‘And forward…’

‘And forward…’  says Captain Jody of the good raft Soggy McGee in her soft, gentle, good natured, Canadian voice (inflection lingering on the ‘and’ and dropping on the ‘forward’).  Three or four strokes later it would be followed by, ‘…and stop’. With the inflection rising on the ‘stop’. Everyone loved being on board Jody’s raft.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Months before stepping aboard the Soggy McGee we were out for a walk in the wilds of Weetangera with the Atkins, when Paul mentioned he was thinking of rafting the Franklin as part of their upcoming Tasmanian adventure. ‘We’ve always wanted to do that’, fell out of my mouth before I’d thought it through.

If I had thought it through I may not have been so quick to lend the venture support. The Franklin is a crazy mixed up river. People have died on it and most commercial rafting outfits won’t take anyone under the age of 16.

Brett from Water By Nature was also clearly cautious and wouldn’t sign us up until Paul or Khia and Emma or I had spoken to him. He was not entirely sold on having 12 year olds (Evie and Amy) and an 11-year-old (Oliver) along for the ride. ‘How old are they again?’ he asked. Followed by ‘That’s quite young’. ‘There are lots of edges’, he kept telling me. ‘And if they fall into a rapid, well there’s sometimes not much you can do and if you can do something it will likely involve a helicopter’.

I found Brett’s concern with edges somewhat reassuring. Experience told me that if anyone was going to fall off an edge it was me, not Amy or Oliver, and I wasn’t worried about me. I was worried about the rapids. I had visions of Oliver being flipped out of a raft caught in a swirling, sucking eddy and drowning before my eyes.

Brett explained that 90 percent of the river is grade 2 and 3 rapids, but the other 10 percent (of navigable river) was grade 4. According to the international rapid grading system, grade 4 rapids, ‘have large waves and powerful confused, currents. Drops are big and stoppers can be large and unavoidable. Fast manoeuvres may need to be made. The route is not clear, and scouting may be needed. Suitable only for very experienced White-water paddlers…’.

All the grade 4 rapids could be walked around if desired, except for Thunderush. In my mind Thunderush went on for a half a kilometre with three metre standing waves, sunken logs and protruding boulders just waiting to pluck my children from my reach! Yikes. Emma and I talked it over, and then we signed up, because we’re like that. I get anxious, Emma calms me down, and then we do these things anyway.

Andrea, our friend from Canada (with much white-water experience) provided helpful advice. She sent me list of ten reasons why I was more likely to die than Amy or Oliver.

  1. Being anxious in a boat makes you more likely to move against the flow of the boat rather than with it. Amy and Oliver lack the good sense to be aware of their own mortality and that will serve them well. Hang on to one of them if you get anxious.
  2. Most (like 90%) of deaths in rapids happen because of foot entrapments. Amy is a swimmer. She will not let her feet sink down. It would go against her sense to swim. You on the other hand will more likely panic and sink like a stone. Sorry to say.
  3. Oliver’s underdeveloped prefrontal cortex will think it to be fun if he swims. He will be warm. If it were December here (Canada), that would be a worry. But as it is December there, he will think it a riot, and thus not panic. You on the other hand will more likely open your mouth to scream, water will rush in and… well.
  4. Amy and Oliver are good students. They will hang on every word the paddling instructors say. They are used to being students and thus absorb far more than those of us who have been out of school for decades. As you worry, you will likely absorb little of what is being said. I worry for you.
  5. Being 70 lbs is much preferable to being 165. (?). In a sticky hydraulic, they will get tossed up and down and side to side. Those are the weak spots. You and your girth will sink to the bottom where gravity likes to hold the dead weights. Sad but true.
  6. While your paddle strokes might be more forceful and effective your desire to move the boat rapidly will more likely have you tipping outside the boat in short order. The kids, far more likely to ‘lillydip’, will skim their paddles on the surface and thus not be likely to take a splash.
  7. Do be careful that when they reach to you with their paddles. You, in your panic are more likely to get pulled in rather than pull them out. So don’t do that. Swim to shore.
  8. Think like an insurance salesman. Adults are expendable, kids are a massive liability. The death of a kid is the kiss of death for an organisation. The guides will let you go long before they let go of Oliver.
  9. I got nothing.
  10. So, if you do wash away (and I still don’t think it likely) I will fly down to let them know that you are the hero. That it was really your concern for them that killed you. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid, so if you don’t want them to bear the weight of that, hang on to them.

