Yukon River Quest Day 3 (7 hours rest, 16 hours paddling?)

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This is part two of our experiences of paddling in the Yukon River Quest 2015. It makes more sense if you care to read part one first.

Dan

Carmacks was chaotic, even though we got up after almost every paddler had left. The medical crews were sleeping – ready to get to work at the finish line no doubt. We needed to decide if we should continue with the race. We weren’t sure. Everyone was encouraging and positive and I felt somewhat after the sleep though still confused. My tummy had settled and my back felt fine, even when I stretched it out. The race was what we were here for after all…

Getting ready was tough. It was clear to me that even having a Carmacks bag all prepped and sorting things out over breakfast we just weren’t in the same sort of preparedness as we were at the start of the race. We had lovely volunteer support staff doing a great job, but at this point I realised how much you need support who know you, know what you need and what you have prepared – and help you adapt so you can keep racing.

Sarah

After a longer sleep than planned, we were not back on top form. We were tired and not able to have the sensible discussion we needed about whether or not we could continue. Things were in the wrong places. Clothes that were to be washed and dried were in a soggy bag, flasks weren’t filled. However, Dan’s stomach had settled and he wasn’t in as much pain as he had been when paddling.

I think that the story would end here if there had been someone sensible around to say something like: you are dehydrated, haven’t eaten enough and are only comfortable because you are no longer paddling. There was no one to say it and so we stuck to the original plan, with our food to take us to Kirkman’s Creek and beyond.

Setting off

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Dan

We paddled away from Carmacks at 05.40 am. It felt good to get going again. We were tired but we felt we’d made a good decision. Just after Carmacks the river wiggles so much that the GPS told us we were returning to Carmacks 3 times.

As the river was getting wider, I took the job of finding the faster flows to get us down the river, using the GPS to help. We were finding speeds of 9 and 10 mph which really helped spirits. We knew we needed to get our waterproofs on, as we knew the big rapids of the river were coming soon and there would be fewer places to stop.

Sarah

Once we got going again, it felt nice to be back with the river. Feeling that we could do this. It was a short run to Five finger rapids and I was glad that Dan would get to see it and that he trusted me enough to steer us down. I think that I did this stretch half asleep still and know that I wasn’t inputting a lot in terms of logical thought and discussion of tactics. Hot again, so drinking and stopping for comfort breaks was to be the mission of the day.

Five finger rapids (24 miles)

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Dan

Five finger rapids has a reputation. Pick the wrong finger and, at best case, you will swim. There are newspaper articles in the guide books that talk about the losses in the left hand branches of the rapid. We went right.

“Left, left. No, middle middle!” I called out as we approached. Once lined up on the right side of the river, my job was to look for a good line down. I was told it was likely on the left hand side. Looking to the left there was sideways outflow and a wave from another branch. I didn’t like the look of that and the other clear choice was right through the middle, so we did.

Rapids are usually smaller than they look. Not this one. Three times I went up a wave and dropped into trough. In up to my armpits. We kept paddling and came through solid and steady each time. I finished, giggling a lot, looking at the large washbasin of water where my spray deck held on in front of me

Sarah

The river was a lot lower than it had been in 2013 where my memory of five finger was that it was not much to write home about and I was happy that I had a tried and tested line that was dry and flattish. When we got there what I saw was quite different and there was no way we were riding the left shoulder down.

Dan had a good view at the front and I tried to go where he suggested. Who knows if I managed it. We pulled further over to the right and pretty much followed the tongue down the river hitting several large waves but staying rock solid. I stayed very dry while Dan found himself up to his armpits in water as we hit each wave. We both felt quite energised for doing this and enjoyed the big bouncy water and control we had, despite not having done any white water as a tandem.

I had quite a giggle afterwards when Dan asked me how much water I had round me and I answered a couple of tablespoons, while his answer was a home for a goldfish.

Rink rapids (6 miles)

Rink Rapids, Yukon River

Dan

Rink was much more sedate in comparison. We could see a large line of waves ahead, but again the instruction is to keep right where there is a big wide happy though slightly boring channel.

Sarah

Rink is boring if you stay right. We may have come slightly further left than the boat length you are suggested to keep from the bank, but you have to have some fun.

Navigating the islands

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Sarah

I was not looking forward to navigating the Ingersoll Islands. I remembered the path as unclear and confusing, and it’s also where I capsized in 2013. Whether I was paying more attention to maps or Dan’s navigation and the use of the gps was outstanding, but what I saw was totally different and the path through much clearer. This cheered me no end as the navigation only gets harder from here on in. The weather was lovely but Dan was starting to hurt. His power was down and I was pushing to try and add in some extra. Problem is that this means correcting the steering more often which in itself loses power.

