Back from Australia and as I sit here I can’t help but feel a longing to be back on a river on another adventure….. I plan to do another one next year but haha that seems too far away.
When I started out Feb. 18th on the Murray River in Southeastern Australia I had 1,876 km (1,156 miles) in front of me from Yarrawonga to Murray Bridge. I had never done a paddle board trip before, the most time I had spent on a paddle board was in Mexico for about 2 hours… even with this lack of experience I felt really confident. YES I can swim, check, yes I am a persistent monster, check. I know from doing other long distance adventures (long distance skating) the physical challenge is never the hardest part… it is the mental challenge. Already knowing this trip is NOT going to be FUN; it was going to be a whole slew of emotions, ups and downs, doubt, boredom, and small moments of joy. All of this combined to make this one of life’s unique experiences. It was going to be a mental battle to keep in a good state of mind that allows you to take your mind away from the realization that this is going to take a very, very, very long time and not be aware of every wakening second of each super long day. A good state of mind for me is a number of scenarios from daydreaming up abstract stories, to laughing at my life past and present, to focusing on the river, how to take the best lines, dodging snags, focusing on technique, and admiring the wildlife and scenery. A good requirement for any long distance traveler is the skill to be able to entertain themselves with just the power of the mind. I do not use an ipod so my imagination and thoughts are all I have.
The whole trip was movement by daylight. The same day I landed in Melbourne Feb. 18th after a 15 hour flight I set out on the river that night at 5:30 pm and did not stop until I was done March 18th at 10:30am. 30 days straight with no days rest, on the water 10 -13 hours each day, I was a determined Monster in motion. I paddled in all weather conditions: rain to heat, wind to calm. It even rained so much that the river was in a medium flood state.
I had some days where the wind blew so hard and the river turned into a small ocean with miniature waves. At one point, I thought it was so ridiculous that I questioned if I was cursed, as if the river really had it out for me and I yelled at the river, reasoned with it, told it off and then I had a feeling like crap, maybe I have upset the river gods more. Then there were apologies, hahah. Soon I accepted the rivers challenge; it was what it was.
There was another time were I was going 1 mph for 7 hours because of the insane headwinds. With such a battle you are always on the breaking point. I saw a town up ahead and I had a pretty good idea it was Mannum but for the hell of it I looked at the map to check. In doing this I was blown half way across the river and back 20 ft which took me out of a good line I had going around a turn. I became so angry because now I had to work so much harder, I was yelling at myself how stupid I was, “Why did you have to look at the map.” “Why, you idiot, you knew it was Mannum.” I wanted to physically hit myself for how dumb I was, hahaha.
Taking a break in Mannun because the river was so retarded I soon realized on the news that a Cyclone was coming near Australia and was about to hit the coast, hence the stupid winds. I ate food and was hypnotized by watching Formula 1 practice runs on TV in the comfort of a pub. All too soon I set off to battle the river again, I am a persistent bugger. When I set out I became grouchy very quick, why did I leave the comfort of the PUB to be here making no progress, wasting energy, and potentially hurting my body. I was so pissed, then I said to myself, “Hey Adam, you can either be happy or you can be sad, what is it going to be?” Of course I chose happiness. I got into a happy headspace where I could focus on a beautiful subject, play scenarios back in my mind and I became numb to the wind.
NINJA STAR CAMERA
There was a week and half section of the trip where I captured some of my best footage and I had almost 32GB filled on the card. I was paddling in a head wind, and my paddle did not clear the camera and hit it in the most perfect spot that is dislodged from the gorilla tripod and ninja starred right into the water. For some reason I thought oh perhaps it will just float to the top and I will grab it, hahah. No way that sucker disappeared and found a home at the bottom of the river. YEP. I go back and forth with videotaping on trips, videotaping helps capture your trip for you to share and inspire others but videotaping can also take away from the trip, it can be a distraction and a hassle.
Watch out for crocodiles people would tell me in the states, well there are no crocodiles but there are some very poisonous snakes and spiders. I saw one poisonous black snake swimming in the water one day and it kept to itself. One night I had a river rat chewing on my shoulder strap of my backpack, he liked the salt I believe. Took me a while to scare him away. Another night I was sound asleep and woke up to a noise as if someone was dragging a rack through sand. I shined my light outside and it caught the eyes of a curious fox trying to get on top of my board and into my food. That fox was persistent. Even running after him with my paddle did not deter him, he kept coming back until he realized it was too hard to get my food and then he took off. One night I woke up to my airbeam of my tent making this humming noise, soon the noise was the loud breaking of sticks and foliage, it was a gnarly sound that could almost be interpreted as some large animals are coming to eat me but I soon realized it was a bunch of kangaroos moving through my campsite. Morning would always come with being woken up to the Kookaburra birds, they never miss the morning sun and they break out in hysteria group laugher, if you did not know they were birds you would think you were surrounded by monkeys.
