MURRAY RIVER SUMMIT TO SOURCE TO SEA BLOG ARCHIVE (AUSTRALIA)
MURRAY RIVER EXPEDITION TIMELINE (DECEMBER 2009-APRIL 2010)
Dec 26, 27, 28 – Got ride from Tom Groggin Station to the Poplars Camping Area, 21km downriver from the source of the Murray. The Poplars is the highest point on the river accessable by 4×4 vehicles. (Thanks to Trevor Davis, manager of Tom Groggin Station. Trevor and his family were a huge help in sorting out the Murray headwaters logistics.) Backpacked 50km from the Poplars to Tom Groggin Station via McCarthys Track, Davies Plain Track, Davies Plain Loop Track, Tom Groggin ford (across the Murray into NSW), Tom Groggin Camping Area (NSW), and the Alpine Way. This was the first part of a 200km trek around the headwaters on foot.
Dec 29 – Rest day at Tom Groggin Station.
You can use the Google map on the ZEE Tracker page (SPOT Adventure page) to view this alpine area. Simply follow the Murray River back to its source. The river is the boundary between the states of Victoria and New South Wales. The river begins where the squiggly line meets the straight line that runs to the east coast (the Black-Allen line).
Day 1 (Dec 30) Got ride from Tom Groggin Station to the ski resort village of Thredbo, NSW courtesy of Michael Davis (Trevor’s son). Thanks Michael! Climbed Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia (2228m, 7310ft). The summit marked the beginning of the Murray River Source-to-Sea Expedition. The goal: to go from the highest point in Australia to the ocean under my own power.
It was a 25km hike from the village to the summit and back to the village. A rusty metal boardwalk leads from the top of the chairlift to near the summit. The boardwalk lessens the impact to the fragile, treeless alpine tundra. There were patches of snow near the summit. Stayed at the Thredbo youth hostel.
Day 2 (Dec 31) Left Thredbo with a heavy backpack. 5km trek along the riverwalk to Deadhorse Gap, then 12km trek on the Cascade Track to Cascade Hut via Bob’s Ridge. Rain at night.
Day 3 (Jan 1) 17km trek from Cascade Hut to Tin Mines Huts (Carter’s Hut). Wild horses (brumbies) seen during the day. Rain at night.
Day 4 (Jan 2) 16km trek from Carter’s Hut to Cowombat Flat (Murray River crossing) with side trip to the source of the Murray via a rough trail east of Cowombat Flat Track (trailhead marked with two small rock cairns). The river at the source is a mere 8″ wide and 6″ deep, a bubbly spring emegerging from beneath the ground. Filled a vial with source water. Will deposit this water in the Southern Ocean at end of expedition. Several brumbies at Cowombat Flat.
Day 5 (Jan 3) Hiked 2km from Cowombat Flat back to rough trail to the source of the Murray. Followed river on foot from source to Cowombat Flat (4km, 3hrs). Pack up gear in the afternoon and left Cowambat Flat, crossing the river into Victoria. Trekked 10km to campsite on Cowombat Track. Second day, no humans. Warm day.
Day 6 (Jan 4) 17km trek to Limestone Creek Track via Limestone-Benambra Road and Cowombat Track. Warmer than previous day. Sweaty trek indeed. Camped beside Limestone Creek. Is Limestone Creek the true source of the Murray River?
Day 7 (Jan 5) 17km trek on Limestone Creek Track to McCarthys Track and on to the Poplars Camping Area, the spot where I will launch the inflatable boat. 200km loop around Murray Headwaters almost complete (see Day 15). Tough slog on very warm day.
Day 8 (Jan 6) Big thanks to Lynda Davis from Tom Groggin Station (Trevor’s wife) and her friend Kim (son Adam and daughter Brooke) for delivering food, gear and the SOAR S12 inflatable canoe to the Poplars Camping Area. The Poplars Camping Area is located 21km downriver from the source of the Murray and is the highest point on the river accessible by 4×4 vehicles. After thoroughly reviewing topographic maps of the area, and having a firsthand look at the river at both the Kings Plain Track and the Poplars access points, Trevor and I determined that the Poplars would be the best place for me to launch the boat. We also determined that it would be unwise and unsafe to attempt a traverse of the 17km of river from km4 (at the intersection with Cowombat Flat Track, on Cowombat Flat) to km21 (at the Poplars Camping Area). If time permitted, I would attempt this 17km riverbed walk at the end of the expedition.
Using SOAR’s magical EZ Pump, I inflated and launched the S12 mid-afternoon. I was very excited to finally get on the river. The boat was heavy with gear and ten days of food. I was able to paddle the first 100m but then had to enter the river and pull the boat over the shallow rapids. Thus became the tedious routine of exiting and entering the boat every time I ran aground, which happened about every 30 seconds. Low water was the norm and I encountered several logjams over the next two hours, requiring me to portage the gear, food and boat separately over the debris – a very time-consuming ordeal indeed. During those first two hours I managed a distance of 2.5km. At this pace I was looking at 7-10 days of backbreaking progress to cover the 50km of river from the Poplars to Tom Groggin Station. By 4pm I located a rare flat spot along the riverbank not overgrown with blackberry or scrub and set up the tent. As a small cloud of honey bees developed a profound interest in the yellow nylon rope attached to the boat and a rust-coloured spider with a leg span the width of my palm emerged from the underside of the riverbank (after I almost stepped on it!), I retired to the relative safety of my tent wondering what other potentially poisonous and cringe-worthy creatures were lurking along the banks and hiding in the crevices of logjams. Tomorrow would be another opportunity to find out.
Day 8 progress: 2.5km
Day 9 (Jan 7) First full day on the river. Eight hours of pulling, pushing, lifting, walking, and paddling – not necessarily in that order, but paddling would definitely be last on the list. Low water meant that plenty of rocks were exposed, requiring me to be in and out of the boat hundreds of times during the day. Plenty of walking in 6-8 inches of water, pulling the boat behind me. When the water was too low, I had to walk backwards in the stream, wrenching the boat forward inch by inch over the rocks. Progress was tedious and tiresome. There was no time to daydream. I was forced into the present moment, forced to focus intently on the position of my feet on the slippery rocks. Each foot, clad in neoprene boots, instinctively felt for purchase. Each footfall had to be measured and accurate. Unrushed safety was the name of the game. An injury in this remote area - miles from help of any kind - could mean death. Aside from the camping area at King’s Plain Track, 5km downstream from the Poplars, there was no access to the river whatsoever. No roads in or out. No trails. Walking out through the thick forest was a near impossibility. Three years prior, two seasoned whitewater paddlers from New Zealand had underestimated the section of river below King’s Plain and had to be airlifted from the river by helicopter. Their exasperation was expressed in this meagre response to their rescuers: “We had no idea…"
For me, King’s Plain represented the last exit on a river of no return. After that, I was truly on my own. The refuge of Tom Groggin Station lay a lengthy 60km downstream, a world away at the sloth-like pace I was producing. But the seriousness of the situation never weighed heavy on me. Instead, an air of contentment and purpose enveloped me and gently guided me downstream. I had ventured here to see the river as a whole, complete from source to sea. I had come to see firsthand its progression, its maturity. Like the ego-bruised Kiwis who had come before me, I had little idea of what to expect. I knew only that the work would be hard and that I was completely and utterly committed to the task at hand. Such as it is when you head-up a zero emissions expedition. Such as it is when you choose a challenging and unorthodox career like mine. This is my work. So be it.
