David is planning a Nile River swim — dates still to be determined due to the pandemic — and has been training each week this summer in the St. Lawrence River, departing from the civic complex area and returning to shore in Lancaster, all at night.
The Nile is the longest river in Africa at 6,650 km, and its drainage basin covers 11 countries including Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.
Merpaw, 55, plans to cover 500 KM of it in Egypt, and what he’s most interested in seeing and experiencing will almost certainly still be there even if the swim is on hold for a while: he’ll start in the Luxor area, the Valley of the Kings, and swim daily, upstream, for over a week to Giza, near Cairo, home of the pyramids.
“As a kid growing up I always loved history,” said Merpaw, who knocked off a bucket list item last fall, an environmental-message swim of 200 km in the Amazon River, through portions of Brazil, Peru and Colombia, and much of it at night.
His swim in Egypt will be one of his biggest challenges – and longest distances – so far. Merpaw on the weekend said he’ll likely be dealing with snakes and pollution, among other issues.
Merpaw over the years has acknowledged that some people have questioned such long and risky swims. His reply often is, “I’ll be fine – it’s not my first time at the rodeo. . .you can’t take a dream away from someone, (and) the danger is part of what makes it so thrilling.’’
Merpaw said “there’s danger everywhere (in the water) – marathon swimming is one of the most dangerous extreme sports, especially going solo. But the joy of accomplishment (in the water) is overwhelming.”
Merpaw loves meeting the locals in his travels, and sharing his story. Often, his swims have a theme, and last fall in South America it was an environmental focus. This time, Merpaw is stressing water safety. He says that, despite the seemingly risky nature of some of his exploits, he does extensive research and preparation.
Sure, while swimming he’s towing a small inflatable raft with several days’ worth of food and water until he can get to a hotel and re-supply. But Merpaw always carries a horn and life jacket too.
And a safety message seems particularly timely this year, with so many people doing outdoor activities.
“Every year too many people lose their lives in the water,” Merpaw said. “Life jackets and safety gear are extremely important. . .safety is always number one. Always have a plan, always have an exit.”
Safety is, somewhat counter-intuitively, why Merpaw so often swims at night.
“I like swimming at night because it’s a really cool thing to do, but also because you avoid the hot sun and sunburn,’’ he said. “One of the big dangers in the water is extreme sunburn.”
Merpaw was inducted into the Cornwall Sports Hall of Fame in 2018, and he’s a former winner of the Jacques Richard Memorial Trophy at the Lions Sports Awards Dinner.
He’s been an accomplished endurance athlete for over 20 years, including doing Ironman triathlons and Spartan events, but he has turned his focus in recent years mostly to river swims both locally and around the world, including in the Ganges River in northern India two years ago.
His training this summer for the next overseas adventure has included distance swims in the Ottawa River, from the capital city to the Wendover area, west of Hawkesbury.
“I’m just staying prepared and fit so when it’s safe for travelling again, I’ll be (ready),” Merpaw said.