Christine Charles is Bretonne and was brought up and educated in Finistère. Her undergraduate years were spent in Rennes and she completed her Doctorate in Orleans. To escape from the British tourists she used to paddle her coracle along the beach at l'Arcouest, near Paimpol, where many French Nobel Prize winners spent their summers. Her passions are the sea, physics and music. For the last 8 years she has been at the Australian National University researching basic and applied plasma physics in parallel with completing a bachelor's degree in music specialising in jazz drums and composition. Her own compositions are a fusion of Breton celtic style with a modern jazz idiom, and a little touch of french waltz.
Latest from the trip
Murray Bridge to the Mouth
My energy level seems to be drifting down more and more. We are tired as it is been a few hard months and I am hyper anxious about Lake Alexandrina. I keep annoying Rod about it. He is still focused and gets everything organised with the acquisition of a 2 HP motor at Murray Bridge. The tests are successful. However, with the loss of our rain gear and the persistent strong wind, I still feel that we should not attempt to cross the Lake with the equipment that we have. We wonder what Mic, the kayakist did. Each time we have to portage the gear to a caravan park of around a weir, it takes its toll psychologically and physically. This is the case once again with the camping ground here. Anyway, we gather the last bits of available strength and paddle to Wellington. We have decided that we will take one day off in Wellington (Saturday) and try and cross the Lake on Sunday. If not possible, we will not wait for the weather to improve. Hence I am hoping for a storm this week end so that we can call it off. Get to Wellington and it is not looking good. On the Saturday we test the motor again and make 2 attempts just getting to the first opening of the Lake. However, the waves get bigger and bigger and we have to stop. We go back to the cabin at the caravan park and watch the news and weather forecast. Strong wind warning for the Sunday and we make the wise decision to stop at Wellington. We go to the pub and have the "end of the trip toast". Rod is sad and I am finally relieved after 1 month of worrying about the lake. That's it, it is over... As it turns out, a paddle steamer has just moored and one of the crew members jokes about putting the canoe on the paddle steamer. Now, that is a cool idea and I ask Rod to go and talk to him. That would be the best compromise for both of us and that is definately romantic, considering that the paddle steamer only uses wood and not diesel. We are ready to join the crew with or without the canoe, but we feel that they will not accept because of insurance reasons...But they actually accept to take us on board the next day. We cross the Lake, which is bid and not friendly. In Goolwa we swap boat again and get a bedroom on the River Murray Queen paddle steamer set up as a Motel. I am anxious again as Rod now wants to use the 2 HP motor to get to the River mouth tomorrow. The mood is up, down, up, down. I hope for some more wind as I know that we can just walk to the mouth. I really do not feel like portaging the canoe again... Next day, same story, strong wind and quite choppy and after waiting all morning, we finally agree to walk to the mouth. There is a track but as it turns out, the stress level is maintained at its top level: we walk along the beach to get to the mouth and walk back along the river side. It is boiling hot as usual and the track is full of high grass and reeds, the perfect conditions for snakes. My worries about snakes start again and I can barely keep up with Rod's pace in the reed. Suddenly, I saw him jump 2 meters backward, being sure that he has been biten. Fortunately the black snake has decided to leave rather than bite and we finish the walk making a much noise as possible. We made it to the mouth but I still can not relax because of the danger of snakes. The track is so rough... We finally reach the road and I realise that I can actually relax. Lasha, a friend of ours will be in Goolwa soon to pick us and the gear up. Yes we did it. How, I do not know, probably because of the power of the team and of the hidden adaptation skills of the human body. Rod struggled the first week of the trip, but I struggled the last week of the trip. On arrival at Peter and Lasha's place, we find out that Rod has lost 7 kilos and I have put on half a kilo. Our bodies seem to have enjoyed the ride, may be even more than us...Tomorrow I will be able to sleep in after 3 months of having to get up at 6 of 5:30 in the morning.
