back unharmed! He’s already anticipating the great sense of accomplishment he’ll have after undertaking such a monumental task. A skilled photographer, he’s also looking forward to capturing his memories through photos and video.

The Risks Ross Will Face in Africa

Much of where Ross will be traveling solo in this section of east-central Africa is complete wilderness with small numbers of people.

One of the greatest risks is crime. The risk of theft, especially petty theft, is always present. But generally speaking, Ross has found the African people to be welcoming, helpful and generous.

He’ll be dealing with language barriers, too, as the local tribal languages are most prevalent here. Communicating by hand gestures will be key.

Beyond that, the environment itself will pose its usual risks: winds, waves, weather. While the African wildlife isn’t predatory towards people by nature, most are territorial, so he’ll be keeping a close eye on his surroundings.

nile crocodile
Nile crocodiles like this one inhabit the African Great Lakes region

Illness is always a concern since no options for hospital care or other medical help are nearby.

Since Ross has already paddled the Amazon River solo, he’s willing and ready to face the risks.

Travel by Kayak and Bicycle

One of Ross’s criteria for his African Great Lakes expedition is staying human-powered. So he’ll paddle the 1,000 miles of lakes in a Long Haul Folding Kayak. He’ll be able to cover the long distances and move around freely on the waterways.

Between the lakes he’ll travel by bicycle, towing his gear (kayak and paddles included) in a bike trailer behind him.

Why Ross Uses Aqua-Bound Paddles

Ross used the Aqua-Bound Manta Ray kayak paddle on his Amazon River trip and it performed well for him—before being stolen by pirates!

Knowing he’ll be paddling about a million strokes on this African trip, Ross knows he needs the lightest and most reliable paddle he can get. He’ll be using the new Aqua-Bound Tango Carbon for his 10-hour days on the water. He’ll also keep a 4-piece Eagle Ray Carbon as a backup paddle.

We wish Ross all the best on this epic adventure!

ross exler kayaks in africa

You can follow Ross’s travels on Instagram and Facebook. Read about his Amazon River adventure on his website: RossExler.com.

(All photos courtesy of Ross Exler)

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