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Commando Camping for “Paddle for the Planet”

June 6, 2011

From a training perspective – I’ve had a successful week, but from a ‘fun’ perspective, I’ve had another awesome week !! At this rate – I’m chalking up “firsts” in a frenzy !!

This weekend just past brought the good stuff. Sunday the 5th June was the inaugural international ‘Paddle for the Planet’ (PFTP) day. Being the first – the objective was to get as many paddlers from around the world, out on the water as possible – and snapping pictures to post to their profile. paddle for planet  PFTP 2 This would then set the stage for a larger campaign in the following years. Sean (Captain @ Fat Paddler) also informed us that long-term member ‘Lieutenant Commander’ Gelo was leaving for his homeland Greece next month so he suggested we turn the weekend paddle into a weekend adventure and send-off befitting Gelo’s rank and standing. The suggestion was a paddle and over-night “commando” camping trip with the return paddle coinciding with the PFTP Campaign.

Well – for those of you who know me, you might also remember that when I bought my Kayak 2 years ago, I immediately went out and spent up big on camping equipment. I bought a tent, bed roll, sleeping bag, cooking utensils and portable gas burner etc and was fantasizing about paddling down a river, then over-nighting on the bank, and paddling back the following day. My wife Eileen thought it hilarious (because she was sure I would never actually do it). In fact, she and a few others, put that investment down to a typical Stelzer “shopaholic” episode. Apparently I am the perfect consumer of a good retail sales pitch *grin*. Well they were almost right !! That gear sat gathering dust downstairs for just over 2 years……until this weekend that is 🙂

The Fat Paddler Team was split into 2 groups – those that would partake of the overnight camping and those that would rather meet us the following morning for the PFTP portion. The plan was for the campers to begin paddling at 3pm on the Saturday afternoon. Using Goggle maps, our Captain, plotted a course up a river approx. 15km to 2 possible camp sites. (by “possible” I meant that on that entire stretch of river there appeared to be only two breaks in the tree line to any sort of clearing). Our Captain Sean later recalled how funny it was that he was using satellite photography which could be up to 7 years old to base our plans on.

I suppose as the reader you have immediately spotted my concern. Given it’s winter at present and the sun sets at 5pm, and given it takes approx 2 hours to paddle 12km – then we ran the risk of trying to find our camp-site in the dark. The weather forecast was also showing rain that evening. Well I tried raising this with Sean – but he carefully chose words that implied that I was going through a gender change and so I quickly dismissed my objections and accepted my fate head-on !!


Will it all fit??

Well I reckon I spent all of Friday and Saturday morning planning and packing for the event. I was pretty excited because I don’t think I have camped out in the bush since I was in army cadets back at school exactly 27 years ago. My dining room looked like a bomb hit it – and Eileen was quite possibly well past seeing & hearing about it. It didn’t help she was sick with the flu, on the couch in a state of delirium.

By the time I packed all this gear in my kayak – It weighed a tone and I had serious doubts about whether it would retain any buoyancy on the water. I head down to the river and met the rest of the Team.

There was Capt Sean, LCDR Gelo, Seaman Nathan and myself (also Seaman rank). The rank is indicative of the number of sanctioned events each member takes part in – and I was still a virgin in this regard 🙂 Upon completing my first sanctioned event in PFTP – I was promoted to Midshipman. The Officers list for Team Fat Paddler is here.


Nathan was in a nice fast fiberglass yak, while Sean and Gelo were sharing a canoe. But it was a sturdy vessel and Sean kindly offered that if Nathan and I had too much equipment, then the canoe would easily handle our excess. We got underway at approx 3pm and made our way up river. It was slow paddling. The tide was running out and at the bottom-end of low tide. There were massive expanses of mud-flats near the shore-lines and for the first 45 mins we were virtually skimming across the mud in maybe a foot or two of water. Once we got around the first corner and into deeper sections, we could generate cleaner strokes – but the outward running current was distinctly visible in it’s urgency – and this made that paddle equally demanding.

