2009 Riverland Paddling Marathon (South Australia) – TOTs are Damn Good!

2009 Riverland Paddling Marathon (SA) – TOTs are Damn Good!

Team TOTs (Two Old Tarts), otherwise known as Terri and Gayle, made a last-minute decision to compete in the RPM 200km relay, formerly known as the SA Murray 200.

Using Gayle’s newly acquired Mirage 530 sea kayak instead of the more familiar TK1s, and no long distance training between them since before the Murray Marathon, these intrepid ladies foolishly tackled the daunting 200km stretch of the Murray from Berri to Morgan.

After a gruelling 12 hour journey to Waikerie on Friday, and very little sleep due to hotel revellers, they were up at 4am and set off at 5am for the start at Berri.

In the pre-dawn twilight Terri set the scene with a fantastic start, leading the field at the start of the epic voyage, before disappearing into the darkness.

After a very consistent performance Terri was met at Lock 4 by the eagerly awaiting Gayle. A very leisurely portage and baton handover saw Gayle chasing those keen competitors who actually ran the lengthy portage, or had large ground crew entourage to help, and she actually caught a few of them on the river.

Whilst Terri battled the darkness in the first leg, Gayle had to deal with rain, then hail, on the next leg. To think she was concerned about being overdressed!

Some confusion by Gayle (well, she’d had no coffee yet, remember) at an apparent fork in the river, was resolved by some fishermen, who assured her that the wide, shallow, weedy bit on the left was the better option than the snaggy, rocky shortcut with a weir further downstream.

Next changeover was much slicker. With everything at the ready, Terri jumped back in the boat for her long stint of the day. Then Gayle finished off with her shorter leg (of the race, not anatomically).

With day one complete, TOTs were pleased to find that paddling times were on target, and at no stage were they last on the water. After a celebratory dinner, it was a race to see who could get to bed quicker (Gayle won that one).

Day two started our well enough. Terri again did the honours with a great start in good conditions, coming into that horrible Lock 3 portage to find the landing much improved this year, with no steep slope needing boats to be hauled out with ropes. Now it is a very civilized landing with steps to get out onto, if your boat is short enough.

Portage a bit quicker, hampered by the steep and muddy descent other side of lock.

Gayle set out in pleasant conditions, just ahead of a massive houseboat coming through the lock. Alas, the good stuff didn’t last. Just as she was catching up with a couple of guys in beautiful wooden sea kayaks, thinking “washride”, the wind turned from gentle to screaming, and being funnelled through the massive orange cliffs along the banks, set up massive waves on the shallow water. Ahhh, thank goodness for the Mirage! With an experienced sea kayak alongside, Gayle managed to enjoy the waves, even though it was a jolly hard slog into the wind.

Next change-over saw a somewhat anxious Terri heading out into the unforgiving wind, but she battled through gamely, again making sure TOTs were not last on the water.

Day Two over, TOTs asleep almost before daylight expired.

Last day saw a change of plans. Gayle was scheduled to do first and last leg, but Terri was not sure of her shoulder holding up for the long 30+km leg in between, so once again Terri did her race start magic in the semi dark.

Conditions were good on first leg, and Terri plugged away at the miles, never ever having the safety boat on her tail.

Last Lock portage saw a much slicker change-over, thank you to the lovely man who stood thigh deep in colder water to help people out before the lock, and especially to the lovely young couple who carried the boat down the treacherous goat track the other side.

In pleasant warm sunshine and cooling breeze, Gayle set out hopeful of reeling in some of those sea kayaks up ahead, but the best laid plans did “gang aglee” because just after passing Graeme from Geelong in his TK! (he was doing full distance all by himself) and a couple of sea kayakers were within cooee, the wind picked up. This time it was strong and gusty, rather than just plain strong like yesterday. Instead of picking up fun big rolling waves, the erratic wind was causing unpleasant whitecap choppy stuff, catching the paddle blade from all different directions. Not fun this time.

In the harsh conditions Gayle saw her washride disappearing fast ahead of her, unable to keep pace with two burly experienced sea kayakers who were keen to get off the water as soon as they could.

The miserable conditions continued, and Gayle was hoping and praying that Terri had recovered enough from the morning paddle to be able to continue, as another 12km into the cruel wind didn’t bear thinking about.

At this stage Terri was waiting on the bank nursing a painful shoulder and hoping Gayle had the stamina to cope with the last 12km leg to finish. When Gayle pulled in and said what a shocker of a paddle it was Terri knew she just had to grit her teeth and suck it up! Fortunately Terri had dosed up on legal substances enough to see her right, and she gamely set off into the teeth of the almost gale.

A valiant effort by Terri once again saw team TOTs come in with some other boats still behind.

Mission accomplished! TOTs came in ahead of their personal target time, were never last into any checkpoint, and managed to gain experience and enjoyment from a well organised race.

Tips for next year:-

1. Actually do some distance training before event.

2. Use two boats to save heaps of time at the portages Ð allowed in this race.

3. Have additional ground crew to make coffee at the checkpoints.

4. Tape hands or wear gloves, because the fresh water causes blisters.

5. Set up seating position more suited to the type of boat used (and don’t use the rudder pedals in sea kayak to get your leg drive!)

6. Stay at Barmera instead of Waikerie so you can sleep in longer two mornings out of three.

7. Don’t plan on breakfast at Loxton bakery on homeward journey if you leave too early. They don’t open till 8am.

8. Bring your own milk to the bakery at Pinaroo to ensure you can get a second cup of coffee before travelling onward Ð they ran out of milk. They open at 6am.


Terri and Gayle really enjoyed the whole race experience, despite shallow water, lots of weed, rain, hail and WIND, not to mention sore and aching muscles, and are planning on making an attempt on the RK1MW55 record next year. (that’s Recreational Kayak, Single Medium, Women’s 55+ for those unfamiliar with anything other than K or TK boats).