Before Monday 30th october
The whole story started 1 year ago when we made the decision to do this trip. It is only 2 weeks away now and we still have plenty to do. I am finishing our webpage design. I have cracked my canoe seat with my bum bones and I have to fix it before we leave. It is bloody raining today, great for the river flow, not so great for camping...
It is 7pm on Monday the 30th of october. I finished the last exam of my Bachelor of Music about 2 hours ago and I am now contemplating the list of things to be done before Wednesday the 1st of November, our departure date. Study is over for ever, work is over for as long as the trip will take, the Olympics are over and the french "brioche" I am presently eating is disappearing from my desk into the darkness of the universe...I just thought I had to put about 5 lines on my page before leaving as Rod told me that he wrote a few pages for his page. Everyone will have guessed by now that the rule is that I can not read his until we arrive in Adelaide and Rod can not read mine either. We are writing the common page together, which explains why it is still empty... about 10 lines, better stop now.
Jugiong to Gundagai
Yes we have started the trip after more than 1 year of preparation and it is just fantastic. My aim was to survive 1 day and 1 night and that is done now. Any extra day will be a bonus for me while I think that Rod's aim is really to get to Goolwa in South Australia. We only saw two human beings on the first day and none on the second. I am pushing any music or physics out of my head as often as needed as I just want to completely switch off. It is in fact quite easy with the rapids always around the corner. Had I known there would be that many I probably would not have started. Looking back I think that the first 2 days were like magic and I was really proud to arrive in Gundagai, without an aching body, a real surprise. The martial art training I have been doing for 2.5 years to try and fix my back is paying off now. By the way, would you believe that we met my music teacher on his way to the Wangaratta jazz festival when walking from the camping ground to the shops to get some food for the next stretch?
Gundagai to Wagga
More distance, more days away from civilisation. This is the real test. I am holding surprisingly well and the amazing thing is that it all feels really natural. As a Breton I am used to the rain and the bad weather is not affecting me, as long as I do not get cold. Hypothermia is generally the real danger for canoeists but is unlikely in this area. There is no shouting on the boat and I feel a bit bad that Rod has to do all the stearing. On the last day of this section Rod is getting crook and we push to get to Wagga to avoid another wet overnight camp in allergies territory. The water is filthy and it is mostly farming land with some dead cattle in the water (terrible smell). We still find beaute camping sites. This section is not as nice as the first one but is quite rewarding since the current is strong and it is easy to cover large distances.
Wagga to Canberra to Wagga
Now that the section with the rapids is over we swap canoes (16 foot white water plastic canoe to 19 foot expedition kevlar canoe that we have equipped with solar panels, fridge, GPS, computer...). In Canberra I upgrade our website and get frustated with the infrared link between the laptop and the mobile phone. All this will be detailed in a technical section of the website. Back in Wagga for the wedge demo to the public and to high school students. I get even more frustated with the computer which now refuses to load any digital picture. The computer is sent back to Andrew in Canberra. Despite a few days off, Rod is getting crooker. We have to leave Wagga for him to get better.
Wagga to Narrandera
This is another challenge as we are away for longer and it is the first stretch with the new boat. We do not know how she will be affected by the snags. Rod gets very crook and I have to do most things for 2 days. It is amazing what the body can do sometimes. It is hard work from 7 am to 10 pm, most of it in the rain and the mud. On the second night we start talking about stopping the trip to do something else instead. There is no point in doing something not enjoyable. Fortunately maximum dose of medecine starts having an effect half way through the second night and it looks like we will get to Narrandera without having to use the emergency beacon. Rod feels better and better. For half a day I get really cranky and sick of living in the mud like pigs. I shout back at the cockies as loud as I can and it makes me feel better. The weather improves, the first portage is over and we get two amazing sunsets the last two nights out. Yes it is all worth it.
We have to stay for a few days to wait for the computer to arrive and to upgrade the website while still in contact by mobile phone. It is shower time...I still have mud in my nails after a few days of doing the laundry and washing my hands one million times a day...I think that the trip is sinking in. Yes we are doing it and Narrandera really gives a feeling of being in real Australia.