All good advice and true, although I contend I hung on every word uttered by our guides with all due care, attention and diligence. After a night camping in the rain, four hour’s drive from Hobart and just off to the side of the Lyell highway where it crosses the Collingwood River, we ‘put in’ the following morning.

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Ready to go – beneath the Lyell Highway

While managing to keep a lid on the vapours of my anxiety they were unable to be fully controlled. I drew comfort from Adrian (head guide) who noted as part of the pre-departure briefing, that what he was about to explain (about what happens when rafts flip and people go flying into fast moving water hundreds of kilometres from help) was very much akin to the pre-flight take-off briefing on a plane. All good stuff but almost universally unnecessary.

I wasn’t the only one with a few pre-trip, post safety briefing, jitters. Khia looked like she’d seen a ghost and while I didn’t know Todd and Sarah (parents from the other family that would be joining us for the float down the river) they weren’t all that chatty either following Adrian’s spiel. Emma, Paul and Dana by contrast seemed far less concerned and happy to get underway.

Jody lightened the mood, declaring no-one could possible absorb any more information and directing us into her raft which we later named the Soggy McGee because she leaked profusely and required pumping with air regularly to keep her afloat. As the current carried us away Jody instructed us in how to hold up our part of the rafting bargain. As ‘passengers’, our job was to provide locomotion. Mostly forward and hence the softly spoken command I began with. Sometimes backward and on the odd occasion (mostly after accidentally taking a rapid in reverse) one side forward and the other side back, to spin the raft around and go forward again.

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Captain Jody pumping up the Soggy McGee on the left

I felt like I spent the first two days proving how slowly my brain operates on holiday, mostly paddling the opposite way to what Jody called for and pausing for too long to think through the instruction.

Six kilometres downstream on the Collingwood and with only the occasional snag on the shallow river bottom (necessitating bouncing on the raft like a bouncy castle to help ease it over the impediment) we reached the intersection with the Franklin. It was pretty. Easily enough to overcome the drizzle and rain which continued for the most part throughout our first day. Unlike hiking, I figured it might as well rain as much as it liked given we were going to get wet anyway. Thing is though, when it’s raining it’s not sunny. And when it’s not sunny you get a little shiver that persists despite wetsuit and standard issue, jailhouse orange thermal undershirts. Songs about sunshine flowed freely as we floated along. ‘Here comes the sun, little darling…’ and ‘Sunshine, on my shoulder, makes me happy..’.

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Paddling in the rain – Lower Franklin

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A sunny break for morning tea!

At Admiral Adrian’s urging we pushed on downstream through the beautiful Irenabyss and on to our first night’s camp on the Franklin at the base of Frenchman’s Cap. After unloading the rafts and stringing a tarp, wet, wet suits were changed for dry clothes and the shivers went away. Except for Dana, whose dry bag wasn’t quite sealed with predictable results.

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Looking upstream into the Irenabyss canyon from our campsite – night one

Everyone’s heart sunk for her. No dry clothes. No dry sleeping bag. Uugh. Dana however, adventurous soul that she is, carried on cheerfully, refusing offers of assistance on the basis it was her own fault and refusing to be fazed. She spent the night alone under the tarp in a wet sleeping bag on a wet lilo while the rest of us were squirrelled away in tents. The next morning, bright and cheery she was the only one amongst us keen to climb a thousand vertical metres in the rain to the summit of Frenchman’s Cap – which we didn’t do. The tribe had spoken.

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Ahh, dry warm clothes and not raining at this moment…

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The next morning Dana’s head was under that pool!

Admiral Adrian was, I suspect, delighted. Heavy rain overnight meant the river had spiked by over a metre and the Admiral was keen to ‘get his float on’. Day two is normally a slog with ‘normal’ river levels meaning equal part floating and exhausting dragging of boats over rocks. We however, kicked back and let the current carry us over gentle rapids which the rafts took easily in their stride.

I began to relax, no longer wedging my feet into nooks and crannies for traction and leaning into the centre of the boat ready to duck for cover every time ruffled water approached. It was like riding splash mountain at Disneyland only… real. A real, healthy, functional, natural, diverse and enchanting ecological wonderland. Thirsty? Stick a cup over the side and drink it down. The catchment of the Franklin is totally intact and the three metres of rainfall each year washes down nothing but tea tree tannins which make the river appear black, like flowing, glassy, obsidian with a trail of swirling white tea tree oil foam marking the swiftest moving water.

