Lipstick for goats

Lipstick for goats

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Kayak adventure gone wrong

I had not intended to tell this story but my hubby asked if I was going to do a blog about it.

I sort of squinted at him, furrowed my brow and raised an eyebrow, “Really you want me to write about your harebrained mis- adventure?” 

Him:  “It wasn’t harebrained  or a mis- adventure, we had a great time”.  We being hubby and son. 

Well that is where men and women have differing opinions of what a fun adventure consists of, and I guess it depends whose side of the story is being told.

This is my side, his side differs greatly.    

The weekend before the ‘mis- adventure’ hubby had studied the maps and decided to kayak down a small part of the Mongarlowe River.  Apart from a few narrow spots with overhanging vegetation it was an easy paddle. 

The Mongarlowe River

One river conquered, the big one waiting.  Again the maps were consulted. If it took one hour to go from A to B on the Mongarlowe River then it looked twice the distance for the Shoalhaven River on the map. 

Against my better judgment I dropped major man and minor man off at the water hole at Bombay Bridge.  It was just before 5pm, dusk was around 8pm, plenty of time declared major man, armed with a snap lock bag of sultanas and snacks plus mobile phone and nothing else; no shoes, no torch, no jumpers.  I was to collect them at the Warri Bridge two hours later.

 At Bombay Bridge.  It looked like a pleasant start.

Warri Bridge over the Shoalhaven River

Tia Maria and I waited at the bridge. Tia Maria being my dog not the alcohol, although if I had known how the evening was to turn out I may have started drinking about now.  

The problem with the Warri bridge area was I had very little mobile service.  It was getting on for the estimated time of arrival but no sign of them floating down the river. Tia and I had been sitting on the beach, me reading, her swimming.  I went for a walk along the sand to see if I could detect them around the bend.  Nothing. 

Back at the car I had mobile reception. There was a message from major man “We are fine but it is taking longer than we anticipated.” 

Okay.  Waited another half hour.  Back down to the beach, nope no sign of them, back to the car, beach, car, beach, car to get mobile reception to try him on his phone for the 6th time.  Why is his mobile turned off?   Dusk was approaching and my anxiety building. 

I was in and out of the car like a jack in the box.  The Warri rest area on the Shoalhaven River is a popular spot for free camping.  Some young guys were watching what must have appeared my rather odd behaviour, agitatedly walking up and down, in and out of the car, with the mobile clamped to my ear. Eventually they came over to say Hi.  I am sure they either thought I was a drug dealer or was waiting for my dealer!!

It was now dark, I didn’t have a torch, neither Tia nor I had eaten, major man’s phone was off or had no reception, they were nowhere in sight. I decided to get the number for Braidwood police but held off calling just in case my boys turned up over the next 10 minutes.

One last time down to the beach to see if I could see them coming. Then I would call the police.  

At the end of the beach on the bend Derek was camping for the weekend.  He had also observed my treks up and down the sand. He was in a happy mood having had quite a bit to drink. He asked me if all was OK. 
I explained what was going on.  His slurred, extremely ozzie statement to the situation was “Dickheads!  Here have a beer”.  

I declined the beer.  I thought I would try yelling down the river to see if I got a reply. I have a good five acre voice.  (Ask my neighbours!) No reply.  Okay, that’s it, I will call the police.  I was headed back to the car when Derek called after me “Hey is your name Kerrie? I can hear someone calling from the other side of the river.”  Pure relief flooded over me.  

The yelling to and fro was frustrating. Major man and minor man could hear me but the wind was carrying their voices away.   Eventually Derek and I worked out they had abandoned their kayak and surf ski over a kilometre further up the river and were on foot, they were safe but stranded somewhere on the other side of the river.  Major man’s phone had gone for a swim and no form of resuscitation was bringing it back to life.  

“Just swim over to us” was my exasperated yell to them. Derek in his drunken helpful way was waving an emergency fluorescent tube in the air with an almost mesmerising chant of “Follow the light, come to the light”, like they were a pair of moths.   No, the blackberry vegetation along the steep bank of the river was too dense and they couldn’t find their way through it in the dark to the river edge, even with Derek’s glowing stick and chanting! 

The next plan was to drive the car to the river under the bridge and use the driving lights to help them find their way to me through the bush.  I kept calling to them until I was almost hoarse but wasn’t hearing an answer.  So I waited 20 minutes there, lights illuminating the river and bush in an amazing display of blinding halogen.  Even Derek up the other end of the river commented on how “bloody amazing” the lights were. 

