Murray River - 2400km in 48 Days - Kate and Steve Dawson

This year, well known Ultra Marathon paddlers Kate and Steve Dawson are paddling 2400km down the Murray River from Bringenbrong Bridge at the edge of the Snowy Mountains to Goolwa on the coast of South Australia. It will take 45-50 days of continuous paddling, starting on April 19th and finishing at the start of June.

Steve and Kate take up the story from here: We are raising funds for Coast Shelter because they provided support and safety for one of our friends when it seemed asking friends for help was impossible.

The difference they have made to so many people is just extraordinary and I know there are so many others that would benefit from their work. But they need more funding to make that happen. So please support their work by donating to my CrowdRaiser, as I know they will appreciate every cent received. And I will be very grateful for your contribution too!

Here is the link to our charity Coast Shelter

[...and the story begins (latest updates at the top of the page, Day 1 waaaay down the bottom of the page]

6 May 21

Murray Paddle Day 19 of 48 - Pental Island Junction to Swan Hill
Distance remaining 1410 km
Blisters 0
Bridges: 24
Locks: 1
Location: 35°20.587' S, 143°33.928' E
A short update today because we've arrived in Swan Hill to find friends waiting for us on the riverbank. A night of catching up is long overdue. Today we passed the 1000km mark of our journey which is starting to make the impossible seem less improbable.

Thanks to everybody who is following our trip and especially those who have donated to our charity. If you don't want to donate to our nominated shelter, consider finding a shelter near you. Make a donation. Get involved. Help those in need.

5 May 21

Murray Paddle Day 18 of 48 - Koondrook to Pental Island Junction
Distance remaining 1462 km
Blisters 0
Bridges: 24
Locks: 1
Location: 35°26.372' S, 143°49.145' E
Rain overnight and a cold SE wind blowing across the river made for cold paddling despite the clear blue skies. The early morning sun was blocked by tall trees on the northern side of the river and paddling into shade around the bends dropped the temp by a couple of degrees. Almost immediately after setting off we came to a fork in the river we didn't expect. To our left, the Murray River. To our right, Little Murray River. Never heard of it... probably an indication that our hasty decision to paddle the river has left us with some gaps in our knowledge. In this case the river splits around Campbells Island and rejoins just before Murrabit 27km down river.

We decided that sticking to the Murray River was most likely to be the right answer, even though the flow seemed to favour the Little Murray Rivee at the junction. Continuing downstream we came across some large snags that caused us to wonder if the LMR was the route preferred by the riverboats. The snags seemed to block enough river to make navigation difficult for a large riverboat. A few kms in I spotted a section of deck railing hooked on tree branch overhanging the river, about 15 feet up. Ruling out flood, it looked like somebody in a two level houseboat had misjudged the channel and the tree had collected about 10ft of their upper deck railing.

Just before lunch time we reached the spot where the two flows merged back together, 5km upstream from Murrabit. A glance upstream into the LMR settled the question of which branch the riverboats took. There's an old wooden bridge across the river just before the junction and there's no way a riverboat would get under. Murrabit is the start of the fifth and final day of the Murray Marathon, where depending on how your previous four days have gone, it can be a sprint to the podium or perhaps a grit-your-teeth and cross the line suffer-fest. For many of the team's that enter for the challenge of finishing, it's the elation of completing a 404km paddle over 5 days. One of the regular teams is Blues and Brothers, made up of police officers and young aboriginal kids. Each of their boats pairs a kid and an officer for one of the four relay stages each day. Watching their teams paddle the river and cheer each other on at the relay checkpoints is to me one of the events highlights. Seeing them finish in Swan Hill on day five is simply magic.

Kate and I have chased the podium on this section three times and then paddled it to finish on a fourth. My memory of the terrain from Murrabit to Swan Hill is of grassy farmland either side of the river. Its not like that at all. There's tall trees and plenty of camping spots along the way. Clearly we've missed a lot of scenery in the past as we've been tunnel visioned on the next bend and where the other boats were around us. There are definitely less other boats on the water since we passed through Torrumbarry. Each day we see just a few fishermen in boats and a few on the bank.

I've been asking them all if they're catching anything and from their responses, there's either no fish in the river, or the fish are smarter than the fishermen, or they think I'm some sort of under cover fisheries officer. Kate's getting sick of hearing me say "that's why the call it fishing, not catching". I'm considering changing my question to "Have you ever thought about our saviour Jesus Christ?" just to see what response I get. Kate will probably stop paddling near me if I do.

By mid afternoon we were coming up to our target 50km and had been seeing some great camp sites on the Victorian side where free camping on the riverbank is allowed. Needless to say the banks of the NSW side are overrun with sandy beaches leading gently from the waters edge to grassy tree lined clearing where the PRIVATE PROPERTY TRESPASSERS PROSECUTED signs are posted.

We passed at least a dozen good Victorian camping beaches* before getting to 50km. Then they completely dried up for almost the next 10km. This is also typical. If anybody is looking for the best camp sites for a future source to sea, simply check our camp sites and go 500m further each time. We generally find them around the corner the next morning.

We've pretty quickly established that the most promising camp sites on our left (Vic side) are located on left hand bends which turn more than 120°. 180° is better, creating a little promontory. A deep public reserve filling the bend means there isn't likely to be a farm house just behind the trees. And no road access means there won't be caravans already parked there. *a Victorian side campsite is a clay bank with knee deep water at the base, a muddy bottom, and a flat patch of dirt almost large enough for a tent. Its inexplicable why they aren't mirrors of the NSW side on opposite bends. Something to do with the earth's rotation making all the sand go to one side, I suppose.

4 May 21

Murray Paddle Day 17 of 48 - Nursery Bend to Koondrook
Distance remaining 1517 km
Blisters 0
Bridges: 23
Locks: 1
Location: 35°35.918' S, 144°6.473' E
Away from camp early this morning, encouraged by the arrival of light rain and a persistent south westerly wind. One of the challenges of moving 50km every day is that there isn't much time to dry gear once it's wet. As much as possible, we've avoided getting our camping gear wet, with the exception of our tent fly and our tarp. Overall we've been lucky so far having only had two days of light rain (scans heavens for thunder clouds). I suppose that's one upside to paddling in one of the most arid countries in the world.

When we started the trip back in Bringenbrong, we wore sprayskirts to keep the splashes out of the boats on the rapids and to trap some warmth in the boat while it was a little cool in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains (At the oxygen scarce altitude of 250 meters above sea level.) As soon as we reached the flat waters of Lake Hume, we stowed the skirts, opting to paddle in light shirts and paddle shorts, these being easy to dry and not so warm that we sweat, because let's face it, we are carrying a limited amount of clothing and it's more than a few days between laundry facilities. We aren't stopping at campsites with other people so it's not a hygiene question as much as it is about really not wanting to be climbing into wet cold paddling gear that is too dense to dry overnight. There will be plenty of that down the line I'm sure.

For the last ten days, we've been running comfortably cool as long as we keep moving, bordering on cold if we stop for more than about 20 minutes. Its an incentive to keep moving. To some extent, we're trying to acclimatize to the cooler weather in light gear so we have some latitude to go warmer when we hit the inevitable cooler weather down the track in South Australia, on the final third of our adventure, which will also be closer to Winter. At this point I can imagine about 80% of the kayaking world reading this and heading for the comments to type "Dress for immersion!", or "something something drysuit" probably in ALL CAPS and with a generous portion of exclamation marks thrown in for good measure and emphasis. Please don't, we know our capabilities, the inherent risks, and the probabilities. Its Australia. Its flatwater. This is about dressing for exertion.

Today though, we made a concession to the conditions and broke out the spraydecks and paddle jackets. The air temp was OK, but the persistent SW wind was threatening a degree of wind chill beyond just grin and bear it.