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Flowing, glassy, obsidian with tea tree oil swirling foam

We camped that night beneath a tarp on a small clearing four or five metres above river. The sun came out while we set up and like lizards we gravitated to its warmth, sending the shivers packing. We played Pass the Pigs, ploughed through wheels of cheese and crackers and happily drank cask wine in plastic cups while Admiral Adrian held court with tales of rafting trips gone awry, being chased out of camps just like this one by floodwaters rising in the middle of the night and his girlfriend fending off a cougar with plastic fork.

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Pass the Pigs game in progress next to the kitchen

The next day was Christmas. Santa’s elves had hung candy canes from guy ropes overnight and I had a red hat with a white pom pom for the occasion. We celebrated with a cooked breakfast and a grade 6 rapid to start the day at the head of the Great Ravine. We climbed around the edges of the gorge while the guides carefully rigged the rafts on a 50-m rope and sent them ghosting through the thundering water while they held on, and we watched on, from the side.

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Franklin River Christmas cheer!!

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Grade 6 madness at the top of the Great Ravine

Then we ran the Corkscrew. A grade 4 rapid that we could have walked around but which everybody opted to run – some without hesitation, others after careful contemplation.

‘Just one ‘sieve’ which it would be bad to fall into at the top’, Admiral Adrian informed us. ‘But otherwise, if you flip you’ll just get washed out into that pool down the bottom’, he said.

Evie, who was sitting behind me, anxiously informed me she didn’t want to die and Khia gave me a look which suggested she didn’t want Evie to die either. I turned around gripped Evie’s knee and told her, more calmly than I felt, that this was what living was all about! She would die, but not today, and over we went.

One day blurred into the next after that as we travelled further downstream absorbed and ever more appreciative of our environment. There was so much to take in.

When it was raining, droplets of water, rebounding off the river, sat upon its surface before merging back into the flow. Up and down the river, martens dived and swerved in erratic unpredictable paths as they hunted for insects feeding on and above the water. Way up high on the ridges of the steep gorges the wind rustled trees which glowed in the sunlight. When it was still the forest was reflected on glassy black waters. Rounding a river bend our brightly coloured boats set cormorants to drag themselves out of the water and into the air. Approaching rapids, the smooth laminar flow of water funnelled into narrows and shallows and the ruffled water caught the light reflecting sky blue on a glassy surface of black. Waterfalls, some tall, some short, some steep and some flat cascaded over rocky surfaces which reminded me of carefully designed Japanese gardens, all covered with mosses and ferns and gnarled and twisted trees and shrubs. Petals from the flowers of leatherwood trees wafted down through the air to settle on the water and in the evening as we sat on the banks, fish leapt from the water as they hunted their prey.

The whole environment is serene and stunningly beautiful. Everything has a place and everything worked together, aesthetically, functionally, spiritually. You could live a happy and healthy life without experiencing a wilderness like the Franklin, but it would be missing something extraordinary. It filled up our senses and I felt so grateful to be there.

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Still waters

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Gorgeous evening with stormy skies gathering

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Exploring a tributary joining the river

The Franklin of course very nearly ceased to exist in the early 1980s when Hydro Tasmania proposed to dam and flood the whole thing. The river at that point was only known, the way we were getting to know it, by a few brave pioneers who had risked life and limb to navigate it with gear not up to the task. Bob Brown and Peter Dombrovski were among them. They, and many others, somehow managed to shift the Franklin from backwater to front of the national consciousness, and against all odds, to prevent the whole place from being drowned.

In the foreword to, The Ever-Varying Flood (by Peter Griffiths and Bruce Baxter), Richard Flanagan says:

In the years that I am fortunate to once more journey down the Franklin River I find myself ever more moved, not just by the exhilarating beauty of this remote wild land, but that this land exists at all. For it is a miracle. In a world where the measure of almost all things is money and power, where so many of the greatest wonders – be they cities, buildings, art – so often exist as a tribute to money and power, the Franklin River exists because over a quarter of a century ago people stood up and said there were some things that mattered more than money and power.

