Fiercely Independent River Gypsy Mama – An Interview with Lacey Anderson

Lacey Anderson recounts a lifetime of exploration; with a list of first descents from the last five years that many men half her age could only dream of. “As a single mom I felt that running first descents was too risky, it had to wait until I was older.”


57 years young, Lacey is showing no signs of slowing down. Lacey tells us why she is so excited to be a part of the Paddling with Purpose expeditions; what she hopes to achieve and her simple secret to stay forever young.
Lacey’s next mission is focused on saving the Upper Amazon from destruction. Visit her fundraising page, there is only 3 days left if you would like to help Lacey make this grass-roots project happen! Special thanks to NRS for their ongoing support of Lacey & donation of equipment to the Paddling with Purpose project.

All over the world people dream of being the first to do something. The first to scale an enormous peak or first to discover something new. In the world of whitewater, the holy grail is to notch up a first descents. How many rivers have you first descended?

16 all-together 14 of which were in the last 5 years, after the age of 50!
I have been a boater for many years, but while raising a family as a single mom I felt that running first descents was too risky, it had to wait until I was older.
See the full list of first descents here.

Those achievements are remarkable for anyone, for a middle-aged woman, you are certainly one of a kind. How much time do you estimate you have spent on the river throughout your lifetime?
Between working as a whitewater raft guide and then in my free time I do private boating trips, I have accumulated over 10,000 river miles! I guess we need to consider the number of years I have been a river enthusiast. I started out canoeing flatwater about 30 years ago and then started in whitewater crafts over 20 years ago – canoes, kayaks, paddle rafts, heavy 18 foot commercial gear boats to light-weight catarafts. Hard to believe, but I still do not feel like I get enough river time.

PWP_singlemom_1What is your proudest moment on the river?
Last year I lived in the highlands of Guatemala for 3 months and one of the things I did was teach a group of young male indigenous Qéq chi´ Mayans the skills needed to become river guides. It was very satisfying to take all my years of experience and pass it on to the next generation of river guides. You can read about that adventure here. Even more significant was the fact that I was teaching the very same ethnic group of Mayans that had held me captive and threatened to burn me alive only 2 years prior.

Lacey Anderson with NRS CoolCat on the Rio MarañonHow do you feel physically & what do you do to stay in shape? Fantastic, the more I row though the better I feel. I move as much as possible; only sit when I am rowing my cataraft.

Do you ever think you will stop? Nope!

Five words to describe you life: Fiercely Independent River Gypsy Mama

Is that the most dangerous situation you have found yourself in?
Yes, I am lucky to be alive. In 2012 my rafting team and I were held hostage in the highlands of Guatemala by indigenous Mayans in four separate villages! They threatened to tie us, pour gasoline on us, and burn us alive. This extreme event tweaked my mind and altered me a bit.  &
I have been held captive or seriously detained by indigenous groups for a total of 7 times in the last 7 year and am still alive.

What are some of the greatest challenges completing these kinds of expeditions?
My biggest challenge is financial. My favorite thing to do is exploratory river running, but I have not figured out how leading that lifestyle can “pay-the- bills”. How do I live on the river as much as possible, doing the thing I love the most (rowing my custom light-weight cataraft) and continue to make an adequate living wage? This is a big challenge and always has been.

May – August this year, you will be volunteering to help save the Marañon River from destruction. What is the strongest argument against dams on the Marañon River?

23Building 20 dams on the hydrological source of the Amazon will permanently alter and destroy the natural system of our most voluminous and possible important world river.

I have paddled over 10,000 river miles in my lifetime. So, I suppose you could call me a bit of a river expert. In 2013 I did 400 miles of the Rio Marañon for the first time and I was delighted with this river. It is a rarity to be able to float 400 miles on a river in today´s world of progress and dams.
BUT MORE IMPORTANT THAN RECREATION is the fact that it is the Amazon! The life blood of our planet. The largest most voluminous river system in the world and one of our last free-flowing rivers.
SO MANY THINGS WILL BE DISTURBED and for what?! The energy from these hydro dams is slated to be mostly exported to other countries for mining operations. Thousands of indigenous folks that live off the land and river will be forced to relocate, many without compensation from the dam builders or government. These folks will more than likely live a life of poverty if removed from their homes (their lives are very good right now). The Rio Marañon is also the newly discovered source of the Amazon river – it is the hydrological source of the Amazon, if 20 dams are built (2 of which are mega dams) this precious resource and ecosystem will be permanently altered, many natural systems will die. There are ancient Pre-Incan ruins in the canyon that have not been studied yet by science, they will be submerged. There is wildlife species just starting to be discovered, their habitat will be destroyed before we really even know what is in the area. These are just a few of the problems with a dam on the Upper Amazon.

What will you personally get out of these expeditions?
The knowledge that I tried my best to change the course of history on yet another useless dam. To learn more about conservation movements and what techniques are effective when attempting to fight big business and government to stop dams.

What motivates you to give up time and money and money to be a part of the Paddling with Purpose project?
I believe that Paddling with Purpose is approaching the issue in the correct way. We are supporting the Peruvian people in their conservation movement. We are offering help within the country to help the Peruvian conservationist inform the general Peruvian public. The film is being made in Spanish for distribution within the Latin world.

Lacey Anderson will be participating in both the of Paddling with Purpose expeditions to help protect the Upper Amazon this summer. You can follow the progress of this project to protect the source of the Amazon on Facebook, and make a donation to Lacey’s crowd-funding page, or make a donation direct to the project.


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