The Doring River, Alone – Day 4: The Final Stretch

Morning arrived just as all the other mornings had on this little piece of earth before this one. It was initially quite overcast but the scene in front of me looked a little different as I had arrived on this side at night... I stood tall at camp 3B and looked back to my memorable camp 3A. There were no horses in sight. I wondered where they were and almost felt angry that they weren’t sleeping peacefully on the patch of grass that Satan had so fiercely defended.

The morning was chilly and the sun was not up yet. It looked beautiful as the colours started to come out in a variety of reds and oranges. I sat down and watched the scene unfold. There was nothing else to do in any case. My mom was to pick me up at 12:00 and I had fractionally less than ten kilometres to paddle, so it wouldn’t take long. I hung around and waited for the tent to dry. Luckily the clouds broke up and over the next hour or so I watched them disperse.


Morning on day 4 at camp 3B...


Camp 3B on the river right side. It could have been worse, way worse.


The sun came up and I was almost ready to leave for the final stretch.


Looking upstream from my final camp.


During my trip I spent a lot of time thinking. I thought about a lot of things, but also about me. What was my role on earth I wondered? Where did I slot in exactly and what was my purpose? Where was I going? The answers did not bother me but I thought curiously about it nonetheless. It is so rare that one finds the opportunity for some deep and uninterrupted thought. My mind wondered from ex-girlfriends, good friends, past and present, to student life, working life, all these wonderful things. Various random thoughts passed through my mind, negatives never staying long enough to cause decay. I felt good.


Soon enough it was time to pack up the tent as it mostly dry. All my other worldly belongings were put inside of my large Solo and I felt a little sad that I wouldn’t be setting up another camp that night. The trip down had been really awesome and apart from the previous nights’ happenings, it had been perfect. But I had to terms with that and it was just a gentle reminder that I was just one man, and could be snuffed out in the blink of an eye if I was not careful. Although, contrary to certain peoples’ belief, I am very cautious by nature. Of course my trip alone has already been criticised by several people, as have many of my other trips in fact, but that is only natural. I always tell myself the same thing, “No one ever kicks a dead dog.” I think I read that in a book by Dale Carnegie, I’d have to check to be sure. It certainly makes a big difference to remember that quirky little piece of wisdom. Think about it, and remember it.


I left the camp behind and looked back at camp 3A, which now looked peaceful and deserted. Just the previous night it had been a time of fear and terror. I rounded a left bend and within a few hundred metres I spotted Satan and his friend, grazing peacefully amongst the shrubs and bushes. I did not call out to them, or hurl curses, and only stared in silence. Satan turned to look at me and for a while we eyed each other out, neither of us saying anything. Then he turned, continued eating and we parted our ways.


The final section was quite flat, but still very beautiful.


Two Egyptian Geese sitting on a rock nearby.


Two smaller ducks in the water ahead of me.


The waterfall.


Self portrait shot taken just before the end.  What a lekker trip!


The remainder of the rapids were really easy and there was nothing that required any scouting or that really got the hair wet. The sun which had shown itself so beautifully early on, remained hidden for the rest of the morning. At one stage I passed a spectacular waterfall coming down on the right hand side, the rain the previous day had obviously created this. Some rapids came and went and I drifted lazily through the pools at my leisure. Eventually I came to the weir which the guide book had warned me to portage. This weir is called Melkboom (milk tree in English) and is on the DWAF site. I stopped close by on river right and had a quick look. It was runnable with a few options but I decided that the portage was very short and easy and I wouldn’t want to mess up the trip right at the take out. I walked around and got back in. From this weir the bridge at the end is clearly visible. I had made it. Four days on the Doring at the slowest and most relaxed pace imaginable. This section has been paddled in one day at flood and I’m sure that even at the level I had I could do it quite easily in two days. But I wanted to take it easy and spend some time alone.


A Grey Heron right next to the weir at the end.


The weir at Melkboom on the Doring River.


