The facebook invite seemed innocent enough:
Why not ease that Australia day hangover with a float down the beautiful Murrumbidgee river from Tharwa to Point Hut picnic area this Sunday!
This is mainly a flat water trip over a sandy river bed with the odd class one (smallest size) rapid. All you need is an old pair of sand shoes, or water shoes if you’ve got them, and something to float on. Inner tubes will do just fine, but a good camping lilo, or a nylon inflatable boat would be faster and more luxurious if you fancy.
Goosepig went from being unkeen to super keen in the space of a mood swing. I was mumbling about getting inner tubes when I was firmly told.
Oh no, you have to come with me
And so we went to Fyshwick in search of river shoes and an inflatable boat fit for purpose.
I have to say for $20 a throw river shoes are just amazing and would not recommend beginning to attempt this trip without them.
A suitable craft was procured, test inflated in GoosePig’s living room and then left in the car overnight to see if it would stay inflated.
Sometime around this point I did mention to GoosePig that a big hat and possibly the rash vest she bought at Broulee a few weeks ago would be useful things to wear on this expedition. I was ignored.
One of the things about the proposed trip was it’s not the sort of thing you can do without a group of friends lined up. If only because the car shuttling to get everyone and their boats to the top of the river, and then pick up the boats at the end can easily be made into one of those maths questions with which highschoolers are tortured.
After a no more than predictable amount of faffing about we were all in the water under Tharwa bridge around midday and the long, long float began.
I should say now that GoosePig (despite the nickname) is a very beautiful, talented, intelligent young woman and I’m very lucky to have her in my life.
But, like all of us, she is not without flaws.
It quickly became apparent that, despite significant experience kayaking and canoeing, the paddling position of an inflatable boat was not to her liking.
Swimming was also not to be countenanced.
A brief experiment with walking on the river bed produced a serious scare that her ankle had been broken (a lack of subsequent swelling or pain demonstrated this fear had been somewhat overstated).
Which meant I was going to be doing all the pushing.
Those thinking of attempting this trip should be very clear on a few points.
One of these is that the flow of the river is less powerful than the effect of the wind coming up the river bed on an inflatable. Unless you’re putting the work in you’re not floating anywhere.
Another thing to note is that the plastic paddles which come with inflatables are fine for paddling, but will bend and break in seconds should you be foolish enough to try to push off rocks or sand bars with them.
Finally the Murrumbidgee River is not so much a river as a cunningly disguised collection of sharp rocks.
Most of the time I was forced into the role of human outboard motor at the back of the raft.
So a leisurely float became a 10km 6 hour breast stroke swim pushing the weight of another human being and banging my knee on a rock every 10 metres.
Let’s talk more about the banging of knees on rocks.
The first hundred times hardly hurt at all.
But it compounds.
With every blow you feel the pain of every single knock before.
Around the half way mark it stops being fun altogether.
Not far from Point Hut we hit rapids actually worthy of the name and GoosePig was flung from the raft.
This meant the last half hour of the trip was spent in stony silence, which might have been a good thing.
Despite liberal application of sun block, and re-application, everyone got well crisped by the lengthy exposure to the mid-river sun.
I’ve never been so physically exhausted. Giving up and laying down and dying seemed like the smarter option after the 1,000th running aground.
It was notable that we met no other watercraft on this stretch of river.
And yet, and yet.
There is a serious sense of accomplishment in getting from one town to another.
As the hours go by and the signs of civilisation return (first the power lines, then cars in the distance, then they joyous sight of the houses of Tuggeranong) you’ll feel senses of relief you’ve never known before.
The countryside is beautiful and changes, then changes again, with every bend in the river.
There’s a lot of interesting rural architecture along the way that I never expected.
At times the river goes from deep and broad to shallow and broad and then narrows down to a surge not two metres wide through reeds (this is actually the best bit).
The birds and sheep and cows give every impression of complete surprise when a gaggle of motley watercraft comes around the bend.
So it can be done. And you will look back on it with a sense of pride and achievement even if in patches you wished you were dead.
Some tips for those considering doing this:
1) Take water and muesli bars your blood sugar will be shot to hell by halfway.
2) Hat and t-shirt and hourly sunblock application or you will regret it
3) The river is generally deepest at the outside of the bend. If in doubt head towards where the plants on the bank are densest and greenest.
4) River Shoes will pay for themselves.
5) Inflatable rafts these days are tougher than they used to be.
6) A proper aluminium kayak paddle could save a lot of trouble.