Dan

Using a mixture of the laminated maps, the gps and a speedometer i felt i was really getting a handle of navigation – finding good channels mean looking at the water, and knowing where we were on the maps. Checking the speed, and moving across the stream when we weren’t going fast enough helped too. Were getting an average speed of 8-9 mph and I felt that we were finding good routes through the islands.

However my back was starting to hurt and the weather was starting to turn. I was using the thwart behind me to both rest my back and to massage it, and when we stopped for comfort breaks I used large stones to try to massage too. We saw far away lightning and clouds were starting to gather.

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Minto (28 miles) & Fort Selkirk (24 miles)

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Sarah

By Minto we were slowing. We had a chance to think about continuing but we were ok. It hurt but was manageable. The river was with us, the sun was shining for a while and there was a bush to pee behind. From Minto it was only a short run to Fort Selkirk and a proper break was promised with a walk up the bank to a fire and hot drink.

While the pain didn’t stop it was manageable, although the breaks needed between paddling were getting more frequent. Arriving at Fort Selkirk we were pleased to see 2 other boats on the shore. We were last, but not that far behind. We didn’t have time to explore the old settlement which was deserted by the settlers when the last steamship went through.

Dan

Rain. Totally massive rain is what I remember before Fort Selkirk. I had to check a number of times that is wasn’t hail it was falling so heavily. We had to drain the boat, but the advantage was that it washed out the smoke from the forest fires so what could have been nastiness just made my eyes itch a little.

The rain had stopped before we got to Fort Selkirk, and the sun was out allowing us to chill a little and I could have some hot water to drink. No tea or coffee for me. Sarah found a banana and I was so happy. Best food ever. I wish I had a massive bunch of bananas at that point. I massaged my back and stretched again, then just lay on the ground, hoping to rest my back a little.

The site was pretty amazing, being almost unchanged in 100 years – when everyone left when the work moved on. We didn’t stay long but it was cool to see it.

Past Fork Selkirk – Getting to Kirkman’s Creek (18 miles)

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Dan

Leaving Fort Selkirk we joined an amazing section of rock wall. Formed by volcanic rock meeting glaciers, it looked made up of many squares of brick. Our river speed was looking really good the Pelly river joining had given the water a push. The clouds were starting to form very interesting but worrying anvil shapes and we started expecting more storms. What we got was wind. Having seen a baby twister head down the river at Little Salmon we were a little cautious.

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The wind built and built. We kept paddling, around a bend and hoped for shelter, but found none on our side of the river. We were on the right side up against a cliff. Looking at the map, I could see we needed to work our way across the river to the left bank if we were to follow the good path around the islands ahead. The left also had a soft gravel bank, something to stop on if needed.

We needed to cross carefully to manage the 9 mph water flow and the 30-40 mph winds. We wanted to point the nose into the wind but making our way across the 200 meters the boat kept turning like a weather vane. With the spray deck on we couldn’t move bags or ourselves about, we needed to paddle. As we got to the middle the boat turned to the dangerous position of being sideways to both the wind on one side and water flow on the other.

I knew we were now in a very bad place. The wind and water would be now working together to try to roll the boat over – exactly what I wanted to avoid. We were calm, and paddled solidly to the bank. With the strong strokes the boat stayed solid. we got to the bank. Safe. But my last resources were gone – I’d put everything I had left into getting us into safety.

I’d lost all hope. Will-power and way-power were gone, literally, with the wind. At that point I couldn’t see a way forwards, not just to the end but anywhere. I hated the boat, the wind, the pain, the race. I pulled us to the side and, gentle reader, I sobbed like a broken thing.

With hindsight there were options. I had a bag of tricks: jellybeans, M&Ms, cafe latte protein shakes, carob and coconut energy cubes. We had croissants and cinnamon buns. I had an MP3 player and waterproof speakers. All ready for my hitting the wall which I expected after Kirkman’s. All forgotten when I hit it so early and so hard. At Kirkmans’s there was soup and sandwiches waiting. But it felt unreachable. Eight hours away, but a lifetime with the wind.

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Sarah

As we paddled from Fort Selkirk spirits were high but very soon Dan’s back pain was becoming unmanageable. It was difficult to sit and listen to the pain he was in, feeling powerless to fix it. The wind built, and with this, our anxieties about what could happen. I felt as though we lost some control. I didn’t want Dan to make quick powerful corrections from the front, so it was tricky to keep the boat tracking with the difference in power and the headwind.

Even crossing a narrow stretch of river was difficult in the wind and dangerous as we could easily have been tipped by the wind against the current. The support boat who were behind us said that the winds were up to 50 mph

We were pulled in, having a think about where we were at, when the sweeper support boat pulled up and told us to get back in our boat. There was a bear on our bank and it was heading towards us.

There is no need to tell me twice but Dan was anti boat. Twice I told him to get in the boat, politely, using no swear words whatsoever. We paddled as far as the next sheltered spot. Here we stopped and chatted with the boat crews.