Narrandera to Darlington Point
The trip is now becoming really interesting because we are leaving the area of cattle and muddy banks and moving into reserves (still with cattle on them though) and state forests with sandy beaches. We are treating the canoe as a boat rather than a canoe which means than we jump in and out, stand up in it and moor it properly at night. It makes me think about Brittany. Rod is feeling on top of things and I seem to be always a little bit behind mainly due to lack of fitness. It is fun but it is exhausting. I never thought that setting up camp and leaving camp would be that strenuous. I only thought about the stress of paddling for days and days. As it turns out, getting in the boat in the morning is in fact relaxing and the first time of peace in the day. We are heading into the new problem of lack of water and what I call "snagland". Early in the preparations I could never quite picture what a snag was. Now I know. There are all sorts of snags, the ones you see and the other ones. They come at all angles and attack you the second you loose focus. Since the beginning I have been feeling a bit bad that Rod has to do all the stearing because I can not do it and I do not feel like damaging the canoe at this stage. Now having entered "snagland" my role has suddenly become as important as the stearing as I am now dictating our course through the snags. Our canoing skills have gone right up and we kind of look forward to the manouvers in the narrow meanders, even though it brings our average speed right down.
We actually got really stuck in that Narrandera to Darlington Point section with not enough water to go through. We had to camp and wait on a beach in the middle of nowhere with a temperature fairly close to 40 degrees. Rod initially got very frustated but I was surprisingly relaxed and decided to make some fishing nets using our mossie nets and dead AA batteries as sinkers to fish shrimps, one of my favourite hobbies in Brittany. They stayed around the net so I had to use a saucepan to trick them and catch them. I got about 16 shrimps in half a day, half of them did the "Thelma and Louise" ending bit from the bucket onto the hot sand. We ate the rest. I immediately started feeling a bit crook (phycological) and took a tummy tablet to settle things down.
The second problem is that it is getting fairly hot and I am getting sunburns on the back of my hand despite tons of 30+ sunscreen. The good side of it is that we are now swimming a few times a day to cool down and are clean as a result, at least as clean as the river... We have now done 3 weir portages and they are a real pain. We have to carry the stuff through the snakes infested bush. I hit the ground with my paddle and clamp as much as poss to make sure that the snakes hear me. Also I cannot stand those prickly bushy things which go into the shoes, break in the shoes padding and itch like hell. I should have bought gaiters. The first portage hurt my lower back a bit but I am getting fitter and our streching routine keeps us in shape.
Darlington Point to Hay
We have been experiencing the "outback" since Narrandera and the further west we go the more exotic it gets for me as a european. Locals are always helping us and it is radically different to arrive in a town in a canoe rather that a car. In Darlington Point I was tired and could not rest properly due to the heat. We now have to start earlier in the day which is now 6 am to 9 pm of hard work with 6 hours of straight paddling and 2 hours of breaks. The river flow keeps decreasing which means that we have to do more work each day to do the same distance. Consequently my joints are playing up a bit especially if it is windy. We have developed our own paddling technique which minimises the stress on the body. I am kneeling down half of the time. If we are lucky such as tailwind, less snags and sections going west (our general direction) rather than north or south, then we get to read our book a little bit in the evening after setting up camp but before the mossies attacks. I am really getting into "Lionheart" the story of australian Jesse Martin's solo, non top and unassisted around the world sailing trip. I have been dreaming about a trip for 20 years and initially I was thinking of a sailing trip across the atlantic ocean, around Brittany or around Australia. However I get seasick fairly easily and I am into health rather than pain, especially after my last few years battling against terrible back and neck problems. I am also not into races, competitions and records, but confort and good diet. If I want to push my limits, I do it via the physics. This trip is my first real trip and when I paddle I dream about the next ones to come (surfing trip on the east coast of australia and sailing trip around Brittany with stops in the pubs and creperies to eat and play our music). The last thing we wanted is sponsors. Rod and I are physicists and that keeps us alive and well. I financed my 6 years of study at the school of music (Bachelor of Music Jazz drums/composition) in Canberra with the money I make in physics and I am really proud of it. We are techno freaks and even though I get fairly frustated with non brochure compliant equipment bought for this trip, it is still a lot of fun to play with the equipment and the 21st century technology.