The marker which people talk about... What a waste of time. Just check the internet and you know exactly how many cumecs are flowing down. The problem is that too many people think that a marker like this relates the same way to any other river.... Hmmmm.... ;-)


An old and battered sign at the bridge at the take out.


The bridge at the take out. The weather wasn't great and it rained lightly from time to time while waiting.


I arrived at the end at 10:45. About one or two minutes after 12:00 my mom arrived, pretty much spot on!!! Without her help this trip could not have been possible with such ease. So a big thank you!

It felt good to have made it to the bridge with no real hassles, apart from my lifelong friend Satan, of course. (Satan was the horse in the previous article in case you missed it and as I said there, the name was used in jest.) Although I was pleased with my trip, I was also sad that it was over and also almost a little disappointed that it had been so easy. It seems that a trip like this only serves to fuel my hunger for adventure. I’m sure you’ll be reading about more great trips in the time to come. Until then, thanks for all the mails and keep sending them! Cheers, Adrian.


Some interesting plants at the take out.


More beautiful flowers.


And the final flower shot, promise!


The take out.


And eventually my mommy came to pick me up!!!! :-)


A while before this trip I wrote a little ‘essay’, if I can call it that, on some thoughts I had, so here it is. I thought I would share it with you here:

A Life – The Script to No One

Tall, silver leafed trees flanked the path that stretched into the twilight. The air was moist but cold. As I walked along the footpath, the damp leaves muffled my foot steps and the only sound was that of my own breathing. I was alone and the monotony of my surroundings had a dulling effect on my mind. Random thoughts floated around and then left with as little substance as that with which they had entered. The path lessened in gradient and levelled off. The vegetation remained curiously the same but something to the left caught my eye. I felt my skin crawl as I squinted through the darkness; there was no mistaking the faint outline of a figure stooped over a fireplace.


Shadows danced across the deep folds on his face as he stared deeply into the fire. His cracked hands clasped a dirty glass filled with a dark, golden liquid and his eyes remained unblinking. His boots were almost worn through and the thick jacket over his back bore testament to many a cold night on the ground. An axe lay casually against the log he was perched upon and a sense of unease swept across me. I lowered myself carefully down to the ground, across the fire from him. His fierce blue eyes stared back at me. There was a sense of emptiness to them and suddenly I was beginning to regret encroaching on his space. A slight smile broke his sad countenance and we began to talk. The air got colder but the fire burnt strongly as more fuel was added and the conversation drifted from one topic to another with him not saying very much in response to my attempts. We got onto the discussion of life and he seemed to avoid my questions as to how he had ended up in his present situation. Having had to deal with my own personal struggles and seeking the answers for many questions in my mind, I decided to engage in a more direct conversation.


“Don’t you sometimes question every single thing that has happened in your life so far? Perhaps you’ve questioned your existence and everything you thought you believed in. I have. For a start, examine the meaning of life. If one merely says life, followed by a question mark, then the question is virtually rhetorical. What is truly the answer? There is probably no satisfactory answer except, perhaps, in the minds for those who seek it. But for those who dwell with heavy questions on their mind, their plight is never ending, as is mine. A constant maelstrom of thoughts as one wonders the path through what normal people call life. So what exactly is life, and what is considered normal? An existence from birth to death with a few highlights along the way perhaps? That straight forward? For some people, yes. If that doesn’t bring about a self-realisation let me end right now. For you, there is no hope. If you see beyond that, keeping listening.”


The old man stared strangely into his glass, as if expecting a response and then looked up at me and said nothing. His penetrating stare fixed on something deep inside of me. I continued.


“When we are born, we are born with almost nothing. Emotionally we are empty except for that what our mothers have transmitted through to us in the womb. We know no fear, no sadness, no happiness, only contentment. Everything beyond that point in time attaches itself to our soul. The journey through life can be a testing time as we travel through this episode of feeling, emotions, decisions and ultimately choices. Wherever you go, whatever happens, good or bad; you can either blame or attribute to yourself. Stripped of emotion and possibly even reason, it comes down to that simple sentence. I think everyone would like to live a life of intentional purpose; to feel loved, to feel important, to love, to be free. So stop and ask yourself what is freedom. Is freedom the ability to think free and irrational thoughts? Or is freedom being able to move about a controlled environment, following another’s rules and living according to what is considered legally and morally correct? Are we really free? The way we wade through the daily judgements and criticisms of others, is that really freedom? Are we even in a position to fathom a definition for freedom?”


