Massive Murray Paddle
Yarrawonga to Koondrook
21-25 February 2022
By GARY STRACHAN
As I sit in the airport waiting to board a flight to Melbourne, I’m reflecting on what was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done—the Massive Murray Paddle. This time last week I was just pulling in at the third checkpoint on Day One, feeling quite proud of myself for catching up with the pack—not knowing that the next three-and-a-half hours will be the hardest I’ve ever pushed my body.
This was the introduction to how Massive the Massive Murray Paddle is. The last leg of Day One is 27km, and it was the shock that the body wasn’t prepared for. The pain was real, shoulders aching, abs burning and the mind counting every stroke—each kilometre being too far to imagine completing.
But knowing you’ve got through that day—and knowing it was the hardest—certainly helps. Being in a double kayak the next day also helps! (Side note: At first it felt like a failure to be in the double, but very quickly I got over this—Stevie and I were the most novice paddlers on the water by a long way, so I can live with this. There is certainly no shame being in a double for two days.)
Day Two was on the same stretch of the river as Day One due to the roads for the land crew being too unsafe. This was both a pro and a con—knowing the river particularly near the end was good, but when it got tough you knew you’d already seen the sights. The double on Day Two was great. Stevie and I learned how to paddle as a team and the banter was great. My body felt good and energy levels were much better than Tuesday. That said, the drive from Tocumwul to Echuca righted the body right up!
Day Three started at Picnic Point, which was beautiful, with tighter turns, faster flow and some really fun snags to watch out for. We also didn’t need to stop as much and our heads were now firmly in the zone. Coming into Echuca-Moama is really fun, the atmosphere was there and a swim post-race was great. The only unfortunate thing was that we had to give the double kayak back as Moama Bowling Club were donating it to a local school!
As each day went on, the stronger I felt. Paddling felt easier for the most part—Day Four Section 4 gets an honourable mention—paddlers describing it as ‘treacle’, ‘mud’, ‘honey’ and ‘thick’. But prior to this leg, I genuinely found my pace. The first leg the pack was close, allowing for some wake riding—basically the same thing as a peloton. This gave me a ton of energy and confidence and I rocked into Checkpoint 2 as the 13th boat in the race—I couldn’t have seen that coming on Day One. Despite the hard slog on Section 4, I still felt confident, with the distances being more manageable and the head knowing it could do 3+ hours of grind.
Day Five was really awesome. The river was slightly faster and pretty and my confidence was high. I really pushed it and went well and stopped briefly at Checkpoint 2. This was a bit of a mistake as it was really muddy, and getting back into my boat I hurt my back slightly. This put my head into a bit of a mess, and the 27km section felt tough. I genuinely hit a bit of a wall—proper fatigue, yawning, feeling like I needed to sleep and flashbacks to Day One Section 4! But I got halfway through it and found another gear.
I finished Section 3 very well, and absolutely smashed the last leg (21km) of the race faster than any other leg of the race. I think this was partially due to knowing it was the end, but also my body had found the rhythm and no doubt my technique had improved a lot. The finish to Day Five was special—music and a party atmosphere to finish and some bubbles at the finish line!
On reflection I am absolutely buzzing with the week. I really enjoyed the challenge, and also really enjoyed the river. The Murray is pretty, with each day being a little different in terms of scenery. The towns were great as well with no shortage of good food.
Some important acknowledgments:
- My parents were amazing—from filling up bottles, making sandwiches, wrapping our hands and fingers to stop blisters and organise our tired minds. Honestly couldn’t have done it without them—the ground crew is so important.
- My wife Sarah was incredible—looking after our girls whilst I was away doing this, without complaint and was genuinely interested in what I was doing (and followed up immediately with a work trip to Melbourne).
- My paddling partner Stevie: I intended on doing this trip myself, but I soon learned from other paddlers you needed company. Other paddlers didn’t really want to talk the first few days, but by the end everyone wanted a chat. With Stevie, conversation was great from the start and we really pulled each other through the week.
Some further reflections:
- I have more grit than I thought.
- My body is more resilient than I give it credit for.
- Being in nature is important, and the sense of adventure is key for me to thrive.
- Anyone can challenge themselves—it just takes a decision to do it.
- You quickly forget about the pain and grind, and you only remember the accomplishment.