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.


Sarah: Oh Kingston Town


After paddling a couple of rivers with nightmare numbers of portages and really horrible portages I was more persistent about the Thames. The portages aren’t hellish and you may even get to just bimble through a lock.

We planned a route from Datchett to Hampton Court or Kingston – a bit shorter than the days when training in 2013 but we didn’t start those big long ones to March. After suffering from a trapped nerve in my shoulder in the middle of the week, I wasn’t sure how the day would go.

We were on the water at 9.30am. Not many February mornings where you find yourself down to a t-shirt. The weather was good, and we had packed gorgeous pasta for lunch that Dan had cooked up the night before. This was our first time out with both of us using the nifty bent lightweight carbon paddles and its much easier to balance the power when we have the same type of paddle.


We did the first 5 miles in an hour with aeroplanes taking off and coming into land above although it made conversation a bit tricky – I think I annoyed Dan even more than usual with my requests to repeat himself.

5 miles in we stopped at a lock for coffee. We paddled another 5 miles, where we had the first lunch. As the river gets busier we hope to be eating and drinking in the locks but for the time being this gets done as we portage.

Despite the great weather the river was still quiet although we did have some fun when the odd river cruiser came past making it bumpy. Other than that there were rowers, who seemed to be behaving well and paddling on the right side of the river.

IMGP6522The lock at mile 15 was displaying a notice saying that the next reach was closed for 3 hours. We had planned on 2nd lunch but after a chat with the lock keeper we discovered that this was for a rowing race. They were happy we had time to clear the reach if we left then. So off we paddled. We are pleased to say we were first across the finishing line and then made sure we had 2nd lunch at the next stop.

We soon found ourselves at the ornate gates of Hampton Court. We were definitely not for stopping there and so paddled on to Kingston. We arrived all too soon, 14.30 in fact. High tide at Richmond was 16.16 and so paddling past Teddington, against the tide, wasn’t something we were up for today. The station at Teddington was some way from the take off so this was the sensible take off. We called it a day knowing we could have managed more.

It was a good day with laughter and good tempers and I was feeling very happy that my shoulder had held though it’s still not that happy. Dan did break right at the very the end with some grumpiness about where to get the boat out, but still possibly a world record for him.

Getting home before 5pm gave us plenty of time for packing away and baths before dinner.

Fundraising: Would you like a postcard from the finish line?

We’re launching our fundraising pages today. You can find it over at Virgin Giving. It would be lovely if you would consider passing our site around, and ask if people can spare a little cash for our story.

Postcards from the finish line

We want to offer a little something as a little bonus to people that sponsor us. We looked at Kickstarter like models, but charity giving and gift-aid puts the kibosh on most of the fun. However, we have a little something. We’ll be sending out 25 handwritten postcards from the finish line of the race. 10 will be picked randomly from all lovely donors. The others will be sent to the first 15 donations of over 25 quid. When you donate please ensure we can get your email address, or drop us a mail identifying yourself. We’ll ask for addresses nearer the time.

Where will the money go?

A number of people have asked us if we are being sponsored for our big race. Others, when presented with the plan to use the adventure to raise money, ask if the charity is helping us with travel and training.

They are good questions, and the simple answer is no. There is a far more interesting answer though.

Sarah and I learnt to paddle and then to lead, guide and teach at Shadwell Basin, starting when we joined Tower Hamlets Canoe Club as beginners 8 years ago. Without our time spent there and the commitment from the people we’ve met, we’d not be in the position to be able to do this race. The collective time, effort and focus of people in the club, the staff, committee and students at Shadwell Basin have contributed to the paddlers we are today. It’s not your traditional sponsoring, but far more valuable.

You might start to see why we selected this charity. But it’s more than just a place we know. Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre is located in an area that has great poverty. They engage with youngsters in the area, using water-sports and other physical activities challenging them to grow in confidence, teamwork, leadership and learning. We are both proud to be part of the committee that helps guide the charity.

Our chosen charity is, in comparison to many, pretty small. They have 5 full-time staff, who all do front-line work as skilled activity leaders, as well as planning, fund-raising and administration. No money we raise will be going back to us in terms of assistance in our adventure. All of it will be for the benefit of the users of the centre.

You can give us equipment, if you make stuff

We aren’t against sponsorship, if you work for a canoe equipment company or somewhere that does something that would help us on our way and would like us to use or try your gear, then we’d love to hear from you, but if you have a little spare cash, please add it towards our charity collecting targets.

Half a million strokes. Time to see the racing doctor.


