It was a very early start with the alarm going off at 3.55am but I had already been awake for 20 minutes, my nervous energy kicking in. I had been on a diet of day nurse and night nurse for the previous 48 hours in an effort to kick my cold into touch. The odd coughing fit ensued, but in the main I was feeling better and looking forward to it. I wanted to sleep in the car on the way down but I was too keyed up so just talked small talk and fretted over small details. My main concern was for Adam as he was supporting on his own as Phil was away and after our last fiasco it seemed that this could be a problem; anyway, it was too late to worry now so we would just have to get on with it and iron out any problems en route.
We didn't have a target time in our heads but we assumed that we would be somewhere between 6.30 and 7.00 which would mean that we would need to be underway by 7.30pm to be sure of getting to the finish within the allotted window. All was well until Jamie and I decided that we would need a last minute wee and the therefore necessary 15 minute queue for the loos. We queued up to put in and I had that horrid 1st tee kind of moment where you have to play your first golf shot in front of everyone. We just both prayed that we would not capsize in front of everyone so we were extra caferul to get in smoothly and get comfy.
We lined up under the bridge next to a teenager in a K1 and were counted down and when the starter said 'go' he sprinted off the line and was virtually out of sight within minutes. The adrenelin of the unknown was coursing through us and we were both very nervous.
I hated the first 90 minutes. I mean, really hated it and I need to say a really big sorry to Jamie, because I was hating it I was really grumpy and Jamie was suffering the brunt of it.
We were being overtaken all the time as other crews were bumping and jostling to get around us. There was a lot of chop from the wakes of other boats which threw our rhythm. Jamie has a metronomic quality to his paddling but he kept changing his candence and I was finding it hard to adjust and I told him so; I really was very grumpy but Jamie took it very stoically, got his head down and kept paddling. I kept whinging and whining. I complained about his lines; I complained about the water; I complained about how heavy our boat felt; I complained about being overtaken by a string of teenagers; I complained about Jamie's stroke; I kept complaining and Jamie just kept paddling.....
My problem was that I was being too competitive and trying to race it instead of treating it as a DW rehearsal in an environment that was completely new to me. I was being a bit of a muppet; I continued to complain and Jamie just kept paddling......
We had been told that paddling on a canal would be significantly harder due to no flow on the water and while we had done a small amount of work on the Basingstoke Canal it had been interval and tempo work, whereas we were now grinding it out in a significantly heavier boat with all our DW stuff stowed away. However, before we knew it we were at Honey Street and there was Adam jogging along beside us. A quick few words with no need to top up fluids and we were cracking onto Wotton Rivers. Jamie has suffered with dead legs all winter on any pound over an hour so we were both expecting him to be virtually unable to walk by Wotton but he hopped out with no problems. Maybe it was going to be a good paddle after all?
Because I had been complaining so much about Jamie's steering I offered to get in the front for a stint, forgetting that the Savernake tunnel was coming up. My steering was shocking, so I started complaining about the rudder. Jamie maintained a discreet silence and then we entered the tunnel. It was not the darkness as such that was the problem but the fact that we were in a long line of paddlers and the people in front were blotting out the pin prick of light that signified the end of the tunnel. I then smacked into the right hand wall (it was the rudder's fault, honest) I was really hacked off now but got my head down and continued in silence.
We ran the Crofton Flight and overtook a few crews. It was more important not to fall over in the very slippery conditions. At the end I politely asked Jamie to get back in the front, which he did without commenting on my faux pas in the tunnel. We settled into a rhythm although Jamie was still finding it hard to steer his lines. At Froxfield we had a look and the rudder was still catching on the hull, so more pulling and tweaking and things improved.
Adam was great. He was at every portage, prepared with bottles, food and information about our pace and it was great for him to see how other support crews organise themselves. One of the big things we are going to change is Jamie's camelbacs for a bottle holder. It slowed us down a lot and we really noticed how much quicker other crews were portaging, putting 20 or 30 metres over us as we got comfy and ready to go. However, we did improve, I guess you have no choice when you do more portages in one race than ever before.
So, we came home in 6hrs 45 minutes which was where we expected to be (20/22 in the K2 vets. Ahem...room for improvement) and gives us a 24.5 hour DW time. The important thing is we came home relatively comfortably and we were not completely wiped at the end. That said, I am now very nervous about the DW. As I went to bed at 9pm that night it dawned on me that we would just be past Dreadnaught Reach and heading into the second half of the race. Yikes! One reach at a time.
Posted by Alex Kew
I am standing outside a million pound mansion at 11.30 at night and it's pitch black with the temperature rapidly dropping while Jamie is talking through the locked front door to the house owner; obviously confused as to why two men in life jackets, head torches and with a kayak at the end of his drive are asking where they are. This paddle wasn't meant to be like this :-(
Three hours before....
