A Tale of Two Beths


As 2023 drew to a close, I looked out my window at a big lake surrounded by beautiful, snow-covered mountains. It’s still hard to believe I’ve called Voss home for the past year. Amazing rivers cascade down from every valley in the summer months, and the town is a well-known mecca for kayaking. I don’t think anyone was surprised when I decided Voss was the perfect place to try settling down—at least as much as I know how.

Still, last year was not easy. On top of the normal challenges of moving to a new place where you don’t speak the language—finding a car, somewhere to live, a job—a bad concussion wiped me out for most of the kayaking season. Despite the challenges, it feels like I have made it, and I couldn’t help but wonder what Beth would say about it all.

Beth Hume and I met in university. We had the same name, the same friends and the same hobby, but while I felt uncertain about the future, Beth seemed to have it all figured out. I wanted to take a year off after I graduated to travel and kayak before joining the corporate rat race. Beth had kayaked in many amazing places and, one weekend in Scotland, I quizzed her about where to visit. She invited me to join her in Nepal that October, and I jumped at the opportunity.

I arrived in Kathmandu wide-eyed. I had never been outside Europe before, but Beth took me under her wing. Riding on the top of buses between rivers, we talked about everything: Life, the future, jobs, family, being a female kayaker, and kayaking destinations. I went to bed dreaming of golden canyons, multi-day adventures with big portages and scary rapids, and the day I would be good enough to join her.

I was awed by Beth’s stories, but even more so by watching her on the river. She confidently led the way downstream, hitting all the boofs and bigger lines with a massive grin. At that time, kayaking made me incredibly nervous. I went around all the boofs, scouted more than anyone else, and generally found kayaking to be type 2 fun. To see someone that joyful on the river was a game changer, and I wanted to surround myself with her energy.

After we parted ways in Nepal, Beth started a job in Oslo, and I continued my travels, visiting New Zealand and driving around Europe before reuniting with Beth in Norway for two months of paddling. Even after I returned to the UK to start work, I flew to Norway at every opportunity. Beth would pick me up from the airport, and we would drive to as many rivers as possible, camping in her van and exclaiming: “Oh Norway, you’re so f***ing beautiful!” at every corner.

Beth was a force to be reckoned with. She was driven, motivated and always knew what she wanted. I generally went with the flow, which took some adjusting. Beth could be a bit bossy, and I rarely felt in control when we were together. She was always disappointed when I didn’t have the energy for one more lap or when I ducked out of running something scary. Although I was usually happy for her to tell me what to do, I sometimes had to put my foot down!

Not only did Beth naturally take the lead, but she also had a lot more experience than me, so I deferred to her to organise our adventures. My first time having a significant role in the planning process was our trip to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. We initially struggled to get a team together and ended up with an all-female crew who hardly knew each other.

For the first time, I saw Beth unsure of herself. She wondered if inviting people she had never met on an expedition was a mistake and worried about pushing them too hard. The trip was a success, but it was also a huge learning curve for all of us. After the group spent a scary, sleepless night separated in the jungle, we coined our new catchphrase, “It’s all part of the adventure,” but that’s a story for another time.

Whilst discussing where to go next, Beth mentioned Meghalaya. Tucked away in the northeastern states of India, Meghalaya, which translates from Sanskrit to the “Abode of Clouds,” is a hidden paradise. Huge waterfalls cascade through the lush jungle from the southern plateau to the plains of Bangladesh, and the intersection of mountains, plains, mild climate, and high rainfall form one of the most biodiverse places in the world.

As the wettest place on earth, it is unsurprising that Meghalaya caught the attention of kayakers. In 2013, a group of friends set out to discover what the state had to offer. They found that “steep” in Meghalaya meant just that, and some amazing rivers. Meghalaya remained below the radar until brothers Joe and Dan Rea-Dickens, with local hero Zorba Laloo, wrote the Meghalaya Rivers guidebook. After its publication in 2018, kayakers began to flock to the state to tick off the now-well-known classics.

When Beth first brought up a trip there, I questioned whether I was good enough to go. It was the pre-guidebook era, and everyone I knew who had been was much better than me. But a few reassuring conversations later, my flights were booked.

After a “warm-up” on the Lower Umtrew, I was declared ready for the Kynshi. This river is the stuff of legends. I’d heard tales of beautiful rapids, epic camping and big beatdowns. Nerves sometimes get the best of me on the river, and my first day on the Kynshi was a prime example. I spent the evening feeling in over my head and questioning why I was there. But Beth always knew how to get me out of a funk, and after a pep talk the next morning, I had the best day ever.