His gaze moved off to some distant event behind me but he remained otherwise motionless and I remained unsure as to whether he was listening still or not. I wondered what would trigger him and decided to carry on.


“And then what about love? To be loved, to love. Love is the butterflies you get in your stomach that extends up to your heart as you stare into the eyes of someone else. You only see the good, you feel only good. The imperfections are of little significance and your partner looks back at you and you know that she feels the same way. The feeling of belonging and comfort cannot be measured in any sort of magnitude except against what one has experienced thus far. This is love’s greatest and weakest strength. In the early days it comes easily but as time and experiences work the soul the gauge by which it can be measured by becomes fractionally clearer. This is the demise of many people but also the joy of others. But there is no better feeling in the world though and one should give oneself in abundance at every appropriate opportunity. A life should be lived with love for everyone, no matter who they are. It is something which cannot be created; it cannot be explained and cannot be taken away. Through some intense experiences and a deeper mutual understanding there is a bond there that runs deeper than almost any other I know. At the end of the day it is just an emotion. Not a feeling. Would you die for someone? Would you really? Who? Why? Are you sure? That is love.


When the burdens of life become too much people resort to tobacco, alcohol and drugs in a quest to lighten their load. Does it really? Do they realise how it feels to stand next to someone dying with a ventilator artificially keeping them alive? The incessant hissing brings no comfort and only bears testament to the gravity of the situation. Or what about a poor choice in life? Have you stood next to someone whom you love, who lies in a coma and is verbally unable to communicate with you? With talking and hand sensations a tear is provoked out of the person and it rocks your inner being and attempts to derail your emotional stability. The vibration of emotions trembles deep down inside and reverberate for a long time afterwards. Consequences are often not given very much thought until you have been there and looked back at them. Have you ever lost someone you knew? Someone you loved perhaps? Are emotions welling up? Anger towards me already for provoking something you suddenly seem to have little control over? The next time you climb behind the wheel of a car, look at the person next to you and notice how they look back at you and probably even smile. Cherish the moment. You alone are responsible as to the outcome of your journey. A single poor choice can change the life of so many people very quickly. A tree embedded deeply through an upheaval of twisted metal and mortal remains. The roots of pain striking deeply and twisting and strangling the life out of those who stay behind, bewildered and unforgiving in their daily existence. That is consequence.”


A cold silence followed as the glass was drained of its burden and quickly refilled with more. He shifted uneasily on the felled spruce and his gaze was now lowered and could not meet mine. The sadness returned to his eyes and for a moment I thought he had not heard what I had said. His lips trembled and I thought I heard something being uttered. They closed again and his already stooped figure lowered itself even more. It was as if he wanted the earth to swallow him up and for his mark not to be left, anywhere. Consequence didn’t seem to matter much anymore. I hesitated with the thoughts that were now flooding my mind but decided to release some more of the demons that had been plaguing me inside.


“You haven’t truly lived until you have been so afraid because you know your next move could result in death, loved a woman more than anything else, and cried for the sake of happiness. I’m divided if I’ve accomplished all three but know for certain that I’ve been more afraid than I ever have during my times paddling on rivers. When one pushes the limit the senses are set on maximum. Little details imprint an indelible impression on ones’ mind which cannot be erased and remain to haunt one forever. Memories trigger perfuse sweating on the palms and rapid visions hunt through the mind. When one has no other choice but to complete an all encompassing task. The fear is there but if allowed to dominate one will soon be overcome and failure would surely result. As in all aspects of life.


