Why we are doing this…

Sarah and Dan are training to paddle in the Yukon River Quest – that’s 440 miles, non-stop in a canoe. We are doing this to learn how we can make it work, and to raise a little money on the way.

We are proud to be raising money for Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre. The basin uses adventurous activities to grow confidence, teamwork, leadership and learning. Working in one most deprived areas of the UK, this work is essential, and their aim is to offer activities to the whole of the local community. They are a front-line charity and all money raised will be going to directly help the centre.

Don’t sponsor us to be strong, sponsor us to stay the journey. To learn to spend four days and nights moving an 18ft boat through lakes, river and rapids, errors and complications without wanting to kill each other.

Do please sponsor us, you might get a postcard from the finish line! If you have already, we may be in contact soon for a postal address


Race planning part 2: Can we make the critical checkpoints in time?


Beyond the journey plan, we wanted to take a closer look at our timings to find out how realistic they were. There’s two reasons for this.

There are 3 critical checkpoints that if we don’t make we don’t get to continue the race. Also our food and clothes change stops rely on us running to the clock. if we deviate too much we’ll need to adjust what we do where to be sure we don’t get unexpectedly cold and exhausted.

Turns out that it’s much harder to hit this first checkpoint than we expected. Based on our current timings we won’t make it in time. This is bad news. Let me tell you how we worked it out and what we are going to do about it

How fast do we paddle?

Using a GPS device has been a revelation. I bought it so I could avoid getting lost once we are in the race – turns out it’s much more useful.Whilst paddling I can get live feedback on the speed we are going, when I get back home I can look at the same data in larger chunks – to see our average speed for different sections of a trip.

This has allowed me to work out what speeds we do with different conditions and with different paddles and postures. Such as paddling the broads against the tide and on flat water and returning to wooden paddles.

How fast is the water?

From our training we’ve got an idea of how fast we can go. We are paddling on a fast flowing river for big sections of the race – so we can add that together. But how fast?

We got some potential river speeds from a number of sources. I found some on-line and I used previous racer times to verify those – subtracting time on the lake from the other sections.

We can see that the river starts slow before the lake, and afterwards speeds on up quite a bit. We used two different river speeds in the model.

Pulling it together – and getting the bad news

race time map Once we had the river speed, our paddling speeds, I could combine it all. ‘Course, I have no data for what we’ll do in a sustained race, so I did some modelling to see what the window of success looks like.

The data suggested that we weren’t far off but at our current speeds (3.5 flat, 3.0 against wind) we’d miss the first check-point. We can see that on the run up to the lake we’d need to paddle a solid 4 mph, and on the lake make 3.3 mph no matter the conditions.

We suspect that our beloved PakBoat has a top speed much lower than the 18 ft racing canoe we are going to be in. We’ve asked around and people agree that we should be able to get it up to 4-5 mph easy. Though the lovely Song Of The Paddle and canoeing networks, we’ve found someone local who has a 18ft Jensen. Next week we can give it a go and see what speeds we can hit!

Race planning part 1: What happens where and when?

The race is getting close now, we’ve finished our last training paddle (blogs to come), but we need to put all that experimenting into perspective and look at the race and how we’ll get to the end.

Though Sarah takes the pragmatic view – dealing with things as they come, I take more of a long view.

Building the big picture

A few weeks ago, we sat down with the Yukon River Quest presentation, I put the GPS co-ords they provide on to google maps and we wrote down all the points. Each place where there will a checkpoint or a monitoring point. We added in the most interesting points on the river: rapids and big rivers joining, and highlighted the the three points where we get time-checked and the place we’ll meet our support crew for new supplies.

From the mileages on the GPS points, Sarah worked out rough timings when we thought we’d be at each one and we laid all this out in the front room.

yukon plan

From this we could work out how much food we’d need and when. We also worked out what points we’ll want to change into day and night gear. The race people say most people drop out of the race out due to hyperthermia, fuel and the right clothing will help us to avoid this.

This has allowed us to look at the food we’ve tried out over the training races and build up a list of what supplies we’ll need – we’ll be blogging about this next. More importantly we now have a shared view of the race and what should happen when.

Sarah: An easy day north of Oxford?


We are planning and sustaining our training and using each paddle to learn new things. Dan is concentrating on his posture to stop everything hurting. We also want to try out new foods and to get used to the GPS we have bought. We also learnt some new rescue techniques we didn’t expect.

