Posts By: J.J. Kelley

Happy Holidays!!!

We’re extremely grateful for another year of adventure filmmaking. It’s been our most sincere hope to tell stories of exploration in a fun and meaningful way. By going outside our comfort zone, we have found the most amazing people, places and ways of life. Next year we’re partnering up with likeminded adventurers to offer a greater library of films. Stay tuned…

Go Ganges — Winner at the Big Water Film Festival

Remote Q.A. with JJ at the Big Water Film Festival

Remote Q.A. with JJ at the Big Water Film Festival

GO GANGES won the Audience Favorite award at the Big Water Film Festival this weekend!

“Congratulations for making such an incredible film.  It was highly entertaining and so well done.  We all loved it and we laughed and gasped throughout the whole film.” – Big Water Film Festival

Soon we’ll be at festivals in California, Arizona, Alaska, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Check our homepage to find a screening near you, and come on out to see us won’t you.

National Geographic Weekend

J.J. Kelley & Josh Thomas join host Boyd Matson on the National Geographic Weekend radio program as they travel down the length of he Ganges river by rickshaw, rowboat and any other means necessary.

Coming Soon!

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve completed the edit for our newest film, Go Ganges! Two years ago we created our second adventure documentary Paddle to Seattle; the film was nominated for an Emmy and about 20 festival awards. Now we’ve got another doc in the can that we feel shows equal promise.

We’re just beginning to submit to festivals across the country. DVDs will be available on this site in a few weeks. But if you can, come on out for a screening; we’d love to see you there! We also challenge you to take a hands on approach to getting Go Ganges! to the masses, drop us a line and suggest a venue near you.

Go Ganges! follows an adventure by any means possible down the length of the Ganges River from its source high in the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal where it empties into the Indian Ocean. A cultural expedition: two seasoned adventurers take the cumulative skills learned over years of Alaska wilderness travel and apply it to a dramatically different natural wonder: the River Ganges, population 400 million. Living and traveling like the locals, they experience this river like it’s never been done before. It’s a very telling and honest story of an unparalleled river, but we make a point never to judge the conditions there, we just present it as we see it.

Adventure Ends and Adventure Begins

Traveling India’s great Mother River by any means possible.

Crashing down a rural road, I throttled all willing horsepower from our 125cc Indian Vespa. She roared with the death moans of a body about to expire from this earthly world. It had been a venerable battle of wills trying to coax our $400 scooter the final 1,000km to the end of the Ganges. Our adventure, more than 40 days in the making, had only 10km remaining. The Vespa had been crashed, dissected, and reassembled almost daily. I hated that scooter. Here she was so close to the end when—thud!—it happened, she was dead…

Six months ago when our last film, “Paddle to Seattle” was growing in popularity. We were continually asked what’s next? This was a particularly challenging question for us. We had created our own small legacy of traveling through wild places for months on end. We felt we’d reached a high point for ourselves under those conditions, and we weren’t content to rest on our laurels. For us the next big thing had to rip us from our shells and slam us against the wall.

At a screening of “Paddle to Seattle” in the Pacific Northwest, Josh was taken in by the owners of a theater. “You have to do another one.” The kind couple prodded Josh. They went on to share an adventure they’d had in India. They recounted their fascination of a natural resource that was more than just a body of water, but also seen as a god – a river so holy she had the power to remove sins, a river so polluted she was classified as the dirtiest on earth, a place where English would only take you so far. Josh was captivated and I unapologetically took the cause as my own as well.

“The Vespa had been crashed, dissected, and reassembled almost daily. I hated that scooter.”

It was settled: We’d travel The River Ganges. As a river she posed insurmountable obstacles. From her glacial emergence in the Himalayas, across the agricultural plains of the sub-content, to her diffusion into the largest delta on earth – there seemed no one way she could be traveled (in fact a complete float on Ganga has never been done). We needed to reinterpret how this could be possible.

Then it hit us; we would travel the river by any means possible – by foot, cycle rickshaw, rowboat, and scooter. Of course we didn’t have this plan when we departed. As we saw sections of the river for the first time, we debated what would be the best method to move forward. As India’s great river changed, so would we. We would see the in-between areas, where the foundations of the larger cities are upheld and life depends on the rivers. It was the uniting sinew that we were looking for.

Craving attention, our always fantastic cameraman Dave Costello salutes the end of a successful scout.

