Phase three of my ’11 Day Challenge For Aimee’ was to kayak 53 miles over two days along with my brother Shane. The journey I had planned would start in Brewood, Staffordshire and end in Stratford-upon-Avon just two days later. I wanted this adventure to be a little different from what I had challenged myself with previously.
Last year my father was given a kayak by another family member, although solid it was a little rough around the edges, not to mention actually being older than both my brother and myself. The fibreglass body had definitely seen better days and repairs from decades gone by were abruptly visible, but where others saw a disaster waiting to happen – I saw an adventure begin to unfold!
The first task was to test if this thing could still stand its ground in the water. After filling it to the brim with the hose pipe i witnessed no immediate leaks, and as the sun rose the next morning there wasn’t a drip of water on the ground where the kayak boldly sat. As my confidence grew in this sorry heap of fibreglass, so did my desire to give this old girl one last go in the water, it started with a brief yet tense paddle in the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal. As the kayak continued to serve me with confidence, I rewarded it with tougher waters. The most enjoyable trip in the kayak was on a visit to Cornwall where she gracefully cut through the waters of the Atlantic Ocean for mile upon mile. As the kayak was going to be used for the challenge I set out to make it a little easier on the eye, the work was not just cosmetic – I grinded a lot of the old repairs and re-fibreglassed them before applying undercoat and a few layers of paint. I found some red spray decks online and decided to compliment them with red rope at both ends for guiding and mooring, the final stage was to add a couple of decals.
We were due to kayak the length of our first marathon on 11th September 2015, followed by the next marathon distance on the next morning. As this was phase 3 of my ’11 Day Challenge For Aimee’ I had already ran to the summits of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike & Snowdon and then spent 7 days and 7 nights homeless with no rest in between. I was definitely ready for what was supposed to be a gentle and enjoyable 26.2 mile float on the canal!
We took to the canal with a steady pace at 11:30am on the first morning. The first 90 minutes were spent getting our technique as uniform as we could manage. The sun was out, there was only a slight breeze and the day felt like it could not get any better, we stopped off not much later at a canal side shop to look around and have a short break before continuing our journey with a faster paced approach.
From the very start we knew that this 53 mile journey would see us tackle 56 locks on the canal waterways. The problem with kayaks and canal locks is that they do not go well together. Some people say they have as much right as the larger boats to make their way to the other side of a lock, yet some say it is dangerous and should not be attempted. Witnessing the force and water pressure created by a canal lock is enough to make me happy to walk around to the other side rather than risk the brutal and possibly devastating effect it could cause. When in the planning stages I allowed us around 12 minutes to pass each lock, this seemed relatively achievable after tackling the first couple.
The kayak was pretty heavy on its own, not to mention the overnight gear, food and camera equipment we were carrying with us. We tried using a kayak trolley at first; however the ups and downs mixed with the terrain and the length of the kayak made this difficult. As the day went on, those locks just kept on coming! We quickly grew used to passing a lock, jumping back into the kayak and then getting out to repeat the whole process again.
The game changer was when the weather got worse. It started with a strong headwind which noticeably slowed us down, the heavy rain then made an appearance; making the pathways around each lock wet, muddy and very slippery. Despite the obstacles, we continued until the sun went down.
We powered through until 2:30am, a whole 15 hours of kayaking and kayak carrying! We were muddy, soaking wet and exhausted, this was supposed to be the easy and enjoyable part of my ’11 Day Challenge For Aimee’ yet at that moment it felt far from it. In total we had exceeded the 26.2 mile minimum and reached just under 30 miles, we found an ideal spot to catch up on a few hours sleep away from the main canal towpaths and set up camp for the night. After being homeless for 7 days and 7 nights this felt about as luxurious as you could get, not only did I have a sleeping bag, sleeping mat, pillow and bivvy bag; I also had my brother to chat to!
We were awake by 5.15am and were both keen to continue our journey. The morale was kept alive by us still laughing about having to carry the kayak over a whole bunch of main roads through the centre of Kidderminster in the midnight hour; seeing peoples reactions was quite possibly the most surreal part of this whole challenge. It was now day 10 of my ’11 Day Challenge’ and I was really starting to feel it, after our huge 15 hours of kayaking on the previous day, we just knew that our goal of reaching Stratford-upon-Avon was not as realistic as we had initially hoped. Even if we had made it, I would still have to start phase four’s 52 mile cycle ride directly after finishing. With this in mind, as well as the weather and the obstacles the locks hindered us with we decided to be happy with just kayaking one marathon in one day. The cycle ride home the next morning went relatively smooth, apart from having a puncture, and i got back just in time for a gathering of friends and family to celebrate the end of my ’11 Day Challenge’.