At Pool Meadow, north of Oxford there is a good car park and it’s easy to get onto the water. It doesn’t take a lot of planning so we were on the water around 9.30am having reconstructed Dan’s footrest.


I hadn’t realised, until now that north of Kings Lock, all of the locks on the Thames are hand wind. The lockies are all very friendly, and where there were away the locks were surprisingly easy to operate. With egg and salad cream batches and Dan’s brownies all cut up into chunks the short waits weren’t a problem.

Dan had placed some markers into the GPS so we can see how that works. It, the GPS, not Dan, makes a funny tweeting bird noise when you reach an area you have set an alarm for. I could hear just about every other bird song being sung that day but with the GPS in Dan’s buoyancy aid pocket I could not hear it.

We were paddling hard against the wind, all ears open for a tweeting GPS. When I heard the distinctive cry of distressed sheep coming from a hawthorn bush over the water. Here was a tired lamb in the water, getting more and more caught up in branches. Lamb rescue begins. I paddle Dan into the hawthorn bush with instructions to pick up the lamb. I have a little experience with sheep, having helped to show some Portlands. Dan asks how to pick it up and I answer like a rabbit. This is not helpful for someone who has never spent a lot of time with rabbits. In the end we reverse, I turn round and Dan paddles me in after the lamb. After some encouragement it comes within grabbing distance and I grab it and heft it into the boat. I now have a lamb and a large puddle at my end of the boat. I am concerned by this one as he is not baa-ing. Dan takes him to reintroduce him to his family. I think he is just taking it slowly, no, Dan is now lying on the edge of the field, holding onto another lamb in the Thames.


Lamb rescue no 2 is in progress. After I finally realise what is going on, I paddle down to where Dan is holding the lamb above water and help to heft this one onto the bank. This one is a lot livelier and goes trotting round, then finds a ewe he seems to think is mum.

No 1 is still looking abandoned so I head over to it to give it a warming rub. There was no farmhouse close so I am hoping that he warmed up and found mum.


This was a surprisingly tiring process, bending and lifting in unexpected ways and an unexpected injection of adrenaline. However with all lambs now out of the water we set off again.

The river as we travel up river is a lot narrower and a lot quieter than the stretch below. We were getting quite blown about but with the river being so quiet we could work with the wind and let it decide where on the river we were going to be, saving energy.

With the wind and delays we didn’t quite get as far up the river as we wanted to but we were not far off. Be hit our time limits and it was time to turn around.

On the way back we came across yet another lamb in the river so rescue no 3 was commenced. This was much quicker as we were practised and this time the lamb simply shook itself off and continued as it had before.

Is it wrong to spend the day rescuing lambs from the river and then have lamb with dinner? I think not. I can’t paddle by while a living thing drowns and while I enjoy my meat, I want it to have been looked after humanely and had a happy life. My mums friends have smallholdings and value the animal’s well being (even letting them out for a walk: Colin the Ostrich is one of theirs). I am glad now that they let me handle them.

We enjoyed our paddle and worked well together, having fun. The team were tired by the end but a good tired. If only all paddles could be like this, without the sheep.


Dan: Wye weekend


After 3 weeks giving my arm rest, we planned to ease back into boating gently. We picked the Wye. A well flowing river with no locks or portages wouldn’t put undue pressure on my injury. We know it well so any ‘epic’ day are unlikely.  We also knew our chosen put-on would give us space to build a footrest allowing me to change my paddling style and not injure myself.

A Saturday of no water whatsoever

Building the footrest was easier than expected. The river seemed rather further away than usual giving us lots of space to work. This was due to there being rather a lack of water in it. Once on It proved to be a challenge to get down the river without getting caught on rocks and gravel.

Our boat really doesn’t like gravel. In solid plastic boats – you can give it a little push and scrape and you’ll be over it in no time. Our soft folder likes to stick, and dragging risks putting cuts and wear in the thin layer that keeps us floating.

This new river condition meant looking forward and reacting quickly – well it should have done. Instead it meant lots of bad communications and misunderstandings, so we had to stop and talk about what was and wasn’t working. We were both were tired and making mistakes from hard week and a very long drive and late arrival. We were probably low on fuel and helped each other by ensuring we ate and drank lots.