About an hour or so further in and the conditions changed dramatically. The water turned to flat glass and we were lost in quiet solitude. The reflective surface of the river gave incredible length to the tree covered mountains on either side and I was in awe of mother nature. In fact, the crystal clear mirror image on the surface of the water was so persistent and intense, that after about 30 minutes of paddling into this optical illusion I began to experience bouts of vertigo.

Me and Nat on water

Nathan and I moving ahead...

Nathan and I got to chatting, and I remember saying to him that on any other day – you’d never get to experience the majesty of this stretch of water at dusk unless you were prepared to camp overnight, because we were so deep in and the darkness was imminent.

And the darkness did come…. And we were still a good hour away from our destination.

I’m almost certain Sean timed it this way on purpose. He knows how much I dread paddling in the dark and that this was something I would have to face because it is a huge component of the Hawkesbury Classic. We talked about it a few times and he said that once I was out there – I would love it. He was right. But if I’m honest with myself – I loved it because I was paddling side by side with another soul. I think If I was out there on my own, then that is altogether a different scenario. I said it before – “a man’s worst enemy is his imagination”. In another’s company, my imagination is shackled and tamed. On my own – it runs rampant. And I have an awesome imagination.

We got to a sharp bend in the river that signaled we were close to our camp-site so I sacrificed my night-vision to check Google Maps on my Android and sure enough we were close. We shone our torches along the bank looking for a break in the tree line. By this time – the canoe with Sean and Gelo had caught up and together we made for the shore-line. I remember saying to Nathan that I had the reflection of what looked like a set of eyes in my torch-light. He couldn’t see them – but I had been spot-light hunting in my youth and these were eyes. I thought at first perhaps rabbit or fox but something was different – and I had this uneasy feeling that they were human. They stayed on us until we hit the shore and then disappeared. Sean and I scouted up the embankment and into the clearing and nearly tripped over 3 tents pitched in our prime location. DAMN that was a slap of a disappointment for all of us -just plain bad luck ! The occupants of those tents turned off their lights and literally ignored us as we scouted the area to see if there was sufficient room for us to settle in as neighbours. Given the small size of the clearing, and that others had already settled in for the night clearly unhappy about our arrival – we decided to paddle back to the alternate camp-site.

Well we were surely tested at this stage. The only clearing we could find was a narrow shoreline of mud facing a 5-6 foot embankment of loose soil, with a dead tree inconveniently laying between the two. I grabbed a torch and set off to scout the clearing that was supposed to be just up the embankment. Well, I reckon I took about 5 steps and was ankle-deep in what the Webster dictionary would fairly call a swamp !! There was a huge tangle of what looked like water lilies and matted strands of long grass all floating on inches of ice-cold water. Sean, Gelo and Nathan came up and we proceeded to move inland. It was probably 30 meters or so until we finally hit sold ground. BINGO!! This was going to be our campsite. All we had to do now was lug 1 canoe and 2 kayaks up the embankment and drag them into the campsite. It was somewhere between 6.30 and 7pm and it just started to rain *grin*

All my worst fears were unfolding before me and I was LOVING IT !!! We were covered in mud, heavy kayaks were being hauled up hills and emptied of precious cargo, tents were sprawled out on wet matted grass, dinners were needing to be cooked and the rain was falling in a slow steady way that teased you with an imminent downpour. I was amongst the company of like-minded men who were laughing and cracking jokes and reveling in the chaos.

But it wasn’t chaotic. It was in reality a perfect and controlled adventure.

Once our tents were up – we sat in the rain and cooked our sausages. I received endless sledging for packing creative ingredients. How was I to know these rugged adventurers were content with just sausages, bread and tomato sauce. I began preparing thin sizzle steaks with soft bread rolls, layered with avocado, tomato and baby spinach. The condiments of choice were either Chilli or Hoi Sin Sauce and we laughed all the way through dinner. If it wasn’t the food choices, it was the gadgets….. I thought it was clever to vacuum seal everything including the sauces. I thought it was cool that my very sharp adventure knife had a torch on the handle that lit up whatever you were slicing, and my cutlery set from Aldi’s was like a swiss army knife – every single utensil on one compact little fold-out unit. I had a mini-chopping board, and I even had a packet of moist toweletts to increase the comfort factor of any purpose you could need paper towels for – and I thought nothing of whipping out my waterless toothbrush to extract the remnants of my meal from between my teeth….. All of this was fuel for us to burst into fits of laughter as we cooked, and drank into the night….