At the rate we were going we had 8 hours ahead of us before a rest at Kirkman’s. We had little power as between us, we were spent and while I did not know the pain Dan was suffering, it was agonising to hear. I honestly could not see us managing another 8 hours if the weather let up. We would need to stop for breaks and we were not aware enough to be safe from the local wildlife. How long before we hated canoeing and each other?

After a brief discussion with the crew of the sweeper boats, the decision was made. We scratched. We travelled by sweeper boat to Kirkman’s Creek, Dan still hurting and both of us crying at points as we had not succeeded in the challenge we set ourselves.

The decision to scratch was difficult and with hindsight if we had thought to use some of our tricks earlier could we have avoided it? It’s easy to say yes sitting in the sunshine afterwards.

Dan

Accident reviews and avoidance theory talk of the domino effect. Spotting the first ones to fall, and making quick changes can avoid a descent into real trouble. When we quit it was the last domino in a chain starting perhaps with stomach upsets, we could have drawn out the journey further, but would that be another domino exposing us to more risk, either through wildlife or injury? If we found a way to Kirkman’s could we have done more than quit there?

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Yukon River Quest Day 1 and 2 (32 hours paddling)

Getting Ready

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Sarah:

It takes a lot of kit to paddle unsupported. It took a taxi to get us what would be a 5 minute walk to the start. Then the faff began. Gear check. Sending the remainder of our luggage to the right places. Getting enough drinking water.

With everyone doing the same thing it was quite chaotic and I really needed to escape the chaos to a quiet spot before the gathering of all the padders before the start. It was lovely to see Nancy and Bertha from the our bunk house, cheering us on at the start.

Dan:

We had a low race number so had to get the boat ready for gear check at 8:30 am. We’d got the food for the paddle ready the day before, and with that and the required gear for an unsupported 400 mile paddle there was a lot of stuff. We were ready quickly – years of faff have trained us well, got ticked off, allowing us to get water and warmed up before the midday start.

To the Lake (30 miles)

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Sarah:

We started towards the back, but there were still plenty of boats with us. I found trying to get to the best water in amongst everything else confusing and drove Dan a bit up the wall by moving out of the way for other boats. Almost immediately though, it was time to drink lots. Before we hit the lake we seemed to be paddling much more in harmony. it had been a good fast run to the lake, although I hadn’t done very well at getting where we agreed to be when we agreed, instead opting for too much of the touring approach.

Dan:

After a reading of the list of the paddlers and teams; at the strike of 12 midday we jogged to the boats and set off. Many boats got off to good start in front of us. I couldn’t yet read this river to find the fastest bits, but I could work out why people were going where they were going.

Of course we started soon enough with an argument – possibly the only one on the whole of the trip. We got overtaken a few times as boats dominated the river, leading to a little interboat stress. We were both engaged in different ways and it was hard with all the boats rushing about for space and learning about how to paddle in a race. We got into gear after the first 30 mins and started working well together, but we lost a little ground getting it together. We averaged 7 mph which was what we wanted.

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The Lake (32 miles)

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Sarah:

30 miles of lake with a horrible headwind to start with and boiling heat. Tough times. It’s beautiful but we spent hours travelling to each point. As it moved into the evening it was time for shore leave and we stopped by some campers. There were still enough people about to make me need to find bushes. We pulled over again later to get waterproofs on as it looked like rain. Fortunately it didn’t rain. Instead there was an amazing display of gulls chasing moths as we got to the end of the lake. We hopped out for a brief break at the checkpoint. It had been a hard paddle across for both of us and I hadn’t been aware enough of how little Dan was eating. Both of us had forgotten our gourmet chicken and cashew wraps.

Dan:

The lake was sunny. Hot, hot hot. We crossed the first section diagonally – joined by one of the Cockleshell paddling team. Getting to the right bank we found we had a head wind. We paddled hard up the lake and gladly felt the wind shift into a tail-wind as we got about halfway up. It wasn’t quite straight and Sarah found holding the angle hard.

I knew we needed to get a good speed across the lake to hit the timing window so paddled really hard – really working the legs.. Sarah noticed that I was looking very very hot – she was right my head was getting swimmy. I dipped my hat and then my sleeves into the water and kept drinking and drinking – 4 liters down at the end of the lake. 2/3s of the way across the clouds covered the sun, and suddenly soaking sleeves and sweaty clothes were a risk as my temperature plummeted. We got to the side and put on warmer layers, just in time.

I’d not eaten on or before the lake really – it was hard with everything going on – just a few Cherry Ripe bites, a banana and a cereal bar. I was starving when we got to the end, as well as still cold – it was getting close to midnight. I quickly ate a bag of pasta, some porridge and hot chocolate. Turns out that wasn’t such a good idea.

