Cold, fast, rushing streaks. Frothy bubbles pass along its jagged surface. Dark like the gaps between the stars, it offers no transparency to the creatures and hazards that lurk beneath. Edging precariously to the bank as if expecting something to reach out and pull me in, I look deep into the dark blue and black to interpret its mood as you do while letting a dog sniff a still hand. A boy knows better to pet a growling dog, a lesson needed only learnt once, what lies before me is not so forgiving. The river stares back offering only a distorted figured of myself, further worsening with the beating of rain pellets on the scarred surface. I know it can sense my fear and I do little to hide it, I don’t want to control this river or to change it, I want to float effortlessly upon its back and live its journey as a wave. I climb into my laden kayak and hold onto the bank to keep the rushing current from washing me uncontrollably downstream. Having never piloted a sea kayak ever before I do my best to calm my racing heart, I stare back down into the water one last time before letting go. You may be angry and wild, a force I dare not tamper with, a great respect, guide me to the sea dear river. Be kind to me. Be kind. Be.. Kind..
A wet frenzy of rain and sweet, the day draws on and the gods are clearly unhappy. There is no need to push any further on this already miserably uncomfortable and nerve raking day at the site of a flat grassy mound offering a sandy beach access. Relieved at last, anxiety and frantic paddling around every corner can be at rest… for now. And if I thought the gods were mad before then they were definitely pissed off now. I should have taken notice to the cattle all herding into a mass, they knew it was coming and it came, the freezing cold wind whipped across the barren farm land, the rain fell horizontality in grape size drops throwing a frozen nugget into my eye every so often. Setting up camp had to be done in the solitude field with no assistance from the river side gum trees. Seeking shelter from the 90km\h winds behind one of these ancient giants was eminent death with the majority of their root base washed away from erosion, its only a matter of time before they drop a branch or get pushed completely over from the hurricane force winds. The night offered little to no rest with the howling winds and near zero temperatures, in hindsight the first night’s probably the best for such weather because our spirits were high and still tolerable to the changing climate. The wet and dreary morning came and to my surprise I was greeted with a beach at the front of my tent… the river was on the move and so were we.
It was expected to happen at some point, the three in our party knew a capsizing was inevitable. I had just come careening around a hairpin turn, working the rudder, correcting, over correcting, correcting from over correcting, on and on. I hear the increasingly frantic murmuring coming from behind. I twist around just in time to see Joanne heading side on into half submerged branches of a flooded Willow tree. She doesn’t stand a chance against the force of the rushing current, Impact, and she disappears from sight exposing only the yellow belly of her craft, being wedged deeper into the tangle of branches. Already thirty meters downstream, I do my best to turn around and paddle horrifically against the raging beast. I know that if she’s stuck I’m hopelessly too slow to get to her in time. A few tense moments later a head and shoulders break the surface, to our delight she’s broken free from the air locked compartment and escaped being pinned against the submerged branches and logs that her boat has now become victim to. I pull my kayak up on the bank near Joanne when I see her shivering with a dark blue and pale white sickness coming over her. The water holds hardly enough heat to remain a liquid and the cold frosty air is no relief from the snow melt waters of the upper Murray.
I know from my youth growing up on the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean that fifteen minutes is the maximum amount of time it takes for hypothermic waters to strangle the life from a man’s breath. Thinking takes too much time so reaction was my only option when I jumped into the frigid waters. Like a perfectly placed jab to my solor plexus, the air is stolen from my lungs and the cold water forces my abdominals to constrict prompting me to inhale when my mouth is beneath the surface. The pungent odor boils up with the scum from the whirlpools and suctions upstream; I choose to ignore the discovery of just swallowing soiled water of a dead, decaying creature already tangled in the foliage lurking beneath that now threatens to take me as well. Successfully the capsized kayak becomes unwedged with the help from Sharron still managing to ride her kayak amongst the mess. I pull the yellow water logged boat to the bank and turn around the see Sharron swimming after me, she too has become capsized and her boat pinned against the tangle. A few more swift kicks of the water and the second kayak is free. Ten minutes have passed and the situation is growing strong with disparity, keep moving, keep warm, the three of us drenched head to toe saddle back up and paddle hard to restore the circulating blood.
A caravan park a few kilometres downstream screams at us for salvation, it is not argued that a cottage will be rented to dry our soaking spirits. The water is on the rise and the local network stations advise us of flood watch. We have no moves left and can only wait it out and see what temper this mighty river has left to deliver.