Friday, 13 April 2012

Day 5 - Trans Scotland canoe challenge

Yesterday, after a frightening encounter with the monster which is Loch Ness - I was left exhausted and down hearted. We'd failed for the first time to reach out target destination, aiming for 26.5Km but finally giving up defeated at around 20Km.

Unless you've ever visited Loch Ness, you can't appreciate just how big it is - holding more water than all the lakes of England and Wales combined. It's a complete rules changer - at 23miles it's the same length as the channel, and that's how you have to treat it - like the sea. Unusually this week the wind has been from the North East instead of the South West, which just made paddling too dangerous and near impossible.

However, MancGirls don't give up easily, so today, we tried to take advantage of the wind and drove to start at what should have been today's finishing point, to try and paddle it in the opposite direction.

It was a cunning plan - unfortunately we must have damaged the canoe yesterday as one side deflated just as we were coming into the north end of the loch. It was the second time that morning we'd had problems with that side, and something in my head finally clicked. The only thing that made me attempt yesterdays 'high seas' was having confidence in the canoe. That was now shot to jiggery, and having had to make a swift exit up onto a rotting jetty from a boat which was so squashy on one side, it was near impossible to steer - I got into a bit of a panic.

That was that - there was no way I was venturing out onto a body of water so big and dangerous that it has it's own lifeboat, in canoe I'd lost faith in!

With another storm headed down the valley and with our boat broken, reluctantly we phoned my in-laws in the support vehicle and to come and collected us.

However, there is more than one way to skin a cat - and I like to think of myself as fairly resourceful. Loch Ness wasn't going to beat us entirely - so we spent the afternoon crossing the waters in a slightly bigger boat. We may not have got across Scotland all the way under our own steam, but we will have completed the journey by water.

That is, if our repairs hold tomorrow. We are going to give it one last go and try and paddle the calmer waters from the top end of Loch Ness through the final stretch of the Caledonian Canal to Inverness. Wish us luck!

Here are just a few pics from today (including a couple of rare sightings!) .....

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Day 4 - Trans Scotland canoe challenge

Just a short update today as I am so tired I can barely keep awake.

55Km completed, 45Km to go.

After making brilliant progress yesterday - today was hard work. Our target was 26Km - from Loch Oich to a point around 15Km along Loch Ness. The morning paddle went really well - the sun was shining and the loch was calm. We arrived in Fort Augustus at the head of Loch Ness bang on time for lunch.

But by this time the weather had changed - the wind had got up and it was raining. It's amazing how quickly everything can change. We carried the canoe down the series of locks to the shore - I took one look at how rough it was to make me throw up! To say I was nervous and daunted is an understatement.

We gave it a go, but paddling into a strong head wind made it near impossible. I'm not one to give up lightly and had it been a physical thing I'd have battled on and found a way to get there. But it was getting dangerous. The waves were around 2ft which when you are in an inflatable canoe is pretty big. Loch Ness is huge, and no matter how hard we tried to stay close to the shore, there are often corners that you need to cut off, so you can find yourself further than you feel comfortable with away from the banks.

All the way along, my in-laws kept an eye on us, but at around 7Km along Loch Ness we called it a day. There were points where we were struggling to even stay still - even the very act of paddling created too much wind resistance.

I'm really disappointed - with the time we've got it's unlikely that we will make the whole distance now. We gave it one hell of a go, but sometimes the elements thwart you. We were hoping that the South Westerly prevailing wind would help us out, unfortunately we got a North Easterly!

No Nessie sightings either, but we did have our photo taken a lot by tourists on Nessie hunting boats!

I didn't take my camera onto Loch Ness because it was just too rough - but here are a couple of snaps from today (top of Loch Oich and deciding whether to go out on Loch Ness - the picture doesn't really do the size of the waves justice). Tomorrow - we might try and tackle Loch Ness from the opposite direction to take advantage of the wind and see how close we can finish to where we got out today .... but we'll do whatever is sensible.

Thanks for all your messages and support xx

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Day 3 - Trans Scotland Canoe Challenge

Well, if launching an inflatable canoe and paddling it across Scotland doesn't count as a good launch for 4Manchester Women (daily magazine-style blog for busy Manchester Women - launching Monday 16th April), then inflate me with offal and call me a haggis!

Today was epic (22Km)! That doesn't actually do it justice - it was EPIC!!!

35.5Km completed, 65Km-ish to go.

On this fine Scottish day of sunshine, showers, hail, persistent rain and thunder, we made it right across Loch Lochy (no that isn't a made up name) to the southern end of Loch Oich. It's been such a long day that I'm struggling to remember where we started.

Loch Lochy was our first loch and as we paddled onto it, I tried hard not to think about the fact it's 1500m deep. It was beautiful, like canoeing across a mirror. At one point there was a rainbow which both started and finished in the loch - I've never seen anything like it.