Beth was never satisfied with just running the classics, and when we got back from the Kynshi, she started plotting. The middle section of the Umngi River remained unexplored but had been on our friends’ radar for years. The profile showed pretty consistent gradient for 30 km before dropping off for the last 10 km. This lower section had been packrafted, and the group described a potentially unrunnable and unportable rapid just above where they had put in. Hearing this made me incredibly nervous, but it only encouraged Beth more. Before I knew it, we were hiking to the put-in.

The Umngi River flows from the southern ridges in Meghalaya down into the flat plains of Bangladesh. With clear, clean water swarming with fish, the rivers of the southern ridges are a welcome change from the coal mining runoffs or water heavily polluted by rubbish and sewage.

The first section of the Umngi exceeded all of our expectations. Crystal blue water cut through a vivid backdrop of pink bedrock gorges and green jungle. As well as spectacular scenery, we found incredible rapids and drops, interspersed with siphons and choss portages. After entering a beautiful bedrock canyon, Beth got out to scout a horizon line. Her whoops of joy let us know it was going to be a good one. We jumped out to find a curling 20-foot drop. Despite the easy entrance, the line looked tricky, and the exit was not super clean. Beth was keen to run it, but she was unlucky at the bottom and got stuck in the backwash. She swam and never resurfaced.

The next few days were a total blur. It is still, eight years on, too painful to write about, but the details are not so important. The main memory I try to take away is the overwhelming love and support we received. From the local villagers, the state and national disaster rescue teams, the Laloo family and other friends in Meghalaya, Beth’s family, my family, and the kayaking community. It’s hard to take something positive out of something so painful, but enough time has passed that there are things I can appreciate.

I left India deflated. Even broken, at rock bottom, I knew I would come back. I hadn’t quite expected to return the following year. However, 2016 saw me quit my job and head to India for six months of travelling and kayaking. Maybe I was running away from my problems, but this decision became the catalyst for a completely new chapter of my life.

Meghalaya’s season worked nicely with the rest of my travel plans, and less than a year after I’d left, I was back in Shillong. When the talk turned to the Umngi, I jumped at the opportunity to finish what Beth and I had started.

The water levels were higher than they had been the previous year. They were perfect for the occasion, but I was all over the place. Now that I was here and it was real, the fear started to consume me. I forced myself to concentrate on paddling. With each horizon line, I became more confident and relaxed, remembering how much fun the river had been the first time around.

By the end of the first day, our team of eight had set up camp in the very spot where we had spent three horrific nights the previous year. In the morning, we portaged Beth’s drop and set off into the unknown. The following 15 km turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. The river dropped into a more sheer-sided gorge, and the rapids got bigger and harder, steep and bouldery, though thankfully always remained manageable.

The next day, after a sleepless night and a hard paddle out due to heavy rain and wind, we reached the take-out exhausted. Sitting in a tea shop, relief, sadness, pride and delight warred with each other as I tried to figure out how I felt.

This past October, I returned to Meghalaya for the fourth time. I was the only kayaker there who had been to Meghalaya before, and watching them discover the beauty of this place reminded me of what first drew Beth and me here. Despite all the heartache it has caused me, Meghalaya still holds a special place in my heart. Maybe it would have been easier to never return and never face my demons, but I am glad that isn’t the path I took.

I’ve travelled around the world to paddle, but I still find it hard to organise adventures without Beth. For years, I struggled to figure out who my “crew” was. I kept looking for someone to replace the Beth-shaped hole left in my heart.

Beth was one-of-a-kind. She embraced life to the fullest, didn’t care what anyone thought about it, and was more enthusiastic about kayaking than anyone else I’ve met. She is irreplaceable, and I wouldn’t want to try. But as time goes on, I found other people to kayak with, travel with, and enjoy the small things in life with.

When I first lost her, I tried to live my life like Beth, but that left me feeling inadequate and confused about who I was. Instead, I now try to live my life in a way that I hope Beth would be proud of.

I still apologise to her when I don’t have the energy for “one more lap” or when I walk a rapid that I am sure she would have pushed me to try. But I also imagine how excited she would have been when I told her I was moving to Norway and all the adventures we would have planned.

So when I look out over my new home, I make sure to say, “Oh Norway, you’re so f***ing beautiful.” When I pinch myself to check I’m not dreaming, I remember my best friend, the reason I am who I am today. I still miss her terribly. It’s not the life I imagined, but that’s just all part of the adventure.


Kayaking has taken Guest Contributor Beth Morgan around the world and back again—a few times over. Originally from the UK, after years of living out of a suitcase and teaching for World Class Academy, Beth now calls Voss, Norway, home. In addition to her travels in India, Nepal and Europe, Beth was the 2019 AWP European Champion and has top finishes in many of the sport’s biggest extreme races.