Indeed there are and if wealth were measured by experience instead of things, then a trip down the Franklin would be worth far more than a few years of financial growth in a super fund. It does us all good to know such places still exist. It’s something else altogether to immerse yourself in it, in good company and with good friends. To drink in a healthy environment, figuratively and literally, to spend time in a place where the only obvious sign of people are small clearings where a group can fit side by side to sleep under a tarp in the rain.

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Room for eight – side by side under a tarp in the rain

We spent a rest day at Newlands on day six, camping in the shelter of overhanging rock caves that I was certain were going to collapse and crush us in our sleep (they didn’t). We entertained ourselves by exploring the river on foot, walking up stream to visit Rock Island Bend, made famous by Peter Dombrovski and starring in the campaign to save the river. We also spent time leaping off a rock platform into the river, playing games, reading books and marvelling at a spotted quoll as it explored our camp.

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Making ourselves at home at Newlands

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Oliver and Dana look up from a game as a spotted-tail quoll strolls by

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Three kids having crazy fun!

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Exploring upstream toward Rock Island Bend

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Crazy portage ‘track’ to get to Rock Island Bend

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Rock Island Bend

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Rio kicks back with a book at Newlands

In the afternoon, we dragged a raft up river to run the rapid in front of our camp again, and again. My confidence that we would survive the river intact was almost undone on our second run when the river wrapped the big red raft around a rock, forcing one side of the boat upward and the other side down into the water which surprisingly quickly swept me, Evie, and Dana away, Paul held on to the back of the raft but was instructed to let go and head to the nearest rock. It was scary and fun at the same time. We were totally out of control but I did remember Admiral Adrian’s instructions and quickly got my feet up in front of me while barking at Evie and Dana to do the same.

Feet up, the river threw us over a couple of drops where we were submerged in fast flowing water and then spat out further downstream. ‘Carnage’ Admiral Adrian calls such events. Evie, Dana and I made our way to the side of the river when the water slowed, battered, bruised and a bit shaken. Then we watched as Captain Jody pondered how to extricate Emma, Amy and Suade from their precarious perch. Paul was stranded on another rock in the surging water (see the great video captured by Rio below).

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Before the carnage – running the rapids at Newlands

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Before the carnage – running the rapids at Newlands

The next day we quickly dropped out of the upper Franklin and into the slower flowing, but possibly even more beautiful, lower river. Here we had to paddle to get somewhere, not just to avoid being wrapped around rocks in rapids. ‘And forward…’ from Captain Jody became a much more common refrain. Still everyone liked being in Jody’s boat because ‘And stop…’ usually followed more quickly soon after. Captain Jeff meanwhile developed something of a reputation amongst the crew for his addiction human induced forward motion.

Captain Jeff did tell jokes though to compensate.

What did the cheese say when it looked in the mirror? Haloo-me. (Haloumi – get it?). And, did you hear about the French cheese factory that exploded? There was De Brie everywhere. And, what do you call a man with no arms and no legs in a leaf pile? Russell. And, what do you call a man with no arms and no legs in a pot? Stew. And, what do you call a man with no arms and no legs hanging on a wall? Art. And, what do you call a man with no arms and no legs lying on the floor? Mat. And… so it went.

Admiral Adrian meanwhile told tales about the blockade to save the river and the life of river guide.

As we went we stopped to shower under waterfalls on the river edge, explore hidden canyons gushing with water as the rain fell and the Kuti-kina Cave, the latter of which proves Aboriginal occupation of the area going back a remarkable 15 to 20 thousand years, when this temperate rainforest was an alpine grassland. The cave was critical to the areas World Heritage listing. Hydro Tasmania came up with all kinds of crazy schemes to save it in their effort to have the dams go ahead. My favourite involved the proposed construction of a Perspex bubble around the cave with a series of ladders in shafts to allow archaeologists to descend beneath the waters of the proposed lake to access it.

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Pulling into a waterfall mid river

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Nice day for a shower

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Entrance to ‘the lost world’

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Heading into the Lost World

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Canyoning in the Lost World

On day nine we paddled out of the Franklin and into the Gordon. Actually, most of us took part in an apparently, time honoured tradition and leapt overboard to make the transition from one river to the other. Once on the Gordon our three rafts were roped together to make our progress more efficient. Which was just as well as a head wind sprung up to painfully slow us down – still it was hard work.

