Kayaking for Beginners: Keeping Going

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The adventure continues.

Keeping Going

A white kayak.

It's becoming more difficult to keep motivated, especially now the 'good' weather has moved on. But having played havoc with my schedule the Thames is sorting itself out again and the stretches upstream and downstream of the part that I use don't currently have any warnings boards up, and all the other stretches upstream now only warn that the flow is fast but reducing. Happily the weather forecasts are only for limited rain that shouldn't significantly affect the river conditions and I can only hope that's going to be the case.

As of today, 18 November, there are only 130 days to go to the start of the 2013 DW. That’s not much time left, about four months, so things are not looking too good. At the moment, where I'm at is that I can paddle an ultra-stable but slow, racing K1 kayak. I can manage about three miles without collapsing into the rear of the cockpit from fatigue of the stomach, back and/or hip muscles, and I still don't feel confident enough to hit the exposed upper reaches of the Thames unaccompanied.

Entry dates have been posted for a series of races which take place in the New Year. They are the 'Waterside' series of four races that all take place on various stretches of the Kennet and Avon Canal and are used as warm-ups to the DW. They vary in length from 12 to 30 miles and would make an ideal practice run as between them they cover most of the length of the canal section of the DW and incorporate two-thirds of the portaging. The only thing is that they are a bit too high level events for me. One of my sons did the 30 mile one and advised that it's more productive to simply do one or two of the courses by yourself on a different day. That's maybe something to consider as a short-term target to work for.

I’m disappointed that for one reason or another I haven’t been able to get as much time out as is proving to be necessary, but even then I’m not sure how much good it would have done. Really I can't pin down any one factor that I can blame for my continued failure to progress any faster. And I can't really say that I know what to do about it that will work the oracle and catch up to where I think I should be at this stage. I'm also heartily sick of trying to analyse it. Really the only thing I should be doing is putting in more time on the river.

But I'm also about to commit another cardinal sin which will slow things up again. That's to try out the Wing Paddle given to me by my son when he retired from paddling last month. Both of my sons are of the opinion that the change will improve my efficiency once I get used to the new technique that's necessary for that kind of paddle. I'm not holding my breath on that one (unless I go in), but I guess I've got to give it a try although hoping that a change of paddle will make any significant difference feels rather like a workman blaming his tools for his own shoddy workmanship.

Earlier last week I chiselled the morning ice off the car and loaded up to sally forth again to the Wey, this time with my son who had a couple of days off work. Both of us were in single K1's, our intention being to put in a bit of mileage. The plan this time was to start together for the first mile or so, then he would push ahead to the first lock about two and a half miles away with me following on behind as fast as I was able. At that point he would return and pick me up on the way back to return the start. So the faster I could go meant that I would travel further, the potential distance would be almost six miles.

At the agreed separation point he accelerated ahead leaving me to follow in his wake. All went well for the first mile and I got into a reasonable rhythm as I warmed up and watched him disappear around the next bend. I took a short breather as we progressed and I managed about two thirds of the way before he reappeared coming back. Turning back and following on again I tried to keep up with him and this effort paid off with a good work out and took the mind off the tiring muscles.

One thing that I did learn from the last Improvers session leader that is proving useful, was how to stabilise the boat when not paddling. I recall that this was mentioned during the initial course in April, I think it was just before I fell in, which is probably why it went straight out of my head at the time. Anyway, up to now what I’ve been doing when stopping is to hold the paddle at chest height like a tightrope walker performing a balancing act over Niagara. What I should have been doing was to turn one blade of the paddle flat and lay it on the water so that it planes across the surface and provides a point of support to steady any imbalance I’m having in the boat. I tried it on the last outing and it works. How well it’s going to work with the wing paddle at the same time, I’m not sure yet.

What I’ve also got to practice is what’s known as a ’support stroke’ where in the event of a roll that’s going a little too far, I can slap the paddle blade down onto the water to counteract the roll and to stay upright. In my limited experience there wasn’t any time to get that support stroke in before I went over, but everyone else seems to swear by it. Practicing this is definitely going to get me wet, I may well swear at it.

A headline in yesterday's paper was ' Britain to face coldest winter ever' or words to that effect... Oh God!

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