The Murray river is an amazing river, not much trash and full of wildlife especially birds. Birds everywhere, crazy cockies that fly in packs across rivers making the most horrible screeching noise. Grouchy pelicans that would circle above you and grunt. Funny birds that would plop ever so ungracefully into the water and poke their head up like telescopes to see where you were at. Crazy long legged flying chicken things that would run across the water flapping their wings. Really scared Kangaroos that would be in motion before you got a good look at them. So many fish, I was so stealthy at times I could sneak up on carp feeding at the surface. There were countless times were I was startled by fish jumping straight out of the water seeing their yellow bellies, I envisioned them as being really happy and wanting to get some fresh air. The carp are not native to the river and have taken it over, it is against the law if you catch a carp to return it to the river. There lies beasts in that re river: some 200lb Murray Cod that everyone hopes to catch. The River at the beginning is a twisted obstacle course filled with fallen trees, snags, and whirlpools. The river gradually becomes wider and longer with windswept straight-aways and long gradual hairpin turns. The vegetation becomes thicker with reeds, ferns and dense gum tree forests. Then out of nowhere the rising of long limestone cliffs, home to many birds.
Overall, trying to write about the trip is a mild reflection but perhaps it has inspired someone or made you think. These trips are full of so many emotions, unique energy and just overall small details that words are really just words; actions of the trip and being there is the true testament. From one long-distance human powered traveler to another you just can look at each other and with a nod understand what that other has gone through. Whatever you are inspired to do make your idea happen, let your actions be the true testament.
DOING A STAND UP PADDLE (SUP) TRIP OF YOUR OWN
I totally recommend this, and I think it is a great thing to do solo as well, such a peaceful time and a great way to be alone and in your thoughts. A full body work out as well. Only thing, SUP boards are not cheap.
1) Research online Navigable Rivers (a river that major boats can go down). If you have a river in mind go on youtube and type for example, Kayak the “name of River” see if someone has kayaked it already, if so try to get that person’s email and email them some questions. On a SUP board it will be best to avoid rapids. SUP can do non-navigable rivers (i.e., very shallow rivers that most commercial boats could not go down, just make sure there are no waterfalls and crazy rapids) but with a navigable river you are guaranteed at least some assurance that it will be deep enough and doable.
2) Try to find a NAVIGATION CHART of the river. The Navigation chart is basically the term for a detailed river map.
3) LOCKS and WEIRS – I went through 13 locks on the Murray, don’t let Locks deter you. WEIRS / DAMS are in place in most navigable rivers to help keep the water level high for reliable navigation. When you approach a weir you will go into a lock which is a floodable chamber that will drop you down to the level of the water on the other side of the WEIR/DAM. In Australia, all you had to do was dock at the WEIR and then find the lockmaster and he will let you on through. He opens up the doors to the lock, you paddle in. If there is a ladder in the lock camber you can hold onto that or just float in the middle of it, and with you on your SUP board the water level will begin to drop smoothly. Once you are dropped to the level of water on the other side, he opens up the lock doors and you just paddle out. EASY.
4) With SUP board, they say the bigger the board the better the glide; most touring SUP boards are 14’ long. This is too big to put on a plane and if you plan on shipping it international it can add up to be a lot of money $$$$. For example if I chose to ship my board from USA to Australia it would have been over $1,500. The best bet is to research stores that carry SUP boards in the country you will be doing your journey in. You can find them online, purchase the board and have them ship it to where you are going to start your journey.
6) SUP PADDLE – carbon fiber paddle if the water is deep. Fiberglass paddle if you know there are going to be a lot of rocks and if the river is very shallow. Fiberglass I am told is a bit more durable, Carbon is just lighter. I used a carbon paddle and it was so light I thought it might break but it held up amazing. I did nick the paddle on some branches and on the board but it was fine.
LENGTH OF PADDLE –
They say your height +10inches.
7) Gear does add up. Here is what I took on my trip, some of this I had, some of this I had to purchase. You can really get any gear for the trip, but think light and waterproof.
