Words, Imagery and Film by Mateo Arango Guerro
Life is a succession of stages in which we use the experience gathered in past stages to face the next one. However, upon reaching the age of 30, such dynamics rarely seem to work. At least not in my case.
When I turned 30, the certainty of what I had done in the past had been overshadowed by doubt. My engineering studies didn’t become part of my present, and my experience from past jobs seemed useless. My taste for life had changed, and even my native country, Colombia, no longer felt like home, now that I was living in Australia. Living through a pandemic for more than a year and a half didn’t help my uneasiness, either.
As a child, I always believed that by the age of 30, I would have established my life, possibly with children and a corporate job. None of that happened, though, and embarking on this stage without the certainty of what was to come felt overwhelming to me. At the same time, it filled me with some sort of hopeful emotion. It felt like a blank canvas to start portraying what I wanted to do for the next 30 years.
In this ocean of doubts, there were a couple of things that kept me afloat and made me feel secure again—namely, my passion for the outdoors and enjoying it from the saddle of a bike. Additionally, my most recently discovered passion for documenting those adventures with my camera. I know I’ll enjoy these things for the rest of my life, and I hope to be able to continue doing them. The bike has helped me make it through all the past stages, pedalling both in moments of doubt and joy. I’ve been riding for the last 17 years, and it has become a part of me by now. And the camera was love at first sight that, from the first moment I saw a photo that transported me back to a trip, I knew it would be my adventure companion.
With that certainty, I knew that the best way to celebrate my 30s would be doing what I love most as some sort of ritual, hoping it’d mean my next 30 years would be loaded with much more of it. At the same time, I knew I had to stop worrying about labelling and defining life stages and that I should simply live, enjoy, and let it flow. So, I mapped a bikepacking route and pitched the idea to a handful of mates, hoping it’d be our next trip. I wanted this new stage to commence excitingly and differently, with something we had never done before. For this trip, we would include a couple of days of bikerafting through the Murray River, the longest river in Australia. We found someone to rent the rafts from, we watched some video tutorials, then packed up and went on an adventure we will never forget.
With a total length of 2,508 kilometres, the Murray River is a vital part of Australian culture, and it is widely considered Australia’s most crucial irrigator. The Murray rises in the Australian Alps along the border with New South Wales and Victoria and empties its waters in the Great Australian Bight in South Australia.
Without hesitation or second thought, I got to work mapping out a challenging route through the mountains. Sure, there would be more climbing, but the views would pay off. Thankfully, the days we planned weren’t difficult or exhausting, varying from 50 to 70 kilometres with a maximum of 1,500 meters of elevation per day. This was not a trip to prove to ourselves how tough we could be, but more to relax, chill, and flow with the river while enjoying all the pubs we would encounter along the route.
This didn’t mean there were no challenges, however. A key ingredient for an adventure to be genuinely memorable is always leaving something to fate, allowing for surprises and “wow” moments. To that end, after three days of riding our bikes (something we know how to do pretty well by now), there we were, trying to figure out how not to dump our bikes into the flooding river, unsure of where we’d set camp for the next three days or even where to put all the food we had to carry with us.
Entering the water aboard our rafts felt like a different kind of uncertainty than what I was feeling about where I was in life. This uncertainty felt excellent and inspiring, making us all feel alive rather than overwhelmed or anxious. However, it didn’t take long for our inexperienced crew to have an incident that would serve as a powerful reminder to prepare for any adventure properly and not underestimate nature. In some ways, our time on the water represented life—embarking on a new journey with limited experience but with eagerness to experience new things.
If there’s one thing we all learned from our days on the river, it’s that no matter the situation you’re going through, you need to keep moving and be hopeful that the best is yet to come, that the sun will rise once more, and the next stage can always be better than anything you’ve already lived.
Mateo Arango Guerrero is our in-house gravel aficionado, filmographer, and social media guru. He has been riding on two wheels for as long as he can remember. Born and raised in Colombia, a land that breathes cycling, his passion for riding grew as he experienced different aspects of cycling, from BMX to enduro to road cycling. He discovered bikepacking after moving to Australia and has been using photography to inspire others to give it a try since then. You can keep up with him on Instagram @matangog.