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The Rock-itt : June 2012
Would you travel nearly 3000km each way to compete in a race lasting only three or four hours, particularly if you had to drive that distance largely through arid, dusty outback Australia? Well, half a dozen kayaking diehards from Sydney's northern suburbs have just done that, and loved every minute of it. Only two of them drove the whole distance to far north Queensland, the others flew most of the way. James Mumme, Bert Lloyd, John Thearle, Matt Blundell, Stuart Innes and Brett Greenwood decided they just had to compete in this year's 43km Gregory River Canoe Race. That's 250km north of Mt Isa, and only 150km from the Gulf of Carpentaria. A prize of $2000 for anyone who could break the race record was an added lure for the faster paddlers in the group. James, Bert and John are used to paddling together through the Australian outback. A couple of years ago they paddled the Darling River. Matt is a leading international adventure racer (and also world 40+ marathon kayak champion), and Stu and Brett have made a name for themselves as double kayak racers. All are from Manly Warringah Kayak Club and Lane Cove River Kayakers, two of Sydney's leading clubs. The race website describes the area this way: "The beauty of the river itself is the main attraction. It is a popular getaway for Mount Isa most of the year thanks to good fishing, swimming, camping and canoeing. The Gregory is fed by underground springs which are situated close to the Northern Territory border, and are part of the Georgina basin. The crystal clear water is fringed with pandanus palms, livingstona palms, paperbark trees, fig trees, and a variety of other flora. The river consists of both shallow and deep waterholes which are linked by small rapids. Some snags, logs and overhanging pandanus palms are encountered when paddling downstream." Towing a trailer with six kayaks on it, James and Bert drove James' car from Sydney to Mt Isa, where they were met by John who had flown up, and they continued on to Gregory River Downs. Matt, Stu and Brett flew to Mt Isa where they hired a 4WD and drove to Gregory River Downs. Complications arose quickly. First they discovered the organisers had at the last minute affiliated with the State controlling organisation, Queensland Canoeing, which required competitors to have helmets and PFDs (lifejackets). They managed to hire these. "The race went from being fairly casual to very controlled, they even had a chopper," John said. Then they found the access road to the race starting point had not been graded and was accessible only by 4WD. James' car with the trailer could not make it, so the kayaks were ferried for practice runs on the top of Matt's 4WD. On the day of the race, May 6, James, Bert and John decided to hitch rides to the start -- only James and John made it. Bert couldn't get a ride and missed the race. "It didn't matter too much, I'd paddled the course in practice and was feeling rather unwell anyhow," he said later. Race start was in a narrow pond so competitors were sent off in small waves, with the first rapid less than 100 metres away. Matt started near the back of the field, with the K2 double of Stu and Brett three minutes behind him. Brett and Stu got tangled up with another K2 in their start and took a swim, but were quickly back in and racing. "The river is a series of small rapids with long water holes in between. We all soon settled into a steady rhythm," Matt said. "James and John were 20 minutes ahead. I slowly started to reel them in and hoped to hold off the K2. The first major obstacle 7km in is Kamarga Falls, a grade 2-3 rapid depending on who you talk to. I had a smooth run down the first WHITE WATER KAYAKING IN THE GULF COUNTRY