Many years ago, my good friend Scott McFarlane penned a catchy little tune entitled “Little By Little”. As I stood knee deep in the warm current with an impatient blue boat bumping the backs of my thighs, surrounded by lush foliage and virgin old-growth trees that have never felt the sting of a chainsaw, a random chorus of lyrics from Scott’s song streamed forth from my lips.
"Little by little we’re getting smarter, little by little we’re moving on, little by little we’re taking patience by the hand, little by little we come to understand this song. Take it little by little, you can’t go wrong."
I smiled and slowly waded downstream. The expedition now had an official theme song.
Did I mention logjams? Eight times during the day I had to remove the gear from the boat and haul everything over piles of debris. Some of the fallen trees blocking passage were huge: 8-10 feet in diameter and more than one hundred feet long. During one such portage I came face to face with a big rust-coloured spider on the underside of a monster tree. A spike of adrenaline shot through my body and I did my best to remain calm as I crept past, my nosetip mere inches away from the fuzzy beast. I wondered how many more went unseen by my wary eyes. I also encountered several smaller fallen trees. Most times it was possible to either move the tree aside or go under or over the tree without removing the gear from the boat. Thick scrub and blackberry prevented me from portaging along the banks.
Near the King’s Plain camping area I came across a group of teenagers wading in the shallow water.
“How far to the Poplars?” they asked.
“Are you planning to walk there?” I asked back.
“Yes,” they replied.
“Well, I started at the Poplars yesterday,” I explained. “It’s about 4km upstream and it has taken me a total of five hours to come this far."
“Oh. Maybe we’ll just stick around here,” they said reluctantly.
“Smart choice,” I thought to myself.
As I passed a small huddle of parked 4x4s at the camping area, I turned back to see the teens happily splashing each other among the boulders. King’s Plain was my last chance to exit from the river. If I had any doubts as to how tough things would be downstream, this was the place to bail. The teens’ laughter came to me on a gentle breeze. Their innocence and naivete was not lost on me. Nor was their summertime celebration of freedom and recreational abandonment; playful afternoons devoid of stress and toil. A pang of sadness washed over me as I realized that I did not share the contentment found in their passive pursuits. I had chosen a different path, a path whose rewards I hoped would reveal themselves in good time, rewards that I hoped would balance out the sadness, the stress, the sinking feeling of being alone. Little did I know that these would be the last humans I would see for several days. I turned, tugging the boat behind me, and plodded downstream.
Eight hours of toil brought me 6.5km to a large logjam at the north end of a narrow island. In the center of the island was a raised, flat area, free of debris – a perfect place to set up camp. As I laid back on my inflatable mattress and listened to the nightly frog serenade, I could feel my over-used muscles complaining loudly. Progress had come at a price. Sleep and time would quiet the complaints and I rested in the assurance that it was indeed progress that I was making. I was achieving my goal, little by little.
Day 9 progress: 6.5km
Day 10 (Jan 8) Began the day by hefting the boat and gear down a semi-dry channel that bisected the island I was camped on. I filmed the portage for posterity. An hour later I repeated the same procedure in yet another semi-dry channel that bisected yet another island with yet another logjam on its northern end. I filmed this portage as well. This time, though, I decided to challenge myself further and not remove the gear from the boat. This particular channel had one added feature that the last one sorely lacked: its surface was composed of sedimentary rock that had been eroded away by the river’s current to produce a series of deep, v-shaped troughs. It resembled the bevelled surface of a giant record album covered with slime. As one can easily imagine, walking backwards on the surface of a giant record album covered with slime while pulling a 12-foot inflatable boat heavily laden with gear was indeed a trepid task. My favourite part was sliding backwards into a deep pool at the end of the channel and desperately hanging onto the boat as I drifted downstream. It’s always nice to have that stuff on film.
Luckily, other than during those first two follies, I was spared having to portage the boat and gear on this day. Most obstacles in the stream, fallen tree limbs and the like, were easily sidestepped. I was not, however, spared the tedium of pulling the boat over rocks and shallow rapids. For the third consecutive day I continued the tiresome trend of exiting and entering the boat hundreds of times. My canoe paddle, ironically, was the driest piece of equipment I possessed. But as the cool water from the surrounding creeks entered the fray, the river began to swell. The banks slowly closed in as I descended into a deeper valley. The slopes became much steeper, each side a crush of lush foliage and giant white-barked gum trees. At one point a pair of brumbies (wild horses) stared out through a veil of green ferns, their eyes locked to mine as I drifted past. Brilliantly coloured gang gangs (parrots) swooped and called to their partners as birds of cleverer camouflage darted in the trees and chirped out sunny songs of playful joy.
All was not joyful below my knees, however. Thanks to my frequent watery forays, the sunscreen lotion on my lower legs quickly washed away, leaving them to bake in the sun when I was seated in the boat. Add to this the fact that the zippers on my kayak boots had become jammed with sand and refused to zip up. The oversized zipper sliders chafed away at the tender skin on the inner sides of my feet. Raw sores formed and I winced every time I stood in the rocky riverbed and wrenched the boat downstream. And because an exotic river trip wouldn’t be complete without a good infection, the skin between the toes on both my feet developed a nasty red rash; inflamed and itchy, painful and peeling.
Save for the sound of one jet plane, an abandoned sandal bobbing among some boulders, an empty Coke can and a wayward canoe paddle wedged in the weedy bank (which joined my gear arsenal for a few days), I saw and heard no other signs of human activity. It was as if humans had never existed. The landscape here thrived in ways immeasurable. The trees had seen neither axe nor chainsaw. No roads had been built. No trails blazed. The land had been, by virtue of its shear remoteness, virtually untouched by human hands. “How many places,” I wondered aloud, “have I seen in my lifetime as pristine as this?” The answer, sadly, was “very few”. “Very few”, also, were the number of people who had been privileged enough to set eyes upon this virginal Eden. I knew I was one of only a handful of people worldwide to have seen it. For this fact alone I was thankful. This privilege, it seemed, was the reward for my toil.
As the warm afternoon wore on, my dry canoe paddle was finally called to action. I steered the boat through numerous boulder gardens, over 2-foot drops and down bumpy staircase rapids. The Murray was picking up steam. The coldwater creeks were pouring their caches into the river, churning up the challenge and forcing me to intensify my focus on the numerous obstacles in my path.
By 4:30pm I was busily scanning the banks for a decent spot to set up camp. It took me another two hours to find one. Rounding an S-curve, I spied an exposed strip of sandy bank at the base of a near-vertical 200-foot cliff. Gum trees and ferns clutched precariously to the rock face. Looking back upriver I could see a distant ridge top looming over the tops of the gums. Somewhere up there on Davies Plain, 4x4s were grinding their way up the dirt track, long out of sight of the river below.
Tired and sore, I cooked up a meal of instant rice and canned beans and washed it down with mouthfuls of filtered river water. Sleep came quick as darkness fell over the forest, the cool evening air a sober reminder that I was still 750m above sea level.
