by Andrew McMartin
I was on a plane to Uganda. I had no idea what I had agreed to. I was wide-eyed and totally ignorant. It was great.
With no idea of what my first steps onto the African continent would look like, I carried on, as excited as a 20 year old on an adventure can be.
I’d grown up in urban Toronto, Canada. I love snow and winter, and had never dreamed I’d be headed to Africa. Ever. But I took a leap. It had been that kind of year.
I’d just spent a university year on exchange to Glasgow, Scotland. Everything was new, and true to form, I didn’t love school, so I didn’t go much.
My adventures now led me to a work placement for university with Adrift Rafting. I was picked up by a beat-up little truck and we flew along red clay roads in the darkness to Kampala, to meet the others at the guide compound.Hendri smiled as I passed him a digital camera that he’d asked me to bring from the UK. My first interaction with him was by phone, a total stranger trusting me with a fistful of money wired to Scotland so I could bring him new gear for his business filming and photographing the clients at Adrift.
Once on the river, he showed me the ropes. He thoroughly enjoyed throwing me into the massive power of the Nile, and was always there with a smile to help me out if I ended up in the wrong spot. I was young, and needed a good beating every now and again. He happily obliged, sending me into plenty of spots I may or may not have been ready for.
It felt like he took me under his wing for the two months I was there. He was a good friend to a young kid, and the more time I spent with him, the more I really sought to be around him.
He was a calming influence, and an instigator all at the same time. He talked to everyone and was friends with them all. Everyone loved him, it seemed. As I got to know him more, I couldn’t help but look up to him. He was five years older, and just did things differently. I’d never met anyone like him.
After I’d left Africa, my life was more my own because of Hendri. He just seemed to care about things that mattered, and didn’t care about things that didn’t.
Many years later, as I look back upon my path through life, it’s people like Hendri that form the significant landmarks, those moments or meetings where everything shifts, and you can’t go back to being who you were before. Through his example, his words, and his life, Hendri showed me what’s possible if I am willing to take a risk.
I followed Hendri’s adventures for years, always reading his inspiring notes on Facebook, or his blog. I couldn’t get enough.I could relate to his words, though I never pushed limits in the same way he did. But he inspired me to search for something greater.
So I did.
I found a life I believe in, one that really means something to me, and that I can’t help but think will make a difference in the world.
Hendri is one of the people that inspired me to start the p.i.n.e. project, an urban charity that inspires connections between people and nature. It’s equal parts nature education, wilderness and survival skills, community building, mentoring, arts, and culture creation. I could tell you more, but it would take too long.
The point is, it’s a dream. My dream. Others’ dream. We took a risk, and now thousands of people, and hundreds of families every year spend time with us, outside, in search of their best day ever.
I learned about Hendri’s death soon after it happened. It hit me hard. In the way it probably hit so many all over the world. I lost a mentor, and someone that inspired me. He inspired people everywhere. That’s not just losing a friend. It’s losing a leader, and a world changer.
But his story continues, and that’s important. It’s a legacy, and his is a story that’s needed in the world today. He didn’t just kayak. He didn’t just explore. He pushed back on the limits the world tried to impose upon him. He shrugged off things that couldn’t be done, and he did them anyways, just because they sounded fun.
Anyhow, Hendri inspired me in ways that few others have. I’ve been lucky to have met him, and lucky I paid attention to his example. Because of how much he influenced my life, I’ve committed to one day creating a scholarship fund dedicated to Hendri and how he lived his life.
At the p.i.n.e. project, we take kids out and teach them about the real world. About wind and rain, and snow, and plants and animals. We learn together about community, and the value of relationships. We tell stories that teach and inspire.
Hendri’s story teaches and inspires.
So the Best Day Ever Fund is another dream that will one day be realized. It doesn’t exist yet, but we’re taking steps towards it. Hendri’s story will inspire and support children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience their best day ever, to get that chance.
I’ll get to tell a story of a mentor in my life, and a person who did nothing other than lead a life he believed in. Which is one of the most important things that a person can do. Thanks, Hendri.