Sunday, May 10, 2009

The pain of rainy days

When I first saw the rainy days theme over on Meet me at Mike's, my thoughts immediately turned to the kind of descriptive writing about my surrounds that I so love creating. But I thought about the theme a little more, and thought that maybe I would instead tell you about why I find rainy days somewhat bittersweet.

For a couple of years rainy days meant dropping everything. Checking the Bureau of Meteorology website to gauge every river in the state, watching the rain maps become peppered with turquoise dots, then royal blue dots, then green, as the rain continued to fall. Phones would be buzzing, emails would be flying, and then the culmination would be a station wagon packed full of people and gear with four whitewater kayaks strapped firmly to the roof racks, heading out to whichever river seemed the best pick. Driving for hours, either into the dark of night or early in the morning watching dawn break over a nearly-empty freeway.

As we neared the river we'd peer over every bridge in anticipation, trying to work out if the river really had risen enough. We'd pull up to a clearing, usually with no marking but one that had been handed down by word of mouth or internet forums. Pile out of the car, check the river level, work out a car shuttle to have a car waiting for us at the end of the day, and start pulling on layers of thermals, tight homemade fleece vests, wetsuit booties, and waterproof pants and tops with tight latex gaskets that don't allow water in at your ankles, neck or wrists. As we put on our helmets, spray decks and life jackets we'd make sure everyone used the same river signals and was feeling okay about the river we were about to paddle.

Depending on how hard the river was, your heart might start beating a little faster as you dragged your boat down to the river. If there was only a small eddy of smooth water before entering the flow of the river, you'd ease yourself into your boat carefully before pulling out to make way for the next person. Even in your first few paddle strokes you would feel the power of the river flowing beneath you. But you would also feel the comfort of your boat responding to the moves you had done so many times. A slight lift of the knee, twist of the stomach, a touch of your paddle on the water. The feeling not of being in control, but of being in sync with the river.

Of course the rest of the day had plenty of stories, but I think it's that first feeling of working with the river that I think of when it rains. And now? Now the thought just makes me sad. In a state like Victoria with such enduring drought, now when it rains for days you're lucky if one river comes up. And because it's so rare, you're no longer confident you can tackle that harder river, so you don't go. And because you're out of the habit, you don't drop everything to seek out the river, now when you've made plans with people you keep them rather than apologising with 'Sorry, but an amazing river came up'.

But I find it so sad to have lost it. To have lost that pure feeling of joy coursing through my body as I pulled exactly the move the river demanded of me. To not float through gum tree lined stretches with just a few close friends. To no longer be able to identify myself as an adventurer, an outdoors person. So for me, rainy days can be a pleasant, cosy day in Melbourne, but they can also be such a strong reminder of a person I was, a person I liked being, a person I quite possibly will never get the chance to be again for whom I'm still grieving.

These are some photos from a kayaking trip to New Zealand, not long before my kayaking habit died away a bit. (I couldn't seem to find any on my computer that captured the feeling of rainy Victorian kayaking.)

Part way through an hour-long walk to the start of the Lower Toaroha River

Putting in a move on the Lower Hokitika

Heading off the Maruia Falls


  1. Nice. I kayak, but a little more gently - and like you haven't pulled into the water for a while now. I borrowed kayaks (inland there was never much of a need to own one) so never got the same sense of knowing the craft that you speak of. Much of my mornings were spent learning the ways of the craft - and paddle. Now I gaze longingly at the craft that moves about me on the water here. I haven't ever bothered to purchase one. There's so little time for it. I have done some paddles and keep my qualifications up to date so I can continue to take people out on the water and teach them a little of the ways of canoeing and kayaking - much of the time hauling stiff, frightened kids from kayaks in rescues so they can earn their own qualifications.

  2. You have an adventurous spirit and that's a hard thing to keep down. So I'm sure you'll find a new challenge that brings up those familiar buzzy feelings. It could be that you greatest thrills are yet to come.