We often wonder if we are really doing the trip or if we are dreaming. I have been sleeping quite well but, when I close my eyes at night, I keep seing snags and the little V shape that they create in the water. After we hit 5 of them, I started relaxing as there is nothing much we can do. If we sink the canoe and we cannot repair it we will ask for assistance. We have arrived in Hay after a most successfull section. That time Rod called about the water release from the weirs before leaving Darlington Point and made all the speed and flow calculations. We had our measuring stick at camp all the time to monitor the level. We also calculated at what time during the day we would catch up with the water we were on the day before. What gradually happens in that kind of trip if that one tends to live the moment and the weather determines a lot of the parameters and our physical and mental state. At the end of the day the important parameters are the total distance paddled on the day, the water level, the wind strength and direction and the air temperature. The most important phycological parameter is whether we find a beaut camp site or not. We tend to keep paddling until we find one even if we are exhausted as we just hate MUD.
The people in Hay are so helpful that we can barely believe it. First a guy helps us carry all the gear in his ute to the caravan park. Then the head of the caravan park gives us a lift to town and later on lends us his ute. Then we meet lots of people including a school principal offering a link to the web for our data transfer and Hay radio manager over the moon with our trip and offering to put our CD on the radio. ABC is trying to contact us again for an interview. A major mistake we made was to stick with vodophone which does not work in the bush.
We need to rest for a few days before the upcoming sections which will be in the most remote areas. This requires careful preparation. My foot is infected with the bee sting and needs medical attention. We have 4 portages to go and I have to be able to walk properly. I have made a lot of progress in map reading and navigation and looking at the meanders on the maps to come, I feel that we will need a high waterlevel to go through the second part of the 'bidgee.
I know that Rod is not doing his own page (he claims he does not know what to put in it) but I have decided to go on with mine. He might start doing his at some stage. He is really pleased with the trip. We are in the heart of Australia now and it is great.
I am designing the technical page of our GMT site while Rod is off cooking some spag bol for 2 chaps in a cabin next door (and drinking some beer as well). It is now 22:15 pm and I am enjoying the luxury of the cabin (with ensuite) in Hay caravan park. I am going back to "Lionheart" for the Cape Horn section... during these fews days in Hay we clean all our equipment including the food containers. Yes the dry mashed potatoes contained has exploded in the backpack has the smell puts me off. We also clean the stove, the cookset, all the dry bags...My foot is in fact not infected (thanks to the tetanos shot in Canberra before departure?) but I just got an allergic reaction to the bee sting and to the 30+ sunscreen. Instead of using the expensive low irritant (my foot) 30+ and Aloe Vera gel, I have now switched to Sorbolene and glycerine at $1.95 the tube and Zinc cream at $2.95. I also bought some overboots in Hay for the upcoming portages as I can not stand the prickly bits anymore. We hired a car for a day to check the 3 weirs (Hay, Maude and Red Bank) and also to check the shops and caravan park in Balranald. I feel a lot more relaxed once I can visualise the weirs and once we have decided on what side we will portage.
