"Personally, the journey down this majestic wild river has been a rite of passage, an unexpected opportunity to transition from one era to another… Facing my fears of injury, death and commitment enabled lose ends to be tied and older parts of myself that no longer serve me to be released. I am eternally grateful to have been graced with the time, inclination and ability to experience this extraordinary place alongside such exceptional people." - Hannah Hokarari
#1: Facing our Fears
Rafting the mighty Franklin River, found in the wild west of Tasmania, had been 7 years in the making. My last attempt to embrace this humbling force of nature resulted in a broken leg on day 1 of the trip and a helicopter evacuation. So naturally there was unfinished business to tend to and fears to be faced. The surface fear was of breaking another bone; however, a deeper undercurrent of death on this river in particular, was also ever present. A sombre reminder of this possible reality arose as we were picnicking by the river side before take-off. A father had come to spread the ashes of his son whom the river had taken. Facing our biggest fears teach us our most important lessons; and the Franklin River certainly imparted many life learnings over the ten-day expedition.
#2: Clear Communication
The power of clear communication cannot be underestimated — whether you are making a plan to safely negotiate the raging rapid or simply having a conversation with a loved one. On the river you use non-verbal paddle signals to communicate, given the loud environment and distance between people. Consequences on a river can be high, especially in remote places, meaning it is essential everyone understands the plan of attack, how to interpret the signals and what is expected of them all going well or otherwise. There is no space for assumptions or uncertainty! Prior river experience is not necessary if you are going with a commercial company - check out Wild Journeys, if you are feeling enticed by adventure already.
#3: All In This Together
Rafting a wild river is a very uniting activity; it requires teamwork, trust, adaptability and endurance. You are challenged both physically and mentally. Throughout the day there are heavy loads to be carried, steep slippery terrain to negotiate, commands to be obeyed avoiding death defying obstacles, and changeable weather to embrace. But having your fellow rafters beside you makes these wild and trying times all the more reassuring and enjoyable! The realisation of a shared struggle certainly lightens the load we would otherwise carry personally and allows compassion to flow freely from our pores. We are all on this journey of life together, tackling the hurdle which unites humanity… Finding peace and stillness within our own minds.
Tasmania is known for its changeable weather, alas over the ten days it was predictably unpredictable! Immersed in the elements, the untameable ways of nature were forever upon us. On the fourth day in particular the rain heavied, the winds strengthened, gusting from behind threatening to take off with the paddles, the good ol’ sunrays made a brief yet beautiful appearance, before a classic thunderstorm rolled in come late afternoon! A humbling reminder of the impermanent nature of everything … Ourselves, the situation, thoughts, feelings of fatigue, hunger and cold… No two moments are the same; hence each one is to be treasured. The highs must be fully appreciated and, the lows can be ridden with greater ease knowing they too will also come to pass.
#5: The River Waits For Nobody
The Franklin being the wild natural wonder it is, rises and falls depending on the rainfall, meaning river conditions are completely out of our control. Whatever water level is presented, we assess and proceed accordingly — given there is only one direction of travel on a river and that is heading downstream. By our fifth morning the water had certainly risen after the overnight deluge, which was a good thing given the rock hopping so far. Despite the aid of faster moving waters, these also bring more serious conditions to contend with; hence the nervous energy within the group as we put the game faces on for the day! The river does not wait to see if you’re feeling ready for the challenge, mentally and physically, or even if your rafts are secured high enough– it just does its wild thing and keeps flowing. Similarly, in everyday life, situations present themselves whether we are ready or not. Often, we are more ready than we think and just need that catalyst to allow space for personal growth and discovery to flourish. From there, we simply step up to the challenge with good judgement, egos aside and belief in our potential.
#6: Trust The Process
Some days simply have EPIC written all over them right from the start… Like waking up at 4:30 am ready to tackle the crux section of river before water levels rise to terrifying heights. The following could be described as either a series of unfortunate OR fortuitous events depending on your outlook…
One of the big rafts breaks anchor, flips mid raging un-runnable rapid fully loaded with gear, gets caught downstream, a heroic guide grabs our small double raft and takes off on the rescue mission, leaving 10people to clamber on board the one remaining vessel, making it dangerously top heavy, susceptible to sinking and a high chance of a mass capsize in the worst place to swim; as the waters are laced with entrapments below… Intense?!
From the safety of a dry sturdy shore, I can reassuringly report everyone survived and was stronger for it — everything is always exactly as it is meant to be. The reality was quite a deviation from the original plan, but the world works in mysterious ways that exceed comprehension at times. Calling upon us to remain adaptable and accepting that despite good planning, change can be necessary and often inevitable. Leaving us to keep paddling and trusting in the process.
#7: Nourished by Nature
A day of respite allowed for reflection on all those intrepid souls who had traversed these water ways and riverbanks before us. Aboriginal Tasmanians, the original inhabitants of this land, have had a spiritual connection to this river for nearly 60,000 years. Much later came early European explorers, cannibal convicts, Huon piners, and eventually the peaceful protestors who made a successful stand to protect this river and our greatest Earthly asset… Mother Nature. We are indebted to her wild wonderous ways… We exist because the water, trees, wind and sun enable us to… Without her nourishment and sustenance we perish. A poignant place on the river called Rock Island Bend was photographed by Peter Dombrovskis; renowned for capturing the emotive essence of wild places. His photo is a powerful representation of the beauty, mystery and fragility of the Franklin, and was used during the 1980s campaign to save this mighty force from being dammed.
#8: Letting Go
Rivers are beautiful reminders of many things. The most pertinent being the ever-constant flow, the renewal, and the endless evolution of one moving body of water… As are we! However, dangers do arise when there are obstructions to this flow, in river features such as holes where water is being recirculated with no point of exit. Stuck in a hole of recirculating water can be likened to being trapped in our own mind of recirculating thought patterns or stories… The longer you’re in there, the harder it is to come out. Such obstacles must be acknowledged and respected, with one of two options to follow — negotiate safely around or charge through with gusto. Letting go of our past and future dialogues or expectations, allows our emotions and perceptions to flow through us creating a space where we can breathe deeper, think clearly and be more peacefully present.
#9: Lasting Growth Comes from Discomfort
How often do we shy away from things that make us feel uncomfortable? Our modern-day existence is dare I say… dangerously comfortable, making it harder to discover and embrace the full potential of our human experience. Fortunately, on a river, huddled in a raft, there is nowhere to run or hide and we have to sit with all the trouble bubbles that surface. Fear, doubt, cold, hunger, exhaustion, frustration, judgement… Such vulnerability naturally arises outside in these wild environments. Activity related or otherwise, when your mind is freed from the daily distractions of life and routine, it has time to tend to the overgrown garden of weeds out the back, that will forever rampage unless the roots have been removed. It is from these places of discomfort we develop new strengths - both physical skills and mental awareness, that encourages and sustains lasting growth.
#10: You Never Regret A Swim
The power of water and its variability never ceases to amaze — the relentless ferocious force, the calming contrast of stillness, and the healing cleanse as your worries are washed away, momentarily numbed by the icy temperatures (Tasmanian waters are refreshingly cold!). Daily swims were embraced to both greet and farewell the day with vigor and freshness respectively. Despite any initial apprehension about the cold-water immersion, you re-immerge feeling alive, invigorated and alert, fully present in the ever-precious moment. It really is a universal truth; you never regret a swim… A voluntary one anyway! I now invite you to experience that truth for yourself as well.