Kayaking for Beginners: At the Last Chance Saloon

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The adventure continues.

At the Last Chance Saloon

A white kayak.

November has gone pretty much the same way as the previous month... to the dogs.

After the last closure the Wey was open for only the middle two weeks of the month before the rains returned again with a vengeance, and both the Thames and the Wey were closed to boating again. The Wey reopened at the end of November but the Thames still remains closed with red 'Strong Current' boards along its complete length right through into December. In fact during the last week of November the Environment Agency had over 500 flood warnings up across the country including Shepperton and Walton which is the stretch of the Thames just above my level. I revisited the club in a spare moment and sure enough the water volume through Molesey lock was mountainous.

I suppose though that every (rain)cloud has a silver lining and during the layoff I've been looking at the reasons I fail to keep upright in the boat after only a couple of miles paddling, and how I might put a bit more work into the remedial action.

I have unfortunately never been able to touch my toes while my knees are locked out, without 'bouncing' downwards. But as far as placing a flat palm on the ground in front of me and holding it there as Mrs D can do... forget it. Also my hamstrings have always been 'tight', really rather more like banjo strings at full stretch. All this is something I've always had to recognise just as some of my many limitations, in that my legs are just too long or my arms too short. This was never too much of a problem in the past when I used to do a certain amount of running, although I was no stranger to a proper warm-up and did stretching exercises to mitigate the shortcomings as best possible.

Apparently the latest buzzword is 'core strength', whatever that means. This is a new concept for me, but from what I can make out it's a generalisation for what I knew in olden days as 'upper body strength'. Anyone who was half serious about running knew that you had to work on the upper body muscles as well as the legs to get the best performance out of them. But then, using your arms and upper body to power you and a kayak along, instead of the limbs designed for that purpose does seem to be a bit perverse.

Anyway, there's no doubt that to get very much further I need to get more endurance out of the muscles in the lower back, stomach and waist, and a lot more flexibility and stretch on the hamstrings. Normally I work on these on the 'days off' and I have been doing so, but evidentially I haven't been doing enough. Over the last week I've upped the amount of stretching to two half hour sessions a day and the exercises I've been using to the second session when I'm thoroughly warmed up. I've also selected a few of the exercises that have been recommended to me earlier in this thread that might be useful. I've also found it useful to use the sides of the bathtub to do ten arm press-up from a sitting position in the bath which seems to be helping a bit with the clambering out from the boat to the bank.

The latest enforced lay-off of nearly two weeks means slipping behind again and that I haven't been able to get out to consolidate by partial success with the new 'wing' paddle. But I finally made it out onto the Wey at the start of December. Most of my solitary sessions during the summer were started fairly early and usually I had got myself onto the water by 9am. But although the day started fairly bright, sunny even, the early morning frosts have meant having to leave my start-up time until later in the morning, so this time I didn't finish until well past midday which has almost completely screwed the day up.

But the session did go reasonably well. I set off along my usual two mile pound and after an initial shaky start settled into quite a reasonable stroke with the wing paddle. There was a fair bit of wind gusting that was throwing me off stroke for a while but I managed to settle down to a more or less even stroke by concentrating on counting the timing. I find that seems to work quite well and helps to slow the stroke down which keeps the paddle in the water longer, making the whole thing seem a bit more efficient than the rather hurried quick little strokes that I've been guilty of previously.

One slightly disquieting event occurred a bit before I came to the turn around point at the lock. As I went along there was an odd hump on the bank between the river and the towpath. As I got nearer it turned out to be an old and rather dilapidated kayak, upturned and apparently abandoned. I pulled up nearby and had a look around to see if its owner was around but there was no sign of anyone that might claim it. How this Marie Celeste of the kayaking world got there and why I have no idea, but it's not something that anyone normally discards and I pressed on with a vaguely spooky feeling.

The last month has in terms of progress, been another washout and there is now only 115 days to go to the start of the race. The weather is going to have to be pretty kind for the remainder of the available time to get anywhere near back on track. We all need goals and I think I'll have to split the overall target down to more manageable chunks and set some sort of yardstick to measure my progress by. At the moment I'm setting my sights on what is probably an unachievable target of being able to make a continuous ten-mile paddle by the end of December. That's quite a tall order but if I can get to that sort of mileage by then I might just be in a position to join in the club distance events which are usually of about that distance. As a rough rule of thumb I'd need to be able to increase that mileage to around thirty by the end of March to justify a reasonable shot at doing the race's daily mileage.

We can but hope.

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