Maintaining a good working temp is also complicated by our speed difference. If Kate's working hard enough to stay warm, I'm still running cool to cold unless we take very different paths down the river. So Kate cuts the corners and I paddle the widest line I can find on the outside of the bends, so we are both work-warm and still maintain visual contact on the river. The different paths approach has absolutely confirmed in my mind that tight through the corners is the fastest line down the river. We've been doing it for 10 days or more now and I'm logging 10-15% more kilometers than Kate and working that much harder to stay with her on the water. It also accentuates the difference between the marked river kilometers and the much shorter distance Kate is paddling (watch out everybody who thought she was sharp on the Murray Marathon corners before. She's learned some new tricks... 🙂 ). Upstream my path around the outside of the bends was almost exactly river kilometers (I'm guessing river kms are either the centre of the river or the centre of the navigable channel.) Now as the river has widened, my worst case path is actually more than river kilometers which is have to say is starting to bother me.

Anyway... After my GPS watch died on one of the earlier days, I'd ordered a replacement, having it delivered to a post office parcel collect point in Koondrook. We'd actually tried two previous times to get an online retailer to deliver to a post office ahead of us but they both cancelled the purchase claiming it was some sort of internet credit card scam - maybe there's a dark den of hackers known to be operating out of Koondrook Victoria? So a big tick for Wild Earth in Brisbane who actually so what they're asked to do, efficiently and without fuss. So internet security wonks aside, if you break something, or forgot something the parcel collect service is very good.

We had camped 52km from Koondrook and thanks to our rain inspired early start, we arrived at a small muddy beach under the wharf just on 2pm. None of the locals seemed particularly surprised by the two bedraggled paddlers, walking up Main St in our paddle jackets and crocs. I've got my new watch and now I can stop annoying Kate by asking her what time it is.

Leaving Koondrook, we continued down river for another 7km until we were clear of the houses on the NSW side of the river. There were some very tempting sites just out of Koondrook, but the houses across the river would have been staring straight into our bathroom, so we plugged on a bit further. We're currently 107km from Swan Hill and the towns are continuing to be about 100km apart, which isn't ideal when we want to bush camp on the riverside as much as possible and avoid any late night visitors over the weekends.

Over the next two days we're looking to shift our phasing by about 25km so we can camp away from towns, but also be able to drop into a town around lunchtime for a treat or groceries. Fresh fruit is the main grocery item which we're craving at the moment. Looking to pick some up in Swan Hill on Thursday. Then we have another package to collect in Nyah on Friday, 150km down river, a new poo hole shovel. I broke the old one.

3 May 21

Murray Paddle Day 16 of 48 - Torrumbarry Weir to Nursery Bend
Distance remaining 1575 km
Blisters 0
Bridges: 22
Locks: 1
Location: 35°46.528' S, 144°21.185' E
As we've chewed our way through the 16 days of food, fuel, and toilet paper we packed into the boats on day one the job of repacking the boats each morning has gotten easier and easier. Reaching our resupply drop in Torrumbarry, I was a little concerned that we would have trouble fitting in the next 16 day installment. The box we left at the weir 20 days earlier was 55 litres (the size of a medium backpack), and again the boats just swallowed it as if it were nothing. It did delay our departure slightly as we sorted the food so that the stuff for after Mildura - still another 16 days ahead - could be stowed right up the end of the bow where it isn't going to move until we have our final resupply in Mildura.

The river speed picked up a little again as we left Torrumbarry. This was some consolation after I plotted a GPS waypoint to the section of river 50km downstream where we would start looking for camp sites. According to the GPS, the waypoint 50km downstream was 18.9km away as the crow flies. It wasn't wrong. The river bends and bows endlessly as it passes through Gunbower National Park. At one stage later in the day we were 2km from our target with 8km still to paddle, The river was pleasant enough. Wide and free from the ski boats that dogged us upstream.

There were a few fishermen who claimed not to have caught any fish. This is a bit of a theme on the Murray⁰ where the fishing is good but the catching is bad. We've pitched camp in some bush at the top of a riverbank which at least has a reasonably gentle slope leading up from the water. For the past few days the river banks have been predominantly tall and eroded, making them difficult for a fully loaded kayak.

There have been a few kangaroos on the riverbank today. Its quite impressive to see a roo drinking at the waters edge and then keep to the top of a six foot bank with a single bound. Lying in our tent. There's a couple more roos bouncing around in the bush nearby and we're just hoping that they don't trample the tent in their excitement. Tomorrow we continue on to Koondrook. Another 50k downstream.

2 May 21

Murray Paddle Day 15 of 48 - Norris Bend to Torrumbarry Weir
Distance remaining 1630 km
Blisters 0
Bridges: 21
Locks: 1
Location: 35°56.662' S, 144°27.802' E
After struggling to find a riverside campsite last night that wasn't crowded with caravans or ski boats, we cut our losses and picked a gap in the trees leading to a patch of flattish long grass and called it a campsite. This morning we paddled around the corner to find a half dozen really good, vacant campsites over the next kilometer. Such is life, as Ned Kelly once said*.

With only 10km from our camp to Lock 26 at Torrumbarry, we are putting today down as a rest day and putting our feet up at the Torrumbarry Weir Caravan park for the afternoon. We arrived at the weir by 10:30 having been told by one of the lock masters downstream than the locks went down on the hour and up on the half hour. We were all set for an 11am down. Then we tried to find the phone number for the lockmaster and I was reminded that Google search is actually crap when you want an exact piece of information. It gave me the numbers for the holiday park, the Murray Darling Basin Authority, the Murray water board and a list of phone numbers for lock masters in South Australia!

Eventually I walked up and read the phone number off the office door. I'm still wondering why the phone number isn't on the sign as you approach the lock. Too sensible?
The number is... 03 5487 2900
It took us 30 minutes to find it.
From there it was a simple matter of the lockmaster opening the gates and cycling the lock to pass us through. Apparently there are no set times up this far as there are only about 4 boats through each weekend. Our 15 minute journey through the lock created an opportunity for some travellers to actually see the lock being cycled, and gave us an opportunity to talk about our trip and our charity as we slowly sank out of view. Torrumbarry marks the end of the first 1/3 of our trip and confirms that our plan, as loose as it may be, is pretty much good enough to get us to the end. We are 800kms in with 1600km to go. That's 1000miles left in ancient Sumerian.

I'm looking for some gimicky equivalent of the 2425km like if you laid the population of Melbourne end to end along the river you'd drown a lot of people and create a world surplus of espresso coffee, or perhaps if you lined up all the kangaroos in Australia they'd stretch from one end to another, but apparently they'd stretch to New York, so it's a work in progress

The lock master told us that we are effectively riding the peak of a water release from upstream, which if we stick to our plan should follow us all the way to the end of the river at Goolwa. Wouldn't that be nice?

Mark asked the question of how are we managing the wear and tear and are we using and supplements to help us along the way. The answer is largely that we are keeping the work rate to a manageable level and consuming a balanced diet of carbs proteins and fats, interspersed with the occasional ice cream or milkshake when the opportunity presents itself.

If I was racing, my stroke rate would be around 82spm. For this trip, with a heavier boat, and maintaining visual contact with Kate, it's running at 70spm so I'd guess I'm burning about 400 calories an hour for a six hour stint. We've also shortened our paddles by 2cm from normal which is a bit like dropping to the small chaining on a road bike. It makes a surprising difference.

The only concession to the exertion is we are drinking 750ml of electrolytes each per day to avoid cramps and maintain hydration. Its not especially hot on the water so our water consumption is another 750ml for the day. The temp during the day has been warm enough to paddle in shorts and a quickdry shirt, but not warm enough to be comfortable sitting around in the same.

We both had leg cramps in the first few days but the electrolytes seem to have sorted that. Tomorrow we will be back in the water refreshed, washed, laundered, and restocked for the next 800km to Mildura via Swan Hill, Koondrook, Nyah and other strange and exotic sounding places.

  • he was dead minutes later.

1 May 21

Murray Paddle Day 14 of 48 - Girriwa Bend to Norris Bend
Distance remaining 1640 km
Blisters 0
Bridges: 21
Locks: 0
Location: 35°57.630' S, 144°29.998' E
We're camped tonight 10km above Torrumbarry weir.