Ah yes, the sea, the ultimate destination of this expedition. Dreamy mists hung heavy over the mountains while a half moon winked its yellow eye between white, wispy clouds. I took leave of my camp and drifted, free from fallen trees and logjams, free from foul-smelling, fungus-ridden feet and toe jam. I drifted onward to a distant ocean, an ocean that lay an unfathomable 2500km downstream. Then, in the space of an exhalation, I was there, standing tall at the river’s mouth, straining to a hear a faint but familiar voice over the roar of the pounding surf. The voice was that of my good friend Scott McFarlane. As moonlight fell upon my grinning face, I recognized his words. “Little by little,” he whispered, “little by little.”
Day 10 progress: 11km
Day 11 (Jan 10) Daylight filtered through the forest canopy as I woke to yet another day on the river. The current quietly gurgled over the shallow rapids in front of my tent as the ever-present bird sounds tickled my waking ears. I made my morning meal of instant oats, mixing in two generous tablespoons of brown sugar, a teaspoon of sprirulina (blue-green algae) and a healthy handful of raisins and peanuts. Then began the twice-daily routine of filtering river water, certainly the most tedious of camp chores. Then came the pack-up of gear followed by the strap-down of that gear in the boat. Finally, at 9:00am, I was ready to once again launch the SOAR S12 and hit the river.
It didn’t take long to find the first obstacle of the day: a smallish tree that had recently fallen across the river, completely blocking passage. Fallen trees of this size were annoying, time-consuming hiccups that sent me cursing aloud. They were too big to move and too long to go around; going over was the only option. And “over” meant that everything had to come out of the boat.
Take a moment right now and slip your feet into my neoprene boots. You are standing knee-deep in the warm, rushing current. The sun is burning the back of your neck and the raw, pink skin on your sore feet tingles irritably. Directly in front of you is an obstruction that prevents you from progressing downstream. You’ve seen and dealt with many such obstacles on the river so far and secretly hope that you won’t have to deal with many more. Secretly, you know that this will not be the case. Beside you is your 12-foot inflatable boat full of gear. You’ve actually brought along too much gear and too much food and it’s all very heavy. In one of your bear-resistant canisters is a large nest of wires, cables and connectors that have served no purpose over the last three days other than strengthening your muscles from lugging it around. A soggy, unused wetsuit weighs down one bag while a whitewater helmet is tucked far inside another bag, right next to that two-person tent with the broken zipper. Rounding out the bulk of gear are two small roll-top dry bags that house the expensive cameras and a large blue roll-top dry bag that contains the camping gear.
You unhook all the bungee cords that have held the gear securely in the boat. Near the uprooted base of the fallen tree is a small patch of grass on which to pile the gear. You struggle with the empty boat, which alone weighs a hefty 70lbs, forcing its rounded bow up onto the log. You back away to take a photograph. With a guttural grunt and a few choice expletives the boat finds its way to the downstream side of the log. You shoulder the heavy packs and precariously straddle the fallen tree, then haphazardly toss the gear bags back into the boat and strap the kit down. Smiling, you raise your arms in triumph and exclaim excitedly, “Easy!"
Just around the bend, out of sight, is another obstacle, bigger than the one you just dealt with. You’ll see it in about ninety seconds. You will curse and shoot your eyes heavenward. Then you will go through the whole routine again. And again. And again. And between the obstacles you will repeatedly jump from your boat and pull its reluctant bulk over the rocky shallows, zig-zagging down the riverbed in a valiant attempt to find the path of least resistance. And you will try to do all of this with a smile on your face, believing that if you are happy, at least outwardly, the toil of such tedium with be far less encumbering. Yes, the trick is to trick oneself into a state of contentment, all the while being fully aware that to treat such a trick thusly is to enter into a dangerously deceitful game with oneself. It takes a great deal of practice to fool oneself. Lucky for you, your present river adventure has offered up plenty of opportunity for “foolure” and you’ve become fairly adept at self-trickery. Congratulations.
It is the routine of river travel, or any kind of travel for that matter, that grinds you down mentally. Mealtimes and bedtimes. Biting insects and stinging insecurities. The aforementioned “happiness hoax”. The paddle strokes. The hours alone. Hours of drifting thought. Free in the mind. Trapped in the mind. Mindful awareness. Mind full of fear. The duel with duality. The unpredictable predictability. Sun – too much of it. Water – never enough of it. The rote. The route. The routine. Repetition. Routine – is it boring? Hardly. Is it essential? Essentially, yes. Repetition. Do you understand? Repetition. Have you learned your lesson today? No? Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
“I repeat myself when under stress. I repeat myself when under stress. I repeat myself when under stress. I repeat myself when under stress. I repeat… The more I look at it, the more I like it. I do think it’s good. The fact is, no matter how closely I study it, no matter how I take it apart, no matter how I break it down, it remains consistent. I wish you were here to see it!”
From the song "Indiscipline" by King Crimson
But wait. Why I am trashing “routine”? Isn’t routine the glue that holds an endeavour together? Isn’t routine the structure, the constant, the reliable, the tried, tested and true? Isn’t routine, then, the blueprint for success? Q: What is the basic definition of success? A: The completion of a routine. Routine, therefore, is a discipline. People generally seem to dislike routine and repetition. Routines and repetition appear constrictive, habitual. Take, as an example, the “routine” schedule of the common working person in the Western world: the routine of a 9-5 workday. It is the very adhesion to this routine that has helped make democracy a “success”. Routine is not something that has been imposed on people. People follow the rules of routine that they alone have created. The act of “breaking free” from routine is simply the beginning act of another routine.
How ironic is it then, that the very thing that structures our goals – routine – is the thing that we come to loathe throughout our endeavours for success? And the funniest part is: we create our routines. We end up loathing the very routine that we created in order to help give structure in the attainment of our goals. How self-defeating is that? We may even blame others for the “misfortune” of routine that seems to have been mysteriously imposed upon us by others. That is a seriously ridiculous fabrication that nicely illustrates our inability to claim personal responsibility for something that we personally created. Are you bored with routine? If so, have a look at what you are resisting. Routine is a blueprint for progress, a blueprint for growth. Are you resisting growth? “Resisting” is a mental activity. Routine, in and of itself, is not a state of mind, it is a state of being. Routine, like growth, requires little thought; it only requires quiet commitment.
Even though we have established that the adherence to routine is a mental activity rooted in discipline, we cannot overlook the physical aspect of adhering to routine. When this physical aspect is applied to the success of long distance, self-propelled expeditions, adherence to routine plays a vital, if less important, role when compared to the mental aspect.
If you’ve properly prepared for a rigorous journey by training your body to withstand the repetitiously punishing demands it will undoubtedly encounter, the physicality of such a trip is of little issue. Much like a grandfather clock whose pendulum is set in motion, the body will perform tediously routine activity seemingly effortlessly until it breaks, or until the mind tells it to quit. Long, arduous, physically demanding expeditions fail because the minds of its participants fail. If you have not succeeded it is because you believed you would not succeed. Fear is the mind killer and doubt is fear’s accomplice. Focus on these two obstacles (fear and doubt) and you will become a log in the jam. Eliminate these two obstacles and your river will flow unhampered.
The body will adhere to its routine, whatever that routine may be. Its lungs will breathe routinely. Its heart will beat routinely. Present it a blueprint and watch it perform. Routine is the structure, the constant, the reliable, the tried, tested and true. Routine is the very thing to fall back on when the mind says, “No, I can’t” or “No, I won’t” or a myriad of other self-negating thoughts. Routine knows otherwise. Routine is progress – pendulum progress – slow and calculated, precisely proven through experience. Where doubt and fear fail, routine succeeds.
