I wake early after a good night sleep and lay snug and cocooned in my sleeping bag to avoid the cool morning air. Only metres away the river flows by, barely making a noise. A small branch gently sways, caught briefly by a breath of wind. It’s not long before the songs of predawn birds are drowned out by many other birds celebrating the new day.
I pull out the map and give it a good study. I love maps. For me they are pathways to adventure. Without maps, perhaps the concept of adventure might not exist. And only those people – such as pioneers or early explorers which have places familiarly named after them – would have endeavoured such journeys. Would the word ‘adventure’ even exist in the dictionary? And if it did, would it say ‘see Expedition’? What is ‘expedition’?
I can look at maps for hours. Sometimes I wish I had topographical maps hanging on my wall at home. Without maps I’d be lost. Just like now. I have little idea where I am along the river. I can narrow my position down to just a few kilometres using my compass but I need an obvious landmark, like Annie Rowan Creek; the creek I wanted to reach yesterday. It won’t be until I reach that creek that I’ll know my exact position. It doesn’t really matter at this point of the trip as I’ve allowed nine days to complete my trip.
My selection of food is based on carbohydrates. I’ll be eating much the same basic bland food day after day: Weetbix with powdered milk for breakfast, muesli bars and dried fruit and nuts for lunch washed down with a nice cup of river water. For dinner it’s either a serve of instant pasta or my favourite, instant Korean spicy noodles. With all the energy I’m burning, hunger is the key-word in this place. Hunger makes eating the same bland food a treat – a real delicacy. How about I mix Weetbix and noodles with a sprinkle of fruit and nuts and crushed muesli bar? Yum! Add river water and powdered milk, place over the fire and dip a tea bag in for added flavour. Or break the tea bag open for maximum gourmet flavour. Down in the Wollemi such a delicacy might seem delicious merely for its fun and spontaneity. But back home the sheer thought would make me sick. Odd creativity with food preparation is a good example about how the mind changes and adapts when away in nature and unfamiliar surroundings; and particularly alone as I am on this experience. But today’s breakfast – Weetbix and powdered milk with a light sprinkle of sugar will do just fine.
I return to the water for another day of river adventures, and to the boulders that left me dismayed the day before. I waste no time, fresh and revived from a good night sleep, and attack these hindrances head-on by dragging the kayak straight up and over using my body-weight for leverage.
The water cascades into a dark pool within a labyrinth of large boulders, forming a small tunnel. For the first time I’m able to pass under the boulders and wade through the tunnel with little effort. I consider this a small reward for all the trudging over obstacles which have been making my progress slow and tedious so far. It would be a nice place to escape the heat of a summer day. I am sure children would love this cave. They would crawl, climb, dive and swim until every inch of the cave was discovered. But I will simply take a break and a photograph of this welcome change in the river.
My photography gear consists of one film and one digital camera body; I carry a 17-40mm wide-angle lens and a 100-400mm telephoto lens. Along with my well-travelled tripod, on this trip I also carry a little handy-cam video camera. My cameras pack into a dry-bag which is tied securely into the kayak. The risk of damaging the equipment is high but documenting the trip is very important to me, as I would like to share my experience visually with others.
By early afternoon I finally reach Annie Rowan Creek – the destination I’d originally planned to reach on the afternoon of Day 1. I am already one day behind. I rest my weary body on a rock in the middle of the river. The Wolgan has been relentless. It is trying to break me and I am trying hard to co-exist. My knee hurts.
But now I know exactly where I am and set about undertaking some calculations of the trip so far. At the current rate based on my river travel with over 80 km to go I will still be in the Wollemi in 13 days time. A sobering thought. Though, with previous knowledge and experience of the lower sections of the Colo Gorge I know progress and conditions will improve – down there, I hope, will be more water which should make for smoother travelling.
I lift my tired body from a rock, grab the tow rope of my kayak and push on for another hour to where I find a small cosy sandbank and set up camp. I exit the water fatigued, and relieved that my long day is over. I have little emotion but feel content with my surroundings. My only interest is to get all my chores done and rest with some map reading. I originally planned to put a day aside to explore some canyons but I instead choose to rest my knee for the afternoon.
The surrounding landscape and its treasures will remain a mystery for now; a secret waiting to be whispered into my ear; I know there is something up there. I can feel it. From the river, through the curtain of the trees, my eyes get a sneak preview of the outer shell, the crust. I would like to wander up there, out onto the highest peaks and gaze out at the rolling mountaintops. I would like to sneak through the cracks and discover waterfalls plunging into beautiful rock pools surrounded by rare plants that barely see the light of day. For now I will only daydream about what might lie in these mountains and gorges; and wait another day when I will allow myself the opportunity to return to this wilderness.
Ah! Having a campfire all to myself is great. I lie down, practically wrapping my body around the fire and just stare straight into the hypnotic flames. It’s quiet-time and there’s barely a sound apart from the odd crackle of the fire and the gentle swirl of rapids. I use this time to write and reflect on the highlights of the day. It is so peaceful and for a while I fight the forces of sleep until my eyelids concede and I soon follow.