It's been a slow paddle today as we've run into the impounded waters above the weir. Because its the weekend, we've also been dodging jetskis and skiboats for most of the day. That's another reason why we like our day-glo yellow Vaikobi life jackets.

Tomorrow, we'll have a short 10km run down to the lock, the first of 26 locks on the river, then check into the caravan park for a resupply, shower, and laundry.

We started this morning on the familiar waters of the Murray Marathon day 4 which ends near Welton about 8km back upriver from our current position. I say it's familiar but as we paddled past Perricoota Station and the cluster of buildings there, we both thought we'd overshot the stage finishline. Apparently we've been focused on the final 3km to notice them. One thing wnowe'venoriced is that we're noticing features we havent noticed before when weve been raceing through.

Finding a campsite tonight has been a bit of a trial. The area is obviously popular with water skiers and it shows in the river banks. Almost everywhere is bordered by a 1-1.5 metre clay bank that's been eroded away by boat wakes.

The next section of river from Torrumbarry to Murrabit isn't part of the marathon. There's not enough road access for race officials, relay crews, or supporters, so the race jumps about 100km downstream for the final section. We haven't seen it before.

Today's random musing was about how many paddle strokes it was going to take to get from Bringenbrong to Goolwa. I started figuring that at 70 strokes per minute in the sea kayak, and 6 paddling hours a day for 48 days I was looking at 1.2 million strokes. If we cut some corners and finish a few days early maybe just an even million strokes. Alternatively, I know my stroke moved my race boat about 3 metres so 2,400,000 metres comes in at 800,000 strokes. It's likely to be less with the heavier boat, so maybe edging towards 950,000 or a million again. It's a big number.

Late addition. As darkness falls, we find that we've got a Boo Book Owl across the river from us. He's quite loud and will probably go on all night. He sounds like this Now the idiots camped across the river have started trying to imitate the owls call and it's set off the dogs at the next campsite so we can't hear the Doof-Doof music from the skiboat camped somewhere on the other side of us. Weekends...

30 Apr 21

Murray Paddle Day 13 of 48 - Morning Glory River Retreat to Girriwa Bend
Distance remaining 1694 km
Blisters 1
Bridges: 21
Location: 36°04'18.6"S 144°41'30.6"E
Two parts tonight. First a recap of the day and then answers to a few reader questions.

The weather continues to favour us as we progress downstream. We started the day at marker 1750 bound for Echuca at 1712 - 38 kilometers. We were a bit late getting on the water but made up some time on top of a good current and ended up having our lunch about 8km short of Echuca.

The first sign you're getting close to Echuca is the sudden increase in the number of house boats tied up on the river banks. Then there's the bridge and finally the high dock with paddle wheel boats moored alongside. We've got a bit of a soft spot for the river port town. A lot of our friends call it home and we've got some good memories of the place.

The local canoe club had left us a sign showing their support. From Echuca we have 96km to cover before we reach our food cache at Torrumbarry Weir. We've decided we need to push 10-15km past Echuca before setting up camp, leaving 80km to Torrumbarry, a 50km day tomorrow and a short 30km day on Sunday which will allow us to pass through the lock (open 8:30-4:30) and arrive at the caravan park below in time to do laundry and restock our food. We're making the final day a short one in case the current is slower up to the back of the weir.

At this stage we are surplus two days food, one from being ahead of schedule and a second from a night spent with friends in Albury. We may have to have seconds if there's no room. A more pressing storage problem is the gas canisters we've cached. We packed 5 on day 1 expecting to.use one every four days which we consistently do when hiking. So far we've only used two with a third looking like it will see us to Torrumbarry. At this rate we'll finish the trip with four or five of them bouncing around the boat.

We will probably be offline for 48 hours after this as we pass through some unpopulated areas. Now to the Q&A - if you have a question you'd like to ask. Just post it in the comments

What books are you reading?( Casle Portner )
I packed 4 paperbacks into a drybag along with my Kindle. The four were the last of Lee Childs Jack Reacher series. I've just started the last one. After that I'll be switching to my Kindle and reading Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe which is an account of pre colonial aboriginal life making the case that they weren't hunter gatherers but had developed, according to evidence from the first explorers, settlements, agriculture, and some complex societal rules. After that it's Eureka by Peter Fitzsimons which describes a part of Australian colonial history I've never understood (except that the Eureka flag appears today in the same contexts as the Confederate flag does in the US). I'm not sure what Kate's reading, she churns through one a day so it's hard to keep up.

What about blisters? - Michael Vitnell
There's plenty of potential for wear and tear on the trip... 48 days. 6 hours paddling per day. 70 strokes a minute...comes put around 1.2 million strokes from start to finish. We haven't managed to completely avoid them but they're not getting out of hand. When we started we hadn't been seriously paddling for about 8 months so our hands are a bit soft.

Our secret weapon is Bandaid Tough Strips. The fabric ones, not the waterproof ones. They stick well and usually last two days wet on a rub spot. As soon as we get the start of a blister we wrap a tough strip around it and give it a chance to dry out and harden up. Adding the strips does tend to move the rub point so we've been chasing them from one spot to the next since the start of the paddle. If a blister appears while I'm on the water, my hands are too wet to stick a bandaid, so I use a strip of duct tape until we get to camp and dry out. A light grip on the paddle definitely helps reduce blistering as well as not paddling aa if we're racing. In answer to the second part of your question. Yes We have other abrasions. Mostly skinned knuckles from pushing things in and out of tight hatches.

I do have one seating related injury, which is a small abrasion about the size of a 50cent coin.where a seam on my shorts bunched up for a day and left me with something looking like very localised carpet burn. Mostly due to leg drive in the boat.

What's you solar setup?
We are carrying USB chargeable Samsung phones, Black Diamond headlamps, Kindles, and Garmin watches (although mine died in the first few days) The phones last around a day. More if they're in airplane mode, less if the cell signal is weak or marginal During the day we each have s 10W waterproof solar panel feeding into a USB battery in a waterproof case. At night we take out the battery and charge whatever devices need charged. So far nothing has run completely flat.

We also have a pair of Luci Lamps which charge up enough during the day to provide working light for several hours each night. Having two means we are covered for overcast days.

As a back up. We have a small mains power 6 port USB charger which we use to top off every thing on nights when we are in paid campsites. It seems to be keeping up with our power use so far.

29 Apr 21

Murray Paddle Day 12 of 48 - Sixty Mile Bend to Morning Glory River Retreat about 12km past Barmah
Distance remaining 1750 km
Blisters 0
Bridges: 19
Location: 36°4.810' S, 144°56.773' E
Our day started with a visit from some horses grazing in the forest. They didnt seem bothered by us except that we were probably between them and the low bank providing access to the water.

Another fine day to be on the water and we set off expecting to run into Barry Bell and his school party who were camped 8km downstream from us. Barry had expected them to be on the water by 8 so we were surprised to catch them not far after the 1800 river marker near Pelican Point.

The 1800km sign marks the completion of the first 600km of our 2400km journey. With 1/4 of the river behind us on the morning of Day 12, we were slightly under a day up on our schedule of 50km a day. Despite Barry's optimistic estimate, the kids had only managed to get on the water at 9:30. It's great to see the skills growing in the kids after just a day of paddling. When we first saw them they were weaving arcane patterns on the water. Second time past they almost looked like they were travelling in an orderly fashion. You have to have paddled a tandem canoe with a stranger to understand how hard it is to just go straight.

There was another school party from Lilydale waiting at Picnic Point. Apparently part of the same organised group because they were waiting for Barry's group, who were presumably handing over their canoes, and they knew who we were. We got to do a quick Q&A with the kids who were interested in his far we were going, where we'd come from, why our kayaks were different, and how well our solar panels could keep our phones charged.