A highlight on this day was coming across a deer standing motionless in the middle of the stream. From my silent vantage point in the drifting boat (the river here was deep enough to actually float the boat), I was able to see that this particular species of Australian deer resembled the mule deer or elk found in North America. It was a large beast – four foot high at the shoulder, solid medium brown in colour with no visible antlers. There was no time to take a photo or grab the camcorder. I was lucky enough to lock eyes with it for twenty seconds before it turned away and calmly galloped down the riverbed, its hooves splashing the water and loudly clunking the rocks underfoot. It made a quick turn into the forest and disappeared.
The increase in flow meant that I was doing more paddling than in days previous. There were many straight sections where the river widened and subsequently got very shallow, and one particular section where the river formed a deep pool between smooth cliffs that eventually closed in around me and funneled the flow through a four-foot wide natural sluice.
Several stands of old growth trees lined the banks and I saw one of the biggest gum trees that I had ever come across in Australia. White/yellow cockatoos began to appear in the foliage, a sure sign that I was dropping in elevation. For the second day in a row I saw no humans. Though the humans were in short supply (thankfully), the logjams were not. All told, I had to do six portages on the day as well as deal with numerous fallen trees and branches littering the stream. At one dogleg bend in the river a mass of logs and branches had embedded itself on the south end of an island, creating a huge obstruction. Luckily, a narrow channel had formed through the debris. In order to reach the channel I had to remove most of the gear from the boat and balance it on branches, then heave the boat over a large log. The water here appeared to be about eight feet deep so I had to be careful not to drop any gear. Once back in the boat I had to break off several branches to clear a route, then I effectively poled the boat through the flotsam and onto the safety of the island. After a short rest I plodded downstream.
Finding a place to set up camp proved overly difficult. I searched for two hours before I came across a bare spot along the bank. It appeared to be the terminus of a game trail, a place where animals commonly come to drink from the river. In order to erect the tent I had to yank out several handfuls of an invasive spiky grass that seems to be everywhere that you don’t want it to be. The needle-sharp tip of this knee-high nasty plant can easily penetrate skin or poke out an eye. I came to label this green inconvenience “lethal grass” because if ever you stumbled and fell into a patch of this stuff, you’d surely become impaled on it.
Adding to the morose camp setting was an abnormally wretched-looking black mud spread long the riverbank. The brackish river water here was crudely opaque and nose-curlingly offensive. After wading through this filth, the fungal rash on my feet flared up fivefold. It then occurred to me that, because this site saw regular use by animals, maybe I had been thoughtlessly wading through a funk of fecal matter. As I crawled into my tent for the last time that day, smearing the black muck across the nylon floor, the ever-present expletives found their way through my clenched teeth. I quickly awarded the site the dubious honour of being the second worst place that I have ever camped, topped only by the infamous “Squalor Gallows” campsite on the upper Mississippi River. (I’ll save that story for another day.)
At least I could take comfort in the fact that I had come 11km further downstream and was now within two days of Tom Groggin Station, if I kept at the current pace. I was now on my third of six topographic maps of this area of the upper Murray. Progress was being made and routine was being adhered to. With any luck, the morrow would see an abatement of time-consuming logjams and an influx of flow. If the maps were to be believed, and there was no reason they could not be, the influx was coming soon in the form of the Cascade and Leather Barrel creek systems. Maybe tomorrow would see less portaging and more paddling. After all, that’s what I was there to do.
Day 11 progress: 11km
Day 12 (Jan 10) I launched the boat at 9am, relieved to be away from the black filth and lethal grass. Unfortunately, much of the muck from the campsite had been tracked into the boat, coating the seat and floor of the S12. It didn’t take long for it to wash off, however. Plunging over a two-foot drop in the first rapid of the day, water came pouring in over the sides of the boat, filling it to the brim and flushing out the filth through the sixteen self-bailing holes in the floor of the boat. Soaked from the waist down, I smiled and paddled onward to the next rapid.
I decided to set a distance goal for the day, something I hadn’t yet done on the river. Leather Barrel Creek is a major creek system that enters the Murray at approximately river km 66. It is also the largest creek to enter the Murray up to that point. With the Leather Barrel 14km downstream from last night’s camp, I decided to push for that important confluence as my day’s goal.
By mid-morning the temperature had already hit 30C, very warm for this high up in the mountains. I was thankful for the shady relief that the valley’s steep slopes provided from the sun’s early onslaught. By noon, though, the sun had found its apex and was quickly searing any exposed skin in its path. My already well-roasted lower legs were rapidly changing from pink to red and singing unhappily in pain. Their only relief came from my repeated forays into the drink to pull the boat over rocky shallows.
Cascade Creek entered the party at km 62. It, along with several anonymous feeder creeks, added to the river’s volume. In the placid pools that formed between successions of roaring rapids, a welcomed serenity unfolded. Only the smooth sound of my paddle pushing water and the shrill, yet serenading, chorus from crowds of invisible cicadas punctuated the heated, humid air. Curious dragonflies darted to and fro, momentarily landing on the boat to tilt their multi-eyed heads in my direction, then launched themselves in playful pursuit of their brethren.
Less welcome were the ever-present black flies. Although not biters, they were nevertheless frustratingly annoying – far more so on land than on water. Snack breaks and bladder relief therefore took place mostly on, or in, the river. (And yes, I did take time to silent apologize to those people living downstream.) Even less welcome, but also far less frequently encountered, were the March flies. Unlike the larger and somewhat lazier horsefly, these nasty little pricks wasted no time taking samples of my sun-pinkened flesh. The March fly’s routine was simple yet effective: land, eat and leave – quickly. I’d like to boast that I managed to squish dozens of them with my gloved hands but I’d be lying to you. As I descended in elevation their numbers seemed to increase. The hotter the day became, the quicker and more maddeningly evasive the flies became – and the more unhinged I became!
Luckily, my wish for an abatement of river obstructions came true, for the most part. I still encountered many fallen trees and the occasional logjam but did not have to remove the gear from the boat all day. A new challenge came in the form of boulder gardens. From high above I must’ve appeared like a slow rat in a large maze as I guided the boat on foot through the remains of these ancient rockslides. Many times the boat had to be pulled up and over the huge, smooth boulders due to its wide girth and inability to squeeze between them. When the workout got too strenuous I could always find relief by splashing water on myself.
Rapids increased in size and intensity. Two-foot drops were frequent. Several Class II roller coasters materialized to test my limited whitewater skills. Many times, where the water was still low and the exposed rocks plenty, I had to exit the boat mid-rapid and urge it over the drops. Standing in a rushing surge of churning, waist-high water, attempting to pull a heavy, flooded boat over large rocks was not what I expected when I began planning this trip. Back then, I imagined myself riding atop the river, not being half immersed in it.
In December 2008, when I first started laying the plans for this expedition, I realized that if I was going to tackle the Murray River from source to sea I was going to have to descend 60km of potentially dangerous whitewater in the river’s upper reaches. Frankly, that idea scared the crap out of me.
