Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges

Kayak touring and weir bashing

May 29th, 2014 | Posted by Dino in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

“Don’t drown. Because it will really ruin the party this afternoon.”

This comes from my mother as I pick up my whitewater helmet and scurry out the front door.

My destination: Hurley Weir. A mecca for whitewater kayakers and a former haunt of mine which I used to frequent in my younger days when I was a ‘pro’ kayaker. The last 5 months I’ve been lost in work and worry. I thought I’d find myself again somewhere on the river. So I head out with my kayak to start the search.

Today I have struck lucky. There are only another two paddlers out. The wave is powerful, retentive and very, very fast. The sun projects the curve of a rainbow on the crest of the wave. Cormorants flap overhead. I spin, surf, spin, surf, cartwheeling in my kayak until the water pushes me under. I roll up and paddle up the eddy grinning.

The next day I am back in my kayak. This time I am at the top of the Thames with my tiny kayak is loaded with an unimaginable load. I have stuffed in my tent, sleeping bag, therma rest and ‘some’ clothes. I should point out I paddle a playboat designed for mucking around on waves. So this is like bike touring on a BMX.

I paddle 9 miles past patterns of raindrops, reeds and shifting grey clouds. The river is silent except for the drizzle, the sound of my paddle stroke, and the tune of reed warblers (or are they sedge warblers?) I pull up at the lock and pitch my tent. Then it’s off to the pub to meet my friend for chips, steak and beer. I walk home in the drizzle. The sun is a fiery, fuzzy orange chopped out a Turner painting. Four curlew fly home with bubbling cries. I sleep soundly. For 11 hours.

The next morning I load up the kayak with my meagre possessions. The sky threatens rain. 18 miles of paddling lie ahead of me. Playing on the weir has taken its toll on me: my torso is a knot of muscle and ache. Holding your body erect is not supposed to be an effort like this. I paddle in solitude for several hours. The first boat I see calls out “you’re the first person we’ve seen in a day and half!” We are less than 20 miles from central Oxford. I paddle on, sharing the silent river with only the constant drizzle, the uncomfortable cold, and the tune of reed warblers (or are they sedge warblers)?

I am beginning to fantasize about blankets and hot chocolate. Are my teeth chattering? Was that a shiver? At each lock portage my legs have stiffened with cold and the leap in and out the kayak becomes more like stirring ice. The quiet is disturbed by a lone cuckoo: the first I have heard for two years. The rain persists. I paddle the final mile back to Oxford. Then home. I sleep. For 11 hours.

The next day I am back at the weir. The cormorants are back and now joined by a grey wagtail that bounces on the railing like a ping pong ball meeting the ground. The grin on my face widens as I curve down the wave and the back of my boat spirals against the rushing flow. Whatever I’d lost I’d just found again.

Did I mention it was raining?

Did I mention it was raining?

Ridgeway 40

May 11th, 2014 | Posted by Dino in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

After 33 miles I started running again. I was approaching the sixth checkpoint but I feared that my walking pace – by now an awkward struggle – had dropped below 3mph.

At the start of the day I’d been in high spirits. I, along with 100 of so other runners and walkers, had filed off the bus at Overton Hill and stomped up the chalky spine of the ancient Ridgeway. Our destination, Goring Village Hall, lay 40 miles east.

For the first few hours I fast walked uphill and gently ran downhill. On the downhills I was overtaken by lithe ultra runners wearing super-lightweight backpacks and calf compression socks. On the uphills I was overtaken by 6 foot tall men striding with great seriousness. It was a fashion show of oddness:  nylon gaiters, floppy hats, heavy duty waterproofs and plastic map cases. One senior gentlemen sported bright red knitted calf warmers of that sort that my grandmother would have darned. Probably old enough to be my grandfather he overtook me at the 10 mile mark and I didn’t see him again. On I plodded.

From the top of the ridge you can see for miles. You can see the weather come and go: here, the sun shone in bright patches over the rape seed fields. There, the jagged blur of grey joined the sky to the land (that’s what rain looks like from a distance). A young foal followed its mother nibbling the thick grass in the paddock. The sky above reverberated with the sound of skylarks. The occasional shot of a rifle echoed off the side of the hills. And on I plodded.

Miles 23 to 33 were a struggle. Being on top of a ridge meant being exposed to the elements: one moment the cow parsley was jingling in a light sky-blue breeze, the next the grass was flattered by a blowing gale. The wind was so strong it pushed me off course as my feet searched for a sure landing in between the ridges of chalk, mud and puddle. The rain drummed on my waterproof hood, reminding me of camping evening spent listening to the rain on my tent. As quickly as it started, the rain ceased. And a rainbow spread across the ripening fields below.

At mile 26 I treated myself to a bag of M&Ms and a fresh pair of socks. The socks were instantly sodden by a new wave of rain. So far I’d stuck to my schedule, based on a 3.5 mph pace, but now my speed slowed ever more as the muscles and joints in my legs protested the distance. On I plodded.

At mile 33 I put on my third pair of socks and my iPod. I swallowed two painkillers. Come on, Dino, you can finish this now. It was nearly 6pm by the time I tottered into the sixth and penultimate checkpoint. I was only 10 second ahead of schedule. Eurovision started at 8pm. Eurovision! I gulped some squash, pushed my earphones back in and began running again.

As I approached the final checkpoint I saw the cheerful outline of a lone walker coming towards me: my mother. Last year she’d walked the Ridgeway 40 and this year she’d come out to meet me for the last 4 miles. We ran together down the rocky path through the woods. Occasionally we’d overtake a stray walker, wobbling awkwardly on their legs like a bird with a broken wing. Do I look that bad?

Then: the last mile! We picked up speed, pushing as fast as my legs could go. Each stride felt like lifting an iron weight. Each stride was another punch against the ground for my tender feet. After 39.9 miles I was halfway over the bridge and the village hall was in sight. Come on, Dino. Sprint! Sprint! My legs found one more drop of energy to speed me to the end. I’d made it!

40 miles in 11 hours and 28 minutes.

It was the furthest I had ever walked or run. Finally, beyond shattered, I crawled the final metres from the front door to the bucket of ice awaiting me. By 8pm I was lying on the sofa, feet up on a pile of cushions, Prosecco in hand, and watching Eurovision. What a day.

The last mile

The last mile


40 miles later and still smiling

40 miles later and still smiling