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Overboard as the Franklin joins the Gordon

As we passed the site of the proposed Gordon below Franklin dam, Admiral Adrian stood up unexpectedly, pulled a bottle of champagne from somewhere, popped the cork and posed a toast to Bob Brown and those who saved the 125-kilometre river we had just paddled. The champagne bottle was passed up and down the rafts until there were no more bubbles and we resumed our slog into the wind. An hour or so later we rounded a final bend with the jetty at Sir John Falls in sight. We paddled on until the jetty was nearly by our side and Jody called…

‘And stop…’.

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Admiral Adrian toasting Bob Brown at the site of the proposed Gordon below Franklin dam

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All roped together on the Megatron – paddling out on the Gordon

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We made it!

Post Script

We camped one last night beneath the big blue tarp at Sir John Falls before boarding the yacht the Stormbreaker for a relaxing journey down the Gordon, across Macquarie Harbour and into Strahan. Safely aboard the yacht I reflected on the second half of Andrea’s pre-trip counsel to me which went something like this:

So… can your kids die in a class 4 rapid. Yes. Will they? Likely not. What we all need to remember is that the risk of not taking them [to places like the Franklin] is greater than the risk of taking them. The world has created more ways for us to die (both literally and figuratively) than we are conscious of. There are so many traps for our hearts and our thoughts and we are falling into them all the time.

When you can offer your kids the world why would you offer a substitute? Because you’re afraid and it seems then that avoidance and ‘safety’ is the better option? [This is what I feel before every adventure we take.] It is far better, albeit a bit scary, to teach your kids how to feel real things so they don’t go looking for substitute thrills. Let them feel joy and fear simultaneously and help them learn how cope with both. Make sure they can feel fear and not feel intimidated by it. And maybe most important of all make sure your fear doesn’t debilitate them. Life is too short for that.

And because it was so beautiful, below are more photos from the journey.

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Khia and Paul – hanging on a rock

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An afternoon swim

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Our Christmas day campsite

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The camp kitchen

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My dad is a nutter

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‘You’re the best’. ‘No, you’re the best’

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Woooohoooo!

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Finally – a shower!

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Todd, Suade and Rio enjoy lunch

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Rio demonstrating the vibe of the place

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Succeeding where Hydro Tasmania failed – dam building on the Franklin

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Better than a lounge chair

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The fish were jumping, and blue/grey clothing was essential – Rafter’s Basin

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Morning reflections – Rafter’s Basin

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Mine went the furthest – just saying

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A perfect float

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Rafting selfie

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Gin and Tonic for the adults on day 7

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Rock turtle – unique to the Franklin

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It got steeper after this – top of the Great Ravine

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A narrow gorge

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Afternoon tea on the lower Franklin

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Hard work on Captain Jeff’s boat

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A lovely lunch spot – Lower Franklin

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Another quality tarp set-up – Lower Franklin

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Hanging out on the dock at St John Falls

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Hanging out on the dock at St John Falls

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Stormbreaker games

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A rough ride across Macquarie Harbour on the Stormbreaker

Posted in Short trips, Tasmania | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

World the round world tour – the movie(s)

Trailer – World the round world tour 2016

Episode One – Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia

Episode Two – India and Nepal

Episode Three – Jordan, Greece, Italy, England, Scotland and Denmark

Episode Four – Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France and Iceland

Episode Five – Canada

Episode Six – USA

Episode Seven – USA, Mexico, Belize and Guatemala

Episode Eight – Canada again

 

Posted in 2016 Trip, Austria, Belize, Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Italy, Jordan, Laos, Mexico, Nepal, Scotland, Switzerland, Thailand, Thoughts, United Kingdom, USA, Vietnam | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Douglas-Grant Finale

‘Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.’

Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

‘Can we go now’, Amy and Sydney asked in a hangdog kind of way as they sat in the snow at the top of the toboggan hill. Amy looked like she’d had enough, which is not how a kid is supposed to look at the top of a toboggan hill. A kid at the top of a toboggan hill is supposed to look like… like Emma, Peter, Andrea and I did – ready and raring to go, thinking only of how far you can push your luck whipping down the slope!

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Ready to go…

‘Ah, no not yet’, I told Amy distractedly, because I didn’t want to go even if that was what my parenting instincts told me we should do. Peter and Andrea were determined that our final week of travel would be the best week of our trip. I know this because they said so while proposing a toast for Emma’s birthday a few days earlier and they had gone to great lengths to make it happen.