In the Murray Marathon, Picnic Point is the end of day 2 and the start of day 3. The first section of Day 3, known as The Narrows is by far our favourite (except maybe the last 100m to the finish line). The Narrows is tight and twisty with lots of dead trees in the water making it even twistier as you duck and dive to avoid them. On race day you have the added challenge of up to 50 boats charging from a mass start into a confined path more suited to single file.

Our tandem racing strategy for The Narrows has always been to get out in front and stay there until it opens up. Just having another boat beside you, restricts your options and the fallen trees in the water can be very unforgiving on rudders, paddles, and hulls in general.

In single kayaks, we take it up a notch and race through the fallen trees, exploiting gaps in the branches and logs which are submerged "just enough" to skim over the top and straighten a corner for some advantage. It takes a good eye and a lot of practice to pick the right holes.

Today, travelling at about 3/4 of our race speed, we were both able to play with our racing line without the risk of seriously damaging a boat. Our sea kayaks are about ten times stronger than our race boats and our rudders flick up and back if they hit an obstacle. Kate's line was sharp as always and she got some laughs out of watching me fail to fit a large kayak through a couple of small gaps. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Not far into the narrows, we came across Norm and his wife. Norm has been paddling ahead of us for a whIle on his way to paddling the only section of the Murray that he hasn't paddled. We chatted for a few minutes about where we were each going while Kate and Norms wife paddled off down river without us.

By the time we got moving, they were both out of sight and it was clear that Kate wasn't stopping for lunch until I caught up with her. She wasn't slowing down either... It took me a good 15 minutes hard paddling to finally catch her so we could have lunch.

We'd hemmed and hawed over whether to stop for the night at Barmah, 50 river kms for the day, or continue another 12km to the next caravan park. By paddling the extra 12km, we'd be improving our approach to the lock at Torrumbarry two days ahead. We need to reach the lock during operating hours so we can get to the caravan park immediately downstream and collect our first resupply cache. We haven't done a lot of planning ahead on this trip, but the upcoming locks will probably require some forward thinking if we don't want to be delayed for hours as we wait for a lock to be raised.

The extra 12km also means we're now a whole day banked ahead of our plan which we can withdraw if we want a rest day without worrying about how many days food we're carrying. The decision to proceed had absolutely nothing to do with the two school parties who said they'd be camping at the Barmah caravan park tonight. Nothing at all

As much as we love The Narrows, we have equally bad memories of the section from Barmah to Echuca. The first time we raced the Murray that section was blasted by a wind so cold we had to stop so Kate could put on one of my thermal tops as an extra layer. She was still shivering uncontrollably when we arrived in Echuca. We'd beaten our support crew who had all of our warm dry clothes and Kate was saved from hypothermia by Tony Bond and Rod Clark who loaned us the jackets they were wearing. Like I said. Bad memories.

Today those memories came flooding back as the head wind came calling and the high tree lined clay banks did their best to block the sun from the river. We pulled up at our stop just after 4pm and were a little nonplussed to be charged $44 for a square of patchy grass at the far end of the park away from most of the amenities and to find that tent sites don't warrant a picnic table or even a bench seat. The listing had said there was a large sandy beach in front of the park, but it appears to have rum away somewhere leaving a clay bank in it's place. We have taken full advantage of the hot showers and porcelain based amenities, but the price is a bit steep for an area where there's so many great campsites available for free on the VIC side of the river. Straight across the river even.

I absolutely did not say to Kate that we could have got out tent site as well as one of the best pub meals in Australia for the same $44 back in Barmah. The Barmy Parmy is the stuff of legends. Tomorrow, we should be passing through the river port of Echuca, which may involve dodging some paddle driven riverboats on the river. If we're really lucky, they might be going our way and we can get a bit of a surf ride downstream. At this point I'm running out of things to write about our trip as the river turns to a progression of sameness punctuated by small towns. To prevent me from resorting to phrases like corruscating sunlight and dappled leaves, it would be great to get some questions about the trip or the equipment we're carrying.

We are now past the 1/4 mark for our journey and the find raising is just behind. If you're getting a little entertainment from these daily updates then give a thought to making a small donation to our charity. If the refuge we've chosen to support isn't in your locale, then consider making a donation to a women's refuge near you.

28 Apr 21

Murray Paddle Day 11 of 48 - Doctors Beach to Sixty Mile Bend in Barmah National Park
Distance remaining 1811 km
Blisters 0
Bridges: 18
Location: 35°49'24.9" S, 145°07'08.2" E
The fast flowing descent from Bringenbrong to Hume and the wet lands from Hume to Yarrawonga are behind us and we are now settling into a rhythm for the long haul ahead.

The day begins around first light when we take the shovel for a walk into the bushes. We boil some water in the Jetboil for a hot drink. Tea for Kate and a decaf coffee for me. And then we boil some more for porridge while we drink our first cup.

In between coffee and porridge we pack away the sleeping bags, mattresses, inflatable pillows and sleeping bag liners. Then we detach the inner from the tent, leaving the fly and ground sheet to dry. We're finding that the tent fly is always wet on both inside and outside from the river mist. It's almost never dry before we are ready to leave, so we burriito wrap it in the waterproof ground sheet and pack it wet. A final hot drink while we wait for the sun to rise high enough to give us some warmth.

Packing the boats is a quick process now with everything having a well established position. I'm my boat, the camping gear is all in the front hatch except for my sleeping bag which only fits in the rear hatch. The rear hatch has a loose bag on clothes which are the last thing into the boat in the morning, as I switch into my paddling gear, and one of the first things out of the boat at the end of the day.

Typically, we are on the water at 8:45 give or take 10 minutes. We paddle until 10:30 when we have a morning snack on the float. Usually that's a museli bar or a piece of fruit like a mandarin. Our next break is at 12:30 for lunch, by which time we've usually paddled 30km. Lunch consists of taco pockets filled with peanut butter for me and hummus for Kate, a handful of mixed nuts and an apple. Again we're eating on the float, drifting along while keeping an eye out for snags in the river.
By 1pm, lunch is over and its back to paddling for another few hours.
By 3pm, we've usually logged 50km on our GPS which is our target distance for the day. There's an ongoing discrepancy between the distances we record on GPS and the marked river kilometers. Kate's 52.6km by cutting corners is the same as my 56.2km hanging wide on the bends and the same as the 57km on the posted distance.

Initially we were paddling until 4pm and then looking for a campsite but we've moved it up an hour to improve our campsite options. It also means we a getting more time in the sun and our paddling gear gets to dry out before we turn in for the night.

Over the past few days we've skipped a lot of good campsites because there were school parties already camped there or they were crowded with caravans.Today's options have been reduced by the high muddy banks that are vommon in Barmah National Park.

For those who don't know, you can only camp on the left bank, which is Victoria. There's no camping on the rivers edge on the NSW side. Murphy's law says all the really good looking campsites are on the NSW side, but the autumn sun is on the VIC side, so it evens out.

The first task after we find s site is to start filtering water through our 6L gravity filter. The first litre goes into the jet boil for coffee and the next 4 goes to an MSR dromedary bag with a couple of water purification tablets for drinkkng the next day. The filter get refilled so we have water for cooking and hot drinks.

After setting up the tent, sleeping gear and helinox chairs, we have some time for a little reading in the sun. We each bought a drybag full of paperbacks and a Kindle for when the paperbacks run out. One more tea/coffee before it's dinner time.

Kate has prepared dehydrated meals for the whole trip. It's s system we've been using on hiking trips for a few years now. All of the dehydrated ingredients are added to a large Ziploc bag before the trip and cooking is as simple as adding boing water, putting the bag into an insulated sleeve and waiting a few minutes.

Flavours include. Butter chicken, mango curry, green curry, yellow curry, laksa, spaghetti Bolognese, chilli con carne, miso, and gumbo. After dinner, there's a hot chocolate and it's time for bed because it's dark by 7:30. That's likely to be the routine for the next month, broken only by riverside towns and the occasional lock which we have to pass through.