Hay to Maude
The water level is up and we can now start again. Rod has got all the info about the water release for the upcoming week. With the water up and the wind finally in our back we sail and paddle from Hay to Hay weir, about 24 km. downstream. This is one of our most enjoyable days on the water. The new gloves I bought in Hay are great and we are really keen to move on. We are both feeling well, and we are now fit. People have been so nice to us in Hay that we are now in the "trust everyone" mood. Not for very long though. At the weir we make a slight change to our plan and decide to camp upstream next to the tap and toilets rather than downstream next to our canoe. First bad mistake emphasized by a second bad mistake: to minimise the struggle of portaging the gear next morning, I decide to carry 2 more bags to the canoe in the evening. Now for the obvious: we get robbed during the night and all the extra gear I bought in Hay is gone. The overboots for the portages, gone. The new paddling gloves, gone. My reef shoes against the bees, gone. My 30+ zinc against sunburns, gone... If we are going to be robbed along the river, then I am really not interested in continuing. I will go and do something else. The second day of paddling is awfull. We are both depressed, and paddle like silent robots, not interested in anything anymore. You can not however let a dickhead dictate your life and after a good night rest for me (after finishing "Lionheart") and a bad night for Rod (still upset with the robbery) we start the 3rd day. 42 DEGREES WITH HEADWIND ALL DAY. It is hot, hot and hot. I have never been that thirsty in my life before. And drinking hot water is not terribly attractive. That is until we discover the power of SOCKS: from now on we keep our waterbottles in wet socks in the wind and I also start using my $5 socks from Target as paddling gloves. We also find that using the reusable coolpack (bought for my allergies) as a pillow helps a bit in the tent at 39 degrees. We have arrived in Maude and people are being so nice again that I am back to a positive mood. The choice of books in Hay was more than limited and I got Celine Dion's autobiographic book. I started it this morning. The great news is that we succeeded in downloading the GPS track to the Mac (thanks to Andrew's work in Canberra) at least what was left of it (only 10% but better than nothing). I should have spent more time with that rather the stupid vodophone and infrared link which we have now dropped completely.
People in Maude are really helpful and that cheers me up a bit after loosing some of my clothes. It is the second time that I have been robbed this year. Last time was in february when some people broke into the house while I was in bed and stole my wallet. The Maude shop even has some thongs for a few bucks which are a welcome replacement for the $140 Nike reefshoes. We are about to do the final and most challenging part of the Bidgee. We are anxious but I feel quite confident: the flow is now next to zero. This means that if the snags are really bad, we can always paddle back. I find that it is better not to talk to people about water levels and snags as it makes us more anxious and it is not constructive. We camp by the weir, next to our gear and experience the most dangerous moment so far: the fall of a huge gum tree next to the tent. From now on, I will have the emergency beacon next to our heads during the night and next to me in the canoe during the day. Not that it can save us from a falling tree, but if we get stuck, there is still the chance of being able to push the button. A few nights ago we had the beacon in the inner tent -for the first time- during a windy night up the bank in the middle of trees. Even if we have not seen a snake in about 1000 km. of paddling, I am quite anxious as I consider this the second danger after the tree. I did the first aid course in Canberra before leaving and we also talked to the manager of the reptile center in Canberra. He showed us the snakes that we might see during the trip, the braun snake, the tiger snake, the black snake and the cobra. The water level is pretty much at its lowest (summer level) and there will be no major release until Christmas. We have no choice. We have to try.
Maude to RedBank weir
I feel that if we can get through the first 5 km after Maude weir, it will probably be allright. The first day is indeed fine. The second is really nerve racking as it is the crucial moment. Either we go through or we have to paddle back. I develop the bad habit of being very grumpy the second day of each section. I have to focus for the 6 to 7 hours of paddling by starring at the water looking for snags in a 40 degree heat. I also have developed a quite efficient paddle stroke for navigating though snags, but it is hard on all the joints, especially the wrists. But the river soon becomes a pond when we approach the next weir. We make it to Redbank weir on the 3rd day in an unbearable heat but there is a tap on the picnic area and we can cool our head off by just lying under it. The most unpleasant night of the trip is waiting for us. People do not want us to camp there for a start, then I get attacked by frogs in the loo and we finally have to wait outside for 2 storms to go through during most of the night as the tent is under a tree and is bearally resisting the strong wind. The days are always hard and I need to sleep properly. It will be a hard day tomorrow after only a few hours of sleep.