My experience with whitewater prior to the Murray was confined to co-piloting a canoe through a handful of Class I-II rapids on the upper Mississippi in the summer of 2001. The closest I had come to running anything that could be considered a “challenge” was a frothy Class II beast near the city of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Here, the youthful Mississippi winds its way quickly around a sharp bend, then tumbles over a shelf of half-hidden rocks. Although we were well aware of the St. Cloud rapid on our map (highlighted with a written “warning”, no less), myself and long-time fellow adventurer and best mate, Scott McFarlane, chose not to scout the rapid. Our eagerness (and ignorance) got the better of us that morning, landing us in a precarious situation as we were swept around the bend and into the turbulent fray. Thanks to Scott’s precision paddling strokes, and his shouted words of encouragement from the stern, we managed to whiteknuckle our way through the mayhem. It’s hard to forget the disorienting mix of exhilaration and fear that we felt upon being spit out of that noisy ruckus of rocks and water. We smilingly rejoiced in our triumph but wholeheartedly agreed that it was definitely something that we didn’t want to go through again. Lucky for us, it was the last navigable rapid on the river.
For many years, the Murray River north of Tom Groggin Station had been frequently descended by whitewater rafting companies keen on giving their customers a barrel of thrills on what is known as Australia’s longest set of continuous rapids. Here, the river plunges through the constricted confines of the famous Murray Gates, winding its way 25km through thirty Class I-IV rapids until it finally slows its pace to become the calm flatwater river as seen near the settlement of Biggara.
Now, after almost ten years of drought, the Murray has mellowed significantly. Low snowfall means that the Australian spring runoff is confined to a few weeks in September and October. Because of this, many rafting companies have closed shop and moved on to other pursuits. A few thrill-seeking rafters and kayakers make the yearly spring run through the Murray Gates down to Biggara, but just like the annual rainfall amounts, their numbers are dwindling.
My choice to descend the upper Murray during the month of January (a low water month) had been dictated by my work schedule. At the time, I was employed as a landscape maintenance person – cutting lawns and planting flowers. Given the seasonal aspect of the work, the dormant Vancouver winter months of December, January and February were the times that I generally did my travelling. Running the Murray in spring made good sense when considering flow volume, but getting to Australia before December was impossible due to my commitment to work.
Even given the probable low water levels of January, I still fully expected the Murray to give me a run for my money. I decided that if I was going to tackle the river’s untamed upper reaches, I had better be ready for whatever the Murray might present – low water or not.
In May 2009, I signed up for a whitewater kayaking course in North Vancouver. The local creeks and rivers on the North Shore serve as ideal training grounds for novice and pro paddlers alike. Although I had plenty of experience with plastic and inflatable sea kayaks, this was my first time in a whitewater kayak. I have to say, it wasn’t very pleasant.
The first lesson took place in the relative safety of an indoor public pool. We practiced wet-exiting from an upside down boat. That seemed easy enough: pull the handle of the sprayskirt forward and slide out of the cockpit. I found that I didn’t mind being upside down under water and gravity seemed to cooperate well when it came time to bail out of the boat. There was no panic, no stress. I left the pool feeling quite confident with my new paddling skills. “This might be pretty easy after all.” I pondered to myself, smiling.
Then we got on the river.
North Vancouver’s Capilano River in May is ice cold. Even as I stood in the sunny parking lot beside the river, silently cursing and sweating under layers of nylon and neoprene, I could feel the chill of the Capilano. Unlike the warm pool, if I fell out of the boat in this water not only would be it be scrotum-shrivellingly cold, but I would also be unable to touch bottom – a fact that frightened me far more than possessing a set of temporarily shrunken genitals.
One of the first drills we were instructed to do was to rock the boat side to side, using our paddle as a brace. Much to my liking, we practiced this balancing maneuver in shallow water close to shore. Of course, I pushed the envelope a little too far and fell past the point of no return, tipping over on my left side with my head fully submerged underwater. My immediate reaction was to flick my body in the opposite direction in order to right myself. After three attempts I panicked, thrashing the water with my paddle in a desperate attempt to right the boat. Luckily, the instructor was close by and calmly coached me through the ordeal. Despite his gentle reassurances, I remained emotionally shaken by the experience. I mentally grappled with that frightening feeling of helplessness, trapped and disabled in a boat below the surface of a freezing river, unable to properly exit the boat in the shallow water. That day I played the scene over and over in my head, all the while wondering what that damned Murray River would have in store for me. “If it’s anything like this, I’m gonna hate it immensely.” I thought. Still, I stuck it out and pressed on with the lesson, my stubborn persistence on full display.
We practiced our “T” rescues, just as we had in the pool. This maneuver is done in pairs. One kayaker capsizes their boat while the other paddler comes to their rescue by butting the bow of their boat into the cockpit area of the capsized boat, essentially forming a “T”. The object here is for the capsized kayaker to reach up and grab the bow of the rescuer’s boat and use it as a stabilizer while they right their own boat. Let me tell you that hanging upside down in a cold, swift moving river while you voluntarily wait for someone to come to your “rescue” is not a very pleasant experience. After the debilitating brain freeze kicks in, the whole experience goes downhill real fast. After the fifth “T” rescue, I called it a day.
The following weekend it was back to the pool. If I was going to tackle the treacherous whitewater of the upper Murray I would need to be able to perform perhaps the most important of whitewater self-rescues: the Eskimo roll. Over and over I went, at least fifteen times, only once managing to perform the roll properly. The afternoon was a fiasco. For an instructor who prided himself in saying that all of his students would leave the class knowing how to roll, I was the exception. He was visibly annoyed and sent me to the opposite end of the pool to practice my hip flicks. I felt like a failure. My confidence had sunk like a lead lifejacket. I left the pool with a bruised paddling ego, dejected, downtrodden, and downright angry. My time of dealing with impatient, non-empathic instructors was over. I would have to take training into my own hands.
Flowing east out of the Cascade Mountains and into the dry western edge of British Columbia’s Okanagan region, the Silmilkameen River seemed like a good place to regain some paddling confidence on my own terms. Warm, shallow, and swift enough to present a decent challenge, the river provided me with four days of hands-on, whitewater experience. I’m proud to say that I only capsized once, going sideways over a sizable drop near Bromley Rock Provincial Park. The dunk shook me up but I quickly regained my composure, drained the boat of water and continued downstream, logging in a total of 100km over the four days. I considered the trip a success but remained wary of the tippiness of the plastic whitewater kayak. The Murray certainly promised to be more treacherous than the tame Silmilkameen. This fact alone prompted me to examine the possibility of using a different type of boat.
Back in 2005, Australian adventurer Rowen Privett and his cousin Josh Smith travelled the length of the Murray River from Tom Groggin Station to the Southern Ocean. I contacted Rowen and Josh in December 2008 after viewing their website, “Murray Quest 2005”. Rowen, who works as an outdoor education instructor and is well versed in both whitewater and sea kayaking, provided a ton of logistical support and encouragement in the early planning stages of my expedition. He and I agreed that the use of an inflatable boat would add the safety factor that I was seeking as well as being, in Rowen’s words, “user-friendly”. Brand names like Innova, Incept and Aire were bandied around but I already knew the boat that I wanted for the Murray expedition: the SOAR S12. (Much thanks goes out to Rowen, Josh and their friend Matt Neale for their sharing of knowledge and experience.)