Gelo, Nathan, & me probably laughing at my raincoat... with Sean behind the camera !

I was probably most impressed with Nathan for handling the outdoors. With a country boy’s knowhow, he packed a huge waterproof tarp. He folded it in half and that was his tent. When he was ready for bed he simply unrolled his sleeping bag and lay down between the sheets. His gear was under there with him and he reckons he slept like a baby. I don’t doubt him and I’ll keep that one up my sleeve should I ever find myself having to survive the outdoors Rambo style *wink*


Flouro Blue is me, cammo green single is Sean and flat tarp is Bear Grilles - I mean Nathan 🙂

Sean and I were the last to call it quits. I crawled into my tent (which unlike Gelo’s was waterproof), and changed into my thermals, unrolled my inflatable bed roll, and crawled into my two sleeping bags. I was as comfortable and toasty as I was in my own bed…and probably the single most difficult thing I have ever done in my life was getting up at about 4am to leave that heavenly abode and address a nature call. The mist hung heavy upon our campsite all night and well into the morning – when only the direct sunlight could evaporate it until it returned the following night.

That morning we ate breakfast, packed our camp and loaded the kayaks for the return trip. Because we forgot to mark our location by the water – the second team of morning paddlers missed us and continued right up to the very end of the river where it turned into a narrow freshwater creek littered with rocks. Our timing was impeccable because as we prepared to depart from our campsite they rounded the corner on the way back. The second team consisted of Commander Paul, Lieutenant Commander Alan, and Lieutenant Nat. These guys are machines – they paddled something like 20Km to find us – then about 17 Km back with us – all without a break.   A Massive Effort !!


Together, all 7 members of Team Fat Paddler churned the water in a leisurely pace back to the starting point and enjoyed equally gorgeous scenery on the return paddle.

team FP

TFP - a great bunch of paddlers: Gelo, Nat, Paul, Alan, Nathan and me... & Sean behind the camera again 🙂

I cannot put into the words the profound joy of paddling Australian waterways. There is true beauty in the bush setting of eucalyptus trees, and other natives, thickly covering the mountains and horizons, occasionally punctuated by the jagged orange cliff-faces of sandstone seemingly smiling in the sun – and periodically you can hear the distinctive sound of the eastern whip bird pierce this serene setting.

Scene 1

Magnificent scenery on the river we paddled courtesy of Lieutenant Commander Alan.

scene 2

Same river - but with Lieutenant Nat and Commander Paul in shot.

For more great photos from this adventure – please Like the Fat Paddler Face Book page and you can see them here.

sean 1

Signing off for the day - The Captain of Fat Paddler - Sean !!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2011 4:03 pm

    Great blog post Michael, good to meet you on the weekend. Wish I’d got to see all of your go-go-gadget tools too!

    • June 7, 2011 12:31 am

      Thanks for reading Alan and I appreciate your comments !!
      See you again on the water soon 🙂

  2. June 7, 2011 1:25 am

    Sensational write up Mike… err, I mean Inspector Gadget! 😉

  3. Grumm permalink
    June 8, 2011 3:04 am

    go-go Gadget…blogtastic write up 🙂 Will look forward to a few more paddles with you for in the run up to the Hawkesbury. Thats if the arms are still attached by then

    • June 8, 2011 6:29 am

      Hey Grumm !! Glad you liked it 🙂
      I’m sure the last few days have been memorable for you in terms of that dull ache that follows a massive paddle 🙂 The up-side is you’re in shape for the next one !!

      • June 8, 2011 12:49 pm

        Harden up you two. I paddled back with 3rd degree burns. No complaints. 😉


  1. Night Paddling Under a Canopy of Stars (and a veil of mist) « My Kayak Pursuit

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