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30 mile & Big Salmon (65 miles)

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Sarah:

I think that the 30 Mile section is my favourite bit of the river. It was the darkest and coolest but from a flat lake onto riffles which are big enough to get the person in the bow wet and big boils is a fun transition and wakes you up. Once the Teslin river joined though the river starts in earnest and its character then seems to stay the same for a while. Dan’s stomach really started to play up once we were past 30 mile and we struggled. Stomach cramps were impacting on his posture and it was extremely hard to keep on going. We carried on to Big Salmon, 125 miles into the race. That’s 125 miles in around 24 hours with one of the team unable to eat or drink as they need to. This was a lively checkpoint and Dan was able to have a short rest and try some drugs to settle his stomach. Not many occasions when you will take any small tablets. We were thinking of getting out here, but we pulled a little something else out of the bag as there was no road access. No choice but to keep going.

Dan:

Heading down the river was a relief from lake paddling – we got some fun riffles as the river sped up, but so did my stomach. I started getting bad cramps which had me sitting oddly trying to keep paddling. We were getting down the river at 7 mph which wasn’t as fast as we hoped – but we kept paddling and working hard.

As the night drew on the river formed mist and then fog. We could often just see the nearest bank, and not that far ahead. Having pink pine scented fog was quite pleasant though. Less so was my tummy. It was hurting and now so was my back. I had to take a few breaks on the bank that weren’t pleasant for me or the woods. I couldn’t eat anything and so couldn’t safely take painkillers either.

Getting to the checkpoint at Big Salmon I was a bit broken and had a lie down in the shelter. Everything between head and hips hurt. Someone offered me a chalky stomach settling tablet – that was wonderful! The staff at the checkpoint offered me dry crackers and a second tummy pill for later. Good people there. After 30 mins it was time to press on.

Little Salmon (35 miles)

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Sarah:

The section to Little Salmon was really tough physically and mentally. I could tell that Dan was really suffering and looking at the 9 mph we averaged I am surprised. We had some good lines to follow on our maps but we were both working so hard that it hurt. Dan simply hadn’t had the energy in terms of food and I’m trying to put in as much as I can. Add to this that we have by now been paddling for around 29 hours and we want out. Physically and mentally it hurts and I can see that we are both on the brink of snapping which is no good when there is only one hotel room at the end. This checkpoint was manned by a guy who has done the race and won several times and there was no way he was letting us off the river there, so we go on.

Dan:

I think it was now afternoon again, my stomach was settling a little – I had one more break at Twin Creek that stays between me and the woods, but the river was moving faster and I was getting better at reading it – hitting average speeds of 9 mph. On this section we saw beavers right beside us, and had an eagle swooping in to grab a snack from the river next to us. I also started to see animals in the patterns in the weathering sides, and the banks spelt out words.

I hurt , but I could eat ginger biscuits and so I could take a few painkillers, but my vertebrae were all cramped and with hindsight I was probably massively dehydrated and out of fuel. At Little Salmon checkpoint I wanted to quit – each paddle stroke was painful. The volunteers chivvyed me along – he was a past winner and said pain was all in the mind. Carmacks wasn’t far and we set off for the final section.

Getting to Carmacks (15 miles)

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Sarah:

This is truly the longest 15 miles ever. It goes on and on and the scenery is all the same. It’s now all about just finding the best bit of the river and sitting paddling in it until we get there – we managed 7 mph though. Dan started fantasy food discussions. He is still waiting for the chocolate pudding that he said he wanted. We made the porky pasta dish the day we arrived on Vancouver Island. All I wanted was a cheeseburger and fries with root beer from the Carmacks cafe.
We still needed a short break to stretch and rest and we briefly explored a island which had a ladder from water level to the campsite. A power line across the river showed us we were almost there. A welcome sight.

At carmacks the campsite crew met us and took us to the showers and our tent and Dan got to see a medic who poked his back. The stomach upset had left him badly dehydrated which is not unsurprising to a logical mind that hasn’t been paddling flat out. We decided to take longer than the required 7 hour stop to see if his stomach would settle and if we could rehydrate him enough to go on. Unfortunately by the time we were looking to leave the medic who we wanted to give him the once over had gone to sleep. We had discussed that if he drank a lot while we were there and kept his dinner down then we could go on. That’s two overtired stressed and worried individuals making decisions about safety and capability in an extreme wilderness situation. What could go wrong?

Dan:

I don’t remember much at all – I just wanted to get it done.
Getting to Carmacks was good, and I was ready to stop. I had blisters on my neck, and grazes 270 degrees around my waist from clothes rubbing. I managed a cheese sandwich and a few mouthfuls of soup after a shower and collapsed into a tent to see how I would feel in 7 hours time.

Want to know what happened next? Read part two of our experiences of paddling in the Yukon River Quest 2015. 

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.

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.

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.

valentines

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