Today there was some variation as we ran across Barry Bell and a school party in one of the better campsites. While it was great to see Barry. It was even better to hear that they had only stopped for lunch and were loving off down river leaving us with the campsite all to Our selves

For the Murray marathon paddlers out there, we had a quick scout through the shortcut at day2 checkpoint bravo. It is passable, if you can pull two 120° turns, two boat lengths apart at speed as you're being swept sideways into a fallen tree.

Tonight, we arar21ekm frkm Picnic Point so we will be on one of pur favourite parts of the river tomorrow - The Narrows

27 Apr 21

Murray Paddle Day 10 of 48 - Seppels Beach to Doctors Beach, 16km past Tocumwal
Distance remaining 1870 km
Blisters 0
Bridges: 18
Location: 35°48'50.4" S, 145°28'04.1" E
So the counr of consecutive paddling days has finally made it to double digits and we"re both very happy, if not a little amazed that while we've broken some equipment, the anatomical damage has been confined to a handful of blisters and some aching shoulders.

Unconventionally our preparation for this adventure didn't include months of paddle fitness to toughen up out hands and bums. It didn't actually include months of anything as we've been hiking in TAS all summer with every intention of a pending the colder months in Northern Queensland.

What does seem to help is that we both have good paddle technique from enfurance racing pre-Covid. Since leaving Bringebrong we've gone from zero paddling to day after day of 50-60km.

Based on a quick calculation. I'm.expecting to grind through 1.5M paddle strokes on our way to Goolws.. f you're considering this kind of adventure, a good forward stroke is probably the most important thing you can bring on the trip. Even s single stroke clinic with a good coach will make a huge difference to your endurance. And lower your wear and tear.

Progresing downstream banks are becoming more crowded as we gp. Every few kilometers there are caravans parked and tents pitched on the beaches and river banks. Finding a campsite isn't difficult here, if you don't mind neighbours.

With the increase in campers comes the increasing frequency of the small room with the big view setup. This common camp set up is where an ensuite tent is positioned on the beach facing out across the river so the occupant can contemplate the wonders of the australian bush whlle on the portaloo. Usual the occupant is not expecting a close proximity visit from a pair of kayakers cutting close to the corner. Another variation, the shower tent with a view is also popular in summer.

Also competing for campsite space are seven groups of year 8 students from Ballarat, paddling tandem canoes. Its always fun to watch students in tandem weaving and careening around on the water like drunken honey bees.

After 14 years living in Australia I finally had a close up encounter with a koala in the wild. Not the grey fuzzy maybe-it-is-maybe-it-isn't blob high in eucalyptus. This one had climbed down onto a fallen branch to get to the river fof a drink. I called Kate over and we spent 10 minutes watching him ignore us completely. Kate spotted another koala high in a tree half an hour later. But once you've seen one. You've seen em all.
Along with campers comes fishermen and I managed to paddle into a fishing line today. Luckily the hook failed to catch on anything as it whizzed past and the fisherman didn't seem too upset at having their line relocated. More scenery today which is familiar from the Murray Marathon and yet unfamiliar at a slower pace. We cruised into the end of Day 10 at Tocumwal just after lunch, tied our kayaks up to a tree by the boat ramp and ducked across the road to visit the bakery for a milkshake and a slice. Every other time we've been to Tocumwal, the race officials and support crews for other teams have picked the bakery clean of everything except a food-free pastie and a spinach quiche. Adding insult to injury, they then proceed to tell us how good the carrot cake is and that we should get some if we come back when its there. Returning to our boats we discovered the tree we moored them to is home to the entire local population of Corellas all of which ard apparently incontinent.

Tomorrow we continue downstream to somewhere near picnic point

26 Apr 21

Murray Paddle Day 9 of 48 - Yarrawonga to Cobram Beach
Distance remaining 1926 km
Blisters 0
Bridges: 13
Location: here
As we climbed into our boats this morning at Yarrawonga it was hard not to think of the other times we've paddled this section of the river. From Yarrawonga to Tocumwal 97km downstream is the course for day one of the 5 day. 404km, Massive Murray Paddle. Once known as the Red Cross Murray Marathon. Kate and I have raced the marathon four times since 2016 so this is a familiar stretch of water. What's different this time is doing it at 3/4 of the pace.

In racing trim, our lightweight carbon fibre kayaks, weighing 11-12kg are bare of any weight except water and electrolytes - no more than 4 litres for the section, and enough energy gel sachets for one every hour with a spare. In our racing double we've covered the 97km in 7 hours and 6 seconds. Today in our sea kayaks, we paddled for 7 hours and only made it 60km.

Loaded with gear for an extended trip, our sea kayaks are so heavy that it takes both of us to lift them and we struggle to carry them any distance when they're loaded. The base weights are around 25kg and they're loaded with at least that much again. We haven't weighed them. We don't want to know. It was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky. The river is running but perhaps a touch slower than the we had experienced upriver.

While we paddled away the kilometres we had another go at validating our corner cutting race strategy. After an hour of Kate cutting corners and me hanging wide in the faster flow, I'd paddled 1.3km further than her to wind up 300metres behind her.

I can see why people like the fast water at the outside of the bends... my gps speed was around 10-11 kph conpared to Kate at 9-9.5 kph on the inside. You'd think if your boat is moving faster than the other persons you're going to be ahead, but the extra distance kills the advantage. The only reason Kate ended up 300m in front of me was that there were some long straights where I could make back some distance. Otherwise she would have been further ahead.

By now you're thinking that this isn't supposed to be a race. And you're right. But this does have a practical application. As I said yesterday there's a big speed differential between us in our singles and I've been spending a little chunk of each day so far stopped or floating and waiting for Kate to catch up. Now that the river has widened, i can paddle a wider line and end up beside Kate by paddling more kilometres at a slightly faster pace

It does make for confusing progress tracking. We paddled from mile marker 1986 to marker 1926 (they count down to the sea), 60km by river markers. Kate had only logged 52km on her GPS and mine was showing 55km.

25 Apr 21

Murray Paddle Day 8 of 48 - Collendina State Forest to Yarrawonga - 1986km to go Blisters 1

So here we are in Yarrawonga staring across the river at the 1986 mile marker. According to the upper river markers on the Victorian side, we are now 439km from our starting point at Bringenbrong Bridge. With eight days behind us, it feels like it's time to talk about our charity - Coast Shelter and the work they do before continuing with the ramblings. We are paddling this river for lots of reasons. We've always wanted to test ourselves against the challenge of the 2400km journey; we wanted to get back to paddle fitness after nearly a year travelling around the country; and I'll admit I was trying to distract Kate from the idea of hiking the 1000km Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia.

But it was also an.opportunity to use our adventure as a way to do something for a worthy charity. I chose Coast Shelter after talking to a friend who found herself in an abusive and dangerous relationship. She turned to Coast Shelter and they provided the shelter, and support, that allowed her to escape the relationship and start building a new life in safety. We were workmates and friends. Not close friends, but close enough that I'd like to say we would have helped out if we had known or been asked. So now we are trying to help by sharing our adventure with you all in exchange for a little bit of your time, and your support, and your willingness to help them help more people like my friend. Judy's Story
Judy was a 55 year old lady who had been admitted to Gosford Hospital with bruising and a possible rib fracture as a result of severe domestic violence. Police had arrived at Judy’s house after her neighbours reported screaming and immediately took out an AVO against her abusive partner. As it was unsafe for Judy to return home, she came to Kara Women and Children's Refuge with just the clothes on her back. Staff were able to provide Judy with clothing and toiletries until a time could be arranged with local Police to accompany her home, so that she could collect her belongings. Through the Housing NSW Start Safely Program, Judy was able to secure a one-bedroom private rental in a new area where she could feel safe. Judy keeps in touch with Kara staff and has made new friends through a Domestic Violence Support Group that she attends weekly. Judy is looking forward to a bright new future and will no longer live in fear. Laurens Story

Lauren came to Maya Young Women's Refuge after she was unable to live at home due to the ongoing violence and abuse she was suffering. Lauren arrived in a very chaotic state and at first, struggled to adjust to the routine at Maya. Unfortunately, this caused her to rebel and she failed to return home to the Refuge on a number of occasions. Eventually, with extra support from staff, Lauren settled in and started to enjoy and rely on the structure and positive household at Maya. She reengaged with schooling, regularly attended TAFE and even obtained a part-time job which was fantastic for her confidence.