Valentine’s day means a special treat. In our case it meant a trip to Reading, to Marsport who are specialists in racing canoeing. We spent a bit of time with Paul, who then sent us off to practice for a few hours.

You see I’ve been doing this canoeing thing for maybe 6 years now which is way long enough to have built up lots of learnings that won’t suit a ultra-marathon style paddle. What might work to get me down a few rapids or an afternoon along a bit of Lake Superior, isn’t going to be what ultra-marathon canoe race needs.

Half a million paddle strokes is what Paul said we were likely to be doing over the 4 days of the race. Put like that, getting each stroke to go gently on our bodies is as important preparation as time planning and distance training.

We started the morning on a canoe ergo. It’s a rowing machine for paddlers. We used to it look at technique – what we do wrong and what we do right. There’s a lot of arm positioning that contributes to the shoulder pain I get when working on the distances. As for Sarah she needs to remember to punch more (the water, not me).

We then moved to paddle circuits on the Thames outside the shop, with a light-weight carbon fibre paddle that’s more suitable than my lovely wooden paddles. Again we got feedback as we went around to try to move to a safer paddling style for long distances.

After an hour Paul felt we were ready to practice what we had learnt, and we borrowed a boat and headed up the Thames. There has been a lot of rain the night before and the Thames was rising, meaning we had a tough paddle up river. We made a good pace and Sarah reported that with the new paddle she needed to steer a lot less and could work less hard in the back.

I worked on my body rotation whilst sitting up (I’m used to kneeling) and trying to get my hands in the right places at the right times. The aches and pains afterwards suggested I’d not got it right. More practice needed. On the other-hand I now have a bargain cosmetic second carbon fibre paddle to train with.

Some stats:

  • 3 hours 15 mins paddle including a stop for lunch.
  • 11 miles.
  • Almost no arguments
  • 1 new paddle
  • 2 aching backs

Sarah: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

After our twice round Oxford trip it was time to step up the distance. We wanted something travelable to by train as it makes it easier to plan and I don’t have to drive afterwards.

The Cam between Cambridge and Ely was our ideal plan. However the rowers had other ideas. On the day we planned, a big section was being used for a race and others can only use the river under control of race marshalls. Standing on the bank in the cold for an hour wasn’t in the training plan, so we replanned.

We decided to paddle the river Stort to its confluence with the river Lea and then onwards to Cheshunt. We have paddled sections of this but it was time to join it all up. You can see a map of all the obstacles on our route here:

We took the train out to Bishops Stortford having packed up as little kit as we could. Getting on and started was easy. It was going well until we hit the ice. We’d got to a stretch where we there was repair works to a lock. The stillness of the water meant that the river had frozen. We bashed through a bit but it was not good for our soft PVC pakboat so it was time for a carry round. I hate boat carrying.

We were finding it tough with the cold and the amount of portages round locks so an extra long carry was not welcome. We kept on, and despite losing time early on, picked up speed. Then it started to snow. Big flakes of snow. It settled on the bags and the bottom of the boat. And us. Brrrrrr.

As the snow fell, the reflection on the water made it look as though it was coming down and heading upwards again. It was only going to get stranger. We made the miles pass with an A – Z of what we could have for tea tonight. It got a bit silly towards the end of the alphabet although Dan did need to know that Sag Aloo does not start with a P, even if it is made with potato.

Around the locks we were trying to have very minimal time off the water. We were getting good at the portages until we hit the Lee. The locks on the river Lee have been designed to take industrial traffic and where a lot of the Thames has been adapted to provide lower portage points for canoes and kayaks these are lacking. A lot of standing up in the boat is needed and some of the portages required me to lower myself down into the boat from the bank 4 foot above. I find this really tricky – having had balance issues in the past I find boat to land transfer tricksey. Dan holds onto the boat as I get in and I may have tested his temper a little with my hesitancy and apparent need to tip the boat up. Ho hum, I’m sure the friendly fisherman appreciated my yelling at Dan.

We kept paddling and despite being slowed by tricky portages we were still on time for our get off. We were aiming to be off at 4pm and at 3.50pm we pulled in. The boat was quickly disassembled (without being dried – oops!) and we headed for the train station. A quick change of trousers was in order on the train as mine were soaked and Dan struggled out of his dry suit standing next to the luggage. We were soon home. Paddling close has its benefits.

This paddle was 29 km. Getting on at around 09.35 and off at 15.50 – 6 hours 15 mins. It’s a bit slower than we would have liked, but with no flow, getting stuck in ice and portages to suffer, I think it was still a solid run. Dan had a slightly different point of view