It is those moments which are almost religious to me. An escape from reality? From the daily pressures that life can inflict on one day after day, maybe. Or perhaps a challenge that relinquishes the mind from the blemishes of actuality. It is a place where I unleash my natural power in a quest to attain spiritual freedom and harness the power that resides within me. The effect is long lasting and fuels the mind for a long time afterwards. There is almost nothing more satisfying. That is living.”


He carefully lowered his glass and his eyes seemed to sparkle again as some past memory of a happy life must have been lit in his mind.


“Questions. Too many questions, too few answers. Imagine waking up one day with regrets. Can you imagine that? I think for most people that is quite easy to visualise and a sad reality for many. When I walk the streets and look into the eyes of people I sometimes see that sadness, that regret. On some days my heart goes out to those people, and on other days, I feel a strong resentment and anger and hatred that their actions, and their actions alone, have led them to where they are today. Most would never know that they are to blame and live under this thick blanket of resentment and self pity."


I wondered if I would be pushing it a little too far now as his glass lay abandoned on the wet earth next to him and he clasped his hands in front of him and leaned towards the fire, in my direction. Smoke lashed angrily up at him but he seemed oblivious to it. I decided to change my angle a little.


“I sometimes feel very alone on my earth walk. Frustration with all the things that should be right and are not. With people telling me otherwise. So right in whose mind? What is right and what is wrong? The latter definition is only clear towards the view point from one individual to that in question. Or does the Bible or the Koran or something or someone else decide what is right and what is wrong? Or do the answers dwell within you? Within your own subconscious mind or do you avoid that word as some do? Are people afraid of the power that resides in each and every one of them? The power to achieve anything, to become anything, to be free, to love, to be loved. Free energy that is sadly only harnessed by a lucky few. Energy that can be transferred from one to another through a medium that cannot be explained by you or me. But it is there. I know it is. That is power.


It’s so weird that sometimes one can stumble onto something very unexpectedly and all of a sudden other events or circumstances, totally non-related, abruptly fall into place. The words I read that afternoon were from Mike Boon and they read as follows.


“When I started the journey I had been in burnout for a long time. My emotions were dull, my life just happened by rote. I got up in the morning and did what I had to do through discipline alone. There was no longer any passion, any fire, inside. It took enormous effort to create passion when I needed to and when my work demanded it. I was always tired and irritable. I was simply not a very nice person any more. I knew that I was dying inside; I knew that I did not have long before I would slide finally into a dark place from which I would probably never return. A place where I could exist, but not truly live.”


When I read those words I sobbed. Like a stiff joint random pieces of information clicked together. My own life had been revealed in front of my eyes and I sobbed. The tears ran uninhibited from my cheeks as I realised what I had become over the last few months of the previous year and like an oil slick into the next. The life had been smothered out of me and my vision to the outside world hindered by an invisible blanket. Escape seemed impossible until that moment in time. A single moment, a single paragraph of truth that hit down to the very core of who I was and what I had become. My mind opened up to the narrow and twisted path I had been stumbling along and all of a sudden I realised where I had been looking. It no longer felt necessary to look back towards the darkness and only forward to where I had to walk. It was so incredibly clear that the moist tears falling down my cheeks brought warmth into my heart. The sweet taste of life had been returned to me and I then knew what I had to do. It was that simple. That is walking from death.”


The old man continued to stare at me and then that faint smile grew across his rugged face. He took a deep breath and then looked up at the stars as they poked through the thick canopy of leaves above us. As he slowly exhaled he looked back at me and I waited expectantly for his response. I had just dumped a heap of questions onto this man and released some frustration; his response was bound to be quite profound. Surely his knowledge and wisdom would be as deeply etched as the wrinkles across his face. After a few tense moments he finally replied.


“Theodore Roosevelt once said: ‘You make a living out of what you get but a life out of what you give.’ I think you already know the answers to all of those other questions. And another thing, thank you, my friend.”


With that he picked up his worldly possessions and got up, his upright outline a tall, lonely figure as he loped off into the darkness.


Photography by: Adrian Tregoning

All Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Riviersonderend – Back of the Moon section.