MY SHEROES #1 : AUDREY SUTHERLAND

Adventure, Parenting

 

Once per week going forward I’m going to share one of my “SHEROES”. The wisdoms of women who have shaped my thinking and hoed the path ahead of me.

One of my absolute sheroes and a woman who has had a huge impact on my attitude in the outdoors is Audrey Sutherland. As a single mother of 4 she took up solo paddling in her 60s and paddled over 8,000 miles of the Alaskan and British Columbian wilds, crossing gentle paths with bears and wolves and foraging her food as she went. I could write many things about Audrey, but I would love to share a list she wrote for her children that offers an insight into her extraordinary leadership as a mother. 

“What Every Kid Should Be Able to Do by Age Sixteen”

  • Swim 400 yards easily
  • Do dishes in a strange house, and your own
  • Cook a simple meal
  • See work to be done and do it
  • Care for tools and always put them away after use
  • Splice or put a fixture on an electric cord
  • Know basic information about five careers that suit you
  • Volunteer to work for a month in each of those fields
  • Clean a paintbrush after use
  • Change a diaper, and a tire
  • Listen to an adult talk with interest and empathy
  • Take initiative and responsibility for school work and home chores
  • Dance with any age
  • Clean a fish and dress a chicken
  • Drive a car with skill and sanity
  • Know and take responsibility for sexual conception and protection when needed
  • Know the basic five of first aid: restore breathing and heartbeat, control bleeding, dilute poisons, immobilize fractures, treat for shock
  • Write a business letter
  • Spend the family income for all bills and necessities for two months
  • Know basic auto mechanics and simple repair
  • Find your way across a strange city using public transportation
  • Be happy and comfortable alone for ten days, ten miles from the nearest other person
  • Save someone drowning using available equipment
  • Find a paying job and hold it for a month
  • Read at a tenth grade level
  • Read a topographic map and a chart
  • Know the local drug scene for yourself
  • Handle a boat safely and competently (canoe, kayak, skiff, sailboat)
  • Operate a sewing machine and mend your own clothes
  • Operate a computer as needed
  • Do your own laundry

I highly recommend her books PADDLING HAWAII, PADDLING NORTH AND PADDLING MY OWN CANOE. Or for a quick fix, READ MORE ABOUT AUDREY on the Patagonia blog HERE

SATURDAY 27 MAY 2017

Adventure

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…..

CEILINGS

Philosophy

There are no ceilings. Go outside. Look up. There’s nothing between you and the stars…

It might sound like a few throwaway lines, but most quotes are the finely tuned distillation of broad wisdoms and deep revelations. There were a few key pieces of advice that were said to me before I left that meant everything to me out on the river. In the humdrum of society they sound like cliches, in context, they’re life saving and defining creeds. This was a powerful one of my own I had out on the river, and is one of the messages I’m so passionate about sharing. I thought I’d share the backstory of it to give it some context within the everyday, so it can be similarly useful.

In 2015 when the idea for the paddle came to me, there was so much razor wire around my perception of possibility and what I thought I was capable of. I didn’t fully understand just how high and thick I’d erected those barriers, but once I started cutting them away in the wild and on the water, shedding that skin of conditioning and the robes of projections of others, I came alive in ways I couldn’t believe. Walls and obstacles came crashing down, as I suddenly realised how completely mind created they were. A fish doesn’t know it’s in water, and yet, the water influences the entire existence of the fish. Humans are the same. To live our best, most fulfilled, most passionate lives, to move toward self-actualisation, we need to know what the hell is in the water. What’s influencing and controlling us, because these forces are strong, and we can be completely oblivious to them, finding ourselves easily off course.

I wrote about night number nine of my expedition in my post Shadow of Stars, and the power that overcame me that night, but there’s a prequel to that post and it was three nights earlier on night six. In the tangle of motherhood I dreamed longingly of peace and quiet, of a fire built with my hands, lying beneath the diamond canopy of the night sky. On night six of my expedition I got it. Exactly the way I had dreamed. The nature of the previous six days had been serious navigating, with very little pause for enjoyment. Without realising I had completely slipped into that reptilian brain, that place of survival where instinct and intuition reign supreme, where senses are heightened, and the civilised mind falls silent. Mentally, I had barely come up for air as I fought my way through the thick tangle and gnarled wooden forests of the river.

This night, I had an apprehension of safety, and for what felt like the first time, I could look around and take in my surroundings for enjoyment and not purely survival. When I slowly raised my eyes to the stars, I gasped, dropped my head and immediately covered my eyes. I didn’t look back at the night sky until several nights later, night number nine. The magnanimity of the universe I lay within was too beautiful to take in without my loved ones. In that moment I realised that it is possible to be too wild. I became human again, and I was completely in love with it. In that moment I learnt the meaning of balance, and that regular pattern interrupts can negate radical change.

The following three days were probably the most challenging of the whole trip. Making it safely through to the lower gorge section, through its numerous pounding waterfalls, was euphoric and enormously relieving. That night was the night, after falling asleep at sundown every evening, except for the one night the stars were too beautiful to see, that I laid beneath the night sky unafraid. Worthy. Real. Until the sapphire of the dawn began to glow over the ridge. That was the night I earned the stars. That I let the universe press down upon me, and let every star fall into me. That was the night that I truly realised there are no ceilings.

We can always go outside and look up. No matter how overwhelmed or disempowered we feel, however young or old, however lost or found, there’s nothing between us and the stars. When the myopia of civilised life and the striving to maintain status quo causes us to become caught up and consumed, the magnanimity of the universe is always on hand to remind us that for all our fiascos, we are but a speck. And that even as a collective, when viewed from across space, we are little more than a twinkle among a billion other flickering spasms of glitter. This is precisely why, in a universe of synapse, dust, matter, atom, energy, particle, when the vacuum of insignificance and futility threatens to blackhole us into oblivion, we are as stars. Wondrous, limitless, exploding potentialities. If only we could be less blinded by our own light.

NATURE IS A WOMAN

Womanhood

When women are in conflict is it because forces are keeping them from being who they are. Nature is completely free of the constructs and conditioning that try to dictate who we should be. Nature is a woman. Earth is a mother. When we crave wildness it is not that we need or seek something new, it is that we crave to return. To return to who we are. In the same way, we discuss the strength of women today in equality discourse as something new, almost as novelty. When the truth is we have always been strong. Even the word ’empowerment’ presupposes a provision or a permission of power, which is a nullity because it simply is. Leadership is not linear. It is spherical, holographic, nuanced, visible, and invisible. The power has always been there. The process for women today is refining the individual method and modality. The weapons of choice. Nothing can stand in the way of a determined woman. Even history in all its warped inversion cannot deny us this. We choose our stories.