We clambered aboard a big blue sled, much to Amy’s annoyance I’m sure, and steadily folded our middle-aged limbs on top of each other until we were held fast in an interwoven embrace. Then we pushed off and gathered speed, ploughing aside the soft snow that had fallen the night before with our combined weight. We couldn’t see a thing as snow spewed forth and we ended up at the bottom of the slope grinning inanely and three quarters buried. Then we did it again.

 

In case you can’t tell, that’s Greg, Andrea and Peter
Greg and Peter got some air, and some Greg got some bruises
This was before we learnt the mantra, buff up, goggles down
Tobin and Oliver over the jump
Maybe Sydney and Amy should have gone with tobbogans?

It was more fun than four forty-somethings are supposed to have and it briefly occurred to me to wonder where we would have been at that time had we not met the Douglas-Grants all those months ago back in Cambodia.

We didn’t know where we would end up by this stage of our trip, but if you’d asked me to guess, I would have said somewhere in South America, not Chelsea in Quebec, which just goes to prove the adage that a trip takes you more than you take a trip. From the heights of the Himalaya’s to the highlands of Iceland, we have the Douglas-Grants to thank for some of the most memorable moments of our year and there was nowhere we would have rather spent our last week on the road.

Of course, it helped that they live in a winter wonderland. Their house sits on a 2-acre block half way up a hillside which forms part of the Gatineau River valley. From their living room, and Sydney and Tobin’s bedroom which they very kindly gave up for us, there are views over and through the surrounding woodlands and down to the frozen Gatineau River.

Three feet of snow covered the ground the evening we arrived and the temperature was frigid. Their home however was warm, in temperature and in character. We spent pleasant hours drinking coffee or wine (depending upon the hour), working on a jigsaw of ourselves sitting on a hill in Iceland (a gift from the Douglas-Grants) and watching the world outside, particularly when the snow was falling. Canadians, I suspect, take all this for granted but for us, or me at least, it was special.

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Puzzling

From the time we arrived in Chelsea, seven days stood between us and the end of our trip. It seemed almost unimaginable when we stepped onto the plane in Sydney in January that we would ever see it come to an end. A year seemed like a lifetime, but it turns out it’s not. It’s a year and they come and go regardless of what you are up to.

Fortunately our friends had an action-packed week planned for us and there was only a little time here and there to dwell on the fact that the next flights we took would take us home. Months of forethought had gone into our stay and for that we owe Peter and Andrea huge thanks.

With seven days to go we built a luge track in Peter and Andrea’s front yard, although it took a while just to get out the front door. As in Toronto, there is a bewildering array of clothing required to safely and comfortably spend time outside and it took the best part of an hour to arrive at the appropriate combination of people to boots, thermal underwear, ski pants, jumpers (aka sweaters), coats, toques (aka beanies), buffs, gloves and mittens. Andrea and Peter remained good humoured fitting us all out, long after I would have gone spare.

Once we were appropriately clad we set to building berms in the snow to whiz down on toboggans. At least Peter and I did. Andrea mostly threw shovels full of snow on my head while Oliver and Tobin sampled the track at various stages of construction. Emma, Amy and Sydney threw a few shovels full here and there before retreating for hot chocolate.

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Luge track construction

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Amy shovelled the trampoline

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Oliver testing the track – great moose toque

With six days to go we set out on a cross country skiing expedition into Gatineau Park. Skis, poles and boots added to the gear confusion but by lunchtime we were clipping in and getting underway. The four of us looked very Nordic. Until we moved and then our Australasian heritage was revealed through flailing limbs and wayward poles.

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Peter’s ski shop (aka the garage)

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Great Aussie style on display

We spent the night in a toasty cabin warmed by a fire while the temperature outside plummeted. I awoke in the middle of the night to stoke the fire and visit the outhouse. The weather forecast said it would hit a low of minus 18 and a starry night shone down through a canopy of bare trees to illuminate a snowy path to the loo. It was so cold the snow screeched underfoot in protest.