We had finally got the boat in the water at Marlow, but we were already running late. Adam and Phil waved us off and we quickly settled into a comfortable rhythm eager to be paddling somewhere new and enjoying the experience of a DW rehearsal. We passed out of Marlow and entered a long, dark reach when Jamie began to find it increasingly difiicult to correct his steering before the rudder bar went completey slack; the steering had gone. This was our first stupid mistake. Last week during a paddle on the Basingstoke Canal, the nut which holds the rudder bar assembly together had worked loose and we had completed a running repair but not fixed it properly. On Sunday we had the K2 in the boathouse and we literally had a tube of loctite in our hands but in our rush to get out the door and on the water we had neglected to sort it out properly. We were now paying the price. Hissy fit number one now ensued.
We got to the side and spent 10 minutes sorting it out but we could not find the nut which had come off, so we ended up taking the nut off my seat to put it back together. We got back in and pushed off only to hear a clunck as we hit a rock, which once again, left the kayak uncontrollable. We limped over to a jetty and Jamie started to repair what had happened (the rudder had bent slightly, meaning that it hit the hull and would not give any left rudder). While Jamie was proactive and doing something about it, I stood there, really throwing my toys out of the pram. I was trying to get to my phone to speak to the boys but it was trapped behind my BA and when I realised that I could not get to it without taking my BA and bottle carrier off. Even my phone was now conspiring against us!
So, into the boat for the third time; we had travelled about a mile and a half.
We were angry, hacked off and even further behind schedule, so we upped the tempo and quickly rounded the final bend into the approach to Crookham Lock. We knew where to go but as we started to head down the lock cut we saw Ad and Phil's torches off to the right; in completely the wrong place. They had not got to the correct portage point but after a quick discussion we arranged to head off to Boulters, where we would hopefully have a more successful pound. We got out the boat and shouldered it to have the inevitable happen. Yes, my seat fell out because of course it no longer had a nut holding it in place. As it clattered against the concrete bank it sounded like a bomb going off in the dead of night. Hissy fit number three.
Ok, back in and let's knock off the next pound. We got up to speed quickly and in silence, we got our heads down and waited for the next calamity. This stretch went by quickly and we rounded the island to the left which signified the approach to Boulters. We got into the lock cut and Jamie spotted the portage point but I convinced him to find a closer point; there wasn't one. So we turned back and got out where we should have and tried to find a point to get back in. Again, we could not find it and there was no sign of Adam and Phil. Jamie went running off to find a get-in while I called them up. They could not get onto the island as it was closed off due to flooding, so we arranged to meet them a bit further down. Jamie's get-in point required a high portage of a metre and a half; no way. So we carried the disco back and there was the place we were meant to portage all along. Another 10 minutes spent faffing around. Hissy fit number 4.
Just after the weir stream was a jetty and we met the boys there and had some peanut butter sandwiches, found out the Chelsea score and then pushed on to Bray.
Finally, we though that we were getting somewhere and headed to Bray with renewed vigour. None of our portages had gone right so far but we were confident that the last one would see us finish well. This was a good stretch and we had a a high pace going that felt extended but comfortable. Bray came up sooner than expected and we got out to phone the boys to come pick us up.
The temperature was dropping, it was getting late and we all had work in the morning. I phoned Phil. He had no idea where we were! In preparation for the paddle I had downloaded images from google maps and cross referenced these with my sat nav so that all the boys had to do was tap in the road or postcode and follow the directions. Great in theory, rubbish in practice. They were now on completely the wrong side of the river with no way of knowing how to get to us and we could not get across to them. While Phil and I tried to sort out how to get to each other, Jamie went off in search of a road name, or anything that they could use as a reference. Nothing.
Ok, let's walk then. So we picked up the boat and began walking. We walked for half a mile until we got to a house where the lights were on. Aware that we would probably spook these good people so late at night, we carried on looking for a road name. Still nothing. Eventually, we decided we had to ask, so Jamie went up to the door of an extremely nice house while I hung around trying not to look shifty. The gentleman who was understandably suspicious gave Jamie a postcode and road name which we passed onto Phil and we waited...and waited... and waited. We phoned through and were not surprised to find out that the sat nav recognised neither the post code or road name! Hissy fit number 5. It was a big one.
So we now left the disco on the grass verge and started to run to keep warm and eventually we hit a main road and carried on running up it. Two more road names relayed through and still no recognition from the sat nav. Eventually, with Jamie and I literally running around the countryside like headless chickens I saw a car in the distance which started flashing its lights at me. At last......
I spoke to Adam today. What did we learn?
1. OS maps. Get them. Plan with them. Don't be lazy and rely on technology that probably will not work.
2. Read the instructions. We had all the info about Bray in our file which the boys had in the car. None of us had used it or refreshed our memories about it.
