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SATURDAY 27 MAY 2017

This morning I woke up, packed up and got on the water from The Gorge, bound for Lilydale. I sung my song joyfully down the river, my trusty “River” by Leon Bridges.  I was wrong about it being flat water after The Gorge. The water is deep now. Very, very deep. Turbulent, bubbling, boiling, swirling. Deep, dark and fast. It felt very different to the previous week because while a treacherous tangle, it was generally quite shallow. Framed by towering granite, The Gorge and the waters below felt more intimidating. I felt more at the mercy of it’s moods. The Winter’s warned me about several sections, I noted their advice and blindly trusted it to be true (which I knew it would be).  There were sections I just had to run without knowing what was down the other side or without hesitating or being afraid of the speed of the water. “Look for the big rock covered in Shag shit, shoot straight through the centre, hang a left after the drop and stick to the left bank. Don’t go into the trees or you’ll have to get out and go back around”.

I started to feel tired this day. I paddled down the left side of the island in the centre and the water was a fast, tossing torrent of waves. I was praying the waves wouldn’t splash in, they did a bit, not enough to sink me but enough to make me very heavy. I pulled over to tip out and have a breather, then continued off into the fog. Rapids and runs continued to pop up, I couldn’t see much of where I was, finally the fog lifted to another perfect day. I got to another set of rapids, decent sized, I was feeling tired just looking at them. I paddled over to the bank, jumped out and decided to spend some precious battery power listening to music. I played “Happy” by Pharrell Williams then “Ocean Drive” by Duke Dumont. I jumped on a rock in the river, headphones blasting, and went crazy like I was on a podium and danced in ecstasy with the sunshine for about an hour. It definitely gave me an energy hit and the state change I needed from the un-resourceful space I was in to tackle the rapids ahead. I paddled to the left bank to scout the run but it wasn’t safe, so I paddled back out into the main flow to find a safe way through. I went over to the right and dropped into a beautiful big hole. Nearly all the rapids on this day were a joy. Beautiful runs, I noticed the river really dropping and descending down. It was still really remote and I didn’t see anyone. It was the most perfect day. So, so pretty. The stretch below the road to The Gorge was magic. Like everglades. Golf course greens! The rapids here were fast, deep and wide. I was careful considering my load, and my boat and person damage. I picked the lines that were slower and less unpredictable, no time for cowgirl tricks. The runs were long and powerful. I actually smiled at how much I’d learned on the job. It was exhilarating. Of course, the second I said to myself “You’ve actually learned how to paddle!” I was nearly turfed out! A little nudge from the angel on my shoulder to remind me who was paddling!

I rounded a bend and some horses took off from the bank, it was so beautiful. I focussed on enjoying every stroke. There was a fair bit of flatwater paddling after this. I had to stop and let a little water out but I couldn’t be sure whether I was actually taking water or if it was splashing in from the river waves. After some long flatwater sections the Lilydale bridge finally came into view. I was so excited, it had been a big day. I saw two figures on the bridge, I waved, they waved back. As I got closer I realised it was Simon and Kate Dougherty. They’ve been so amazing this entire time, just wonderful. They were so happy to see me and I was so happy to see them. They gave me Jatz crackers, gosh they tasted good, they said they’d been chasing me like Pokemon, watching my online track dot trying to find me. While I was catching up with them, Dad’s car rolled up! Mum, Dad, Mick, Archie and Phoenix! The reunion was the SWEETEST. 10 long days apart. We all hugged and kissed forever and were so happy to see each other. Simon and Kate stayed for a little while then they got going. Dad also happened to know some people who had set up a camp site nearby, Col and Imelda Harvey. Dad used to work with Col at the Sugar Mill when they were young. They charged up all my gear for me, gave me some firewood and were lovely to chat to. Mum bought a yummy picnic out for dinner, spinach pie! I couldn’t resist. And my brother Jack and Jade drove out too which was so wonderful. We really had a wonderful time together. The kids made my fire, Mick set up my camp, I was spoilt by my boys! I felt a bit sad when they all left but it’s OK, I know I’m out here for a purpose and I’m getting closer by the day / night / stroke to getting home.

After they left I chatted to Col and Mel, wrote in my journal by my fire, and mucked around online a little. I just got a little bit of reception for the first time so it was nice to read some of the messages people have been sending me. I stayed up for a little while then got to sleep for another big day tomorrow. Little did I know how big it would be…..

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