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Our cabin in the woods

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Tobin and Oliver skate skiing up the hill

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Chelsea Nordic Amy

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The playfully pushy Andrea carrying the pack in

With five days to go we skied back from the cabin in falling snow. Andrea took advantage of a momentary lapse in balance and pushed me over. It was revenge I’m sure, for hitting her in the head with a ski pole when I got carried away trying to race along a flat stretch of trail. It was brutal out there.

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I think they had us saying ‘we love -25 degrees’

That night we headed off to the Jeffries residence for a New Year’s Eve party, Chelsea style. Family groups performed skits and songs and other amusing acts while the snow got deeper and deeper outside. My camera however tilted towards the entryway to the house to capture the acres of floor space occupied by the afore mentioned boots and winter woollies. The only way to find the road on the way home at 12.15 in the morning was by the absence of trees blocking the way, otherwise all was white.

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Canadian chaos

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Awesome entertainers

With four days to go we hit the toboggan slopes, as described, before heading down to an ice skating rink on the frozen Gatineau River for an ice-hockey game that seemed very much the Canadian equivalent of backyard cricket at Christmas in Australia. Peter assured me that it was a game for all skill levels, but I don’t think all skill levels extended to Australians that have skated twice in 20 years.

I laced up a pair of skates while sitting on the side of the rink, but by the time I was done I had decided to take them off again. It was a pretty spot though. Amy and Oliver skated with Sydney, Tobin and their new friends from the night before while Emma and Andrea took Weston (the dog) for a walk. We were there all afternoon because the game only stopped when the light failed.

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The skating scene

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Not for beginners

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Tobin and Peter ready to play

With three days to go we went snow shoeing through the woods to a frozen lake on a gorgeous, sunny, still and warm (it hit 1 degree) day. The lake was on a property owned by Peter and Andrea’s friends Andy and Vanessa. I presumed we were just tagging along on a long organised day out, until a comment by Vanessa made it clear that it was all part of audacious Andrea’s masterplan.

We snow-shoed in from the road on a single trail. Even with snow shoes, whoever went first had to squash down or push aside about a foot of snow for those who followed. A kilometre or two through the trees and up a hill we came to the lake which was only distinguishable because of how flat it was and the fact there were no trees. Andy and Vanessa had constructed a small cooking shelter which overlooked the frozen water, now covered in several feet of puffy snow.

An axe was taken to the lake surface to check it was strong enough to explore before hordes of kids, ours included, set about leaving their mark on the pristine surface. We cooked sausages on sticks around a fire, watched in amusement as Andrea and Tobin hunted far and wide in search of Jazz (a dog they were babysitting who had run away), laughed as kids and then adults tobogganed down a short slope and over the edge of a short drop-off and teased Peter because he had towed in everything we needed for the day on a sled that didn’t fit between the trees. He didn’t get the memo about no sleds.

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Enjoying the lake

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Attempting to swim??

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Looking back toward the shelter – what a day!

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Hanging out round the fire

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Drunk snowman dropped his beer

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Old school snow shoes

Tobogganing fun
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The snow shoeing conga-line on the way home

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Chivalrously shining Andrea with Greg

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Thank you Peter for towing everything again

It was the Canadian equivalent of boxing day at the beach and the sort of experience you’d pay big dollars for in the absence of friends. We felt incredibly grateful for the effort Andrea and Peter had gone to on our behalf.

With two days to go we did very little other than sit around playing board games, until the evening when we took a snowy drive and a cheek stinging walk into Ottawa to check out the Canadian parliament. The temperature remained warm, in relative terms, and instead of snow ‘freezing rain’ fell and clung to everything it touched.

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A travel related game of course – Ticket to Ride

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The puzzle was completed

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Canadian Parliament

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Bridge over the Ottawa River

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The result of freezing rain

On our final day, we woke to the most gorgeous winter scene I’ve seen. Trees were covered from head to toe in ice and snow from the freezing rain the day before. The world had become a black and white photograph. It was stunning. We went skiing again, this time to a different cabin in Gatineau Park where we ate chilli, drank whisky (well some of us did) and played Clue (Cluedo for Australian readers).

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Snow swings

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Heavily laden branches

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What a perfect winter wonderland

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With a perfect lunch spot

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Proper icicles here

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Our happy hosts once again carried all the gear

We had a celebratory dinner that evening complete with fancy dress hats and or fairy wings (I was captain Canada) before retreating to pack our bags for the last time.

