Kayaking for Beginners: To Infinity and Beyond

1 Conversation

The adventure continues.

To Infinity and Beyond

A white kayak.

I think that I've been concentrating too much on getting the perfect stroke nailed at the expense of everything else, not least endurance. Up until now my outings consist of fairly short distances which in reality are not getting me anywhere. The debacle with the video a week or two ago shows that there's precious little improvement over the last couple of months as far as technique is concerned. The best I can say is that what I've done up to now, has been a confidence booster and that I've worked the distance up slightly.

Of course endurance is what the DW is all about and technique is really only a tool to enhance endurance. The race is going to require me to paddle between thirty to thirty-eight miles on three consecutive days and then a ‘breeze’ of only seventeen miles on the fourth. I need to start extending myself with longer distances as I think that by increasing the length of the paddling excursions it will improve strength and stamina, and hopefully through that the technique will follow due to the extended time in the water. Now it may be that I've got this completely arse about face, but what I'm doing at the moment doesn't seem to be working very well. So it seems that that is where I need to start aiming for, to work up to a distance in excess of thirty miles, which is a tall order considering my overall fitness at the moment.

My usual paddle starts at a point almost exactly half way between two of the locks on the Wey Navigation. The furthest point out from that start point is a lock a little over a mile away, where to turn and return to the start gives me a paddle distance of a little over two miles. Although I can now handle that distance adequately without any rest stops, three times a week, it does leave me tired and sore enough the following day to evoke an involuntary 'Ooh' or 'Argh' grunt each time I have to begin to get up out of a chair.

I took a trip up to the lock to have a look around as I've never actually seen it except from water-level, and it's another one of those little gems of a place that's hidden away unless you stumble across it. The lock is quite pretty with mown lawns outside a small lock-keepers cottage. The cottage is between the lock and a cut that handles the excess water from the canal, which is fed by a small weir and waterfall. A small information sign also tells that in another century this was the site of a lime kiln, and it's got a small but readily accessible car park. Oh... and it’s also got a pub with a small garden overlooking the cut.

So looking at the map, it seemed that if I started from there I could make a run past my original start point and into unexplored territory right down to the next lock which would give an overall return distance of over five miles. That seemed a reasonable distance to attempt so in order to steer clear of the weekend traffic I left it until midweek at the end of September before I sallied forth.

The first leg of a mile seemed to go quite well with some steady paddling. I paused at the boat-house and then went on into the unknown territory past the bridge. This part of the canal turned out to be rather more unkempt than the stretch I'm used to, with several large clumps of reeds almost halving the width of the channel. After a while I was beginning to feel the cramp at hip-joint level that signals the onset of upper body fatigue. Taking a rest and a stretch in the boat I set eyes on a large bird preening itself while perched at the very top of an Oak tree in an adjacent field. At first I couldn't see it well enough to identify it until it took off and headed my way.

It resolved itself into the characteristic lines of a Heron as flapped out of the tree and glided down to land on the bank only ten meters away, and for a couple of minutes we regarded each other with beady eyes. Now for me there is no love lost for this particular species of birdlife as my pond at home has lost quite a few fish to these 'grey ghosts' over the years, and I would have gladly clouted it with my paddle if it had been close enough. No doubt he/she was just wondering if I was edible and whether I would I fit into its beak. Eventually to break the stand-off I carried on my way and the thing just watched me pass.

Rest stops became more frequent as the cramp made it impossible to carry on in a properly upright position, making it necessary to slump against the back rim of the cockpit, and as I had all the way to go back I finally decided to stop short of the target, take another rest and return. On the way back I found a houseboat coming at me as I approached a narrow bend in the channel and I pulled right over to stop and rest while he passed by. I have no idea what actually happened next but approaching the bank I reached out to grab a handhold and found myself rotating over backwards and into the water.

The water turned out to be waist deep at this point but the bottom was shelving at about 30 degrees making a foothold on its slope difficult. The houseboat carried on by and the complete compliment of crew came up on deck to take a look at me floundering. I returned the most reproachful look I could manage under the circumstances, to try to make them feel guilty, but it didn’t raise a single comment. Recovering the kayak and emptying it was relatively simple and at least it gave me an opportunity to stretch my legs and body with a walk along the bank. Getting back in and under way again was also quite easy and at least a dog-walker inquired if I was alright. How we laughed.

Strangely, instead of being a bit of a downer, I found this experience quite uplifting. This was my first dunking since the one in the Thames months ago during the initial course, and for a while it seemed to lift the ’dread’ of capsizing that I’ve been carrying ever since. Certainly the hip pain was gone for about a mile, probably due to an Adrenalin surge, but came back with a vengeance on the home straight. In fact, using the Google map, I was able to pinpoint the place at which I turned back which was only a couple of hundred meters away from the target. So, I can fairly claim a distance of about four and a half miles return distance.

Not non-stop, not well, or easily done and not without mishap, but completed nevertheless.

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