I contacted the California-based company SOAR (Somewhere On A River), makers of inflatable boats best suited for moving water. CEO Larry Laba was gracious enough to offer the use of a 12-foot S12 inflatable canoe for the upper portion of the Murray expedition. At 40 inches in width, the SOAR S12 promised to be not only a stable vessel but also roomy enough to store all the gear and food required to sustain a solo adventurer in the remote upper reaches of the Murray. Seeing that the dimensions of the boat resembled a canoe more than a kayak, Larry suggested that I use a 60” canoe paddle rather than a traditional kayak paddle to propel the S12. It had been many years since I held a canoe paddle in my hands but I welcomed the renewed challenge of using a single blade. With the arrival of the S12 came the paddling peace of mind that I had been seeking. Here was a robust inflatable boat that I could trust to get the job done safely. (Thanks to Larry and the staff at SOAR for their support and encouragement.)
Finally, all the pieces of the whitewater puzzle were assembled: training, logistics, gear and even a little dose of sponsorship. My self-confidence was high, equalled only by my determination. I felt ready to take my whitewater experience to the next level.
By late afternoon the mercury had soared well into the mid-30s, accelerating not only the prolific growth of the surrounding foliage but also the speed and numbers of the damned March flies. Unlike the previous three days, finding proper campsites was a veritable non-issue. Sandy beaches began to appear at regular intervals and each successive one invited me to seek refuge from the flies in my erected tent. The problem was, most of these beaches were fully exposed to the scorching sun and the thought of baking in a nylon sauna for hours until sundown was not very inviting. “If I set up the tent in this heat,” I said aloud, “it’ll be roast until ghost.” Plus, I still had to reach my goal for the day.
Leather Barrel Creek lay only 1km downstream when I rounded a sharp bend and bumped the boat over a short drop and into a deep pool, right next to a beautiful beach. It was too tempting to refuse. I nudged the nose of the boat up on the sandy bank and sighed. I had failed to meet the day’s goal but at least the beach was clean and untouched, a deep contrast to the previous night’s filthfest. “Paradise!” I exclaimed, as a wide grin spread across my face. “Peace at last.”
Then the flies moved in.
I frantically scurried around on the hot sand, erecting the tent in record time and diving into its comforting sanctum. After happily exacting revenge on a few of the miscreants who had foolishly followed me into my plastic domain, I laid down on my inflatable mattress for a soothing, well-deserved rest.
In less than three minutes, the temperature in the tent became unbearable. The mattress was sodden with sweat and I was flinging the zippered door open, fighting off the flies and diving headlong into the cooling waters of the Murray. I surfaced to find a swarm of buzzing beasts ready to feed on my saturated scalp. I thrashed the air with my arms; sending the vermin into a fury, then dove into the cool, clear depths of the pool.
Smiling with relief, I made a mad dash over the scalding sand and ducked back inside the tent. Owing only to convenience, and not common sense, I fired up the stove and cooked up a quick curry feast, which, in the stifling heat, tripled my body temperature and prompted another refreshing dip in the river.
As the sun eventually found its way behind the dense nest of green foliage, a pair of deer emerged on the opposite side of the river and silently descended to the bank for a drink.
Inside the humid tent I consulted my topographic maps. At my current pace, Tom Groggin Station would easily be reached by the following night. I was looking forward to taking a day off. The thoughts of a warm shower and a cold drink put a smile on my face. My maps also confirmed what I suspected: plenty of rapids in the coming day. That thought didn’t bother me as much the challenge that lay beyond Tom Groggin: the Murray Gates. The thought of passing through the Gates provoked no smiles on my face, only the blank, chilly stare of fear one expresses in times of uncertainty. Though the Gates were still a lengthy 29km downstream, I could hear their restless roar. It came to me quietly at first, like the sound of croaking frogs upon the evening breeze. Then it intensified as the last remnants of daylight faded on the forest floor. As the deer slipped silently into the shadows, I shuddered in my sleeping bag, frozen in fear on the warmest night of this young year.
Day 12 progress: 13km
All the Peace You'll Ever Need - January 16, 2010 - Day 18
These photos were taken on the evening of January 16, 2010 (Day 18), near the village of Towong, Victoria. Here, on this dry, spiky paddock (grazing field), I pitched my tent and experienced a calm that occurs all too rare in our hurried lives. It brings a tear to my eye when I look at these photos. One look at them and I am instantly transported there, to the banks of the infant Murray; the warm late evening sun, the pink galahs gathering in the tops of the gum trees, finding a restful roost, a place of peace in the calm summer evening. Tonight, I rest my head beside that same liquid ribbon, some 1300km downriver. And with the calm I find that peace resides everywhere close to this river, and I find that peace resides forever in my mind…thanks to the river.
Earlier in the day I had left Sally and Tom Lednar’s home, near the confluence of the Murray and Swampy Plains rivers, paddling the yellow Dagger Halifax 17.0 sea kayak for the first time. That important confluence brings in the clear, cold water of the Swampy from the Snowy Mountains and mixes it with the muddy Murray, whose course above the Swampy was known for ages unknown as the Indi River. River purists still regard the Indi as its own river and state that the Murray begins only at the Swampy confluence. Certainly the Murray/Indi is a special river above the confluence; magical and, in places, virtually untouched by human hands. I was humbled and awestruck with its beauty and pristine nature. Few places to which I have travelled compare to the Murray/Indi River, above its confluence with the Swampy.
Thanks to Sally and Tom for storing the kayak in their vehicle shed and for their fevered interest in the expedition. In October 2009 they had performed a similar favour, storing Dave Cornthwaite’s sea kayak while he hiked to the source of the Murray. Dave began his journey here at this famous confluence, helped in part by the friendly and always-smiling Lednars.
Jan 22 I’m back in civilization again after a month in the mountains. Sending this from Albury, NSW, first major city on the Murray. I’ll be able to check and send emails every few days from here on as I pass through more towns.
Jan 27 Came through Lake Mulwala today, as you may have seen on the SPOT tracker. Got into Yarrawonga about an hour ago. Lake was plenty full, the river channel meanders thru it so I stuck to the shoreline. I’ll paddle another 15km today and camp on a nice sandy beach downstream. Beautiful weather in mid 30′s, full on sun. When it gets warm I just go for dip in the river! Passed the 2000km-to-go marker today. Have walked/paddled about 500km of the river, or 1/5 of the river’s length. Averaging 51km per day since the Hume Wier. Holding up well both physically and mentally.
Jan 30 Currently roasting in the small town of Cobram, Victoria. 37C right now. Had to walk 2km into town to get groceries. Very warm in late afternoon sun. Currently in an airconditioned Internet cafe, but I’ll soon be back in the kayak to paddle another two hours and find a camp. Passed 40 beaches between Yarrawonga and here. Almost every bend in the river has a nice sandy beach on it. Many are filled with tent cities. Found a quiet one last night. Hoping for the same tonight. Lost the neoprene rear hatch cover yesterday. May need to have another couriered out to a town downriver. I’ve been dealing with many powerboats and their sizeable wakes, so I definitely do no want the rear hatch to get swamped with water. Other than the constant heat and sun, a nasty rash on both feet, and an annoying resurgence of blackflies, everything is going well. I hope to have some pictures up soon. There are some good ones!
