Kayaking for Beginners: Putting it all down to experience

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The adventure continues.

Putting it all down to experience

A white kayak.

Well, so far November hasn't brought anything very much different from October.

I had been keeping an eye on the poor river conditions through the last part of October while I recovered from a bout of man-flu that seemed to be hanging on forever, while finishing up my stint at work by the end of the month. At first, filling in part-time at work I had felt pleased to have been asked to go back, even if just on a temporary basis. But after a couple of weeks it had soon palled, and any thoughts of wanting to still work full time have now gone completely out of the window. The work ethic has definitely flown the coop. At last the rain seemed to have stopped and it looked as if conditions on the Thames and the Wey had returned to normality, whatever that is. So at the start of November I was reasonably expecting to resume some semblance of regular practice with the added value of regular weekly trips out with the club's Improvers group. It wasn't to be.

I was set for my first excursion right at the start of the month but on checking found all the red and yellow boards were posted up again. Although I hadn't seen any rain in my locality, apparently overnight torrential rain in the Thames Valley area had both rivers in flood again. Meanwhile, I'm champing at the bit to get going again but more of the same for the next couple of days made sure that the next Improvers session was cancelled. The Wey was finally reopened after a week, and I got out on it the following day.

Really though, I need hardly have bothered. The experience was quite dreadful insofar as in the full 18 days of lay-off any semblance of competence on the water had been lost, and on top of that my weight had ballooned back up to well over 14 stone again. At first I was wobbling all over the place like a raw beginner, nearly taking a plunge twice. After a while I steadied up a bit but it was still a struggle just to complete the usual two mile course without three, count them, three, stops. Towards the end I was reduced to counting the timing for the strokes to keep the feeling of weakness in the arms and shoulders at bay and to keep cadence down to keep a slower, but marginally more efficient stroke going. All in all it took almost double the amount of time to complete the distance that I usually do and I was really, really glad to end the session, pack up and go home.

The following Saturday dawned and the Improvers session had been moved forward to that afternoon from the next Sunday morning, which was okay by me but I was the only taker for that day. The yellow warnings were still in force for our stretch of the river and red everywhere else upstream. Looking at the water it was obviously moving quite as fast as the last time I’d been on it three weeks earlier and there was a lot of detritus coming down with it, but it appeared manageable. Feeling a bit under-par I set off with two of the group leaders across the river to the opposite bank to make use of the slacker water on the inside of the local bend in the river. Crossing the main flow was... interesting. Setting the boat at a 45 degree angle had us crabbing sideways across the water with hardly any headway, but we quickly made it into the slower stream and continued upriver, all the while hugging the bank.

After practicing steering with a few zigzag exercises we re-crossed the river and made it into the channel where we had turned back on the last excursion two weeks previously. Here we elected to carry on upriver for about another half mile towards Sunbury lock. Still working against the flow I was tiring rapidly by this point and sagging back into the cockpit even more than usual. In fact, with the effort that I was having to put into each stroke it was becoming really painful, not least where the cockpit coaming was chaffing through my now sweat-saturated clothing against my backbone, raising a large wheal and bruise. Most of the return journey was a rock’n’roll nightmare as I tried to keep the boat steady while now laying out almost horizontal in the cockpit. But at last it was over and I made a passable fist of crossing the river again at an odd angle while trying to gauge the downstream drift to arrive at our jetty without overshooting it.

It wasn’t a pleasant experience. It never is when the river is running that hard which is how it now always seems to be. Once again it was a really hard work-out where all the concentration has to go into just maintaining the boat's speed to keep up with the leaders while staying upright. There is very little time to practice anything new in these sorts of conditions, and I don’t feel that it’s getting me anywhere. I can only put it down to experience and hope there's some good coming from it. I’ve put my problems with lack of balance and lack of power during these two outings down to feeling very second-hand after the cold, and the loss of what little fitness I have due to nearly three weeks lay-off.

All in all, it feels like four months wasted. Feeling as I do at the moment, for two pins I’d pack the whole thing in.

...and it’s just started to rain again.

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