Saturday, October 27, 2012

Primitive Provision

               The cravings have begun. The hunger strikes in a slow draining throb.  An emptiness that beacons in the lack of sustenance, growling pains resonate from the inside. My stomach turns and sloshes around searching for any crumbs that might have been lingering in the corners; its urge to consume feels like a fat greedy mouth trying to eats its own tong, slowly devouring itself. My arms grow tired in the constant plow of the wake, my hands shake like an alcoholic separated from his drink, but I’m a man separated from his appetite. Hunger, a beautiful thing, a time when the body manipulates the mind, eat, drink, consume, fill me, make me swell, give me sustenance. The urge becomes too heavy and discipline is loosely enforced, I reach into my deck bag and eat six small chocolate bars and empty a zip lock bag of trail mix down my throat like it was water. All my snacks and mid-morning energy boosts for the next week gone in a matter of seconds but I don’t care. I picture myself with wild ravenous eyes desperate to eat, to kill, to consume. My breath is unsteady as I think about what I can eat next, I’m so hungry I could eat cow shit if I there was a certainty that the cattle had rummaged the corn paddock.  But this feeling is familiar, this hunger, it’s just a trick the stomach plays in its role to ensure longevity of life. I need to break the mold of the modern day overdose of salt, sugar, and carbohydrates. 
               The longer I’m out here, the more my hunger grows, the more my ribs begin to surface, the more my instincts thrive to provide. Only the strong and smart survive in the wild, weak and carelessness leads only to premature celebrations and wasteful energy use. It’s been twenty four days now, not a single bite on the ever so penitently waiting hook and line, however as my need to provide grows more desperate, my efforts become refined from a fishing hobby to a necessity to fill the void. Hooks are staggered further apart, alternative sources of bait are tried, think like a fish, I wouldn’t eat a sparkly piece of rubber but perhaps the saturating fragrance of mozzarella cheese offers just enough curiosity for a nibble. BAM! A snap of the reel cracks the trickling sound of the river, hands grasped tightly around the grip of the rod as my eyes eagerly study the bend trying to predict the size of the first fish to sacrifice itself to my dinner plate. Il admit my enthusiasm wasn’t exactly subdued as for three weeks of patients deserve a slight amount of celebration.
                Once as a young boy in a park, I threw a french fry to an eager bird pacing at a safe distance. To my amusement the bird didn’t eat the fry but dropped it in the water where he sat poached on a rock. Predictably a fish, not so cunning, fell for the trap and delivered a plentiful meal for the bird with enough left over to feed his relatives. Clever bird I always thought. A small sacrifice always offers a greater reward. As part of daily refining techniques, I’ve acquired as the Australians call it “an opera house” which is a mesh and steel trap for bottom dwelling creatures. A small sacrifice of salami brings in a plentiful pot full of shrimp, a tempting feed, but the sacrifice continues again using the shrimp to catch the trophy fish, I gut the big fish caught by the shrimp and put it all into the opera house to bring in the delicacy of the river… the fresh water crayfish.  

To be strong and clever, its what’s required to survive in the wild.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Breaking in the bones.

If you can believe it, the mind can achieve it. - Ronnie Lott

                Warm sweat trickles down my spine, eyes closed, not by choice but the product of crippling pain that stabs into my hip. Like a serrated blade slowly working its way between the joints, severing the tendons and muscles on its jagged path to my core. Weak underused, under conditioned muscles throb in the strenuous overuse. There are no gym workouts or preventative measures that could have prepared a body for such misuse.  But this is why we do it. This physical self-induced punishment is what pulls my frozen body from the cold hard ground beneath the canvas of my tent each and every morning. This pain, this suffering, is what makes my heart beat a little stronger each and every day. We do it because pain is temporary and the there is no supplement for the greatest moral achievement obtained at the finishing line. A sickening addiction to success. In the end it will be worth it, in the end we will prevail, only if of course we do make it…. in the end.   
               I can feel every gram of weight pushing against the paddle, stroke after stroke, inch after inch, foot after foot, mile after mile; we creep along the second largest lake on the river. Lake Hume, horribly long, shallow, and stagnant. There’s not the slightest current or luff of wind in our sails to aid the 40km crossing, however what there always seems to be is a consistent wind blowing in our faces. Fortunately persistence pays off and upon reaching the weir; we catch up with the duo kayaking women we’ve been hearing about from riverside spectators for the past week. “Only a couple days ahead” I heard so many times. KK and Jen, incredibly wise in respect to lightweight gear and all around good company to share a camp fire hot chocolate with. Our first night together around the picnic tables never aloud room for a dull conversation while everyone tried to slip a word in sideways. I think we were all a bewildered that there happened to be other crazy people in the world doing the same trip at the same time.
All was bliss, jolly, and wonderful. All until of course, the phone call. KK was arranging a trailer portage for all of our boats around the dam when she heard the news. She hung up her phone and we all fell silent in anticipation to her blank expression. “A twenty four year old girl was swept out of her kayak yesterday. They found the boat and a shredded life jacket hundreds of meters apart. The body hasn’t been recovered yet” A dark silence fell upon the room as we all looked back into our own memories of the place we had narrowly navigated just a week prior. No words needed to be exchanged, no acknowledgement of sorrow needed to be confirmed. We were all just lucky. Subconsciously we all knew how dangerous this endeavour really was and this new news was a horrible reminder of what the consequences can be. As I look out into the twinkling of dusk falling upon the rippled water the peace and serenity are dully noticed, I appreciate the peace but I’m aware of this creature’s hidden anger. Another sunset and another life consumed by its deep and dark undergrowth. Be kind dear river, be kind. Gide me from your source to your end, Il show you respect and you show me the way. Be kind to me. Be kind.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Man Overboard

        One must know the difference between a boy who is foolish for the sake of knowledge, and that of a boy is foolish for the thrill only.  – I am the clay

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.