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.

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.

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.

Sarah: The beginning begins

Dan and I have been arguing together in canoes for around 8 years now and the strength of arguments does seem to be decreasing. It has been over 2 years since Dan last jumped out of the canoe to get away from me.

In 2013 I did the world’s longest annual canoe race, The Yukon River Quest, with Esther. I missed Dan and I spent a lot of time doing things away. I wanted another bash and set about persuading Dan that he too wanted a go at this.

Persuading him to the idea/concept was the easiest part. That we had time to train around work was quite a bit harder. That we could spend that much time in a boat together, without killing each other, was by far the hardest.

We set about doing a few paddles tandem just to see how they went, around Oxford and then on the Wye.  Things were looking up.  We had progressed from all out rows to stern discussion and only a couple at that.  Therefore, at that point the decision was made.  On 24 June 2015 we will start the Yukon River Quest, aiming to get 444 miles down the river before the end of 27 June.

This weekend we sat and determined the training plan through to June. Sarah will be losing weight and Dan will be getting strong.  We plan to focus on long day paddles with gym training in the week and downtime. The boat is hired, accommodation booked in Whitehorse before the race and now to build a holiday around this silly idea.

We haven’t yet submitted the entry. There are 28 boats entered. Boats no 26 onwards get an extra 1/2 hour in bed on the start day and I am waiting until there are 30 in front to guarantee that in case of drop outs. I think everyone else is waiting for the same thing.

This weekend we are off for a long paddle with as much of the light as we can use. It’ll be Dans first experience of the no stopping for a coffee and eating by throwing a few mouthfuls in every couple of hours. With the forecast for extreme cold we may have to submit to a coffee stop.

There will be all sorts of fun to report as the weeks go by, along with our fundraising attempts for Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre. As was the case with Barely Scared in 2013 if you have questions, advice or comments please get in touch.