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Alice Springs and the Henley-on-Todd Regatta

Written on: Friday August 29th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

After the relatively relaxing trip down from Darwin and the peaceful scenic walks around Uluru National Park and Kings Canyon, madness swiftly ensued upon our return to Alice Springs. We'd timed our journey so that we would be back in Darwin on the Friday, the day before the annual and biggest event of the year in Alice Springs, the Henley-on-Todd Regatta. The regatta, named after the exceedingly famous toff function held in Oxfordshire every year takes place as the name suggests, on the Todd River. Only, being in the middle of one of the biggest deserts in the world, there's no water in the river. So instead of rowing up and down the river, competitors stand in their hollowed out boat, lower themselves to pick up their vessel, and then sprint down the dry riverbed as fast as their legs will carry them to the glory of the finish line.  The day itself began with a parade through the middle of Alice Springs featuring all the boats that would be competing throughout the day, with the pirate ship, army vessel and Viking longboat at the helm firing their water cannons and throwing out lolly-pops to the crowd. We followed the parade to the Todd River itself, then decided we had to get involved so during the course of the day Coco and I competed in four different events, in between psyching ourselves up by throwing a few cans of Tooheys down our necks. Our first event was a two man rowing event, where mounted on a rail and armed with a spade each Coco and I had to dig in to the sand to propel our boat forward. We were matched up against two other teams and despite getting off to a relatively slow start at the half-way point at the other end of the rail we were in second place and not far off the pace-makers. A momentous effort on the home stretch gave us the lead and we never looked back after that. 1 from 1. Next up was the 5-man yacht. We joined forces with three Aussies and were pitted in a head-to-head against friends we had previously met back up in Katherine. Neck and neck the whole way, even the judges couldn't decide who had crossed the line first. One judge went to award it to us while the other was convinced the other team had gotten it. Our jubilant celebration like every boxer who tries to convince every one in the arena that he has done what it takes to win the bout seemed to clinch it and we were awarded our second win of the day. 2 from 2. We should have really rested on our laurels and sat back spectating on the rest of the day's events with a can in each hand, but alcohol has that tendency to make you believe you can take on the world when really you'd have trouble taking on a lame grasshopper. We teamed up with our beaten opponents and drafted in a meaty, tattoo-covered Aussie and a very weird over-the-top, but strong looking local hillbilly and attempted to win the tug-of-war. As with most tug-of-wars, simply the team that pulls the other over the line is the winner. There was also a time limit of 2 minutes which if nobody had won by that time the event would be awarded to the team who had pulled their opponents closer to their line. For two minutes, which seemed more like 20 hours both teams wrenched the arms off each other and neither moved a centimetre. Somehow or other the judges awarded the bout to the other team, but in all honestly every single one of us was happy with the decision as not one of us could bare to go through that forearm torture any more, even the massive meat-head. After a few more tinnies we had one last crack, entering the big one, the 8 man yacht race. Three teams line up side by side and on the gun race up the riverbed around the oil barrel and back in an attempt to be the Usain Bolt of the Henley-on-Todd regatta. A good start this time and marginally ahead at the barrel turn we must have began to prance and mess around too prematurely as we were heart-wrenchingly denied victory, pipped right at the death by the head-duckers to our right. We demanded they all be urine sampled immediately.  The regatta's finale pitted the Vikings, Army and Pirates against one another in the central arena driving around firing their water cannons, launching water bombs and lobbing flour at one another, but it was only after all this that the madness really started to get going. Loz, Coco and I grabbed a pizza and then headed to the YHA in town to meet back up with the others for a few more drinks and a game of Trivial Pursuit. With the goon flowing and the questions mainly based on Australian general knowledge it took quite some time for any of us to get a second throw of the dice, let alone a wedge. Deserting our game, but not the goon it was decided that half the hostel was heading to the casino to finish the day off so that's exactly where we went. I wasn't really dressed for the casino, still wearing the shorts and T-shirt I'd run down the riverbed in earlier in the day and determined to finish off my box of goon which I'd now stuck down my shorts so as not to get rustled by the bouncers on the door of the club inside the casino, not that I needed to drink anything else. In between pretending I could dance on the dance floor I'd fill up my glass by hooking the pourer over the top of my shorts, bending forwards and pushing the catch to pour out the wine. How I didn't get caught doing this I'll never know as the next day I was told that I wasn't exactly being subtle about what I was doing. Saves paying club prices for drinks I suppose, and I'm a backpacker so I'm allowed to do it, it's the rules. 'Me', 'casino', and 'copious amounts of alcohol' are six words which should never be placed in one sentence but somehow like a junkie always finds a way to get his fix the six of us had joined the same team. It wasn't long before I'd wandered from the club and found the gaming floor. I made a beeline for the blackjack tables and before you can say "Sir, would you mind not spilling your drink on the table" I was up $200. Time for a little poker then and a top up of the red wine me thinks. I found a table with one seat free, and as soberly and as professionally as I could possibly carry myself (which was neither sober nor professional), fell in to it. There were ten of us around the table, which was a $100 minimum to play, and despite me feeling rather rich when I left the blackjack table I was now feeling extremely poor glancing at the stacks of threatening chips that seemed to be eyeing up mine on either side of me. I entered a few hands but not getting any luck on the flop quickly threw my cards in the dealer's direction when a big raise came in. I somehow or other managed to pour myself another glass of wine from out of the inside of my shorts (I'm glad they didn't have those cameras under the table like the poker on the TV) and skipped a heartbeat when I bent my two freshly dealt cards back to see an Ace, Queen of diamonds. Money began to be pushed in and one guy raised to $60 even before the flop. I knew this hand if I went for it was either going to make or break me. The wine gurgled warm in my belly in encouragement and before I'd really thought about it I called. I had to. The flop came showing King of Diamonds, King of Clubs and 7 of diamonds. One more diamond would give me a flush. The guy across the table raised big, two folds, one call, two more folds, to me. All in baby! The two still in called me. The turn card, Ace! I was now sitting on two pairs, aces and kings with a queen kicker, with a possible pay-out of over a grand. Not a bad hand to be all in on, and with the river card I still had the possibility of a flush if another diamond came up or a full house with another King or Ace. Come on! The final card came. No diamond, no Ace or King but I still had a good hand. The red wine had begun to ooze out from my body in sweat form, my heart was pounding against the side of the table and to top it all off I really needed to go to the toilet. The two players on the opposite side of the table both revealed their cards and glanced at one another. I just looked at their cards so I'm not sure if they looked at me. They'd both beaten me, each of them showing the remaining two kings in the pack. I thought about doing a Bond, kissing a random girl at the bar, ordering a martini, taking out a thousand dollars, sitting back at the table to clean up and then taking the aforementioned girl who was now hypnotised by my killer charm up to my penthouse suite for the night, in the end I put up with a trip to the toilet, pouring myself another glass of cheap goon, falling about the dance floor and a taxi back to share a tent at the camp site with Coco.