As we got further down the river we found it was much fuller in places giving us some time to relax, drink and snack.

Even though there wasn’t water in the river, there was in the air. We got to test out our new rain coats out all day. Good news:  they were great, keeping the rain off without getting damp and sweaty inside.

Sunny Sunday

Sunday was big contrast. Short sleeves all day through, and we were so much better in terms of communication


With so little water we planning a slower speed and less distance to protect my shoulder and arm injury. We had a great day getting everything about right. I was still achey at the end of it, but paddling without painkiller. My achy gluteus maximus the next day an indication that I was starting to get my legs to be working in my paddling – the footrest was working.

Dan: dealing with paddling pain and injury


The Yukon River Quest is going to be longest I’ve ever paddled. Our training paddles are to get us ready and to learn what we need to do. An injured arm from our biggest paddle was feedback that I’m not getting it right. I’ve been working on finding how to get better so I can do the race.

I’ve been having a few weeks off paddling – giving my arm time to recover. A physio probed and ultra-sounded and luckily couldn’t find any lasting damage. They did see a whole bucket of postural fails that likely cause the paddling pain and the arm injury. I’ve got plenty of exercises to help me grow strength and awareness – stop using the arms and the shoulder and use my core.

We also worked to build me a footrest that will fit in the boat. One that we can rebuild in the boat we will do the race in.

For those not in the know, if you want to paddle far or fast you need to be using not just your core muscles in your tummy and your back, you also need to find ways to use your whole body, getting your legs and bum also doing the work. For that to happen I need something for my feet to push against.


Our first opportunity was at the start of training paddle on the Wye. Sarah had got some closed cell foam and I found some cardboard tubing and brought some some tools. The foam is what I’ll push against with my feel; the cardboard will support and keep the foam in place.


Building went quite easily. The foam was cut with a bread knife, the cardboard with my folding wood saw. Building a joint was an experiment that seemed to work well.

Of course the cardboard tube isn’t ideal – its a prototype at best – but it seems to keep on working, until it rains anyway. Next step will be to replace it with PVC drain pipe and see If that is a more waterproof solution – I’ll have to make sure the Pipe edges don’t cut through the foam, or the boat though!


It worked really well in our last 2 paddles, power transfer is super. I need to learn another paddling technique and to get my posture right when driving from my feet, but its been great.

Sarah: Reading to Richmond our longest paddle

Part One – Saturday


We know that one of the big challenges of the race will be Lake Laberge which is 30 miles long. That’s a long way to go with no flow, longer than we had done so far. To get confidence we planned out longest paddle – from Reading to Richmond 60 miles over 2 days.

The extra kit of tent, sleeping bags, cooking kit and food for day 2 really made a difference and portages were out. More traffic on the river meant there was more chance of getting through locks without having to wait too long.


As we set off heavy rain fell, for about an hour, what a pleasant start to our day. It’s all good practice as there is no controlling the weather on the Yukon. It can go from sun to heavy rain very quickly.

Spirits were up when we reached St Patricks Stream breaking off the Thames, skipping a lock and the sun came out for a minute. We were on the look out for that turkey, but there was no sign of it. I wonder if that was Easter Sunday dinner?


Our backwater fun was over soon enough and we were back on the Thames. Heading past Paul Daniels’ house we kept a look out, but the return of the bad weather was keeping him inside. We soon reached Bisham. Just a couple of trips ago this was the end of our day’s paddling, but we still had 4 hours to go from here! It was slow going – debris was just floating and not moving downstream. With absolutely no flow we knew that doing 35 miles was going to be a harder day than we expected.



At Maidenhead we worked out there had been a misunderstanding on the amount of drinks we had with us. In brief, I had packed none. A co-op was spotted from the bank and as the day was getting warmer, a quick dash was made. Still a way to go.

We slowly wound our way past Windsor Racecourse, joined by large tour boats. As we try to cut off a corner, I may have steered us a little close to one. Whoops.


Romney Lock, so close. The portage here isn’t good and we lost time locking through, but the thought of a tricky portage would move us to tears. Once through, we were on the final run. By now Dan has gone very QUIET and is really giving it some welly. Not a good sign. By 7pm we get to Old Windsor Lock and the campsite he is pooped and so am I. No time to stop though. Everything has to be carried to the campsite, the tent put up, sleeping mats inflated, sleeping bags put out, us washed and changed.


