LAST week’s Massive Murray Paddle saw 400 competitors take part in the gruelling journey from Yarrawonga to Swan Hill — 404km on the Murray River.
And American paddling enthusiasts Susan Williams and Peggy English got a first-hand look at just how tough the event can be.
The pair met through paddling and despite living more than 1400km apart — Williams from Pennsylvania and English from Northern Michigan — have forged a friendship and paddling combination taking them all the way to Echuca.
After Echuca pair Rod and Judy Clark came to Michigan for the Au Sable Canoe Marathon (a 193-kilometre event) and Williams and English acted as their crew, the duos swapped roles for the Murray classic.
English battled the heat throughout, but one trip to hospital later was back on the water.
‘‘Susan did the full five days but I had heat stoke on the first day,’’ she said.
‘‘I finished that day then they put me in hospital and told me I couldn’t paddle the next day. Tony Bond filled in for me, but I was back Wednesday and took the last 20km off, and then of course I had to finish the last two days.
‘‘I’m from a very cold climate in northern Michigan so the heat was something my body just needed to adjust to. By the fourth day I was fine.’’
Williams found the race just as tough.
‘‘It was really hard. The longest I’ve done is the 120-mile race so 400km in five days is new to me too,’’ she said.
‘‘At the end of the first day I wondered what I was thinking, but on the second day I paddled with Tony, who is a legend to us, so I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to it.
‘‘After the third day, you’re thinking you’re in it now and you’ve got to finish — you’re dumb enough to start and too stupid to quit.’’
Both loved meeting people throughout the trying event, and were blown away with the support from fellow paddlers.
‘‘I enjoyed every minute of it even though I wasn’t feeling well the whole time,’’ English said.
‘‘The paddling community is so welcoming here. We were going down the river and everyone was just amazing. It’s not that they aren’t the same in the United States, but you’re outsiders here and you don’t know what to expect.
‘‘Everyone was just so happy to see us, and to watch children paddle for the first time and experience a life-altering event like that is pretty amazing.’’
And being the international paddlers, Williams said they’d almost become celebrities along the way.
‘‘The kids were pretty fun too because they’d say ‘you’re the American team’ — I think they just wanted us to talk so they could here our accents,’’ she said.
‘‘They were all really polite, every one of them.’’
The pair left Echuca on Tuesday, where they’d been with the Echuca Canoe Club. They planned to travel down the coast before heading back to the States.