3. Recce the portages in daylight. Let's try and make our life easy eh?
It's the Waterside D on Sunday. All of a sudden it's looking even harder. Oh, I've got a raging sore throat and headache. Hissy fit 6.
Posted by Alex Kew
Quite a bit to blog about for a change, but not much time, so here's the abridged version.
We will be using the Discovery at the Waterside D this weekend and during the DW because all the Mystyres and the condors have been taken. It's no real problem as we are very comfortable paddling the disco as it is what we have used all winter and it turns out it's lighter than the mysteres as well, although much more uncomfortable to shoulder during portaging. The big revelation has been my new boat shoes which have made it sooooooooo much easier for me to control the disco; I can actually feel the rudder bar! I have a history of ankle and foot problems so I am not looking forward to the Crofton flight and running in them, but I 'll worry about that when I need to.
We've finally got some decent sessions in. A few paddles on the Basingstoke Canal (Thank you Carole!) which were really good fun. Very, very dark, with bats flying straight at us before their radar kicked in, making us flinch and the thunderous 'thwonk thwonk' noise as we crept under the M25 with rush hour going on overhead and the cars and lorries hitting the expansion gaps. We have also had two good paddles, one from Old Windsor to Sunbury. Lots of mucking about to get cars in the right place but well worth the effort. Going through Runnymead we literally could not see our hands in front of our faces and it was guess work as to where the river went; great fun! Last night we did Sunbury to Teddington, all at DW pace which felt comfortable. While we are not any faster than we were 6 months ago, (I guess that we simply have not done the quality of training to bring that about) we are more efficient and the paddles that we are doing of 2 hours plus feel very comfortable now. A good sign.
Tomorrow we will be doing Marlow to Romney, a paddle that we were due to do weeks ago, but most importantly this will be with Adam and Phil so we will be using it as a dry run for the D, which in turn, is obviously a dry run for the DW. The last few paddles have all been in 'race trim' , carrying our compulsory safety kit etc, so tomorrow is going to be about pracitising feeding and a chance for Adam and Phil to practice their map reading. If we get the chance after the D we may try to get further up river to paddle some of the course from Dreadnaught reach but that seems fairly unlikely. we'll see.
Jamie' shoulder has settled down, in no small part we think to the fact that our paddles of late have not involved having to work against the flow, so that bodes well for Sunday, however, we are just so tired! The last couple of weeks we have done nothing it seems except try to sort out the logistics to enter this race! Slowy but surely we are ticking everything off but it is a marathon in more than one sense.
Posted by Alex Kew
No paddling. None. Nada. Zero. Zilch, since a week on Thursday. :-(
Half term week, aka Paddle Camp was going to be our springboard to four weeks of peak paddle training to get us as prepared as we could be for the DW. Instead, it has rained steadily for the last week and once again, the red boards are out and we are left in dry dock. We knew that the Thames was going to be too fast for us but we went along last night to Sunbury and were left speechless at how high the water level was. So much so, that the small park area where we normally put in was completely flooded and the weir which was only a hundred meters away was making a noise like a jet engine. So so got into the car and went off to Shepperton instead. The idea was to see if we could put in there instead and head along the Wey Navigation which was supposed to be much slower running. Hmmmmm. Not at the moment it's not. The area around Shepperton Lock resembled a stirred mixing bowl with fast water coming from all directions. We stroked our chins and sucked on our teeth but even Jamie, who is not known for his attention to detail when it comes to matters of health and safety, decided that these were not conditions for us. So, it's going to be another five or six days at the minimum lost while we wait for the river to drop to a level we can cope with. Frustrating is not the word.
We have been doing some bits and bobs however in preparation for April.
Last Friday we had our first proper planning meeting with our support crew, Adam and Phil. The boys were great and we had a real laugh while we had a curry and a few beers before getting down to the serious business. We now know where our major portage meeting points are and we will be going out next week with them to do a 20 mile paddle on part of the night section, as long as the river is navigable of course. The boys now know what we will require from them and they are really looking forward to it themselves. We will also be recruiting another couple of people to help out during the nightime section as well, in order to take a bit of the pressure off them.
Another couple of small steps forward has been that we have got a rack for the car sorted out, so as soon as possible we'll be heading upstream and paddling back to Sunbury and venturing onto the River Wey. We have sorted out our containers for our safety gear and after a trip to Whitewater on Saturday I am now the proud owner of a waterproof phone case and some new footwear.
All we need now is to be able to get on the river; in the meantime I'm off for a run.
Posted by Alex Kew
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Want to read my old blog entries? Browse through an achive of all my posts below:
- October 2010 (1 post)
- September 2010 (1 post)
- July 2010 (1 post)
- April 2010 (2 posts)
- March 2010 (4 posts)
- February 2010 (6 posts)
- January 2010 (5 posts)
- December 2009 (1 post)
- November 2009 (2 posts)
- September 2009 (4 posts)
- August 2009 (2 posts)