Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Canoeing Challenge: Blazing Paddles

The Canoeing Challenge for The Everyman Olympics fell onto my lap easier than my missus manages to knock things over - believe me she is double clumsy (bless her); a group of pals from Leicester were off on their annual canoeing trip to the English/Welsh boarder and invited me along.

After a briefing Wyedean Canoe & Adventure Centre which frankly we all should have listened to more, the 12 of us paired up, loaded our gear into 6 Canadian open canoes and then launched off into the River Wye.

The River Wye

There are 2 different canoeing events at the Olympics - Slalom & Sprint, the Slalom is a timed run down a white water course with up to 25 gates to negotiate, the Sprint is...erm...a sprint and can be done over 200 metres, 500m or 1000m - simples.

The Canoeing Challenge:

  • Distance: 39 miles, including White Water Rapids
  • Time: 3 Days
  • Distances: 500m & 1000m(ish)
  • Time: As quickly as possible, obviously!
It soon became apparent that most of us had missed the part of the briefing where we got taught how to steer...

The boys were being boys and in that very first leg we each established that none of us wanted to be last, though this was counterbalanced by the girls being girls and not being arsed about the pecking order so long as they could chat with each other along the way.

Toilets breaks had to be approached with all the tactics and skill of a military campaign: every time the shout went out that someone needed a call of nature the lead canoe became the scouts for a place to stop, what followed was essentially the sight of 6 canoes crashing into any riverbank we could all get to, then a scramble of people each trying to help the most needy to secure their vessel from moving off down the river while others urinated in bushes or against trees - a real sight to behold.

One bathroom break was less successful than most: we'd unwisely opted to stop at a muddy bank - having wedged our 'boats' into the mud as best we could, there was a 4 foot high step onto the brown squelchy stuff, followed by a brief climb up yet more mud to get onto the bank.

On the way back down to the canoes Sophie slipped into the river and was dragged off by the current, the rest of us rallied to get her safely into a canoe but this came at a cost - 'I've lost my shoe'.

For food we would moor up at the regularly positioned pubs along the riverbank and occasionally we'd treat ourselves to a beer - just the odd one as I'm sure you can imagine (I didn't accumulate the belly I had before The Everyman Olympics without knowing my way around a pint glass).

Of an evening we would pitch tents at prebooked locations under the watchful eye of our leader,Will - an ex-marine; in our collective minds eye he could deal with any situation we encountered: if a pack of lost wolves attacked as we slept - Will would organise us in a ring of fire and we'd fend them off...if hippies in neighbouring tents persisted in playing Janis Joplin right through the night - Will could cut off their power supply...if we discovered the campsite toilets had no loo role all-too-late - Will would wipe our...

Janis Joplin - Will could take her.

On the morning of Day 3 we'd already travelled 30 miles and had bonded as a tightly knit, expert rowing unit, yet now we were to be briefed on a new and dangerous turn in our journey - the White Water Rapids...

The briefing lasted 20 minutes.

The White Water Rapids lasted 3...minutes.

I. Kid. You. Not.

Disappointed and barely endangered enough for any amount of adrenalin to kick in we ALL felt cheated.

Tones and Kate had shot off when the heavens opened - leaving 6 of us lads to wave good bye to Jess, Katie, Laura and One Shoe Sophie as we drew twigs to work out was race time!

Will & Ali were favourites - Will being the ex-marine and Ali being a big lad, the Dave & Henry combination looked challenging - Dave with his never-say-die attitude and Henry who looked chipper after spending each day in his canoe with a different lady...which left Ryan and I - me being the newcomer to canoeing and Ry with his iffy steering skills.

We guesstimated the 500m point and lined our vessels up, it was tense...'GO!' I yelled - disaster followed.

All 3 crews headed towards the exact same spot - Will & Ali crashed into Dave & Henry and so did we! Both men were thrown into the river - then we nearly crushed Henry, missing only by inches.

By the time they were safely back into their metal racer they were shattered, so the rest of us took advantage.

Pulling us back to gain unfair advantage Will & Ali paddled off to victory.

2nd place is nowhere in a 3 team race, so me and Ryan had our honour at stake as we lined up for the final event - the 1000 metres(ish).

The race started and this time we meant business...till I saw the chance to get revenge on Will & Ali, which backfired on both teams, leaving Henry & Dave a clear run to the finish line and glory...damn me!

We had to cruise the final 2 miles of our 39 mile Slalom listening to the other crews chirping about their wins...I'd completed another challenge for The Everyman Olympics but was wet and gutted.

With Special Thanks to:

Jess, Kate, Katie, Laura & Sophie - without you ladies it would probably have been a testosterone-fueled canoe race to the death (or the pub...whichever came first)

Tone 'Skimmer' Curran - shame you missed the race because you didn't want to get your hair wet ; )

Will & Ali - Cheers for organising the whole thing Will - much appreciated by all! Oh and congrats on the win chaps, albeit by dodgy means, grrrrr

Dave & Henry - Apologies for trying to kill you

Ryan - A valiant team mate (who must work on his steering).

What a top weekend!

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