Redbank weir to Balranald
There is even less water and more snags. We survive the first day fairly well as we just want to get away from the site. The river is not as beautiful in this area and we just focus on getting through. Same grumpyness on the second day. I am highly focused. This is a remote area. We must be careful with what we do. The frogs get on my nerves as well as the mud. Why are we doing this? But it was my idea I think. I can not complain now. Our skills in navigating through the snags are improving by the hour, but we are now moving on the map. Every km is taking ages. Each fight again the snags is taking its toll on the mind and body. Frogs leaping at me in the canoe. I hate them. For the first time I cry my frustation out for about 30s. We get through the second day. I am exhausted and only lie down during our short breaks instead of stretching. Rod is pushing which is good. He is definately much stronger than me, understandably. On the 3rd day we get to Balranald and I really feel that we have achieved something. We have seen no snakes and I believe that they might not exist at all.
The stay in Balranald is wonderful. The manager of the caravan park helps us carrying the gear to the cabin and stores the canoe in his garage. Balranald even has an internet cafe where we can relax and check the emails. It is still bloody hot but we know that a change is coming and the next week will be cool. Exactly what we need for the toughest section to the confluence. The 25 degrees that we have been waiting for for 2 months. I am in the cabin. It is very windy outside and I think about how scary it would be to be camping in the trees tonight. We prepare the next section. The snags will be even worse and we decide to go on with minimum gear (no solar panels, no fridge...), just the "bare" canoe, heat treated meat, a survival food kit for a week. We CAN always paddle back as there is no flow. There is even less water in the river.
Balranald to the confluence
We are off. This is now the real test and we will make it or not. For the past 18 months, I have been worried about this part of the Bidgee, about the reeds on the banks. Will we have to sleep in the canoe? The fear of the unknown. The snags are bad but I have a good feeling. I keep reminding myself that we have enough supply and time to paddle back. The GPS tends to get lost with all the tall trees on the banks. I keep focusing on our route on the map. I do not want to get lost. I have been lost a few times before and we got our position back by looking at the GPS track. We are using the Department of land maps which do not have latitude and longitude marks. Only the shape of the track tells us where we are by association. Yes it is cool now and this is of tremendous help. We see some amazing stations and huts on the way. Not that remote finally. Not that you would want to break a leg there either. Grumpyness strikes on the second day again. It is physical. Portaging regularly is hard and take its toll again. Rod is doing a lot more work. I am still pleased with some of the navigation throught the snags. I am impressed at what we are doing. Our average speed is down and we have to paddle more per day. Acking joints again but not too bad. This trip has been a surprise in that respect. After years of back and neck pain, I thought that I would suffer a lot but it is not the case. The old body seems to be really happy to get a chance to wake up properly instead of being stuck in front of a computer all day. SNAKES, black snakes. I am surprised by the first one swimming on the water but away from the boat. I am frozen by the one swimming directly to the boat and my paddle. I am scared. Will it climb in the boat to look for frogs? This is dangerous. I have stopped moving. Rod has slowed the canoe down, just enough to let the snake swim by. It was only crossing the river and did not seem decided to change its course. My legs are shaking a bit. Now I am focusing on snags and snakes. It is nerve racking. ONE MORE DAY and we will be out of the Bidgee. Still cool for the 3rd day. Some bad snags before it all starts to improve (Murray influence). I am getting excited. I am trying to stay focused. Let us not claim victory beforehand. I force myself to stay calm. No I am too excited. A few more kms, 2 more turns, stay calm. I keep looking at the map. I can see the next and final turn. It does not fit with the map. Am I lost? Panic. Where is the confluence? It has to be it. I can not have made a mistake. It just looks so different to the huge thing I had imagined. Yes this is the confluence. The Murray does not look that big from where we are. We have done it. We take pictures to try and retain the moment of achievement after all the angst. I want to camp looking at it. I am ready to go back to Canberra. I had never really set my mind up to doing the Murray. Another 1240km. to go. The Bidgee was a complete achievement, why the Murray? Rod really wants to do the Murray. Let us take more pictures of the confluence as it looks beautiful.
