Kayaking For Beginners: Picking Up The Pace

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The adventure continues.

Picking Up The Pace

A white kayak.

The new year found the conditions on the local rivers still the same. The rivers are still in flood and the warning boards up all along their lengths. Despite this, on New Year’s Day my son and I ventured forth again, supposedly risking life and limb up our now familiar route on the Wey from New Haw to Pyrford. In fact the increased flow was the most difficult part, although it provided a hard work-out on the first half of the journey. He, of course, arrived long before me but this time he waited rather than come back, forcing me to complete the full five mile course. Our local club was out on the water as well, and I came across them at the eatery adjacent to the lock. They were only half way through a much longer paddle and taking a break. My son and I returned back to New Haw more or less together, with him sprinting ahead in intervals, then resting to let me catch up.

This session was interrupted by the appearance of four houseboats from some sort of houseboat convention that was also ignoring the warnings to not move on the water. We had to pull over to let the four of them go past in convoy. But at least on the return everything seemed to be clicking into place for a change and sometimes I was cutting a neat little bow-wave, even while going with the flow.

At last after a couple more days with no appreciable rain, the warnings along the Wey had been lifted and conditions deemed 'safe'. This is after a continuous stretch of nearly two weeks. Even so the red warning boards remained in place along the complete length of the Thames. I celebrated this return to normality with a quick burst along the two-mile course, just to keep my hand in, while Mrs D walked the dog along the towpath. After my exertions earlier in the week I didn't really feel very much like it at all. The water wasn't running very fast and my performance felt to be sorely lacking. Everything was erratic, including my steering which seemed to be heading all over the place and at the same time I couldn't keep any sort of a rhythm with the paddle going. In the first upstream dash, just at the narrowest point under the M25 fly-over, I was caught in the heavy wash of two dredger barges making their way downstream and was forced over close to the concrete bank that forms the channel under the fly-over. Despite all this the Garmin showed that I’d done my best time ever over the two miles, without any break except at the turn-around.

Buoyed up by this result I was ready by the end of the week to try to improve my time over the five-mile distance to Pyrford. Up to that point my best time was about 48 minutes in each direction, plus a break in the middle, and I was anxious to improve that and try to make some sort of increase in my average speed.

Arriving at the New Haw car-park I found a group of paddlers unloading Canadian canoes and a couple of the smaller white-water type kayaks. I now have a fairly well practiced routine and I had my boat off the car and on the bank ready to go in fairly short order. But obviously these guys and two ladies looked quite useful and not wanting to make an exhibition of myself as they sailed past me I faffed around for a while to let them get ready and go on ahead, in the hope that I could keep out of their way and keep them in sight using them as pacers. After another ten minutes though they didn’t seem to have got any nearer the water and were still unloading gear, so I decided to go anyway.

Although I started off steadily to warm up I was soon working hard again against the flow to stay ahead of the group as long as I could. Past half way and I could hear indeterminate noises behind, but they hadn’t passed me by the time I got to Pyrford. On getting out I could see behind me for the first time and they were nowhere in sight. Eventually I was ready for the return and they still hadn’t appeared. Ready that is, as far as I was able to be from the effort and having made myself feel quite sick from downing a half bottle of Lucozade energy drink. The return felt better and faster, although I was still having to take rests and belch a lot. It wasn’t until I got about half a mile back that I came across the canoe group who seemed to be struggling a bit against the flow. We nodded in passing and I smirked when I was well past them all. I have no idea when they started or if they’d taken a break or even how quick they really were, but I think I had them on the day. Something of a first for me.

Back at the M25 I met up with a veritable armada of about ten Canadian canoes manned by young boys and shepherded by older, more experienced paddlers in single Canadians. The kids were all over the place, three and four abreast, heading for the banks or the reeds, or under the moored houseboats, but having a whale of a time. I pulled into a side bank to avoid a capsize, which could have been either them or me, or both.

All in all, at the end the whole thing felt as if it had gone well, except perhaps when I put my hand in a pile of dogshit on levering myself out of the boat. But how much better I couldn't say. When I set off I had pressed the reset on the Garmin instead of the start button and hadn’t recorded a thing.

I’ll just have to go and do it all over again.

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