Eventually I gave up and went back to my now good mate Derek.  My greeting from him was “Nah, they are still stuck over there....... Dickheads.”

Major man could see a farm house lit up in the distance behind him.  They were going to try to make their way to the house. I was to meet them there or try to drive from the house down to the river.

By this time it was getting close to 9.30 pm. It was a very dark night. 

View from the Warri Bridge

I arrived at the house, now in tears. Can you imagine opening your front door at night to a distressed woman in tears, with a very strange story about her husband and son stranded at the river and asking them for help to find them?

Fortunately they believed me and were willing to help. But it turned out these people were only leasing the house, not the land, and had only lived there a week with no idea how to get down to the river!!

After opening and closing numerous gates my farm house saviours, Mark and Linda, found a track down towards the river where we called and called for major and minor with no luck.  I was now becoming really panicked. 

Mark wanted to call the SES. (State Emergency Services) to rescue my major and minor men. We decided we would go back over the river where we last heard from them and give it a final try to locate the boys before involving a heap of people.  

Back down the 2 kilometre driveway, over the bridge and back down to Derek, who at least could substantiate my story.  “They’re still there” said Derek with a shake of his head and a swig of beer followed by his usual refrain, “.....Dickheads”  

Mark had an idea where they were and called over to them to find the fence line, follow it towards the house lights, he would do the same from the other end until we met up.  

Bye Derek. Back over the bridge, along the two kilometre driveway and off into the most treacherous paddock I have ever seen.  The thistles were as high as the bonnet of the 4 wheel drive car and thick as a forest. Deep wombat holes were liberally dotted through the thistles and to the left was an erosion cliff.  

I have to say Mark had no idea what he may find over the next hillock in that dark paddock but not once did he baulk at continuing.

Hubby had already attempted to transverse the paddock but on a moonless night, without a torch, after stumbling into a concealed wombat hole and struggling their way bare foot through blackberry and thistle bushes he deemed it too dangerous to keep going with our son. Following the fence line still meant fighting through the thistles.

Then in the headlights we could see them coming up the paddock through the thistles.  I hugged minor man to within an inch of his life.  Major man got a push and sound telling off with a few choice swear words flying around, he was in deeeep cow poo and I told him, umm, yelled at him, “he was never taking minor man on another of his harebrained adventures”, but my son had the biggest grin on his face and said it was the best time he had ever had. He simply did not appreciate the danger they had been in on the river. 

We finally arrived back at our farm at midnight. Major and minor were none the worse for their adventure down the Shoalhaven River except hungry, damp and cold with a few thistle spikes in their feet and blackberry scratches over their arms and legs.

My husband’s side of the saga is this - 

He stresses at no point were they lost, he knew exactly where they were. They just couldn’t get through the blackberry and dense bush to the edge of the river or head through the paddock safely without a torch. Mark’s car headlights gave them a point of direction and helped light the way.

The reason the foray took them so long was because there were numerous cascades along the river, ranging in size from small to slightly steep, where they had to get out and carry their kayak and surf ski on land down and past the cascades.  The river was running fast and quite swollen from recent heavy rain which had also swept logs and tree branches as well as swallowing up vegetation which had been growing on small isles within the river. As darkness approached it was too dangerous to continue to navigate past these obstacles.

I think the real wake-up call was when husband was snagged under a partly submerged tree and the kayak took on water.  He could have been drowned.   He decided it was safer to abandon the vessels and walk the rest of the way to the bridge but the dense vegetation prevented them from following the edge of the river causing them to walk inland until they were near-ish to Werri.

I will not say if they had left hours earlier there would have been no drama. This part of the Shoalhaven River is not easily navigable.....(and husband had wondered why he had not seen kayakers on it! That is telling within itself!)   

Moral of story ask local knowledge first and listen to wife when she says it is too late in the afternoon to start an adventure.    

The next day we went back to Mark and Linda bearing thank you gifts. Derek had pulled up camp.  We then went off through the paddocks to collect the kayak and surf ski.  Husband drove pretty much straight to them.  As he said he knew exactly where he and minor were all the time. 

When we looked in the kayak the snap lock bag with husband’s drowned mobile phone nestled amongst sultanas was not where he left it when they set off on foot.  We figured the sultanas attracted an animal but thought we would find the phone discarded nearby.   A search of the general vicinity did not uncover it.  

I have this funny image in my mind of a possum munching on sultanas with the latest accessory in her pouch.  Ring, ring.  “Hello Pos here, nope don’t know who Major is.”  

Original photo & alteration with permission from xesce / possum tv