WORDS: Tess Sharp.
Life can get away from you, anxiety and depression have been lurking over my life for years now and sometimes it is just easier to let it take you than constantly fight against it. At a particularly low point, an idea came about out of sheer desperation. An adventure, like nothing I’d done before, to prove to myself that maybe, just maybe, I can be more than my fears.
My mum had always had a dream to kayak the entire length of the Murray, a dream, like most we thought would probably stay just that. After a tough year, mum was worn out, uninspired and stuck in a fog. One night, after a big chat, we decided to think differently, rather than hoping for change, or simply pushing on, we went out and did something new. In a matter of minutes, we had somehow formulated a plan to kayak a 200-kilometre length of the Murray, completely self-sufficient, no tour guides, no backups, just the two of us, out on the water.
200 kilometres in 9 days, how hard could it be? Our planning was haphazard at best, but with the help of friends, we managed to gather all that we needed. We were lucky enough to borrow a second kayak so we both had a rudder to help steer. We borrowed dry bags, warm clothes, and even a dehydrator to play around with. We planned all our meals, porridge for breakfast, cup-a-soup for lunch and worked out 3 different dinners to have on rotation.
Mum has been kayaking recreationally for years and I have had a go here and there, but with no real experience on longer trips. We got out training as often as we could, it just so happened that it was all of twice. Time enough for mum to teach me the basic techniques but we still had no idea if our basic plan of 20-25kms a day would be possible.
The morning we left I was terrified, scrambling trying to fit things into dry bags, still trying to decide how much food to take, all we could do was just go, and make it work. After a ride from dad, we arrived at our first launch point, Hogwash bend, just out from Waikerie. Originally, we planned to head off in the afternoon but packing, traffic and a bit of faffing about meant we ran out of daylight within the hour after we arrived. As soon as we arrived, the excitement set in and for the first time since it became a real plan, the desire to do this was actually outweighed by my fears about failure.
Morning one, we awoke to a thick, beautiful fog covering the entire river, although this delayed our start time it was such a sight to see, there was no way we could be annoyed by it. This was the norm for most mornings, waking up to a hidden river and frosty tent. The mornings were freezing, but being outside in such a beautiful place, all you needed was a big cup of tea and the world seemed simply perfect.
Mum’s concern for me centred on the paddling itself. Would I be able to physically do it with such limited experience and I think we were both worried the other just simply wouldn’t enjoy it. We both quickly realised that not only were we paddling our daily distance comfortably, but we quickly fell in love with what we were doing. Our paddles were fabulous, glassy water, abundant birdlife and most days were owned the whole river, with no other humans anywhere. Most days were stunning, with clear blue skies and warm sun.
Paddling between 20 and 25 kilometres per day we averaged a speed of 5 kilometres per hour. We quickly fell into a daily rhythm including our wonderful thermos of coffee each morning that we drank whilst floating, very slowly, down the river. Campsites were sometimes hard to find and we often had to paddle further than intended to find a site accessible from the river, and not on private land. I think this did cause us both some anxiety, but we always managed to find somewhere, and often they were beautiful spots away from any people and filled with plenty of wood for a fire. Living totally outdoors, I think mum and I both realised how much we loved it. We spend so much time inside, working, being at home, you get so cut off from nature. We both love being outdoors and try to get out as much as possible, but to live in it 24/7, was so special, to wake up with the sun and sleep when it’s dark, to rely on your surroundings life becomes simpler, slower and more beautiful.
Mum and I worked so well together, we slipped into our little team effortlessly making sure we both worked just as hard as the other. Neither of us talked in depth about the world on this trip, no awkward discussions about the future, life plans, or mental health, I think we both enjoyed the respite. Simply being together, we knew we were there for one another, and I think we showed that with our actions, rather than words. Making fires, cooking, cleaning, fashioning clothes drying racks out of sticks, filling our wonderfully essential Scroggin bags, there was always a lot to do, but after a few days, we were a well-oiled machine. We soon started to realise that we could do this, we were so much more capable than we give ourselves credit for. A few days in I was trying to move my foot pegs in my boat, they were totally stuck and I was so frustrated I thought I might explode. After we both tried unsuccessfully mum tells me that I’m just going to have to go find a man to help me. Who knew that comment would be all I needed to give me superhuman strength! But it did make us realise, how often we think we can’t do something, so we give up and get someone else to do it. But we are so capable, it sounds cheesy, but if we put our minds to it we can actually do it, and do it well.
Empowering is a word often overused, but that’s exactly what this trip was for us, a confirmation that we could embark on such a physically demanding adventure and genuinely enjoy it all the way to the end. On our last day, we both felt that we could just keep going. We didn’t want it to end, I don’t think we wanted that feeling to end, that feeling of “hell yeah, I got this”. Before we even got off the water we’d decided to do it again, next time, the entire length of the Murray River in South Australia, about 700kms, I know we both wish we could be there right now.