As it was unsafe for Lauren to return home, she actively looked for accommodation while saving for a bond. Lauren ended up moving to her aunty’s house in Sydney and is now working full time as a trainee chef, which she is enjoying immensely. It was a fantastic result for a young lady who was committed to turn her life around and create a positive future for herself. To make a donation to Coast Shelter and help women like Judy and Lauren, click the link to our charity fund raising campaign. If you are in Australia, Coast Shelter is s registered charity and the donations are tax deductible. (Thanks to our wonderful friend Bernie Cairns for pointing that out)

We can now return you to our scheduled programming...
The 439km from Bringenbrong is around the same distance as the Texas Water Safari with a very similar progression from stream to creek to river to a grinding slog across a wide expanse of water with no current. Kate in particular isn't enjoying the still lakewater, the inevitable head winds and the weight of the loaded boat. Our decision to paddle single kayaks might seem strange to some people, especially those who know we have a double sea kayak and a tandem canoe in storage at the back of the rack at Expedition Kayaks (deserving of a plug as our favorite equipment supplier and enthusiastic supporter)

The tandem canoe, a Wenonah Minnesota II, would have been great for the load capaciity. The idea of carrying full sized camp chairs, fresh food, an esky (ice chest, chillibin, cooler) and other luxuries was very tempting but in the end we havent been able to get the seating right for Kate over more than 3-4 hours. With a trip that would probably mean a duration of closer to 60 days or 400 hours in the seat. Our North Shore Atlantic II double sea kayak was a definite contender for the trip. It's deceptively quick for its 6.0m length and 60cm beam. It's even won a race - the 111km Hawkesbury Classic. But it has two downsides. Firstly there's less storage in a double than there is in two singles. and way less than a tandem canoe. Secondly, and this was the deal killer, it's a wet ride for whoever sits in the front seat because with our high angle marathon racing stroke, the paddler in the back (usually me, because I'm not allowed to steer when Kate's in the boat since "the incident") throws paddle drips at the person in the front, leaving them permanently soaked and cold.

So we chose our single sea kayaks. Mine is a Rockpool Taran, and Kate's a Tiderace Pace. They are both fast sea touring kayaks.each with a plumb bow like a surfski, a rudder. and watertight compartments separated by bulkheads There's a stack of storage to the point that we haven't had to think very hard about what gear we couldn't fit in the boats or how we squeeze everything back in each morning. The main drawback of the singles is that we havr a speed differential between us of 15-20%. I'm not good at paddling slow because it just isn't my natural rhythm and if I do slow down my cadence, it slips back up a gear whenever my attention starts to wander. But we've managed 439km so far with Kate paddling away relentlessly and me stopping every so often to check maps or consult my GPS.

Incidentally for the ultra marathon racers out there. We both got over 50 hours of tracking time from a fresh pair of Lithium AA batteries in our Garmin eTrex 20 series devices with the backlights off. Today however the GPS maps and the River Access Guidebooks were all a bit useless as we liberated ourselves from the multi channelled wet land and emerged into the upper reaches of Lake Mulwala, the final transition before arriving in Yarrawonga. We'd camped the previous night at the entrance to a short 500m shortcut hannel which led to another shortcut, bypassing a 4km looking section of the main river. Or at least that's what the map showed. Actually my map showed the area as dry land Kate's showed a channel and the guidebook showed an even bigger channel. This was the same route I posted a pic of yesterday. We made it 550m before we ran into a wall of reeds and weeds, choking the channel. Forcing us to back track a kilometer to our campsite and then take the long way round. Overall, 5km travel when we expected 0.5km. Back in a major channel our hit rate remained at about 50% with half the shortcuts we entered ending in passable vegetation or fallen trees

Eventuallt we emerged into the lake near the town of Bundelong from which it's a fairly direct transit to Yarrawonga. Like many dammed lakes Mulwala is littered with the ghosts of trees drowned by the forming of the lake behind the dam. We ignored the meandering path of the submerged Murray river bed and took a direct line across the lake as soon as we had open water in front of us. The crossing was incessantly interrupted by water weed getting caught on our rudders. We would get 30-50 paddle stroke in before having to pull on the rudder uphaul to dump the weed off the rudder blade. The maps had one last chance to let us down on the approach to Yarrawonga a boat ramp was indicated just a few hundred metres upstresm from.the dam wall, bit it doesn't exist and by the look of the resort in its place. It hasn't existed for a few years.

We diverted to the other side of the dam approach and pulled ourselves out of the lake and into an empty lot awsiting the start of some construction. Local paddler Tim Roadley had kindly offered to shuttle our boats and gear from above the dam to a boat ramp in the caravan park below With much of the day gone the chance for a hot shower and the convenience of a toilet that doesn't involve a shovel, we decided to check in for a night at the caravan park Tomorrow we leave Yarrawonga and follow the course of the Murray Marathon (now the Massive Murray Paddle) for the next 250km to the river port of Echuca. We're not sure what our progress will be like down the river as the flow from here is controlled by whatever is being released from the dam we can see upstream.

24 Apr 2021

Murray Paddle Day 7 of 48 - St Leonard's Bend to Collendina State Forest 5km short of Bundelong. Today's random musing was going to be about river flow. We were padfling along and I was calculating that if the river flows at an average of 3kph for 24 hours then it covers 72km a day. While we paddle for 7 hours a day between breakkng and making camp, covering 50-60km a day.
This leads me to two conclusions...
1) if we sat in our boats and drifted, we'd get to the sea faster than if we paddle; and
2) it's quite likely that I've drunk some of the water from the Murray more than once. Thankfully increasingly diluted
But then the day became more interesting so I gave a story to tell instead
We started our day just past marker 2090 and ended up just short of marker 2028. Having paddled 42km in between the two. We misplaced another 18km. As we entered the town of Corowa we crossed under our 13th bridge of the journey and entered the realm of the Murray River houseboat. Being the weekend it was also our first encounter with powered water craft. Fishermen were out in numbers as well as a few petrol-heads who were just racing up and down the river, turning petrol into exhaust fumes and noise.
We came across one fishermen who's motor had died leaving him drifting in the current. I offered to tow him in exchange for a cold beer or two but he said his campsite was downstream so he'd just drift along and drink the beer himself.
As others have warned us, we've entered the wetland area above Yarrawonga and there are many many different channels to choose from (see pic). From the water it's possible to just follow the flow, but we are searching for the short routes so we end up referring to maps and GPS on the fly.
Our main map set is the Murray River Access Guide Books which are fortunately available via a phone app. They show the river and details relevant to our travels and we refer to them every 5-10 kilometers. Once we have an idea of what's coming up, we use our Garmjn eTrex GPSs with topographic maps to choose the necessary forks and turns on the run. What we have noticed today is that Kate's GPS with a map from 2006 shows different channels to mine with a map from 2016. Surprisingly, mine has been wrong as many times as hers today. We paddled a fast moving channel that was 60-80m wide and 5km long. My map showed a creek-like hairline. Kate's showed a wide channel.
We made good gains on two of the alternates and then ran into a barrier of broken concrete and rubble which had been bulldozed across another to form a farm bridge. This was after a nearby fisherman had told us the channel was clear and he took his boat through all the time. I was just about to tell Kate to slap me next time I asked navigation advice from a beer drinking fishing potato when things got interesting.
We were back tracking out of the blocked channel when a jet ski came roaring towards Kate and lunged to a halt. I was all set to give the new arrival a verbal spray, when I spotted the blue jumpsuit, and the NSW maritime patches on his shoulders and the jetski. "Are you the Dawsons?" So obviously this wasn't about us trying to navigate a blocked backwater through somebodies farm, and we were wearing our PFDs (hi-vis yellow so there's no excuse for the skiboats not seeing us).
This guy knew who we were... I got that sinking feeling that we've been here before... In 2019 we raced the Yukon River Quest and were visited by a search party from the RCMP (The Mounties, who disappointingly dress like normal police when it's not Canada Day) Our SPOT tracker has malfunctioned and sent an SOS. It did that five more times during the 700km race before we swapped it for a replacement.
Sure enough it has happened again with a new device. At 11:30sm our SPOT started transmitting an SOS in addition to its 5 minute tracking updates. The police coming downstream found us at 13:30, and the SES volunteers coming upstream found us about 10 minutes later. They were pleased to find that we were safe and well, and remained quite good humoured about being called out on a Saturday morning. Their first assumption that we'd accidentally activated the device was disproved when I showed them that the safety covers over the help and SOS buttons were covered over with duct tape. We'd been with a hiking party in Tasmania who had got an evening visit from a rescue helicopter crew after accidentally depressing the SOS button an InReach shoved inside a backpack. I'd put the tape on my spot the next day.