It had been a tough day but, we got there, in our short and wide Pakboat. The sleek lines of the racing canoe that’s waiting for is in Whitehorse must help a bit.

Part Two – Sunday

I hate cold camping. 3am and I need the loo, can I avoid it, no. Apparently I made rather a lot of noise, waking Dan up who thought badgers had invaded our tent. Proper sleep came just as it was time to get up and the jets from Heathrow started going overhead. We thought that camping would mean that we could make an earlier start in the morning – nope.


We were on the water at 9am, heading past Runnymede – it was nice to see the skiff club out. This was a section that is becoming increasingly familiar but boy was it windy today.


There were some fantastic jet patterns in the sky. Perhaps trying to make up for our early awakening.


Towards the end of the day we passed Hampton Court Palace,all of the pleasure cruisers out on this stretch which was busy in the sunshine. This was one of the few locks that we portaged as it has some lovely rollers to make getting to the other side of the lock so much easier on the back.


Compared to Saturday, Sunday was a more relaxed day. Less distance to go although we still wanted to be home in good time. However muscles were aching and we may have been going off this paddling lark a little bit. That must mean it’s time to crack out the quiche. We love a good quiche, it makes everything a lot better. Looks like I’ll be making quiche when we get to Canada unless we can find some that meets the standard there.

One of the big things we are playing with at the moment is what food keep us going, what brightens the spirits and what we want to avoid. Pasta and meatballs is still a winner!


We made it, aching but pleased, but the next day Dan’s arm looked rather broken. Its good to know that we can make the distance but now we need to make it so we can make the distance while staying ready to paddle for another 3 days!

Dan: Wye at Easter


For our Easter break we had four days to play with we wanted to go further afield to train. We wanted a river with flow, few portages or locks that slow us down and break up our paddling. We know that in the race we’ll have to stay in the boat eating and drinking for many hours – so staying in the boat was the mission of the weekend.

We decided to return to one of our favourite spots, where we had spent so many lovely paddles: the river Wye. We paddled there at the New Year when the river was in flood. We were hoping to paddle the same distances in lower water test ourselves. It had been bucketing it down so the river levels were up and we needed to have a think of how far we wanted to go.

March had been a particularly harsh month, so we decided not to push things and paddle for 2 of the four days we had.


IMGP6733Friday was all about travel and cooking. Pasta and meatballs is our paddling meal of choice, closely followed by quiche. I like paella or risotto as a pre-paddling meal – there’s alway enough left over for the next day’s paddle. We were staying in a lovely little apartment right next to the river so I got the kitchen and the view, as I cooked up dinner and lunches.

Part of the race training is working out how we are going to feed ourselves whilst staying in the boat and paddling. Having some long paddles is allowing us to work this out and for this paddle we had worked out a system. Each of us has a dry-bag with lots of snacks and drinks. we also have small bags of pasta and rice dishes, and a pop top flask for coffee so we can keep having a gulp of a hot drink without needing to set up.



On the Saturday Kenny from Kenny’s Taxis picked us up and we drove up to Glasbury. With the river being full we planned some long paddles. We knew we had enough daylight that if we made a planning mistake we had enough time to sort it out.

The section of the Wye from Glasbury down is always a favourite of mine – the banks are fairly shallow and the river bed is gravel so there are lots of little bumps and turns to keep us on our toes.


It was a lovely day’s paddle – allowing us to focus on the stronger paddling we’ve been training for – steering together without slowing down. Paddling with power to keep on going, but reducing the pain of the long distance.

We paddled 24 miles and surprised ourselves by being back at the take out at 1pm – clearly either the river or us were going fast. We didn’t get out of the boat all trip but seeing as we were back by lunch time it wasn’t a sufficient test.



So on Sunday we planned a bigger day. Kenny helped us shuttle a car down to Ross-on-Wye and we were on the river at 9am on the dot, this time trying for 38 mile paddle – the longest distance we’d ever paddled. The river had dropped and slowed a little during the night but we weren’t too worried.

The first stretch to Hereford was a grind. long straight sections with very little flow allowing the wind to become the challenge. I wanted to get out at Hereford for a stretch and a break, but we stuck with it and kept going.

below Hereford bridge the river sped up and I could relax, there are a few little rapids which liven up the paddling and before we knew it we were at the confluence of the Lugg, and we knew we were making good time and reaching a lovely remote stretch of the river .


