What a lovely way to end a week of work; getting out of the city on Friday afternoon and heading up to Echuca to camp on the banks of the Murray.
I have to say my sleep was a little disturbed, and not just because my camping mat was slightly deflated, but because I was nervous about my first race the next morning (that's first ever paddling race!). What if there were too many other boats around me and I got knocked about by their wash? What if I fell in? What if the current was flowing too quickly and I flowed right past the finish line without even noticing? (This last one was perhaps a little unrealistic, but strange thoughts take hold at 3am!)
Saturday morning was beautiful and clear, although a little windy. Liz picked me up and took me to the start line, where things were held up a little before somebody realised that the last person we were all waiting for to collect their boat number was actually me!
We got into our boats (not as difficult as I worried it would be), vaguely lined up to start (also not that hard), and off we went. I was quickly left behind by the majority of competitors starting with me, but I didn’t mind too much. I was still in my boat and was moving in the right direction- so far so good! Not having ever paddled 20km in one go before, and without a fancy smartwatch tracking my progress, I had absolutely no concept of how far I had paddled or how long I had been going for. I had a vague idea that 20km might take me a few hours, so I didn’t race along, not wanting to burn myself out too early. There were some pretty windy stretches, but mostly I was just enjoying myself. I kept discovering that I had been casually paddling along having fun and had to remind myself that I was meant to be in a race.
I kept Liz and Gary in my sight for quite a while, and then I lost them, just as I came to a divide in the river. The left route was the obvious direction, the river was wider that way and there seemed to be an arrow pointing that way up on a tree, but I couldn’t quite read the sign and there was a red buoy in that direction. Did red mean go that way or don’t go that way? In the end I had to fish around in my drybag to find my phone and check my GPS. Left it was. After all that, I had wasted five minutes and hadn’t even thought to check how far away I was from Echuca or what the time was!
The last few kilometres coming into town got much more interesting, as we passed lots of paddle steamers, often in quick succession, and had to ride their wash. The waves from the larger boats seemed to go on for about five minutes, bouncing off the banks and coming back to surprise me from different directions. I actually found this quite fun and was excited to see Liz and Gary coming back into view up ahead of me. By this stage I was getting hungry, I should have thought to put one of my snacks in a pocket instead of in my drybag, and I was jealous of the contraptions people had rigged so that they could get their water bottle straws/tubes into their mouths without stopping.
And then I was there, being helped into the shore and out of my boat. We checked the time and it had been under two hours. Not bad, I thought, for my first race! Not only that, but I receive a medal for first in my category. The wooden paddle-shaped medal looks a bit like a wooden spoon, but there’s not need for me to tell people that I was both first and last in my category of one, right?!
Ali Thwaites, October 2019