Another bonus of the Zap Cats is that they're light, easily airlifted around obstacles. In total, these rugged little boats traveled more than 4,000 miles upriver. Some of those miles were on water, and some went over land. By journey's end, the boats had been portaged by crane, helicopter, boat, truck, bicycle, and hand.
During more than a year of planning, McGrigor made reconnaissance journeys by plane and helicopter. On his laptop he mapped out the route using Google Earth and GPS. Since they would be traveling through five countries - Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda - visas, customs forms, and security clearances had to be handled before departing. No small adventure.
The trip began at Rashid, on Egypt's northern coast, starting a voyage about which McGrigor would later say, "I don't think there's an experience in the world that will match what we've been through."
Not All Journeys Can Be Followed on a Map
From the very beginning everyone knew they were in for the trip of a lifetime. Egypt supplied a 900-mile armed escort. In Sudan, McLeay recalls running into a band of Nilotic tribesmen. "It wasn't just that they were incredibly tall, but they were covered in this gray dung ash to ward off insects," he says. "It was an amazing sight - and scary, given that they carried spears and automatic weapons."
But it wasn't all good times, as this entry in McLeay's journal about testing a rapid proves: "….we got the line wrong. We wrapped ourselves against a large rock, folded down the side, and then flipped. We got caught in the back eddy, which allowed me to climb onto the upturned Zap. Garth clearly had injured his leg resulting in me having to pull him up. The wave eventually spat us out into calmer water…With a well-practised procedure, we drained the carbs and cylinders of water and restarted the engine for a slow, wet return to base and some medical attention. Garth had clearly damaged his ankle badly and could by now hardly walk."
He ends with understatement, "These rapids are going to be challenging."
Nonetheless the trip went reasonably well through Egypt and Sudan until Day 53, when the group ran into the worst kind of trouble in Uganda.