Broome, 11 April 2010
I was halfway into my 40-kilometre crossing of Roebuck Bay from Broome to Cape Villaret. I couldn’t see where I’d left from and couldn’t see my destination. The coastline was low and barely visible from my kayak. It was just an image of land, shimmering and ﬂickering in the heat; it was the only thing moving.
It was hot, very hot: 50°C in the sun and there was no shade on the bay. The water was 30°C and offered little relief when I poured it over my head. There was no wind, nothing to shift the hot, humid air, no relief. The motionless sea reﬂected the sun; there was no escape. There was no sound to distract me as I sat there staring at the vomit on my kayak.
I had been taken by surprise at my stomach deciding to empty itself. I hadn’t felt ill, I’d had no stomach aches and I hadn’t lost my appetite, but nevertheless there it was, sliding off the deck.
I pulled myself together, as I still had a few hours of paddling to go. So I got going again after a big drink of water, but I soon lost it all over the side. I had another drink, and that came back up, too. The more I drank, the more I lost.
Then, as I became dehydrated, I started to get cramps. They began in my extremities, ﬁrst the feet and calves, then the forearms. When cramps reached my torso I started to see things as they really were: serious.
What I think was happening was the humidity was stopping my sweat from evaporating and removing the heat from my body. So the heat used to get the water in my stomach to body temperature was thrown out, in an effort to cool down. Heat exhaustion had taken hold and I’d never experienced anything like it.
I had no choice but to endure the pain and force a path onward as my body screamed its objections. As I became more dehydrated, the cramps became more painful and widespread—I became so weak that if I’d capsized it’s doubtful I could have done much to save myself, as I could hardly move. But the longer I stayed out there, the smaller my chance of survival.
It was an agonising two hours but I managed to reach land. Unable to stand, I just fell out of the kayak then dragged myself up on all fours and started vomiting bile onto the beach. The pain I’d had to deal with consumed my body and took control as my mind realised its goal of getting me to safety was completed. Cramps meant I couldn’t get up, so I just rolled around in the shallow waters, weakly holding on to the kayak to stop it drifting away. I occasionally shifted my position to allow another empty and pointless but painful and noisy retching session to stain the clear waters of Roebuck Bay.
After a while I collapsed on my side with only my head out of the water. I thought I saw two pairs of white shoes, white socks, white legs and white shorts shufﬂing across the sands towards me. Christ, I knew I felt bad but I hoped I wasn’t going to see wings and halos as well. Thankfully, the white-clad beings turned out to be a couple of guests from the eco lodge whose beach I’d landed on. I saw a disapproving look as I wiped the vomit from my beard and managed a weak smile.
Within minutes one of the resort staff members, Ed, had appeared at the site of the most exciting thing to wash up at the eco lodge in a while. He’d brought a gift of an ice-cold pitcher of water. I remember him handing it to me, but he probably remembers being mugged. After gulping down the water I put the cold glass inside my shirt and held it against me. That was gold.
Unsure what to do with me, Ed helped drag my kayak up the beach. I just found some shade and lay down. I drifted in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware I was being curiously viewed by many passing legs and white shoes. It probably wasn’t a good look for the guests. Then Ed shufﬂed me into a nearby tent. Not the sort of tent I was used to, though. This was more like an apartment with soft walls; it had a double bed, an ensuite and fans. I proceeded to drink as much water as fast as I could, litres of the stuff in a few hours. But in spite of the incredible volume I consumed, it was fourteen hours before I managed my ﬁ rst pee.
It was day one of my sixteen-month journey kayaking alone around Australia; a great start.
That was one of the hardest day’s paddling I’ve ever had to do. I’m comparing it with paddling in huge seas created by strong winds and currents in the notorious waters of Bass Strait. Or kayaking with a team in 90 kilometre per hour winds in the freezing seas of Antarctica, where for a while each member thought he was the only one to have survived. Although there was no wind, surf or swell—all the traditional problems faced by a kayaker—in Roebuck Bay, I had been severely tested.
I’m sure that upon learning of my plans to circum navigate Australia by kayak not many people at the eco lodge gave me much of a chance. Given my dramatic entrance, I can’t blame them. Word spread fast. The next day I had a visit from the local police, as the management of the lodge had a ‘duty of care’ to save me from myself. By now I’d realised I wasn’t impressing anyone with my intentions. So after a day of rest I paddled off in the relative cool of dawn, to what probably looked like an uncertain future.
I spent the next week at Port Smith, 75 kilometres south of Broome, gradually getting weaker each day, nursing what I suspected was a bladder infection. It was hot enough to make you sweat while simply sitting in the shade. I passed the time urinating every hour and mulling over the seriousness of the situation.
I realised I was lucky to have made it this far, which was not far at all. What should have been only two paddling days from Broome had taken me a week. I was now losing too much water as my bladder was working overtime—I had to get up four or ﬁve times a night and I lost count of my daytime visits to the loo.
For a few days I contemplated my disastrous start. It was easy to ﬁnd people in the campground eager to regale me with stories of failure in the Kimberley, which only helped to erode my already wavering conﬁdence and contribute to a building sense of self-doubt. But even if I ignored the tales of those who’d had to learn the harsh realities of adventure in the north of Australia, the facts were stacking up against me.
The tides were 9 metres, and it was ﬁve days of paddling to the next drinking water. I would have to cover 40–50 kilometres each day and I was drinking at least 10 litres of water a day. That meant I’d have to carry 50 litres of water; an extra 50 kilograms of weight on top of all my food and camping gear. And I was still weak and passing too much urine. It was a struggle to make it through lunch, let alone paddle a full kayak in the heat.
I’d had a taste of what it might be like to die from lack of water. The suffering and sense of hopelessness was not something I wanted to experience again. For a while I could see no way forward to overcome these problems and continue my journey. But I didn’t want to be one of the stories of failure that would be told at Port Smith, let alone give up my long-held dream to paddle around Australia. So I made the decision to head back to Broome for medical attention before starting all over again.
Excerpted from All the Way Round by Stuart Trueman. Copyright © 2013 by Stuart Trueman.
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