The ideal lockdown celebration? For Luke Cable it was kayaking the length of the Murray River

She'll be right: Luke Cable kayaks into Goolwa following the completion of a 50-day journey down the length of the River Murray.
She'll be right: Luke Cable kayaks into Goolwa following the completion of a 50-day journey down the length of the River Murray.

What began as one man's search for freedom and fresh air following the easing of Melbourne's COVID-19 lockdown, turned into a life-changing experience.

After the lockdown restrictions were eased, Luke Cable spent 50 days kayaking the length of the River Murray.

Impressively, Luke completed his 2350km journey solo. He also had no previous experience of kayaks or camping.

The grueling journey took him across state borders, through farmland, wetlands and lakes, and gave him a new perspective on Australia and its people.

Luke paddled into Goolwa on January 31 and despite being a former Iron Man and Sydney to Hobart competitor, the 40-year-old from Port Melbourne said nothing could have prepared him when he departed on December 13.

"For me, being such an 'outdoorsy' and active person, 2020 was a pretty terrible year. I wanted to work out a way to turn the year around and put a positive spin on things," Luke said.

Late at night while stuck in his home, Luke found himself engrossed in a documentary following a man who had paddled down the Yukon River in Alaska. That was all it took and within two days, he was planning a river odyssey of his own.

"I discovered the Murray was the longest navigable river in the world and paddling it was possible," Luke said.

Soon enough, he had spoken to a number of experts, purchased the required gear and an expedition kayak.

Luke said the planning was "daunting" but throughout, he adopted a "she'll be right attitude" which became the affectionate namesake of his kayak, which measures 5.2 metres.

Success: Luke Cable arrives in Goolwa after kayaking the length of the River Murray. Photo: IRNMR(KM).

Success: Luke Cable arrives in Goolwa after kayaking the length of the River Murray. Photo: IRNMR(KM).

When empty, the craft weighs 32kg, but when filled with gear, Luke was paddling about 50kgs, plus his own 80kg frame.

"I had to learn a lot of stuff on the go, I didn't even know that the Murray ran to South Australia, I thought it went the other way," Luke joked.

He hit the water and began his journey at Bringenbong Bridge, NSW, the first point where the river is navigable for a single kayak.

While a first time kayaker, Luke was well equipped with a GPS tracker, EPIRB and safety equipment.

"The start was very nerve wracking, I was watching the river run at about five kilometres an hour which doesn't seem like much, but jumping into the river in a kayak for the first time, it seemed like it was going 100 kilometres an hour," Luke said.

"Day by day and leg by leg, you learn a little bit here and you make a mistake there and learn how to do things better and you ask people for advice along the way.

"When I first started I probably only made it 25 kilometres... but as I went and developed my fitness I was able to up that to up to 80km per day. But even 25 kilometre days would break me at times. It was so hard physically.

"I was using muscles I hadn't used in a long time, sitting in a position I'm not used to, doing things I'd never done before, trying to navigate... all those things were big factors. "

Luke said the journey seemed insurmountable in its early stages, when he was battling to make progress and struggling with isolation.

"It's all non-stop and that's the challenge... I might have had five to 10 minutes to myself to watch the sun rise and set, but apart from that you are working all day," he said

"You exhaust yourself on the water and then you have to get out, find a camp, set up, cook, clean, plan the next day and work out the weather and log your GPS waypoints.

"I found myself crying at the end of the day a few times, I was that exhausted and as it happens, a lot of things go wrong."

For a majority of his odyssey, Luke was alone, battling the conditions and his mental demons, sometimes without human contact for three days at a time.

Waking up at 4.30am, he would hit the water by 6am and paddle in sessions with short breaks throughout the day.

Thankfully, he was helped by many kind people along the way.

"One of my main goals was really to understand the country a bit more. I think a lot of people don't realise that the Murray River built Australia," Luke said.

"Every time I was having a bad day, there was always someone just around a bend who went out of their way to offer me some encouragement or some fresh water, and if it wasn't a person, I'd see something amazing in the form of the native flora and fauna."

That's not to say Luke had an easy run with the animals that call the great River Murray home.

He had numerous run-ins with brown snakes, spent many nights sleeping with ants and was even chased off a cliff and up a tree where he remained for hours under the watchful gaze of a raging bull who's territory he had wandered into.

Luke's younger brother paddled with him between Albury and Echuca and he also developed a friendship with Nick Hunter, who had set out to paddle the length of Murray around the same time and joined Luke at different stages of the journey.

Triumphant: Luke Cable and Nick Hunter are congratulated by Kathy Sutton and Frank Tuckwell of the Inland Rivers National Marathon Register after they both successfully kayaked the length of the River Murray. Photo: IRNMR(KM).

Triumphant: Luke Cable and Nick Hunter are congratulated by Kathy Sutton and Frank Tuckwell of the Inland Rivers National Marathon Register after they both successfully kayaked the length of the River Murray. Photo: IRNMR(KM).

"My brother was kind enough to join me for a couple of weeks which really lessened the load," Luke said.

"He's six years younger than me and he never complains about anything, and he was kind enough to take a lot of the gear from my kayak, which gave me some time to improve my fitness. His encouragement meant a lot and without him, I don't think I'd have been able to get anywhere near as fit as I did, as quickly as I did."

From this point on, Luke was able to increase his journey to up to 80 kilometres a day.

Approaching the finishing stages of his journey, Luke was amazed at the danger and enormity of Lake Alexandrina as it spread out before him.

Realising he was unequipped to cross the lake with his current kit, Luke stumbled upon the kindness of local Strathalbyn man Matt Eldred, an experienced kayaker who was happy to offer Luke hours of advice and the use of one his kayaks more suited to make the crossing.

"Matt met me at Wellington and was willing to lend me his boat to get across the lake and he also offered to paddle half the lake with me," Luke said.

"This is a guy who I've never met who came out camping, paddled through the middle of the night to come and meet you and who leaves you with his kayak; it sort of sums up the help that I received along the way during this journey."

At this point, Luke and Nick made it through to the Towatchery barrage and cruised through the channel of the Murray Mouth and into Goolwa, where a party was waiting to welcome them.

"My family and friends from Melbourne and Sydney were there and I was welcomed to Goolwa by Frank Tuckwell from the the Inland Rivers National Marathon Register, who presented me with a certificate for completing the journey," Luke said.

"That feeling of finally arriving in Goolwa makes me tingle, it was a really special experience. It was pure elation because there were a lot of points along the way where I really didn't think I would make it."

Despite being tired and weary, Luke's journey has left him 8kg lighter and in incredible shape, and he now plans on making the most of what the Fleurieu Peninsula and South Australia has to offer.

"I love this area... part of the positives of the COVID-19 lockdown might be that people may enjoy Australia a bit more than they would have otherwise and now here I am having a great time in lovely South Australia," Luke said.

"It's absolutely amazing, Queensland seems to hog a lot of the tourists in Australia but if people come here to South Australia they'd be amazed, especially from Renmark all the way down the river to here in Goolwa, that portion was probably may favourite part of the whole journey."