The second half of the day pain set in in the shoulders, and we got a little silly.

It was a quiet day with lots of wildlife and I changed my mind about this section of the Wye. I thought it would be boring but I really liked how lively sections where and how quiet it was.

We paddled 38 miles in 7 hours, staying in the boat all day – target met. The next mission was paddling the same distance without flow, to see if we are ready for Lake Laberge.

Dan: Injury time

Last weekend we paddled 60 miles on the Thames, camping at old Windsor Lock. It was tough on both days. There was very little flow, making the distance harder than it had been with our March Thames paddles. This made the sense of achievement when we paddled our targeted distance even stronger. There should be a proper blog in a week or so.

Somewhere on the way, I injured my right arm. Waking up the next day it was sore and the bicep was red in patches. The red spread and it started to look like a bruise at the edges, and while it’s not super painful it clearly doesn’t like my lifting heavy stuff.

Sadly, advice has suggested a break from training in boats for a few weeks, giving it a chance to rest and recover fully. Instead we’ll have a planning and kit weekend, and look at our route and what we’ll need. I’ll run if i can to keep up my fitness, but no weights either.

We did consider about going out for a light paddle this Sunday but this is probably a mistake. We shall not overtrain. We’ll listen to out bodies a little more.

Sarah: “Is that a turkey I just saw?”


The weekend comes round again and what else could we do but get up before dawn and get the train out to Reading. We figured that after our first session with Paul at Marsport it would be good to get in a repeat check of our paddling health, now we’d had chance to practice what we learnt.

We got the train to Reading nice and early, popped the boat together by the station and paddled down to Marsport, which worked well. It was a nice early paddle, and it meant that we were ready warmed up and ready to go. First back to the ergo and after a good workout, back on to the water to look at what we actually do in the boat. Our Pakboat has some limitations which are affecting how we train. We have no foot rests, which are essential for full body power, as would be the corresponding foot straps. Add to this that our boat is wider and slower and we are finding it harder than things would be in a sleek 18ft Jensen Clipper.


After Paul put us through our paces and gave us a cup of tea, we had to get back onto the river as we had a target for the day – Bisham 15 miles away. We did have a bit of a treat for ourselves: avoiding a lock with a paddle round St Patrick’s Stream as it seemed that we were just within the closed fishing season. It was a nice fast stretch and made us practice steering. It also tested the observation skills somewhat as one of the houses there was keeping a full grown turkey on the back porch. Looking at the size of it we guessed that it had become a family pet before Christmas and so missed out on its inevitable fate. No photos as we were too surprised.


As we came through Henley the wind really picked up. It was a real battle to paddle against it. However we would not let it win and tried to get a picture of the wind picking up the water but couldn’t really do it justice.

Some of the day felt like a hard slog, so we were glad to be pulling up to our stop for the night in Bisham, a former rectory where the garden goes down to the river. After negotiating the chicken wire to stop the geese pooing on the garden, we were ushered inside for tea and cake, which was most welcome. We were slightly paranoid about the damage we could do to the cream carpet but all was well.


Dinner time was a time machine. If you are ever looking for a trip back to the 70’s on the Thames we recommend the Old Bull at Bisham – where hedgehog garden ornaments are trapped in the walls.


On Sunday we put on to a gloriously sunny day with tolling church bells and started our progress on to Staines – 23 miles. There were lots of rowers about, who can blame them when the weather is so nice. Though I do still find it strange that people would want to get on the river to be shouted at by someone.

We were also passed by some kayakers who were clearly practising for something. With the Devizes to Westminster coming up in a few weekends, it could have easily been that.


As we paddled on Dan’s shoulder was playing up, which was a shame as it had been behaving well. We swapped ends to try and see if the difference would help. Turns out that my front paddling does not help at all. In fact, in the run up to Windsor we had to change back as if anything it was making things worse.
On the plus side over the day Dan did a great job of working through the pain in his shoulder and we kept going to the end.

On the minus side we had our first in-training in-boat argument. Fortunately the sunny day and great weather meant that it was all smiles at the end of the day. The boat was soon away under the watchful eye of the residents of Staines and it was homeward bound on the train back to London.

Next stop for training is the river Wye and then we hope it’s time for camping paddles on the Thames.