What was surprising was that the police had been forced to search the river for us because the SPOT control centre hadn't passed on info about the position updates we were sending every five minutes. During a conversation between the police and SPOT about it being a fault in the unit, the SPOT operator asked if it was possible that we might have got it wet? If you're thinking about buying a SPOT, don't.
We assured the search team that we were fine and that we carry a real PLB each which we will use if we really get in trouble over the next 2000km. We've pulled the batteries out of the SPOT to keep it from causing more trouble. We then spent the next hour contacting our kids who are our listed emergency contacts. They'd initially been concerned, except for "B" who'd been our contact in Canada and was convinced it was a false alarm again. "L" was pretty sure we would be evacuating ourselves and wouldn't need help. "G" was sure we were in good hands so went shopping for lounge furniture. "R" hasn't checked his messages yet.
Tomorrow we make a push for Yarrawonga weir and the second obstacle on our journey that requires some external assistance. From the bottom of the weir, we will be back on the familiar waters where the Massive Murray Paddle aka The Murray Marathon is held. We've raced 404 of the 550 odd kilometres from there to Swan Hill so it will be familiar yet different to do it in ten days instead of five

23 Apr 2021

Murray Paddle Day 6 of 48 - Richardson's Bend to St Leonard's Bend about 8km short of Corowal.
We were still having our morning coffee when Paul Brooker, another source to sea paddler, paddled past our campsite. We weren't away until about 45 minutes later and ran into him again as he was stopped in Howlong for lunch where he'd met up with two other paddlers (sorry didn't get their names) paddling the river in a double. So with us, Paul. Amy who is a few days ahead, the double, another paddler Norm who passed Amy after Hume Dam, and one more starting in the next week, there are eight paddlers spread over the first 400 odd kilometers of the Murray, all on their way to the sea.
Andrew, the last paddler to start will be hiking and riding from the top of Kosciousco to Biggara where he plans to take a whitewater kayak through the higher reaches of the Murray, switching to a sea kayak at some point down river.
We began our adventure at Bringenbrong which seems to be the generally accepted point from which a competent paddler can safely take a kayak of canoe to the end without needing a second whitewater boat. (Although the day we were scouting we came across some fishermen in an oar rigged jonboat which makes me wonder how much further upstream we could have started with the current river level). Paul started a little down river from us at Towong avoiding the gravel chutes, twists nd snags you get from Bringenbrong to Towong.
I think the section gets a bad wrap from some of the paddlers who have blogged about their experiences. We caught it at a good flow (for us) when it was fast twisty fun, even in fully laden boats. On the other hand it isn't a section I'd recommend to an inexperienced paddler travelling alone. Scouting rapids from the shore would be terribly slow. Many of the snags are blocking more than 75% of the river requiring good boat control and decisive strokes.
The couple in the double began at Hume Dam. Amy started at Walwa about halfway between Bringenbrong and Hume Dam. Everybody has a different idea of what constitutes a Murray River Expedition. The starting points vary according to experience and inclination.
I cant argue with Andrew's True Source to Sea approach except to note that what flows to the sea from the Murray River could have started it's journey from any one of a thousand source creeks across most of South Eastern Australia. Is it true to say that there is a single trickle on the side of Kosciousco that is more essentially Murray than the others? To the purist, must the ultimate source be the highest point in the land? As we continue downriver, there are forks and splits in the river where we have the option of continuing one way along the cartographers "Murray River' or taking another branch that deviates for long enough to get it's own name, before becoming the Murray River again somewhere downstream.

All of this is essentially a way of asking ourselves - are we cheating? Are we cheating if we take the old channel across the oxbow which is only open because the river is over it's banks? Are we cheating if we don't record the whole 2400km on our GPS? Which I expect would be measured down the middle of the river. Will we arrive at the end and find that we aren't allowed to congratulate ourselves on paddling the length of the Murray?
I saw earlier tonight that Paul paddled 80km for the day, starting about a kilometre upstream from us and finishing in Corowal, 8km downstream of our campsite. The first thing that struck me when i saw the post was that we only paddled 61km today... (that's 10km unaccounted for on the same stretch of river). About a 10% difference. If we keep this up, we may only paddle 2200km. Won't that be good? 🙂
Our intention was to paddle from the highest practical access point at Bringenbrong to the sea. With a start point, and an end point, we'll paddle the bit in between except where we can't because of dams, cutting corners, and navigating whichever flow takes us closer to our destination. We're happy with that. We've been having a great time running the inside corners and diving through the gaps in the fallen trees that litter the river. Along the way, we're testing out some techniques that we hope to use on the Yukon 1000 in 2022, if the borders open up by then. I expect that even when we all get to the finish, we may have equally different ideas about where exactly the journey ends.
Anyway, that's today's random musing from 7 hours and 60 kilometres of progress down the river. We are just past marker 2090, lying in our tent listening to something quite large snorting and splashing in the river down by our kayaks. If I was in Canada I'd be reaching for the bear spray. But since we know it doesn't work on drop bears, we'll just have to be vewy vewy quiet.

22 Apr 2021

Murray Paddle Day 5 of 48, and we are past the dam. Hume Dam that is, 2,224km from the sea, the first of two barriers which we are being helped past by generous friends. In this case Joanne Hamilton-Vale and husband Pete who picked us up above the dam, put us up for the night, then cooked us breakfast before sending us on our way from the boat ramp below the dam. If Pete's career in motorsport ever falls on hard times, he could easily make some good coin as a chef. His country style Eggs Benedict was even good enough to satisfy Kate who been well on her way to becoming a vegetarian. 🤫

An afternoon swapping stories with Jo of ultra marathon paddles and shenanigans across the world left us all longing fof the borders to reopen so we could go back and race again.
The water discharged from the dam comes out 10C colder than the river above, being drawn from the bottom of the dam. This has apparently lead to the localised extinction of the Murray Cod in the section of the river between Hume Dam and Yarrawonga which is the next impassable barrier we encounter, 1,986km from the sea, 238km or about 5 days ahead of us.

Counting down the distance to the sea now becomes easier with mile markers (Are they still mile markers when they're in kilometers?) posted on trees every few kilometers on the New South Wales side of the river. 26km and 6 bridges downstream from the dam, we were in the border twin city of Albury-Wodonga. We thought we were familiar with this section of the river, having raced it several times in The Frank Harrison race over the years, but the water level was higher than we were used to and the normally meandering course of gravel banks was wide and flooded with water.

With the water flowing again, we had morning snacks on the float - a mandarin - then lunch - peanut butter in a taco shell for me and hummus in a taco shell for Kate, followed by some mixed nuts and an apple each. While resupply along the river isn't difficult with towns every 2-4 days, we've opted to carry our food for 16 day blocks with us. It's all part of field testing some strategies we hope to use in 2022 when we're able to travel back to Canada for the Yukon 1000, a ten day self supported race through the Yukon, into Alaska. From Albury, the flow of the river was back and we drifted almost a kilometer during our 20 minute lunch break.

