STEVENSVILLE - Tyler Bradt has launched himself in a kayak over a 189-foot waterfall.

He's navigated some of the most difficult rapids in the world.

The Stevensville man has even driven a Japanese fire truck converted to run on vegetable oil from Alaska to Chile.

Bradt is intimately acquainted with dangerous situations.

The helicopter landing near the dam above Congo's notorious Inga Rapids frightened even him.

Bradt was part of a team preparing to kayak the world's biggest rapids on the Congo River last November. Their trip had already been difficult in the country torn by poverty and politics.

"We had just taken a look at the rapids downstream from the dam and were coming in for a landing on a pretty rundown airstrip at the dam," Bradt remembered.

As they waited for permission to land, everyone inside the helicopter saw the camouflaged, AK-47-packing military personnel file out onto the landing strip. They also spotted the anti-aircraft gun pointed in their direction.

"We knew the history of this place," Bradt said recently. "The last expedition that attempted to do what we hoped to accomplish came here in 1985. Every one of them was killed."

Permission was granted. The helicopter landed and powered down.

"We were immediately surrounded by 15 serious-looking military personnel," he said. "I couldn't help but think they may have been some of the same people who killed the last expedition."

And so Bradt took a deep breath and stepped through the helicopter's door.

"I was the first one out of the helicopter," he said. "I made sure to show a lot of positive body language. They all spoke French. None of us did. We shook hands and smiled a lot."

Turns out, officials were a bit upset over the unscheduled flight over the dam and the rapids.

"Tensions were high," he said. "It was a sensitive spot. These dams are the life and blood of this country. It was incredibly difficult to get permits and we had no idea on how we were going to be received."

But that's life in Congo, where Bradt said he learned that most of its 10 million people eat every other day.

"It is just a really, really volatile area," he said. "The people are really poor and really hungry. They are not the happiest of people. It's kind of a dog-eat-dog kind of place."

The country also has the most dangerous set of rapids on the globe.

With maximum flows as high as 2.5 million feet per second (cfs), the Inga Rapids are the highest volume rapids in the world. Last November, when Bradt and three other professional kayakers ran the rapids, the flow neared 1.6 million cfs.

"It was the scariest trip that I've ever been on," he said. "The water was unlike anything any of us had ever seen. It was incredibly huge, with subcurrents, upwellings and whirlpools that come out of nowhere.

That section of the river had never been navigated before.

"It was a legendary stretch of river," Bradt said. "No one had been able to get through it. It was really a neat trip and one of the bigger accomplishments in my paddling career."

A film from the trip will be produced by Fish Mugnai Productions.

Bradt started kayaking when he was 6. After attending a world-class traveling kayaking academy that offered him the opportunity to learn his craft in rapids from New Zealand to Chile, Bradt's sole focus turned toward finding ways to make a living while having amazing adventures.

He currently holds the world record for the tallest waterfall descent after dropping over the 186-foot-tall Palouse Falls in Washington state in 2009.

Last March, he broke his back while dropping over another waterfall south of Portland.

"I've made a really good recovery from that," he said. "I'm certainly not letting it slow me down."

Last week, Bradt was off on his latest adventure to explore the Sea of Cortez with fellow adventurers Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer.

The three plan to use TRIAK trimran sailing kayaks to island hop on a 450-mile route along Mexico's Baja peninsula for the 30- to 45-day expedition. Along the way, they'll look for good places to kiteboard, fish for food and explore the beautiful coastline.

Before he left, Bradt acknowledged the trio will face their own set of challenges along the way.

"The big thing is there is no fresh water to drink," he said. "Even though the Sea of Cortez is sheltered along three sides by land, it's also renowned for incredibly strong winds and currents."

On top of that, there is the unrest in Mexico created by the drug trade.

"We've heard rumors that drugs were being smuggled in the area," he said. "That definitely adds another element to the trip."

The group of adventurers will document their trip with both video and still photography. When they return, plans call for producing a short film that will released online.

"We're all aspiring filmmakers and we're excited about documenting this trip," he said.

"I really feel fortunate to be able to share this adventure with this team. They are both great characters who have pulled off some incredible adventurers of their own."

This adventure is unlike many they've undertaken.

"It's not one of those far-out kind of expeditions that's totally crazy," Bradt said. "It's not one of those things that no one else would ever want to do.

"Hopefully, people will be able to take a look at what we bring back and think this might be something that they would want to try," he said. "I think it's going to be an amazing adventure travel trip that is hopefully a lot less terrorizing as some and way more fun."

Reach reporter Perry Backus at 363-3300 or pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

 

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