We made amazing progress, meeting up with my in-laws at specific points along the way. It was all going very well, until a storm rolled in over the mountain and along the water. You could see it coming and almost immediately we went from mill pond to seriously bouncy.

"To the shore" I yelled as the hail stones bounced off us. It was a bit disconcerting - but lunch helped.

It was clear that the rain had set in for the foreseeable future, so we just had to go for it. The HMS Helen Skelton did us proud and Monty, our mascot Moose on the front guided us through the rain. We were soaking - but I just kept focusing on points on the horizon and heading for them.

"It's not impossible, it's just difficult - and if it wasn't difficult then it wouldn't be a challenge" I kept reminding myself.

Tris' parents were brilliant - like the shop keeper from Mr Ben, they kept appearing on the horizon, cheering us on and reassuring us that we weren't alone. It's the first time I've actually been in 'the team' - usually it's me acting as support. I know now what an important job that is.

Onwards through Laggan Locks, a floating pub and a eerie stretch of the Caledonian Canal lined by spooky trees, hairy with stringy ice green lichens - finally arriving at the southern end of Loch Oich at around 6.30pm. Like a well oiled machine Tris and I paddled together really well, and although I was shivering with cold it was - in the words of Ron Weasley - "Bloody Brilliant!"

Tomorrow is an even longer day (26Km in total) - all the way along Loch Oich, a stretch of the canal and then 15Km along the biggy - Loch Ness (makes a worried face). Fingers crossed for fine weather and no wind!

Here are a few pics from today:

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Day 2 - the trans Scotland canoe challenge

Day 2 of our trans Scotland canoe challenge completed - with only one slight mishap. Four more to go - Inverness, we're coming to get you!

Snow had arrived in the highlands this morning. Just a light sprinkling. But just enough to remind us that things were likely to get chilly. The drive from Loch Lomand to Fort William left us in no doubt that we were in the wilds.

As the temperature plunged to 1 degree, I wasn't convinced canoeing was a wise mode of transport.

However, as we dropped down out of Glen Coe the temperature began to rise, and by the time we arrived in Fort William, the skies were blue and it was a balmy 9 degrees.

We rendezvoused with my in laws and set off to Neptune's staircase, the series of locks on the Caledonian Canal which marked the start of our mammoth trip.

We reviewed our emergency plan - I added a vest and a hip flask of sherry and then we were off - 10.2Km ahead of us along the Caledonian Canal to the start of Loch Lochy.

We strapped a small moose to the front of our canoe (the HMS Helen Skelton) along with a 'bailer' made out of a plastic milk bottle, set ourselves a target of 3 hours and headed for the horizon - you can just see Ben Nevis in the background.

The canal was like a mirror. The reflections were amazing and apart from a few big boats, it was practically deserted. We made really good time, 3-4 miles per hour. But with the the paddles, rain and then hail stones, we took in quite a lot of water. With a mile to go we stopped at a swing bridge to haul the boat onto land to sort it out. Unfortunately I slipped getting out, got my foot wedged under a rock and ended up sitting the the canal. I had to be rescued by someone called Morag!

We finally powered into Glenlochy - with my in-laws waiting for us with the car. Apart from the small mishap we did really well. Bring on the lochs - 22Km tomorrow!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Day 1 - Trans Scotland Canoe Challenge

Greetings from Bonnie Scotland and day 1 of our trans Scotland canoe challenge (60 miles from Fort William to Inverness along the Caledonian Canal).

We've made it as far as the top end of Loch Lomand after negotiating Glasgow, the M8 (in the car - we've not made it into the canoe just yet) and with a quick pit stop in Balloch, where they seal their children in large clear plastic balls which they fill with air and then leave in a paddling pool to run around like a hamster in a ball. It's where they also sell saucy postcards of men's in kilts - their hems raised just enough to reveal a thistle tattooed on his bum.

The sun may have been shining then, but it's closed in now and mizzling. However, we are in a lovely B&B with tartan carpets, eating shortbread with the promise of a pub 5 mins walk away which has an extensive range of single malts.

Loch Lomand looked really calm, it's not too cold and there is hardly any wind. If it stays like this then we should be OK - and shouldn't need to resort to either the Coast Guard or our emergency plan.

Here are a few pics from today - more anon x


Sunday, 8 April 2012

Canoeing the Caledonian Canal - we're off!

It's finally here, tomorrow we head up to Scotland to spend five days canoeing  the Caledonian Canal. Hopefully, if all goes to plan, we'll do 60 miles coast to coast across Scotland, including the entire length of Loch Ness.

You can read about our journey to this point in these previous blogs:

Christie celebration and the Caledonian Canal Canoe Challenge.
Caledonian Canal - 2 weeks to go update.