Feb 3 Day 37 Rainy day here in Echuca, Victoria. Haven’t seen rain in weeks! Heavy downpours today! Running errands, getting groceries, cleaning the river grime off me…usual “day off” chores. I put up some new pictures on the ZEE Blog. The upper Murray and Mount Kozi seem years away now.
Echuca has smartly preserved its past and many heritage buildings are still standing, as is the original river port, steamboats and all. The town is like a British version of a town on the lower Mississippi. Tourism is the main industry now.
I’ve come 700km on the river, plus the 200km of backpacking around the headwaters. Only 1700km to go to the ocean! I’m averaging 50km/day, that’s my quota. 35 days to go!! My goal is to finish around March 10. In terms of days, I’m halfway. In terms of distance, in two days I’ll be 1/3 of the way to the ocean! Woo-hoo!
Heading to the kayak now at 4:30pm. Paddle for a couple hours before finding camp. Thanks for the wonderful feedback everyone!
Feb 7 In and out of Barham this afternoon. 35C here today. Up to 39C on Wednesday! Weepingly humid the last couple days. Sweaty nights in the tent. No rain since downpours in Echuca. Yesterday afternoon, the sun was intense…you feel the burn as soon as it hits your skin. Nasty rash on both feet flaring up again. I’m allergic to the neoprene boots. (I knew this in advance.) I have a rash on both feet coupled with a fungal infection. My legs and feet are the most ravaged part of my body. My upper half is doing quite well, except my head. I have been dealing with heatstroke the past two days. Tremors, coldness, shaking, tired. Fell asleep at the top of the steep riverbank yesterday and nearly rolled down into the river when I woke up!
I’ll post more pictures and updates in Swan Hill in a couple days.
As of Barham, 900km paddled, 1500km to go! Woo-hoo!!
Feb 11 I’ve been here for a full 24 hours, had my weekly shower, did some laundry, stocked up on food and now it’s time to get back on the river. 270km to the next town (Robinvale), then 250km further to Mildura. At the current pace of 50km/day, I should arrive at Mildura in about 11 days. Swan Hill is at km1410 from the ocean. That means that I’ve paddled 1000km from the source! A milestone! 1200km will be halfway from source to sea. I’ll be there in four days. (I’ll celebrate now–Woo-hoo!! Hope I don’t jinx it!)
Had a chance meeting yesterday with the mayor of Swan Hill, Greg Cruickshank. He was quite interested in the expedition, making reference to Engilsh adventurer Dave Cornthwaite, who had staged a similar source-to-sea paddling expedition of the Murray in 2009. You can check out Dave’s adventure at www.thegreatbigpaddle.com. Thanks for the interest Greg!
Very warm and humid last few days. Heavy, short downpour in Swan Hill yesterday. Luckily I was inside. I’ve barely been rained on since arriving in Australia on Dec 4. In fact, I cannot remember being rained on while outside. (That should jinx it!)
I posted an expedition timeline (Days 1-7). You can find it by clicking on the ZEE Blog. I’ll be adding to it as time goes by.
Thanks to everyone for the great feedback.
Feb 17 Another warm day in the mid-30′s along the river. Late afternoon sun wilts all in its path. Glad I’m inside at the moment! Brilliant blue cloudless sky. The river has a lot of vegetation in it around here. Not much current because of the weir just downstream, water has backed up into almost lake-like conditions… good for waterskiing and the like. The river has been very quiet since Swan Hill, except for the area around the small village of Nyah where there were easily a hundred aluminum boats (“tinnies”) full of fisherpeople last weekend. No one seemed to be catching anything but they were tipping their fair share of “stubbies”. No other kayaks around. And no, I wasn’t fishing.
Two close calls with irate male ducks, very unhappy about me getting too close to their young broods. There’s something very disarming about having an open-mouthed duck fly at your head while you’re bobbing in a tippy kayak. I’m managed to make contact with my paddle, clipping one of them on the wing. Certainly didn’t feel good about striking an animal, but this animal has to defend itself too. Not to worry, the duck was unharmed. It even returned for a good douse of splashing via my paddle.
I’m holding up well. Singing plenty of songs to pass the time and planning future adventures, as always. Mostly happy that I’m in the sun and not the rain and snow of Vancouver.
Thanks to the friendly, helpful staff at the Robinvale Resource Centre for the use of their phone and computer.
I’ll post more photos in Mildura, in about 5-6 days.
Feb 24 I'm using a 20 watt rollable solar panel and a lightweight 50 watt battery on this expedition. The panel and battery are manufactured by an American company, Human Edge Tech (HET). HET produces an array of expedition-worthy solar and satellite communications equipment. Do you need to broadcast on the Web from the top of Mt. Everest? No problem. HET can set you up. The staff at HET is composed of experienced high-altitude and polar expedition members. They’ve taken their equipment to the edge of human endurance and it has performed and excelled.
I've been using the HET SolarBlatz 20 watt panel coupled with the HET Power 50 watt battery. I'm proud to say that since arriving in Australia on December 4, 2009, I have not used even one wall socket to power our equipment. All power has come from the sun. Free. Whether draped over the tent, unrolled on the ground, or mounted on the rear deck of the kayak, the HET SolarBlatz 20 and Power 50 have performed exceptionally.
Thanks to Tom at HET for his expert assistance.
February 24, 2010 These photos were taken on the evening of 16 Jan, 2010 (Day 18), near the village of Towong, Victoria. Here, on this dry, spiky paddock (grazing field), I pitched my tent and experienced a calm that occurs all too rare in our hurried lives. It brings a tear to my eye when I look at these photos. One look at them and I am instantly transported there, to the banks of the infant Murray; the warm late evening sun, the pink galahs gathering in the tops of the gum trees, finding a restful roost, a place of peace in the calm summer evening. Tonight, I rest my head beside that same liquid ribbon, some 1300km downriver. And with the calm I find that peace resides everywhere close to this river, and I find that peace resides forever in my mind…thanks to the river.
Earlier in the day I had left Sally and Tom Lednar’s home, near the confluence of the Murray and Swampy Plains rivers, paddling the yellow Dagger Halifax 17.0 sea kayak for the first time. That important confluence brings in the clear, cold water of the Swampy from the Snowy Mountains and mixes i
Resting in Mildura - February 25 - Day 58
I’m taking a few days to chill out here in Mildura, Victoria after countless 50km paddling days in +30C weather. (Okay, I did count them. There have been twenty 50+km days and one 60km day since the Hume Weir 32 days ago. I need a break already!) 33C today. Full-on sun, no clouds. Some beautiful old churches here in Mildura. Lush green lawn along the riverside park that backs onto the dusty and rusty railway, its straight brown lines, sunken in the red earth, stretch north and south out of Mildura. And over the walkway, a modern rural city, paved streets lined with shops and palm trees swaying in the warm breeze. And on the river, paddlewheelers roll to and fro, their brightly painted colours highlighted by the intense sun. ‘Tis a good place to wind down for a few days.
Thanks for all the fabulous comments! It warms my heart to know that people are interested in the adventures of one man with a simple dream to see a river from head to mouth. Thank you all for following Zero Emissions Expeditions, “Exploring the world, naturally.”)