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Andrea is seriously sad we are leaving

It was hard not to feel a little nostalgic. Not to look back longingly the way we looked forward before we left. Not to think about waking up in the middle of the night to see the Himalaya’s illuminated by moonlight; watching glacial ice carve off in Iceland; spotting a wild tiger in India; eating fondue on the banks of the Mekong; or watching Oliver play Connect Four with a monk in Luang Prabang.

Terry Pratchett says that, ‘Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving’. How or why is difficult to say but probably has to do with the apparent conclusion of journeys that began long before any of us boarded a plane.

For years before we set out, Emma and I were plagued by an awareness that there is more to the world than our little world. We had this notion that for all the freedom life in Australia affords too many people are held firm by the expectations of career, schooling and spending that renders actual freedom unavailable. We also railed against the unspoken, unlegislated rule that says the fun stuff in life must wait until we are old and grey and Amy and Oliver are unable or uninclined to share the best bits with us.

All of this was ultimately good because it motivated us to think twice before we bought anything, to rethink whether school is the only way to receive an education and to loosen our grip on stuff… to loosen the anchors which held us in place. It also helped overcome our doubts because it would be untrue to say we were completely relaxed about what we were about to do.

Between us we worried about all manner of things including getting sick in a random third world country; that someone would kidnap Amy or Oliver or both (ok that was me) and about having sufficient funds to complete the journey because I couldn’t reconcile all the variables (also me). I even worried about family dynamics descending into misery through stress induced by not knowing where to go, or what to see or even where to sleep.

None of these concerns stood up to reality. Hand sanitiser worked a treat and no-one got sick. The world could care less whether we were passing through and no-one was interested in snatching Amy or Oliver. How much money we spent was a question of how much we had available and we cut our cloth accordingly as we went. The hardest part of the trip was the formal part of home schooling. This wasn’t always plain sailing, but we got better at it as we went and we now know Amy and Oliver’s proclivities far better than we did before.

On the upside, we found friends we didn’t know we had, from Denmark, the USA and from Canada. They lead us to new and unexpected places and the shared experiences added imeasurably to the destinations. We also discovered the simplicity of a life structured around where to go, where to stay and how to get there and that the world is more wonderful than Lonely Planet said it would be.

The only downside to all this was the creeping sadness that came from seeing first-hand the pressures bought to bear on a highly improbable planet endeavouring to sustain the lives of so many people. I felt acutely my insignificance and powerlessness to affect any significant change, but did resolve not to turn a blind eye and to do whatever I could to reduce our own impact.

While we were away our time was our own and slowly but steadily the wallet hugging, penny pincher in me learnt, as Rolf Potts writes in Vagabonding, that ‘money is what you need to survive, but time is what you need to live’.

Time is what you need to get away from transport hubs and out to where the good stuff lies. Time is what you need to stumble out of bed at an hour of your own choosing and to wake up not knowing what the day will bring. As Andrea told me, time is what you need to have more than a superficial interaction with people, places and things and to reflect, absorb and integrate these things into your life. Time allows space and room for growth, for experiences to have meaning and people to have impact.

‘Coming back to where you started’, then, ‘is not the same as never leaving’ because everything that lead us to leave in the first place and everything we experienced along the way adds up to a different way of looking at the world to the one we had before we began. Coming home is not the same as never leaving because it is the apparent end of a lifestyle that emerged as an extension of a longer-term shift in the way we see the world.

It is not too hard to see how this could become a problem. How it could be difficult to reconcile the experience of a way of life the world does not advertise or condone with the one that it does. To reconcile ‘living well’ with ‘doing well’ (in Rolf Potts words) once we are firmly ensconced back within our brick walls.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be a conflict. Maybe our experiences will manifest themselves in other ways in the future. Maybe the adjustments that lead us to go away in the first place will lead us to other adventures. Maybe those adventures include more travel, but maybe they mean navigating the day to day in a different way.

We rose early on the day we flew home and Andrea kindly drove us to the airport. It was cold, as you would expect, and our plane was delayed which hasn’t been as common as you might think. We visited 24 countries while we were away; slept in 156 different places; drove 13 hire cars; took 30 flights; made 1899 financial transactions and moved 57,749 kilometres. Grandpa Bruce met us at Sydney airport where he dropped us exactly one year ago. It was the same… but I’m not sure we are.

The end.

Posted in 2016 Trip, Canada | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment