Tripping and spilling on the Duzi

2011-02-04 00:00

PHONES always sound louder on a Sunday morning. The worse the weather outside and the more comfortable your bed, the louder the phone. On a recent Sunday I was very warm under a down duvet enjoying the peace that comes on the rare occasions that children sleep in late and you can’t mow the lawn. The rain was thrumming on the corrugated iron roof as I put the finishing touches on my mental image of the perfect brunch I was about to fry up in the kitchen. I had moved my thoughts over to the serious question of whether to start the day with tea or coffee when the phone rang. Loudly.

My morning peace shattered, I picked up to find Doc on the line. He was excited, I could tell. “Partner, I’m excited,” he said. “It rained all last night, and we can finally shoot the stairs.”

I dug deep to muster up some enthusiasm to match his, while frantically trying to think of some plausible excuse as to why I was not, under any circumstances, dragging myself out in the rain to sit in a damp canoe with an excitable Zimbabwean.

“Oh,” I said.

“So bring the croc down. Coach and Halfway Harley are already at the drift doing laps.”

Unfortunately, my brain was still shell-shocked from the enormity of what Doc was suggesting and I hit a complete blank on viable excuses. I briefly considered some old stand-ins like “my daughter has swallowed the neighbour’s cat”, but I sensed it was a bit early to sell it convincingly.

I tried a bold alternate tactic, hoping that Doc would think he was talking to a peasant in rural Provence and would leave me alone: “Je ne parle pas anglais. Je pense que vous avez le mauvais numéro.”

“Great,” said Doc, unperturbed. “See you there in 10 minutes.” And he hung up.

I stared at the silent handset for a moment before accepting my fate and making my way unwillingly down the freeway to the canoe club, brooding darkly on the forces that had me out and about in such vile weather.

Fortunately, once we got onto the water the rain let up slightly and by the time we had paddled down to Ernie Peace Weir (the “stairs”) on West Street, it hit me that tripping a river was a far more enjoyable way to spend a Sunday morning than lying around in bed.

Tripping is the vitally important process of inspecting and negotiating the more dangerous obstacles individually to reduce your chances of a time-consuming swim on race day. The top contenders will literally run or paddle every section of the river dozens of times, timing each variant to shave off a few precious seconds in their quest for victory. Not being in that league, our aim was purely to stay safe and avoid making fools of ourselves within eyeshot of the starting line. After all, falling out can be quite embarrassing.

Coach has an incredible feel for rivers and moving water in general, and he was giving Doc some detailed instructions on how to shoot the weir correctly. Halfway Harley and I used the time to chat. We in the back are the diesel engines, not often consulted on lines, usually ignored when tactics are discussed and generally dismissed until the driver needs some extra speed, at which point we are verbally whipped into maximum effort. Finally, with a “just watch us and you’ll be fine”, Coach and Halfway Harley eased their nose over the weir and out of sight.

We were watching the onlookers to see when we could follow them when suddenly there were shrieks of delight from the watching children and much mirth among the adults on the sidelines.

“They fell out,” chuckled Doc. “Let’s make sure we don’t, that will really annoy them.”

We followed Coach’s directions carefully and slid down perfectly through the big stopper to a standstill on the edge of the tall reeds, the ideal position for a great start to Dusi. We tried not to look smug as the other two emptied their boat — after all it was probably just beginner’s luck.

However, when it happened for the second time, with Coach losing his cap into the bargain, we realised we had a rare opportunity to poke some fun at our normally flawless guides. Truth be told we probably overdid it slightly, as there was definitely a strained silence towards the end of the morning.

It was naïve of us to think Coach would let it go without a little revenge.

We didn’t have time that Sunday to shoot the last obstacle, Highway Rapid, but Coach told us that as long as we kept left, left, left all the way down we would be fine. Shooting it a week later during Dash and Crash, we paddled confidently down the left channel where we suddenly found ourselves heading straight for a vicious, jagged rock the size of a young VW Beetle.

“Brace! Pull! Turn the back! Full rudder!” The shouted instructions were useless and it was only luck that allowed us to escape with nothing worse than a bad crack and a serious leak.

I am not saying Coach told us the wrong line on purpose — he claims Doc wasn’t listening properly — but then again he does have something of a reputation for the odd practical joke; either way, the most important thing is that we didn’t fall out. That would have been embarrassing.

• The Dusi Marathon runs from February 17 to February 19. Chris Hornby will be writing a weekly update on his training progress and a post-mortem of his race.

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