Now that COVID-19 has given everyone a little more indoor time on their hands, what better way to spend it —especially as Old Man Winter takes hold — than curling up to paddling book?
Top on our list: “Living the Best Day Ever,” by South Africa’s Hendri Coetzee.
One of the world’s best whitewater kayakers, Coetzee was killed on December 7, 2010, while exploring the Lukuga River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A crocodile pulled him and his creekboat under the surface and his body was never found. Helluva way to go, if you ask us. But not surprising, as it’s how Coetzee lived his life.
Living the Best Day Ever is compiled posthumously from Coetzee’s journals and blogs, and written in his no-holds-barred style. Coetzee spent his life in search of what he called the best day ever — a benchmark he always sought to better.
The search led him from the Zambezi River, north to Uganda and, in 2004, on the first source-to-sea descent of the White Nile. The 4,160-mile trip took four and a half months and crossed two war zones. His best friend and companion on that trip, Pete Meredith, wrote the foreward to the book. Another friend, Kara Blackmore, edited the memoir.
Coetzee was the first to run the Nile’s Murchison Falls—a feat he repeated eight times. He remains the only person ever to run it solo. He ran large sections of the upper and lower Congo River and explored rivers throughout Africa. While his accomplishments add up to one of the most impressive resumes in boating, other paddlers seldom speak of his deeds; instead they talk about the way he ran them and the purity of his purpose.
Dr. Livingtone, I presume?
A modern incarnation of the 19th century’s Livingstone or Stanley, Coetzee writes: “I want the freedom of the unknown. I want to be a Great White Explorer… I would have thought of it sooner, but I had been imprisoned by the belief that the only real explorers left on the planet are men so superior to me that I am only worthy of reading about them.”
A trained South African Defense Forces medic with an honors degree in Psychology from the University of South Africa, Coetzee began raft guiding on the Zambezi in 1997, where he met Pete Meredith. The pair later spent four months padding the Nile from its source, opening up new sections. He led trips for the likes of Scott Lindgren and Steve Fisher down the ‘Murch Section’ (2006) and inspired such kayakers as Rush Sturges, Tyler Bradt and the Jackson family on their travels to the Nile.
“The days of the great explorers who walked and sailed into blank continents and oceans are gone,” he writes. “People like me are cheap copies and wannabes. I don’t care. To be here, to see this piece of art, to be allowed into nature’s VIP lounge reserved for the viewing pleasure of those willing and able to pay the entrance fee, still beats anything else I know.”
He also once walked 1,000 km. along the East African Coastline from Mombassa to the Rufigi River, and in 2009 spent six months alone in the Congolese Wilderness. His philosophy was simple:“It is all about today. Today is the best day ever because tomorrow might not happen.”
This story details his quest for adventure and himself, from struggling with his parents’ divorce to growing into a self-proclaimed Great White Explorer — all in his quest to live the best day ever. “I need something worth living for, or more importantly for my advanced case of superhero dementia, something worth risking my life for,” he writes.