-Surftech Nautical Paddle – http://sup.surftech.com/boards/paddles/
- 2 deck rigging kits (this is key to attached your gear)
WHAT I WORE
-Smart Wool Micro Weight longsleeve shirt- http://www.smartwool.com/mens/baselayer/mens-microweight-crew-1.html
This shirt or any merino wools shirt, Icebreaker makes good ones as well (http://us.icebreaker.com/150-Ultralite-LS-Atlas/IBD154,en,pd.html?dwvar_IBD154_color=167&start=18&cgid=mens-tops-long-sleeve) is KEY KEY KEY. Longsleeve because it protects your arms from the sun. I love Merino wool. No joke I wore this same shirt 30 days straight, never washed it with soap and I did not smell too bad and it kept me cool and warm.
-Patagonia surf shorts – http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/patagonia-mens-light-and-variable-surf-trunks?p=86688-0-598
Sweet, nice stretchy materials with no annoying seams, I wore these the whole time and they did great. I just wished they had some pockets.
-Teva Fuse- Ion Water Shoes – http://www.teva.com/mens-fuse-ion-casual-water-shoes/1000225,default,pd.html
I used these when I would walk into town or if the terrain around my camp area was dangerous or really muddy. I paddled in them a couple times but found it better just to do it barefoot.
This bag worked because my sleeping bag, tent, clothes pack down super small. If you have a bigger sleeping bag, tent this bag may be a bit too small.
Items in DECK BAG
-1 pair extra clothes (pants, long sleeve shirt, underwear this was basically my airplane clothes that I wore to Australia and would wear home)
-Mont Bell Down Jacket-http://www.montbell.us/products/disp.php?cat_id=70&p_id=2301154
This is my go to down jacket going strong for 3 years, super light and packs small.
-Western Mountaineering Highlite Bag – http://www.westernmountaineering.com/index.cfm?section=products&page=Sleeping-Bags&cat=ExtremeLite-Series
I LOVE this bag, one of the lightest ones on the market at 1lb. It’s been my adventure bag for the past 3 years. Rated 35F (I just wear my Down Jacket if it is cold.)
Nemo GoGo LE – http://www.nemoequipment.com/nemo2011-gogole-tent
My light travel tent. Nemo tents pack super small and are fairly light. Since it is a single wall tent and you will be camping near water you will wake up some mornings with some good condensation on the tent. I just packed mine up wet at times and it dried out mostly when I would set it up at night. Was stoked on the side door.
Not a bad bag, it is a semi hard shell bag, meaning it keeps its shape. It can be a bit difficult to get things in and out and the zipper likes to hide from you at times, but the bag worked great. I like the bungies on the outside of it as well, helpful for holding gear such as my Rain Jacket.
Items in BAJA DECK BAG
-All my electronics
-Extra bungies (amazing adjustable bungies, I had 2 of them, one small and large. I used these to help dock at night, attached the bungie to the SUP board and a tree root to hold the board there) http://www.niteize.com/products/knotbone-adjustable-bungee)
I got this one because it comes with a 3 liter Big Zip reservoir, so more water I could drink when paddling. It is waterproof so I could store items in it and they would ideally be safe if I fell in the water. I never fell fully into the water but did go through some good downpours with the bag and the items stayed dried. The Big Zip Reservoir is amazing, super easy to fill up.
Items in HYDRATION PACK
-first aid kit
This is almost a must for any adventure. It is a GPS satellite device that you can use to upload your position to google maps for friend and family to follow along. MOST IMPORTAN a button you can press if you are in a life threatening situation and you will be helicopter rescued. I would have pushed this button if I got bit by a poisonous snake or a tree fell on me while sleeping.
MOUNTAIN SMITH DELUXE COOLER CUBE
An easy place to put food in, keeps the food out of the sun and kind of cool. Has a bunch of nice pockets to organize food. It can fold easy to pack away.
Items in Cooler (this is what I survived off on the river). I have a special talent of being able to not bring a stove and just eat hard goods and be fine with it, I figure that I eat cooked meals in CA for 11 months out of the year so I can rough it for a month without a stove and save cooking time.
-Mtn bread (bread they had in Australia that would keep for awhile)
-bunch of granola bars
-bags of chips
-can of green beans
-can of corn
-can of beans
Again all of this gear is not necessary just what I used, there are tons of other options as well out there, have fun looking around.