The West Coast Wire
Swimming downstream with life
A Q&A with Rob Hutchings as he releases his first book
Life is an adventure for Rob Hutchings.
The 46-year-old endurance swimmer, born in Corner Brook but currently living in Christchurch, New Zealand, has learned much about himself and life while swimming downstream of New Zealand’s longest rivers.
Now, he’s documenting the adventures and lessons in a new self-published book, Downriver Nomad, out this week.
The book, Hutchings’ first, details how he developed his passion for marathon running and swimming, starting from his days growing up in Corner Brook, moving on to Australia and eventually settling in New Zealand — where he swims through rivers and rapids, lakes, gorges and harbours for no other reason than the fact he loves to swim and he loves nature.
His greatest challenge may have come in swimming the length of New Zealand’s second longest river, the 56 km Clutha River/Mata-Au, over four and a half days, in February 2020. That swim is featured prominently in the book’s opening prologue.
Hutchings recently participated in a Q&A with The West Coast Wire about the book.
Q. How did you decide you wanted to write a book?
RH. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to write a book. When I was a little kid, I was quite creative in various ways — I was into art and I was always writing short stories, both in school and just because I wanted to. Somewhere through adulthood, I lost touch with my creative side. I wasn’t really doing anything that was creative, but I’m a very avid reader. I read books about elite athletes and elite adventurers and I love reading books about adventure expeditions and biographies of runners, triathletes, swimmers and even sports I’m not interested in.
Two things happened: basically my wife became a food writer and she’s published a few books now and has several in the pipeline, and I swam the Clutha River last year and probably two or three days after I swam it, I said “I got the logical conclusion to an adventure book I can write one day.” Basically, a month later, the COVID19 hit and New Zealand was plunged into one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. On the second day of lockdown, I decided I’m not going to waste all my time, however long this is going to last, watching Netflix; I’m going to put this time into at least starting the project of writing a book — and that’s what I did.
It took a long time, but I finished my book and edited it about 18,000 times — selfediting and then I had two Corner Brook-based people, one of them was my mom’s friend, Betty King, and the other was one of my middle school English teachers, Floyd Spracklin. Fortunately I had two people who were willing to help me out and very generously did so.
Q. What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing this book?
RH. When I was 17, family life spun out of control with my dad’s alcoholism and that led to my parents’ divorce. I had a few different things happen throughout life: a friend of mine died while I was cycle touring in France and that was horrific, and later, when I was in Australia, my wife and I were trying to have kids and it turned out we can’t have kids. So, there was a sense of a control issue. All I ever wanted to control was to have a life full of adventure, love and meeting funny and interesting characters all over the world. When I had a few things going on that it turned out I have no control over, I started to learn, at best we have influence over what happens in our life, we don’t actually have any control. In one of the chapters in my book, I basically say river swimming is like a metaphor for life.
You can have, in my case, an interesting set of skills, to do what not very many people do, to swim down whitewater rapid rivers, and you can develop your skill set, you can do all the hard work and, at best, you have influence over what happens, but you don’t actually control the outcome. River swimming is very much like that.
Q. What do you hope readers take away from this book?
RH. It’s easy to think that the only people that might be interested in this book are people who are interested in endurance sport. If that’s what you’re interested in, you
“In one of the chapters in my book, I basically say river swimming is like a metaphor for life.”
Author of the book Downriver Nomad
may get a good sense of stuff that I’ve done all over the world, from running a four-day ultra marathon in the Outback of Australia, swimming the Clutha, triathlons all over the world, and there are lots of funny stories to go along with that. So, if you’re looking for adventure and a good laugh, you might enjoy my book.
If you’ve had any experience with alcoholism, whether it’s yourself or a family member or a friend, some of the things I write about may be insightful, maybe some people will disagree, maybe some people won’t.
I did talk about what it’s like to feel that you’re extremely healthy and then find out that a hernia I had at age one left me without the ability to have kids. I didn’t know that until I was aged 33. So I described the adoption process in Australia and it took five years and in the end we didn’t adopt. So I do share a journey of what it’s like to be childless, but I leave endurance sport in there to (show) how I cope with it.
I think more than endurance athletes can enjoy my book.
Q. How big is Newfoundland and Labrador in your story?
RH. After the prologue, the first third of my book is in Newfoundland. I just describe a little bit of my childhood — failing miserably in basketball and baseball — and then, basically, the Corner Brook Triathlon, I did it every year from 1990 through to 2002, when I moved to Australia. My evolution in triathlon followed the Corner Brook Triathlon, because when I started the triathlon it was a dinky little race that only locals and a few people from around Newfoundland and, maybe, Nova Scotia attended. Bill Barry had the idea he wanted to have the Canadian National Championships in Corner Brook. He had the vision and Denise May, she did the work to get the Corner Brook Triathlon to evolve to host the nationals twice, of which I was a part. We also hosted the World Cup, of which I was a part, and it was at that event that I qualified to compete at the World Championships in 1998, in Perth, Australia. I describe that journey with my dad’s alcoholism weaved into that. I used triathlon to cope with that.
Q. What’s next for you, after the release of this book?
RH. A few things. The Banks Peninsula in Canterbury, New Zealand — it’s an approximately 80 km circular peninsula. I’m going to swim from the small town of Akaroa, very deep in one of the harbours of the peninsula, out the harbour and then out around the perimeter of the peninsula, over three days, and land in Sumner, a suburb of Christchurch. That’s an ocean swim. I’m going to attempt to do that in February 2022.
The other big one I’m planning is over Easter. The Milford Sound is probably one of the most iconic tourism locations in New Zealand and that’s approximately a 20 km ocean fjord. Basically, no one has ever swam the length of that, so I’m going to have a go at it. The next day there’s a hiking trail and myself and a small group of friends are going to run the 56 km Milford track in one day.
In December, I’m going to re-swim the Buller River, but the biggest goal I have, as a marathon swimmer — I’m hoping to do this before age 50 — I want to come home and swim from Deer Lake to the mouth of the Humber.
To learn more about Hutchings’ adventures, readers can pre-order Downriver Nomad, out Oct. 11, via online retailers such as Barnes and Noble, the Book Depository and others.
To learn more about the book, visit Hutchings’ website http://adventuresoutsidethelanes.com/downriver-nomad/.