The confluence to Robinvale
I do not know what to think about the Murray. It is very different, very civilised, like a highway with bitumen and km signs while the Bidgee was like a dirt road. The scale of the meanders is much larger and I have to readjust my map reading. Some of the sandy beaches are just gorgeous (I had imagined horrible high banks...) and the hardest thing becomes the ennui of paddling soon overtaken by the fight against the strong winds. Still, the angst is gone. The km posts and absence of snags (what we call snags) push me into not looking at the map anymore. 1100 km. to go. I am thinking about surfing, about music, about work. There is a sign every 2 kms and our main game is "who will see the sign first", Rod or I? I try to cheat by looking at the map, but he beats me all the time as my mind drifts off. I do not want to do the Murray. I am grumpy. I hate this wind and this bloody heat. The water is clearer and the swims are worth it, especially on sandy beaches. I love sandy beaches. I hate mud bank and mozzies. We make it to Robinvale, sign after sign. We still have the "bare canoe" with minimum equipment. I think that the grumpiness during the past week also has something to do with sleeping badly on a shitty mattress (one of the good mattresses had to be left at Balranald as we could not find a manual pump for it). Hundreds of people are camping on the banks for the christmas holidays and, from the canoe, it is like watching some sort of slow program on television. Sign after sign we make it to Robinvale where a superb cabin will be our house for new year's eve. We get our first taste of water skiers and paddle boats generated waves. Good fun.
Robinvale to Mildura
The canoe is equipped with the solar panels again and with the second trolling motor brought from Canberra. We are off to chew the kms again. A bit of excitement at the first lock, on January the 1st of year 2001. Very happy to use the horn to attract the lock keeper's attention (and hopefully to wake up all the people at the adjacent caravan park). In this section we find a combination of conditions, good (amazing camping sites on the beaches), neutral, and bad (hot headwind from the Alice).
Mildura and lake Mungo
We meet nice people in Gol Gol caravan park and get a chance to visit Mildura. Since we have no car, every decision is a challenge. This is also our last chance to see the "walls of China" at lake Mungo, a national park with some of the oldest human skeletons ever found on the planet earth. We heard about Lake Mungo in Hay but could not find the time to drive there from either Balranald or Robinvale. We opted for a guided tour and it turned out great. I have not mentionned it before but every time we start a new paddling section, we get really anxious the day and night before. Fear of the unknown... At least it is attenuated this time as the Murray is a lot less exciting that the Murrumbidgee and we focus on trying to catch up with Tammy van Wesse. I am now looking forward to the end and I am counting the days. I can not complain too much as I initiated the whole thing...
Mildura to Renmark
This is the longest section ever with an estimated 7 days of paddling (about 320 km). Two main things happen during this section. The first one is that for the first time in 10 weeks, I start feeling really fit. I do not feel exhausted during of after the paddling. The body is not aching (except the skin on my face) despite pretty bad treatment in horrific wind, up to force 4 with gusts at 5. The willows are horizontal. The second thing is that we are doing all this in extreme heat (around 40 degrees) with headwind and I HATE the HEAT. The temperature even went up to 46.8 degrees in Renmark (we were 50 km away on our way to Renmark), with a headwind. I have never been that hot and thirsty in my life before. My face was aching from the heat. The day was bad enough but the night was just a nightmare. We also had a problem with water supply and the only water I had for the night tasted of fuel... (leak from the fuel tank to the rainwater tank?...). We also have to cope with "monsters" at night and I have solved that problem by putting earplugs.
