Flussabwärts durch Down Under: Auf dem Murray River bis zum Indischen Ozean

Der Australier Daniel O’Callaghan, Jahrgang 1986, verbrachte mit seinen Eltern die Ferien am Murray River, ein mäandernder Fluss mit vielen romantischen Buchten und klarem Wasser. Noch als Student der Adelaide University beschloss Dan, den Ritt von 2.224 km, von Albury in New South Wales, bis zur Mündung in den Indischen Ozean, in Angriff zu nehmen: Mit unseren Handschuhen, in einem selbst gebauten Ruderboot, für die gute Sache: die Mikrokredite der NGO Kiva. Mit circa 50 Ruderkilometern täglich, verteilt über 45 Tage, tauchte Dan ein in eine andere Welt, in eine Welt voller Abenteuer und vergessenen Menschen, die seine Freunde wurden.
Hi Dan, when did you start rowing?
Just about one week before I started the river trip, was the first time I had rowed in a sliding-seat boat. Before that, I had rowed tinnies a few times when an outboard wouldn’t start. Other than that I was a rowing virgin!

What does rowing mean to you at all?
Freedom, adventure, and pain.

What did your people say about your Murray rowing before you started? Afterwards?
Before I started most of my friends and family thought I was mad. A few thought it couldn’t be done, and most everybody wondered: Why?? Once I started to build the boat most everyone became excited and supported me.

Please tell us something about your preparation. Muscles, nutrition etc.
Nothing really. Unfortunately I didn’t have time.  I was too busy building the boat! I had about a week between finishing the boat and starting the trip. But I had to cram so much into that week. I needed to buy a car that could carry the boat, buy camping gear, cooking gear, maps, food, clothes, fishing gear … and then work out how to store it all in the boat. While building the boat I would go running as much as I could to help my cardio, but that’s as much preparation as I could fit in.

Why did you choose the Murray River?
I had holidayed on the Murray as a kid, and I always loved exploring the lagoons and tributaries around it. The Murray river is a meandering river, with large empty sections between towns. It is by far the longest navigable river in Australia. Perfect for a rowing adventure!

Please, tell us something about the construction of your boat, The Carp Eye Diem.
I built my boat, The Carp Eye Diem, from a kit designed by CLC boats. She’s a ‘Stitch and Glue’ construction, made from plywood and epoxy resin. I wanted a boat that was efficient, stable, and able to carry me and all my camping gear. Ultimately I chose CLC’s ‘Chester yawl’ model as she can survive choppy conditions, is efficient enough, and can hold more than enough gear.

What was the real challenge to manage in body? In mind?
Both! After only a few days my backside was so sore. Even sitting down for dinner in the evenings I needed a pillow.
Lucky for me I had great gloves, so my hands were fine! The long days in the sun, battling the wind, going nowhere fast, were the most challenging. Ultimately I learned there’s no point getting frustrated, it doesn’t help the situation, it just makes it worse. 
I learnt to focus on the things I could control: my thoughts and actions. Everything else was beyond my control so I had to resign to it.

Sure you burnt lots of calories: Your weight before you started, and then after?
75 kg at the start, 64 kg at the finish.
Did you ever feel so fed up to give up?
Of course, that’s what made it a good challenge! But once I had committed to the challenge and the charity, there was no giving up. I was either going to finish the row, or end up in a hospital.

You suffered a heat stroke?
I still don’t know if it was heat stroke, food poisoning, or a combination of both.
One evening after an extremely long day rowing in the sun, I set up camp and collapsed into bed without any dinner. Around 3am I woke up disoriented, and feeling like I was about to puke. I just managed to unzip the tent and stagger outside. Once it finally stopped I began to wonder if I should go down to the river to refresh. I was able to stumble and slide down the river bank to the water. I still remember the beautiful reflections the stars made on the river. In my hazy state of mind my inner voice said “Your body needs energy, the stars are energy and they’re connected with the river, so you should swim in the river and absorb their energy.” That was when I knew something was really wrong. I was able to conduct a quick reality check before I obeyed my superstitious, illogical, and dangerous inner voice. I knew I was in no state to go swimming.

What about the nights? Any danger?
Not really. It’s a pretty safe place if you have food and water. There are quite a few snakes on the river, but they’re not active at night.

Tell us something about the people you met, please.
I met plenty of people ‘sleeping rough’ (homeless) along the river. They often have shelters made out of tarps, or live in old wrecked cars.
I met a lot of houseboaters and caravaners. I met up with friends, family, and friends of friends along the way.
I was helped by strangers and friends multiple times; gifting me fruit, drinks, ice cream, cake, sweets, and encouragement. 
One stranger helped me load my boat onto his car and navigate around a weir. Another gave me a bottle of moonshine (eine alkoholische Mischung mit Wodka).

Please tell us something about Kiva.
Kiva is a micro financing charity. They lend money to low-income entrepreneurs and students in 77 countries, who would struggle to find finance elsewhere. Kiva’s mission is “to expand financial access to help underserved communities thrive”.

Your next challenge?
I do have one in mind, but it’s a surprise! We’ll wait and see what the world of travel is like post Covid. 
One day I would love to redo the rowing trip but take my time, and explore more on the way. I could easily spend three months on the same route. 

Thank you so much for traveling a little bit with you on the Murray River!

Dan litt zwar unter seinem wunden Hintern
– ohne Kissen ging gar nichts mehr –
aber seine Handflächen überstanden problemlos die lange Ruderreise:

Dank unseren Handschuhen.  

Text und Interview:
Silke Kettelhake


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