I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing, until it started to snow and I was told I needed to inform the Coast Guard about our adventure!

However, we went shopping on Friday for a few final bits and pieces - and suddenly I feel a lot better.

It's funny how the correct footwear can buck a girl up!

I also have special pair of neoprene gloves, a new life jacket (with better pockets, so I don't have to keep my camera in my cleavage), a new set of paddles and some rope! So hopefully should the worse come to the worse, I shouldn't sink - and my hands and feet will be warm. Oh - and I'm also taking a woolly hat and promise to wear a vest!

We've also decided to name our canoe 'The Helen Skelton' after the Blue Peter presenter who rowed the length of the Amazon. I heard a quote from her once about how she tackles a challenge. It was something about it being difficult rather than impossible - and if it wasn't difficult it wouldn't be a challenge. If she can do it - then so can we.


To get in the zone, we went to watch the Manchester Duck Race on Friday on the River Irwell in Spinningfields. Unfortunately, due to a lack of rain and the wind blowing in the wrong direction, many of the big corporate ducks either floated backwards or toppled over.

However, despite the weather (it was actually nice weather for ducks) it was a great spectacle with a really good turn out. I had 10 little ducks swimming in the main race - but sadly there was to be no winners enclosure this time.

So - exactly two years to the day since I finished my high dose chemo - here we are on the cusp of a great adventure. Wish us luck, plump up your bag pipes and pray that the Loch Ness Monster is looking the other way!

Oh Holy Haggis .................


Saturday, 31 March 2012

First glimpse inside the new Olympic Stadium

Well, we may have failed to get tickets to the Olympics (other than for the football at Old Trafford), but today I got the chance to cheer Tris across the finishing line in the new Olympic stadium after he completed The Olympic Park 5 mile Run.

Just 5,000 runners were selected for the race (each runner was allowed two guests) - the first competitive event to be run in the Olympic Park, and a first glimpse for the public of the new Olympic London landmarks that we will become so familiar with over the summer.

Directions to the Olympic Park were provided by a series of 'pointing people' in pink. "Can I have a finger?" asked one girl to a Olympic Guide - but he declined her request.

We were channelled through a shopping centre - if you'd forgotten your Speedo's or athletics kit then you could relax. All your sporting needs were catered for (and you could pick up a Mulberry handbag and a little something from Prada!)

"I - I want to thank you, for giving me the best day of my li-ey-ife" sang Dido encouragingly from the large outdoor speakers.

Security was slick as we entered the Olympic Park. We had to queue, but it didn't take long. Once we were through, a bizarre phenomenon took hold. Everywhere people could be seen posing for photos like Usain Bolt!

The stadium is almost ready - there is still a bit of work to be done to finish installing the seating, but it is practically there. It's not as impressive as I imagine Bejing's 'Birdsnest' stadium to have been, but it was pretty good.

There is a strange red roller coaster arrangement just next to the athletics stadium, which I assume will be topped by the Olympic flame. The jury is still out on that. I can't decide whether it's OK, or whether I hate it. As we queued up, it did feel a bit like we were about to visit a theme park. But when the park is finally finished and the covers have come off, I'm sure the atmosphere will be electric.

Entertainment, prior to the start of the race was a Queen tribute act, the UK cheerleading champions and 'Britain's Got Talent' acts 'Flawless' (street dance) and electronic string quartet eScala. I missed the latter because I'd gone to watch Tris start in the first wave of runners. And while I was waiting - I got a proper treat. Not only did I spot my second royal in as many weeks (The Queen in Manchester 10 days ago, and her granddaughter, Princess Beatrice who started the race today), I also got a close up view of 'cleavage of the year' Holly Willoughby.

As she jumped from her golf buggy and dashed towards the starting podium, the wind in her hair and a bounce in her step - she seemed to move in slow motion - just like Garth's "Dream Weaver" woman in the film Wayne's World. It took all my self restraint not to break into a rendition of "Foxy Lady!"

A Roger Black and Steve Batley later and they were off.

I made it back to the stadium just in time to see the first wave finish. It must have been amazing to run into the Olympic stadium at the end of the race - as they entered the stadium through the tunnel, the theme tune to 'Chariots of Fire' spurred them on. Many ran with cameras to photograph the crowds and the occasion, others ran draped in Union Jacks. Some even adopted the starting position at the 100m mark and then sprinted the final stretch.

And then, amongst a sea of red was Tris - very helpfully bucking the trend in orange. Rounding the final bend like Mo Farah he crossed the finish line like a champion, in an amazing joint 341st position (out of 5,000 runners).

It was a real privilege to be part of such a fantastic day. I'm thoroughly in the mood now for the real thing. Roll on 27th July!