As the river has widened we've also changed our line from following the faster flowing water at the outside of the bends to running the shorter path through the inside of the bend and cutting corners between the alternating turns.

If you do the math, a river bend with an inside radius of 100m and an outside radius of 200m is 2 times longer around the outside, so the flow has to be much faster on.the outside to make it worth the longer path. As the river gets wider, the difference just gets bigger.

We even did some experiments to check our theory. We both started on either side of a straight leading into a bend. I positioned for the outside and Kate lined up for the inside. If the outside was faster, combined with my faster boat speed (I'm about 20% faster than Kate when we're both paddling hard), I should exit the bend before Kate on her shorter but slightly slower path. Kate beat me around the bends by a good margin each time.

If you're interested in this sort of stuff. Check out a Facebook page and website called The Science of Paddling, it's very cool and paddle nerdy. This random stream of consciousness will probably get worse as the days turn into weeks on this trip, and we literally go round the bend.

Anyway... having amused ourselves for a few kilometers we finally made our target campsite 60km downstream at Richardson's Bend for an early 3pm finish. Time to set up camp, make a cup of coffee and read a book for a few hours in front of a campfire. After 5 days, we are just s few kilometers ahead of schedule and everything is going well.

We are 10% through our journey and 10% of he way to our fund raising target (link to donate up the top).

21 Apr 2021

Murray Paddle Day 4 of 48. A hard slow grind to the Hume Dam wall with no current and a head wind for the last 20km. The Taran is proving to be a great boat when loaded up. It's cruising speed is barely affected by the extra weight of gear and food, and the handling is possibly better as it shrugs off waves and wind with the extra load weight.

Other things that are working well...

  • Synthetic sleeping bags. They may be larger and heavier than the down bags we've been using for hiking. But they aren't bothered by the damp conditions, and there are no cold spots where the down has flattened.
  • Nemo Tensor sleeping mats. Thick enough to ignore and rocks and debris under the tent making for a good nights sleep. They're also a snap to inflate with a vortex bag that only takes three breaths.
  • The Platypus gravity water filter is making easy work of the silt laden water of the Murray.
  • Crocs. Ever fashionable. They're also functional as riverside camp footwear. Light, insulated from the cold ground and easy to clean the mud off.

Things not working do well...

  • My Garmin Fenix 6s watch which has died of water ingestion after just 15 months of use. Not happy.
  • We should have bought along a few extra drybags to store wet stuff in the boat. Counterintuitive, but every morning the tent fly has been coated inside and out with dew and there's been no time to get it dry. So we want to package it up in a waterproof bag and put it in a hatch while keeping the water out of the hatch.
  • We also need to give a little more thought to the distances to the various locks and dams downstream and ensure we aren't arriving too late to pass through and then make the next campsite before 4:30.

After finishing the lake paddle. We were met by Joanne who's given us a bed for the night, fed and entertained us, and will drop us below the dam for a full day back on the river tomorrow.

Above: Not the Hawkesbury bridge

Above: Lake Hume

20 Apr 2021

Murray Paddle Day 3 of 48 (v2 after Facebook lost the first post) The plan for the day was to transition from the upper river section to the open waters of Lake Hume. We'd been using GPS maps to given us advance warning of the upcoming bends in the river and subsequently where the faster flows on the outside of the bends would lie.

Transition to the lake would been taking longer bearings on distant points to navigate through the arms of the lake. We expected the river to end 18km downstream from our day 2 campsite, leaving us 56km from the Hume Dam. Unfortunately. The maps are a little disconnected from reality. The topographic maps show the lake margins as they would be if the lake was at capacity. It's currently at 44%, and apparently operates mostly between 60% in Spring as it fills with snow melt and 30% in Autumn after the irrigation water is released during Summer. For us that means that there are large areas mapped as "lake" where the reality is lake bottom which is exposed down to the old riverbed.

Above: Campsite

Initially the river just continued further downstream than expected, which was easy to follow. When we finally hit the lake, it was broad expanse of flat water, inviting us to take a direct line across it. The warning sign was a pair of fence posts poking up out of the water with a metal farm gate hung between them. The farm gate was swinging with the bottom of the gate a few inches above the water... if you haven't worked it out yet, that means that there was a very shallow lake extending off in all directions and we no longer knew where the deep passable river bed was because it was lost under water.

Kayaks don't like shallow water and anything shallower than a third of your boat length causes drag and makes paddling much harder than it needs to be. Our first strategy was to follow the line of the VIC-NSW state border as it is defined by the Victorian bank of the Murray River. That worked pretty well. Before long we also worked out that you can follow a corridor created by the dead River gums that must have lined the river before the dam drowned them. That got us through to the real lake where it up longer mattered where the water was deeper.

Out on the lake we got hammered by a head wind which whipped up small waves and slowed us even more than the lack of current across the dam. The lower water level also made finding a campsite more difficult as there is a rocky wasteland zone between the current waters edge and the historic edge 30 or so metres up the steep banks. With a storm front coming straight at us, the barren slopes didn't offer much in the way of flat tent sites or trees for shelter. We ended up camped in a vaguely flat area only metres from the lakeside road. 36°03'04.0"S 147°13'12.4"E

26km to the dam wall tomorrow.

Above: Borderline paddling

19 Apr 2021

Day 2 of 48. Happy Birthday Kate. No reception here, so I don't know when this one will go out.

Overnight the river mist condensed on every exposed surface. The tent fly was soaked inside and out, which took some drying out time in the morning. Our boat packing seems to be working ok with the regularly used items immediately inside the hatches and the low use stuff like food for downstream shoved deep into the ends of the boats.

The river has widened and picked up some speed today. It rose an inch overnight so maybe somebody has turned the taps on upstream. One large tree almost across the width of the river requiring a hard cross into shallows to avoid it.

60km down for the day, with lunch on the float. An easy 1.5km as we ate our lunch.

The river is beautiful, lined with gums, willows and some tree which has leaves turning golden in the Autumn. A huge flock of pelicans circled us for a while. Probably 35 or 40.

As we approached our campsite at Borrowye Bend we were a bit concerned to see that there were large hazard reduction burns being conducted, shrouding the river in smoke. Fortunately it cleared just as we rounded the bend to the campsite and the fields are now smoldering downwind of us.

Above: Wide, poplar lined river

Above: Campsite

18 Apr 2021

Day one. Late start at Bringenbrong because we needed to square away the truck and camper for 7 weeks of storage. Not particularly thrilled to find a skim of ice on the boats when we woke up. Finally hit the water at 10:45. Water moving quite nicely thank you so we were pelting along at 10-15kph for most of the day. Quite a relief since we haven't had a lot of boat time since leaving Sydney and the muscles need a bit of a gentle ramping up before we hit the slow water downstream behind the weirs and locks. Flew through Towong and Tintaldra, then started looking for a campsite after 4pm. Advice from somebody... The campsite we saw at 3:55 was the best of the day. Other options were fenced off with electric fences, or right in front of a farmer's homestead. Now set up for a night on a sandy beach here... 35°59'34.2"S 147°53'51.2"E

About 2km past Tintaldra.

Above: Icy!

Above: Campsite

17 April 2021

Above: Kayak Loading.

All of this crap has to go into two kayaks 48 days breakfast, and lunch 16 days dinner (The rest are waiting at Torrumbarry and Mildura) Fuel for 16 days Toilet paper for 16 days Clothes for whatever the weather does between April 18th and June 2nd Tent, sleeping bags, and other sundry stuff. A couple of books each.

16 April 2021

Doing a bit of casual last minute reconnaissance at Bringenbrong Bridge which is the starting point for our next adventure. Food and fuel drops have been made at Torrumbarry and Mildura. Tomorrow is sorting out gear day. Sunday. We go.