So in the 11th hour with just 10km to the end, a dead scooter, and a final chapter waiting to be written, we punted. Our Vespa was dead, but our adventure was not. Just as Ganga changed one final time before her exodus into the Indian Ocean so would we. I won’t ruin the end, but the solution involved a strip of cotton, 4-hiking shoes, and 3 glorious coconuts. You’ll just have to stay tuned to find out what happened.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Josh, JJ, and their deft cameraman Dave were traveling The River Ganges on a scout for Academy Award Nominated filmmakers Sean and Andrea Fine. The scout was the first step in a 4-part series that will travel the world’s Mother Rivers by any means possible.

Two Tales of One River

Josh and I row through a film of pollutants.

We just rowed into Allahabad! It has been five days of unsupported travel in what is proving to be the most revealing portion of our journey.

The three of us perch awkwardly on the small deck of our 13-foot wood and sheet-metal boat. None of us are experienced rowers, and wielding our heavy bamboo oars makes us look like Wilderness-kindergartners learning the Outdoors ABC’s.

Even if we did know how to row, we’re finding that the river is extremely tricky to read. At best we’ve got 10-feet of water under our hull. If we make a wrong turn we run aground.

Our boat doesn’t draw much water—maybe 4 inches—but on day three we collided into a sand bar. We’d all hoped this wouldn’t happen; primarily on account of the excrement and industrial effluence we’d seen flow into the river. None of us had touched the water yet. I began wading through the filth, trying to free the boat. My efforts were futile: soon Josh and Dave were pulling by my side.

We saw a lone dog tugging at a small mass. I joked that we would push until the carcass. We had seen dead livestock left to rot along the shore, and using carcasses as landmarks had become a dark joke between us.


As we got closer, no one spoke. The dog was pulling on the lower torso of a human body. The skull and spinal cord were lying 10-feet downstream. It was a moment of rare somberness for our crew.

We knew we’d see things like human bodies going into this trip; putting the deceased into the Ganga is the most sacred and effective method for delivering a soul to Nirvana in the Hindu religion. Still, we weren’t ready for what we saw.

Making camp on the banks of Mother Ganga

We set up camp on a sandy plain that stretched past the horizon. The sun set slowly over the mythical Ganga and the heavens gave birth to a radiant sky full of stars.

How can one river produce such contrasting emotions? It’s a river of unmatched mysticism and beauty that also collects more pollutants than any other river on the planet. It’s a living paradox.

We still have about 200km of rowing until we reach Varanasi, and the Ganga has more to teach us, I’m sure.

Realizations on a Rickshaw

I explain “why rickshaw?” to a small group of 30 men

We are in Kampur now, well past the 500-kilometer marker, and getting into the swing of life on a rickshaw. Our glorified tricycle is proving to be the ultimate tool for understanding daily life in rural India. The travel is tremendously taxing, but the insights are proving to be the butter that sweetens our roti bread.

I’ve had two main cultural realizations from my time on the “rick”:

1. Indian dudes love foreign dudes on rickshaws.

Holy Krishna! I’ve never been so aggressively admired. On a stop to buy bananas, over 70 gawking males of all ages swarmed our rickshaw, engulfing us in less than 3 minutes. It’s only men surrounding our three wheel—three-man—bike. Boys to elders, they descend upon us; many with a fixed stare otherwise reserved for watching paint dry. Others ask questions in broken English, like: “Where are you? Can you give me a dollar? I have your email? Why rickshaw? Autograph?” They follow us by foot, bike, motorcycle and whatever else might pass as a “vehicle” in India, often for several kilometers shouting “stop!”

It doesn’t help that our story has been plastered across 3 different newspapers. Reporters have stopped us almost every day of our trip. With our popularity growing, traveling is getting intense. It’s the worst in the cities. We’ve actually gotten into the habit of changing out a fresh pair of legs to “motor past the mobs,” as we say. If only we could bike faster than 12 mph.

2. Americans traveling by rickshaw is an Indian paradox.

“Why no jeep? Rickshaw is for poor,” a boy shouts as the third passenger on a moving motorcycle.

It seems most of our ubiquitous attention is due to our chosen mode of travel. Although the caste system was legally abolished in the 1960’s, the country still revolves with the ancient gears of priority over equality. There are sects who talk with the gods and sects who talk with the dead.

Americans traveling by rickshaw is as foreign an idea as having two kids from ranking castes swapped in a twisted remake of “Parent Trap.” It’s my hope that this is our little way of showing that anyone can do as they wish. For us, I guess that’s biking a single-speed rickshaw along The Ganges for a spell.