In the last week or so the preparation has started for the summer trip to the Alps. After I decided to go and got my deposit paid, I've got some kit sorted and I'm set up with the basics to get out and practice.
I started off with a couple of pool sessions, with Wyre Forest Canoe Club and the neighbouring club in Wombourne, to remind myself what it's like to sit in a kayak... I can't say that I remember much from my past experiences (It's been about 8 years and all I can remember is, it's an uncomfortable position for me, the water is cold, and I sold my old boat for a reason....) So feeling totally out of my depth, may aswell write off all past experiences and assume myself to be a complete 'bare bones' beginner. It's been a very long time since I've done something that felt so new, so alien, and that I struggle to get the hang of....
Saying that though, I've been assured my stroke looks good, and I look like I'm getting the hang of it well. So I look better than I feel, but that doesn't help the confidence much. I did manage in the second pool session to successfully roll, once.
I've then been on a couple of outings to a local weir (Knightwick) where club members go to practice. I was told it's a very inviting wave, and the perfect place to practice. So after getting changed in a layby, walking down the road in strange kit (maybe I will get used to neoprene eventually??) with a boat digging in to my shoulder, we pass a 'danger deep water' sign and head down a steep bank, towards the sound of rushing water.... It's loud, really loud, and to a newbie paddler who is much more comfortable with dry land, that wave looks FAR from inviting..... I'm a nervous wreck already, I keep being assured that below the wave it's great to practice on and I can start further away and get closer as I feel more confident.... All I can think is - I've got to get down the wave first.
We start off on the flat water at the top, practice those strokes from the pool a few times, and I follow Keith down through the wave. Again 'it's just a straight line' I'm told. JUST a straight line. With only a tiny wobble, I'm through, heart racing, hands shaking, but I'm through.....
With a little instruction I'm left to practice going across the river, breaking in and out of eddies, and some ferry gliding. Everything feels so wobbly, but with a little practice I'm starting to get used to it. I venture a few feet closer to the wave over the course of a couple of hours and the others note my improvement when we have a drink at the pub later... Ok, maybe I'm going to get the hang of this....
The next session at the weir, a similar start, feeling a teeny bit less nervous, with some encouragement from the other paddlers I go higher up to the wave. A couple of times I manage and get out the other side. It's taking every ounce of concentration and it does not feel GOOD, but I'm ok... I go again, not quite concentrating 100% on the approach I wobble, the boat goes flat, DAMN I'm in... It's cold, how do you roll??? screw it, I'm pulling my deck and I'm out. I'm not ok. It's so cold! and the shock of the water means taking a breath once you reach the surface is really difficult.
I know about this (Mammalian response) but knowing about it does not prepare you for when it happens. I'm telling myself I can breathe... I'm out of the water... But my brain has set the reflex going and it takes a few seconds (feels like minutes) to get breathing.... Then I've got to swim with dead legs to the side while my kit is rescued from down stream. I'm out of time now and I have to get to work. Not a good place to leave a session.
The following day I joined Keith and Richard for an Intro to White Water session at Symonds Yat. Keith Leading the Session and Richard having done flat water paddling for some time, and a White Water course at Plas-y Brenin, a little further along with his paddling but still fairly new to White Water. Right from the get go I'm nervous. I'm still not even feeling all that comfortable with kitting up on dry land (remembering what order everything goes on, what I need etc) and with nerves jangling it's 10x worse. Outwardly perhaps no-one notices, I'm blagging it... After a saftey brief and a little warm up we're ready to go.
The suggestion of a seal launch flaty refused, I get on the water via the steps. The deck I have is a little tight on my boat so half the energy I have left is sapped just fighting that in to place! Once we're all on the water we take a steady bimble off towards the rapids. I'm testing out turning and having a bit of a play around with the paddle, just trying to feel it's effect in the water while I don't have any waves or rocks to worry about. The 'straight line' through the rapids goes ok. And we break out in to the eddy at the bottom of the island, looking up at the rapids and the groyns. Heart is pounding. There are a lot of rocks and that felt fast. How am I tired already?
We get on then to some ferry glides from one eddy to another, gradually going up stream. For each one I put in 100% concentration, with all the little pieces of information I've got so far. It really feels like a fight against the water, and 3 or 4 ferry glides up I don't quite make it to the eddy, big wobble as I end up in the next one down. Heart can't pound any faster, I'm frustrated, I'm hot (It's a glorious day but I'm wearing an extra layer to keep me warm incase I swim) and without warning, tears. Not wanting to be a drama queen, crying on a baby river, but totally an utterly can't keep it together. With a little counselling and a few minutes to calm down, I'm ready to try some more but back a step or two. I return to some breaking in and out on the less pushy side of the river, and some ferry gliding on the calmer water at the bottom. Confidence builds back a little. Once I'm doing this, feeling like I might actually have some control, I've taken a few breaks, and sat and watched some other paddlers on the river to see what I can pick up, I pluck up the courage to try again at the next step up. Shakily I got it. It felt OK! Although the heart was still going, I did feel greatly relieved. A few more passes that felt pretty good and I was ready to call it a day.
We made our way to the out, and the suggestion of a seal launch where we got back on flat water to paddle back to the car, this time I think why not? Didn't feel so bad. Hmmm.... I think I might even have something resembling a smile on my face. Before we get out I even attempted a roll. Apparently the slowest capsize in the world, and I didn't make it up, but actually feeling confident enough to consider giving it a go, in dark cold river water, felt like a massive accomplishment in itself. Also then did the big seal launch. I didn't go quite straight, but stayed upright at the bottom and definetly felt like I could leave without thinking 'I wish I'd tried...'. Apparently the water was at a high level and a little 'pushier' than expected, so now I don't feel so bad for having 'a moment' earlier in the day.
We debriefed with a well earned drink, enjoying the sunshine, and I notice that the lovely weather has given me a great tan... on my hands!!! Perfect tan line across the wrists! Another hobby I now have that gives me silly tan lines. Ha Ha!
Laura Morrish - 14th April 2017