Well, OK. Not quite. But the risk was there. For my last day trip, seeing as I can no longer dive until I’ve taken my flight, I decided to chuck myself down a river on an inflatable lump of rubber with several other mentally challenged individuals. Well, as it turned out, four Irish girls and a New Yorker.
I’d picked out Raging Thunder as the company to go with as they seemed to offer a little more in the package than other companies. I also opted for the top-end package: “Xtreme”. Fewer people per boat, fewer boats and an earlier start so you were the first down the river after the power station opened the floodgates, so there fore the best water. I also managed to wangle an extra $10 off by begging the nice Welsh guy on reception when I booked it.
The bus picked me up at 6:30am, the earliest start I think I’ve had in some time. A nice big comfy coach, though, which transferred us to another coach at their offices. We shared with another company called R+R on the trip up to Tully, which is apparently the wettest town in Australia. Or Queensland. Or something. Either way it didn’t rain all day anyway but never mind. We were going to be going down the Tully River with rapids rated at 3-4. During high rainfall season, these can reach 5’s which would be one hell of an experience. The video on the coach was Touching the Void, a true story about some nutter who went mountaineering by himself and then crawled all the way home with a compound fracture in his leg, and who then sold a book about how stupid he’d been to get into that situation in the first place. Hardly cheery viewing first thing in the morning though!
I decided to fork out $4 to rent some sandals for the day as the only footwear I have with me is a pair of trainers and I think it would take more than a day for them to dry out. I also grabbed some breakfast (a beef pie and an orange juice) which I just had time to wolf down as we were separated onto different buses for R+R, Raging Thunder and Xtreme. The third bus was the smallest, just enough for what turned out to be three rafts-worth of landlubbers. The crew were in high spirits, doing their best to gee us up though with cobwebs hanging over most of us, it took some effort. We sorted ourselves into three roughly equal-sized groups and I ended up with four girls from Eire and a guy from New York who now lives near Nottingham.
There was no messing about when we arrived at our starting point. Out of the bus, into our swimming togs, life-vests and helmets and down to the river bank. The boats were winched down and we jumped in with our assigned guide. I can’t remember our guy’s name – actually I don’t think he ever told us in case we had to report bad things about him to the company! – but he was a Kiwi and a hard taskmaster. Put a pegleg and a parrot on him and he’d have been a typical keelhawling, no-messing, “walk the plank” Long John Silver. With filthier jokes. Frankly, I thought he was great. White water rafting is not safe (that’s why insurance premiums are high and we all had to sign our lives away before we got off the bus) and you have to listen to what you’re told and learn quickly how to act on it. He was overbearing to begin with, justifiably so as we were crap, but became more jovial as the day went on and we didn’t kill ourselves.
The safety briefing lasted all of 2 minutes as we were told how to hunch down, how to hold our paddles and how to drift should we fall out. Then we launched. Whoop!
We were right before the first rapids section. Our first test of the day within two minutes of leaving dry land. Let’s just say it’s a good job the water wasn’t too cold.
“Forward paddle! FORWARD!!! STOP! NO! Back paddle! TOGETHER! Lean left! LEFT! LEFT! NOT RIGHT! OH FU….”
I can kind of understand him being a little frustrated. However, none of us died so there were no nasty bits of paperwork for him to fill out, so it could have been worse. And it was fresh water, not the salty stuff I’d been swallowing for the last week or so.
We all managed to get into the boat again and hunted down our wayward paddles which had followed the current downstream. We then listened to Captain Bligh tearing strips off us and one of the Irish girls actually started calling him “sir”. This seemed to help.
That was the only time we capsized all day. We did get better, without a doubt. Jeff and I learned to paddle in sync and down the side of the boat. The girls kind of learned how to stay in time with us. And we had a great time.
Just before lunch we stopped at an area where the river was half its usual width and therefore roared along with a good few choppy bits. The boats were parked up and we all disembarked (apart from one of the Irish lasses who was realy not happy – I found out they’d not booked on the Xtreme tour, but their agent had put them on it anyway). We were then told to launch ourselves into the water. We weren’t using boats for this stretch!
Flat on my back with my legs in front of me I floated gently. Then faster. Then down. Then into a wall of water, most of which I’m sure is still lodged in my sinuses. Then there was an “up” bit, some more downs, more walls of water and then… calm. I didn’t see a tunnel of light, so I assumed I wasn’t dead. The shore drifting past on my left confirmed this and I swum over.
Then I walked back and did it again.
And then again.
And then we floated downstream a bit more and had lunch, which believe me I for one really needed. The food was great – a nice burger which you loaded with all the veggies you wanted, fruit, tea and a sausage sandwich for deserts if you asked nicely enough. There were two wild-looking turkeys there, one of which had a club foot so I kept feeding him bits of bread. There was also a shoal of fish and a large eel which hovered nearby so we spent a while throwing food to them as well.
Oh, we also fed the marsh flies. Imagine a cross between a fair-sized moth and a bluebottle. Add the annoying bloodthirsty feeding habits of a mosquito – but not the ability to fly away so quickly – and you have the marsh fly. Annoying bloody things. At one point I had at least four of them supping on my claret through various spots on my legs. The thing is, because of their size you can usually feel them biting you in a way you can’t with mosquitos. This makes it easy to squish the little buggers. Many died that day, and I still think it too few.
The next set of rapids were named The Regurgitator as they were very rough and more than a few rafters had lost their newly-aquire lunch going over them. Thankfully, after a week or so on evil rocking boats on the open sea, I was immune. It was just another cracking ride where we got soaked after drying out in the sun.
After a while, we pulled up again so that some people could jump from a 4m ledge into a deep part of the river. Well, we were meant to stop. Our boat drifted past and I had to jump in and swim for it. It was about this time that my left contact lense dropped out of my eye. I caught it and popped it in my mouth, but sensibly didn’t put it back in my eye, instead realising that would be a pretty poor idea and chucked it away instead. The only problem was that this left me with no depth perception and a 4m drop to contend with.
Well, depth perception’s not necessary for the drop part – but it helps when you’re trying to get your footing. I edged onto the ledge, took a breath, thought “oh hell” and jumped. Weeeeeeeeee*splash*.
Then I climbed round and went again. Only this time I did a proper dive. Well, it would have been a proper one had my life jacket not caught the wind and stopped me bending over enough. I landed on my side with a huge splash but who cares? It was fun!
We had a few more sets of rapids to go down before finally reaching the end of our trek at around 2:30pm. Hot showers and changing facilities were there, as were cold drinks, fruit and chocolate bars. Somehow, despite being rubbish, we’d all survived. Frankly, I was impressed with the girls as it was more than they’d intended to do and only one had come close to quitting at lunchtime but we’d managed to co-erce (erm… carry) her back into the raft.
The journey back to the Raging Thunder Cafe was chatty and I treated myself to an ice lolly when we got there while they tried to sell us photos of our day. I really should have got some, but as you’d expect they were flipping expensive. Eventually, the other coaches came in and after allowing them to time to buy some merchandise we all got on our relevant buses and headed back from whence we’d come.
I got chatting to a couple from Gippsland (near Melbourne) and a girl from Sweden after I’d finished the book I’d started that morning – it’s quite a drive each way. I also developed an eye infection. Gah. Though as I type this up the next day it’s already clearing up.
Overall, a great day. A lot of hard work, but really rewarding. Maybe when it rains I’ll go back and try it when it’s a grade 5!