There is something uniquely rewarding about being pushed outside your comfort zone.
Outdoor adventures are not instantaneously gratifying.
The highs happen sporadically, in the form of over-tired laughing fits, the relief of slithering in to a sleeping bag or the ride home when chatter sloshes through the vehicle for hours.
It’s similar to swimming, a love-hate relationship with huge highs and tough lows.
Almost exactly two years ago our North Shore training squad spent four days paddling the Whanganui river.
One of New Zealand’s great walks; we were set to spend the following days paddling down the river in Canadian Canoes.
Laden with enough food for the duration of the trip, four heavy tents and a blow up flamingo, we started our journey from Ohinepane. We paddled two to a boat. The person in front acted as the ‘engine room’ while the back led navigation and steering.
I lucked out with Emma, who hated steering just as much as I hated paddling.
Here’s what paddling the Whanganui River was like…
Day one was a slog.
After a few hours of steady paddling my shoulders developed a constant burn and the onset of a four day bum ache begun creeping in. We charged through the first day with relatively few breaks.
The muscle fatigue didn’t detract at all from the novelty of that first day. An easy highlight was jumping off a waterfall in to the river. Despite pelting rain, we spent a good 40 minutes jumping and diving off the waterfall. I was disappointed my swimming strength failed to get me to the rock jutting out from the fall, which three of my bigger teammates managed to reach.
Anyone who knows me knows I hate the cold, but stripping down and jumping in the river was far too enticing to miss out on!
Once the shivers set in we all waddled back to the canoes over some seriously slippery rocks before gearing up for another few hours paddling.
Day one was easily the hardest day, not only because we had to paddle over 40km downstream, but because the first campsite was perched a few hundred metres up a steep gravely road. Each canoe had five or six barrels, a dry bag or tent which all needed to be removed and carried up the hill.
The canoes also had to be carried up on to the bank.
Dinner and dessert were shining highlights after so much lifting. Baking tastes exponentially better when it’s served after hours of physical work.
Once my taste buds are happy the harder moments of the day melted away.
Day two started with a bowl of sticky oats and some rough re-packing.
After we all shoved our belongings back in the barrels we had to haul them down to the river. All I wanted to do was give mine a light push down the hill and hope they made it down in one piece. It was a great test of shoulder and grip strength carrying those things up and down the hill.
My highlight of day two was probably watching the squad, coach included, jump off the hill in to the river.
The patchy sunshine meant I wasn’t game enough to take the plunge, so I stood behind the camera to capture the mid-air shots.
After another stop for lunch and more wraps, we finished the day at the John Coull Hutt. Stoked that we didn’t have to drag the boats up the bank, we set up camp (chucking a sleeping bag down on a bed to claim it) and begun a few round of cards.
Day three was probably the most entertaining day on the river.
Our captain and head coach went overboard for a second time on the biggest rapid of the trip. Allegedly his front man was to blame. Watching the front of their canoe fly up and pour its two occupants in to the river was great to watch.
The second mishap saw a canoe broach on a log. The captain of that canoe clearly missed the yells of warning from his engine room because there was little effort made to manoeuvre around the obstacle. The river filled their boat to the brim. It was hilarious watching my teammates sitting in their submerged canoe. They never actually capsized, but rather just sunk, completely.
The only real negative from that day was the most notorious long drop of all the campsites.
It was insidious.
I realise I probably didn’t need to include that little detail, but it was really horrendous and part of the journey..
Our final day on the river, we were all prepped to tackle the ‘fifty-fifty’.
A turbulent rapid that apparently took out half the canoes coming down. It turned out to be a 100-0 disappointmentnt as we all navigated it with ease. There is only one way to finish a trip like that with a bunch of swimmers, a huge greasy feed. 18 pizzas between 18 people went down a treat.
The best thing about these trips is how it makes you appreciate the small things.
I mean really small. A flushing toilet and rolling toilet paper?? So glamourous. Hot coffee and muesli bars taste like they were made for royalty, being dry is a novelty.
The camp was only truly made complete by the company. It blew my mind how much it mattered to be on the river with the right people. Although the camp wasn’t nearly as strenuous as the Tongariro camp two years prior, the monotony of paddling becomes much less of a chore when the banter is rich and the people are positive.