The Road or River That’s Right For You

Chris en route in his expedition at Cascade Hut – Australian Alpine Trail

In the lead-up to Easter, family faces you see only a few times a year are evoked. One stands out. The ‘eccentric’. The ‘nutcase’. But at this year’s get-together, our own ‘oddball’ was absent.

While we feasted, my 20-year-old cousin Chris was in the midst of his great expedition. Formerly from Geelong, he’s been away since December and won’t be returning to his Bacchus Marsh home for weeks. Chris is attempting the first ever full ascent of the Murray River, kayaking 2,520km upstream from the Southern Ocean, hiking the remaining 236km to the Murray source, finally trekking to the summit of Mt. Kosciuszko.

In 2012, Chris became the youngest ‘adventurer’ to kayak the Murray solo from source to sea. ‘Expedition River Rider’ took him 99 days, featured six capsizes, lost him 23kg and gained him “experiences, friends and knowledge” beyond numbers.

Future escapade ideas? Wouldn’t know where to start.

Snake encounters with a Red Bellied Black – Barmah State Forest

Chris and I are practically the same age. At this moment, he is paddling somewhere or dodging a venomous snake (no sweat, he’s been bitten by two already). Meanwhile, I sit at my desk relieved to have reached this mid-semester point in my first year of university.

Chris and I could hardly be in more disparate settings, headed in more disparate directions. The neutrality of ‘disparate’ here is crucial. The road I’m on is not ‘better’ than his, and vice versa. The paths differ. And so they should. They suit us each just right.

Sadly, this impartial perspective is not so widely shared.

Keeping high spirits – Murray River

The tried and tested flow-chart of life follows us from kinder to primary, secondary, tertiary, job, house, marriage, children, retirement. A standard pattern. An expectation. A social pressure. A blueprint assuming this route and this route only will lead to a satisfying life. Which is not necessarily the case.

Chris didn’t finish school. He gave university a go (through an obscure backdoor), but decided it wasn’t for him. “I don’t fit in a box,” he says, “I tried but the box is simply too small”. Instead, Chris has opted for adventure. He’s unconventional. But he’s also a remarkable, intelligent character. And he’s doing what makes him most happy. What does the rest matter?

Secondary and tertiary studies are excellent catalysts for achievement and fulfilment – the line down which I’ve never hesitated to walk. But education is not restricted to the classroom; equally relevant, useful and enjoyable learning can, for many, be derived elsewhere.

If dollar signs are all you’re interested in, look no further than Richard Branson or Steve Jobs. ‘Dropping out’ clearly need not equate to an unsuccessful future.

Living on the wild side in the Australian Alps

My cousin may not be a billionaire, but with enthusiasm and a refusal to let anyone tell him what he should or shouldn’t do, Chris has likewise found traditional ‘education’ not so essential to his own incredible feats. “I am satisfied with my choice… it’s led to opportunities and allowed me to experience life at its purest”.

Today, there is hardly such a thing as a closed door anyhow. Take mature-age students. Similarly, one can always switch to a different course or institution, to an apprenticeship or job, to travel, to possibilities you and I may never have considered. If only we were less inclined to judge those who diverge from the ‘norm’.

Is the ‘norm’ not an outdated concept anyway? What’s so wrong with a hint of ‘crazy’? It’s this that makes me admire my cousin all the more. It’s this that I missed at our family Easter shindig. It’s this we ought not to deride but accept and embrace – open-armed, open-minded – for extraordinary lives are surely made not from following someone else’s path, but from finding and forging your own.

By guest writer and cousin Kahani Motiani for The Geelong Advertiser 2014.

Published by Chris Hayward

Tour Guide, Professional Adventurer and the first person in history to ascend Australia's longest river. Chris has harnessed his life of adventure and turned it into a life on the road in a custom built Mercedes Sprinter Van Home

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