Soon I’ll tell you about the “pot” episode. No, it has nothing to do with a certain sought-after weed. ZEE is THC-free. But it does have everything to do with using what you have to get you thru an emergency. Even if it means dealing with a grim morning-after reality. The women at the Robinvale Resource Centre know what I’m talkin’ about. Maybe a little THC would’ve taken the edge off…
Mildura is 887km from the Southern Ocean. I have paddled over 1500km so far. 320km to the town of Renmark in South Australia, 6.5 paddling days from Mildura. I’ll pass thru Lock 11 on Saturday. It’s about 1km from the caravan park that I’m currently camped at. Getting close to the border of South Australia. Once there, I say goodbye to having a state on either side of the river.
Mildura to Renmark - March 6, 2010 - Day 68
Well, I have crossed over…the state line, that is. I am now solely in the state of South Australia. And here I will remain until I reach the mouth of the Murray, 566km downstream. I have paddled over 320km from Mildura to reach the rural town of Renmark, a welcome sight after 8 days of wandering into the remote corners of Victoria and New South Wales. I bid those states goodbye a few days back after passing the Old Customs House, located just this side of the border. Kudos to Jill at the OCH for the interest in the expedition and the good conversation, and for the cold drinks.
After leaving Mildura I endured two days of strong winds (tailwinds towards the bends, headwinds after…again and again), five days of plus 30C heat and a day of rain which included a very heavy downpour that lasted about 90 minutes and pretty much ended the day. And on the 8th day the temperature cooled and I was treated to light rain and overcast skies as I cruised into Renmark. I arrived here Saturday night. Today, Sunday, I took some photos along the waterfront. Check out the unique riverboat that Frank, from nearby Paringa, has assembled. He busks onboard, playing guitar and singing a selection of self-penned county music songs and hits from the greats, Johnny Cash included.
I’m planning to leave Monday morning, heading west thru Lock 5, making my way over to Morgan.
Mildura to Renmark highlights included gorgeous, rust coloured cliffs towering out of the river, seeing the Darling River end its long journey thru the outback at the town of Wentworth, where it promptly mixed its muddy waters with the clearer, green-grey waters of the Murray. I also passed through 5 locks, each manned by extemely easy-going lockmasters, friendly and curious to hear the the stories of a ragged paddler. Here’s a “g’day” to Matt, Sid, Phil and Tony (Tony locked me thru at Locks 8 and 6). And I can’t forget canoeist Phil, who had begun his lengthy river journey back in October 2009, from the top of the Golbourn River in Victoria. Phil, from Melbourne, is planning to paddle his well-worn blue canoe thru the Murray’s mouth sometime in the month of May. I wish him well.
Okay, must go and find some groceries and return to the caravan park to check my tent. A small monsoon just passed thru the area as I was typing this. Yet another time that I have been lucky enough to be indoors during a downpour. They tell me South Australia is Australia’s driest state. Not today. Ciao.
(My apologies. I have not been able to upload photos on this computer, Renmark’s one and only pay-by-the-hour computer. So, I shall try at the next town.)
Leaving Loxton - March 9, 2010 - Day 71
A big “Hoy!” from the small town of Loxton. Just passing thru today. Picking up water and some sweets. Cooooool weather lately. And I don’t mean cool like Gene Vincent. Downright cold last night. Nearly had to dig out the toque! Passed the km500 sign yesterday. Another milestone! Am now at km490 to go to the ocean! Woo-hoo! Got a surprise email today from a certain cool-like-Gene-Vincent Amercian ex-pat currently residing in Melbourne. That put a smile on my face. Dress wildly and ride that bike SS! Ciao.
Morgan Downtime - March 13, 2010 - Day 75
Greetings from Morgan, SA. Taking a day off after the six-day jaunt from Renmark. I encountered more rain, more wind and more heat. I have been dealing with mental and physical fatigue…grouchy, grumpy, groggy. But better today after good sleep and my weekly shower and shave.
320km to go to the mouth of the Murray. Passed plenty of towering, marmalade-coloured cliffs. What a joy paddling underneath their limestone overhangs, the circling swallows chirpingly darting in and out of their nests, a warm breeze moving curled clouds that resembled filleted fish, perfectly layered and symmetrical, bones and all. And all of this set against a contrasting sky, a deeper blue than in the oceans of our dreams. Aborigines call it Dreamtime. I finally understand their meaning.
Blanchtown Business - March 15, 2010 - Day 77
First off, thank you for all the support and encouragement that I have received lately. Every little bit helps. It is very easy to become consumed by one’s own negative thoughts and actions.
I’m here in pint-size Blanchetown, SA, home of Lock #1, the first or last lock and weir(dam) on the river, depending on which way you’re heading. For me, it’s the last. The hand-cranked lock downstream of Goolwa will also have to be dealt with, twice; once on the way to the mouth and once on the way back. And apparently there is a man-made sand barrage near the community of Clayton, upstream of Goolwa. I’ve been told I can drag the kayak around that. It’s a small place here but at least they have an Internet service at the local resource centre and manager John has been a big help. Cheers John!
Dealing with overseas (Canada) issues today. I’ll spare you all the details but it’s a major headache trying to get ahold of companies and individuals, by phone or by Internet. I paddle all day and think about these things (and plenty of other, more positive, things). Long distances between computers and phones and towns. Paddling a kayak on a warm river is cake compared to dealing with issues overseas. It’s been the greatest supply of stress on the whole trip. “Patience.”, I tell myself. Patience is perhaps the greatest gift that rivers have given me. As was said to me the other day by a local at the town of Morgan, “It will rain when it rains.”
Warm today: 34C. Yesterday, the same. Tomorrow, the same. See the trend?
Progress is happening as we speak and I will reach the mouth in good time. (In roughly 7 days.) And that reminds me of another lesson learned on rivers: Let go of all expectations. They only lead to disappointment. Ahh, rivers. They do not judge, they only reflect.
Take care all.
Goolwa Greetings - March 25, 2010 - Day 86
Thanks for your support and encouragement!
A quick entry.
I’m in Goolwa, SA at the moment, 11km from the mouth of the Murray. In a few hours I will be swimming in the Southern Ocean and pouring out the vial of source water. Woo-hoo! Over 2500km paddled! The goal is almost achieved!
I plan to post more pictures when I find some time. Maybe in Melbourne.
Sale Stopover - March 31, 2010
A quick stop in the town of Sale, east of Melbourne.
Reached the mouth of the Murray a few days back (Saturday morning – Day 87). Beautiful area, crystal clear saltwater, seals frollicking and feeding on fish in the mouth. Emptied the vial of source water, said a prayer for the Murray and had a quick, chilly swim in the Southern Ocean. Then it was off to Adelaide to get a rental car for the trip back to the beginning of the river.
Dropped off the sea kayak this morning at East Coast Kayaking in Sandringham, near Melbourne. Thanks Rohan! Am now on my way to Tom and Sally Lednar’s place to pick up the Soar S12 inflatable boat and gear. Then I’ll be driving into the mountains and hike back to the Murray source area. My plan is to hike from km4 to km21 of the river, in the riverbed, far off the beaten path. I’m sure I will see obstacles a-plenty, fallen trees and blackberry among them. It promises to be a challenge, about 70km of hiking. Hoping for good weather. It will mostly be cool/cold. The 17km of river-walking will complete the river, top to bottom, every foot of it… complete. A true source-to-sea descent.
Ciao for now.