Hove to: From the Source to the Sea
A young girl sits in a classroom, staring out at the river.
The river gleams, twists, coursing past the boxed-in schools, the boxed-in minds. Trapped in her classroom, she sits, and stares, and pours all her isolation, all her resentment, into the river below her.
Years later, the girl is Hayley Talbot, mother of two, and she is ready to meet the river again.
From the source to the sea: 32-year-old Hayley will hike to the source of the Clarence River, turn around, and kayak all 400km back to the sea. She will do this alone, unsupported, sourcing food from the land and water around her. Returning to the connection young Hayley felt to the river is a chance for her to return to vitality, to connect more deeply with herself, with nature, and her children. When asked why – why throw yourself at such a challenge not only totally alone, but something so unlike most people’s dreams – Hayley said it was her childhood connection that drew her back to the Clarence.
“I found myself dreaming of beginnings, of sources and start points. I grew up at Yamba where the Clarence empties into the sea. Travelling to the source of that was looking to the river, and looking to the river meant looking to the bush and to the wild and the earth, the planet, life, the universe, and various other existential questions a mother woman of 30 arrives at.”
The Clarence River is a great mass of living water, twisting its way through the far North Coast of New South Wales. Bearing the Grafton Bridge further inland, the river is full of temperamental floodwaters, born from the Great Dividing Range, endlessly working to separate Queensland and New South Wales, the mountains and the sea. At last it finishes its journey, meeting the Coral Sea, between the towns of Yamba and Iluka. This is where Hayley first met the river.
It is a hungry water, drawing from more than twenty tributaries, with names as full of story as the Clarence: the Nymboida, the Orara, the Cataract, the Esk, the Timbarra, the Coldstream. The Clarence’s Aboriginal name is Breimba, or Berrinbah. It has history, and life. Hayley will work with this mass of water, befriend it, to find her own spiritual centre. She says it’s her fear that we have lost connection with nature that drives her to seek her own connection again. “I have a real paranoia that with the rise of technology we are evolving out of this spirituality and disappearing too far into the windowless prison of our minds,” she says. “We have a real problem with mental health – particularly youth suicide – here in the Clarence and I can’t help but feel that a majority of the social factors driving these feelings stem from how as a by-product of connecting online, we disconnect from nature and each other, inhabiting our minds whilst neglecting our souls.”
Going back to the source, then, makes sense – not just physically but mentally. Young Hayley watched the river leave her trapped, while present Hayley will match the river strength for strength, seeking her own answers as she treads the banks and reaches for the beginning again. The journey is more than simply physical, but a deep personal challenge: “I suppose the metaphor for me on a personal level is the idea of journeying home, that inception of beginnings, end points that are start points, and becoming what we are.”
At the source of the Clarence River is the confluence of the Boonoo Boonoo River and the Maryland River. The Aboriginal meaning for Boonoo Boonoo is ‘poor country with no animals to provide food’ – perhaps not so promising for someone aiming to survive solely off the land as she hikes inwards, but the source is Hayley’s goal, finding the centre not just of the river but of the importance of nature in clearing the mind and rehabilitating the self. “We need nature a lot more than it needs us – saturation of the senses in the elements is purely remedial and restorative, and I think our over-stimulated minds need to return to it more than ever.”
The source is the beginning, while the journey back to the sea is another thing entirely. Hayley knows the challenges of stepping into nature alone, of casting off all the amenities and comforts of home. She remembers first time she went out on a solo adventure, finding her own food, as her toughest challenge. “Nature just struck me down so hard, it was like the bush totally hit re-set on me,” she says. The sugar crash, combined with the ‘civilisation crash’, triggered a cracking headache and an eighteen-hour sleep. She woke up a new person.
Adventures can be addictive: a form of adrenaline we don’t know so well when we hide from the outdoors and live in a world of comfort and predictability. But it doesn’t take much to find that hunger for more, for a different life. Hayley’s hunger for a larger life has seen her climb mountains in South Africa, hike the Ben Lomond trail in New Zealand, go swimming with sharks, and above all, hold to the water. “The feeling you get from standing on top of a mountain, diving with great whites, ocean kayaking, picking a point in the distance and navigating your way to it however you can just because, smiling at a sunrise dangling your legs over a cliff ... the feeling of life coursing through your veins … they are the ones that insatiably inspire me.”
Coming from a maritime family, Hayley’s affinity with water is unsurprising, her life’s wisdom coming from the water more than the land. One phrase in particular could be her motto: hove to. The sailing term is a technique used to channel the power of a situation, to slow the forward progress of a vessel and to right its position so it doesn’t have to be actively steered. “Commonly used as a storm tactic in maritime navigation, the practical application in father-daughter conversations when Dad said ‘hove to’ was to ‘go with nature’.”
Going with nature is something Hayley wants to instill in her young sons – a powerful motivator for her Clarence River adventure. Personal conquest is one thing: being the right role model for her children is another. “My childhood was filthy, wild and full, and I want that love of freedom for my children. I think if I were to approach this expedition from the perspective of what I will be able to take away, I would find it impossible to leave my very young children. The question I genuinely turn over in my mind is what I will be able to give when I’ve completed it. To my children, to my community, to the environment.”
As she kayaks away from the source, heading toward the wilder waters of the sea, and her own hometown of Yamba, Hayley’s affinity with the water will be put to the test, finding food and managing her own journey through waters rough and smooth. The years have changed her perspective, with the maritime girl longing for freedom from the schoolroom given the chance to test her fears, fulfil her potential, and lead the way for her children: “I’m a different woman now to the teenager that stared pensively at the river all those years ago, the river was the object of my boredom and isolation. Now I’m returning to it for the adventure of a lifetime – and it was under my nose all along.”
This story was first published in issue 4 of TPL (Winter 2016). Subscribe here. Meet Hayley and find out more about her adventures by joining us at the Adventure Summit 2017! Time is running out but there are still a few tickets to be had. Book here.