Dan: Wye at Easter

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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.

Friday

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.

Saturday

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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.

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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.

Sunday

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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 .

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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.

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Dan: Injury time

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sarah: Oh Kingston Town

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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.

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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.

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

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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: http://www.dcbt.org.uk/Documents/LeeStortMap.pdf

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

Dan: I was asked how the weekend’s training paddle went

“Paddling was horrific. it snowed for 2 hours, it was so cold the coffee in the flask got chilled, we had 19 locks to carry round, and 1 carry around 200 metres of frozen canal.

29 km in 6 hours. 3 arguments, 2 big hugs. Just about no tears.
Doing it again in 2 weeks time.”

Dan: First training day on the Thames

Every paddle stroke got us a few feet forwards. But as we took the blades out of the water we lost momentum. The boat started to be tugged backwards, like being on a treadmill. I didn’t think that’s how you trained for a canoe race.
 
the top of the oxford circuitIt’s January and Sarah and I are committing to paddling the Yukon together. We’ve drawn out the training plan for the next 2 months and this weekend was our first training paddle proper. A look at how each of us is doing and what we need to learn. We chose the Oxford Circuit cos it’s a looping route that means we don’t have to worry about where to park the car.

The Thames

We are likely to be doing our training on the River Thames. For most of its length It’s a managed navigation, an adapted river that has locks and weirs to manage the flow. Most of the year it sits at a happy level and boats of all sizes abound. When the river gets fuller and the flows get stronger, yellow boards go up on the locks as a warning. When it’s proper high they put up their red boards and ask people not to use the river unless they know what they are doing.

Red boards for us

We knew the Thames was going to be high. It was probably the fullest we’ve seen it. It was a cold too, so we had the ‘what will make this a safe and good day’ discussion. We checked a few points of the river to know our options. Fast rivers can be fun rivers, but not when you can’t get back to the car. We were happy we had options, but we agreed this wasn’t the day for pace training, we would be working on communication and problem solving instead.
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The Paddle

Our first mission was to break into the outflow of a weir – something that usually causes a differing of approaches from the ends of the boat. The front wants a powerful dynamic entry to the fast-moving water, the back wants to gently move into the water lower down the outflow where there is less of a kick. As the front traditionally powers the boat forwards and the back provides the steering, you can see how this may have contributed to frank discussions of paddling ability.
We got it right, you’ll be happy to know. Right meaning talking, trying what we talked about and being happy about the result. Good times; unusual times. So we continued, speeding down the Thames and then turning for the hard slog up the canal that’s a straight run, just two locks to carry around.

Kings Weir – The challenge of the day

Turning off the canal, back to the Thames, we knew the challenge of the day was ahead. Joining the Thames in the flow to Kings lock’s weir, we needed to paddle against the huge flow of the flooded Thames for 100 meters to get us into safer waters. Don’t worry gentle reader, we had several bug-out plans, but we needed to paddle absolutely solidly as a pair to not need them.
It was hard, each step forward was half a step back, but we made it up river to the lock turn off and manoeuvred across the river to the lock channel, never once drifting back panicking or not trusting one another.

Round Two

Portaging Kings lock itself and some wiggles down the fast flow of the Thames got us back to our starting point. We coffeed and snacked at the lock and decided we were good for the second go-round. This time aiming for a time of less than 2 hours.
The second slog up the canal hurt. Aches in my shoulders and back developed no matter how I sat or how much we swapped paddling sides. I can still feel them a day later as I write this. We made it round the circuit in 1 hour 55 mins. Choosing a route down a mill stream to avoid doing Kings Weir again – we knew we weren’t up to it twice.
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A new Dynamic

It felt a lot different to our previous paddles. There’s less stopping to appreciate where we are, the cadence is higher, but we are trying to chat more. Listing out puddings, making jokes, creating fun. If I want more communication with Sarah, I’m going to have to help create it. We do go quieter as we get tireder – we’re gonna need to work on that, it’s going to either damn us or save in the race.
Eating and drinking on the move is going to be a challenge too. I could tell I got dehydrated and didn’t eat at the right times. If I’m the engine to get us to Dawson I’m going to need to do that better and build up my endurance. We paddled 14 miles in four and a bit hours. I will need to 8 hours to just cross the lake at the start, and then keep on another 3 days and night down the river.
This is going to take some more work.