The trip is becoming boring and we start having arguments about Lake Alexandrina to pass the time. I want to go back to Canberra as soon as poss. I can imagine being in the lounge, pulling the curtains, switching the phone off, putting the airconditioning on and watching the Seachange episodes that I have missed while having a nice cup of tea with no flies buzzing and no mossies. I forgot to say that the flies have become bad again with all the cattlestations (it is just desert on both sides of the river, scary really) and they drive me nuts. Rod says I am too sensitive but I wonder how many women could cope with all this "bushlife".
Renmark to Morgan
This is really the section of the cliffs. At least there is something to look at while we are paddling. I keep thinking of how the Murrumbidgee was a really interesting challenge compared to the Murray. In fact it is now a different challenge and our great millenium trip is now our great millenium survival. It is not that bad but fighting the heat is all we can do and it is hard to appreciate the beauty of the cliffs. The temperature oscillates between 39 and 45 degrees and we get really lucky when it cools down for a few hours during the night. Our fitness is problably the key to us being able to paddle 30 to 40 km in those conditions after 5 to 6 hours sleep. I find that paddling in the heat is better than having breaks on the banks. We have to wet our head and clothes every 10-20 minutes not to fall asleep of unconscious in the boat. Being a team of two really helps as one of the two is always feeling a little better and can monitor the situation. Rod does not have to push me anymore as I just want to get the job done. We have changed our eating, cleaning, packing patterns to minimalistic solutions. Basically we use 2 mugs, 2 knifes and 1 spoon and wash them up with Baby wet wipes as we can not be bothered doing the dishes in the mud. When the temperature drops down below 39 or so, we make a continental Lot's of Pasta soup and eat crackers and cheese, and a fruit salad. The night of the goannas happened during that section and it is the only evening where I really would have preferred to be in Canberra. We have seen a lot of goannas and I was sort of getting used to them as they are generally afraid and escape by climbing trees (you have to make sure that they do not think that you are a tree so the story says... if so, lie down and pray). That evening, it took a while to scare the first goanna off and the second goanna was not acting like the other ones. It looked quite determined to have a go at our food. It was about 2 meters long and did not look friendly at all. Each time Rod threw some mud around him, it decided to go for it instead of moving away from it, quite strange. I was worried it might decide to come to the vestibule where I was hiding. The only defensive "weapon" that we have is the paddles. Rod started digging the ground with his paddle and threw some sand on its head a few times. By then it was only a few meters away from us. Finally, with the help of a kingfisher whose nest was being threatened, Rod managed to make the goanna go away. This is the time when I felt really useless and weak. It later turned out that these goannas were almost pet goannas.
Morgan to Murray Bridge
We experience a desert storm with rain in Morgan. It cooled off a bit but the humidity made it worse. I was not feeling too good but managed to rest for a bit. We have been doing more and more paddling with less and less rest in windy conditions which is the worst for the joints. Negotiating the waves from the waterskiers puts a lot of pressure on the hips. I have been pushing myself trying to write my page which I find absolutely boring. I am always tired and do not seem to be able to put my thoughts into words. The brain tends to get very mushy (??) after a lot of physical effort and I find it impossible to focus on anything. The paddling morning out of Morgan turned out to be the most difficult being hot and humid. My head was on the verge of exploding from the heat and I was sweating like never before. I kept thinking, one more day before the cool change (I have been thinking that for the past 2 months actually without any success). It finally cooled down and I revived again as if I were a fish thrown back in water. The average temperature should have been 28 degrees but this year it is 35 degrees. We had a hell of a windy day paddling into Swan Reach after negotiating the last lock in Blanchetown. We paddled for 8 hours with just 1 hour rest making a total of 9 hours on the boat. With waves all day I am just like a cork going up and down at the front and at the end of the day it feels like stepping out of a Australia to Europe flight. We got to Mannum more tired than ever but happy to have successfully paddled some of the longest south reaches of the Murray in south westerly wind conditions. We decided to rest in Mannum for a day. I had another interesting experience with a snake in Mannum caravan park as described on the common page. This seems to have removed my worries about snakes, strangely enough.