The Devises to Westminster race is a gruelling 125 mile non-stop kayak race along the Kennett and Avon Canal, the Thames river and finally along the tideway to Westminster Bridge(For more information about the race please go to http://www.dwrace.org.uk/ ).
I decided to take on the DW challenge (and a few other kayaking challenges such as the 2011 Tay Descent) after my kayaking accident in 2010. I thought I should do as much as I could before the complete loss of my left eye and prove to myself I have the capability of succeeding. I asked a few people if they were interested in taking on the 24hr challenge and ended up with a very able div 3/4 paddler named Mike Fitzsimons from the Mercia Canoe Club’s small racing team (though only after I promised to buy him dinner!).
In November, we started training for longer and longer evening sessions in our K1s, going anywhere from 10-16 miles. Meanwhile we searched for a suitable boat to use in the challenge. We went on our first 32 mile training session of the course in early December where we went from Thatcham to Reading and back. It was a particularly cold day with ice forming on the banks and even on the boat as we paddled along! Once our entries had been accepted, we went to our club with our support leader (Nigel Wooltorton, experienced DW supporter) to ask for more supporters and found we were overrun with volunteers. We now have a team of six supporters ready in three cars for the event. From this point Mike and I started taking it seriously and no amount of flotsam and jetsam on the river (such as dining room chairs, mattresses, TVs and even one portaloo) would stop us.
When planning our training, we made the decision not to take part in either the Waterside or Thameside series (a series of races along the DW course) as we thought this would be counter-productive with our banana-shaped boat and all the washes. So we have kayaked through most of the course in a series of training events with our support crew in the run-up to this coming weekend.
With the event drawing nearer, the anticipation is evident amongst us as a crew. While we may be all jokes and fun, we are more thoughtful and serious in our meetings. There are so many emotions running through me when I think of easter weekend and I wonder what I'll be like the day before, probably a bag of nerves. I'm excited about the chance to undertake this massive challenge, worried about food and drink issues and fearful of all the things that could result in a failure. But most of all I'm nervous about the stability of the boat on the tideway, a 17 mile section of the race where we won't be able have any support crew stops, where we will be at our most tired and the conditions at their most dangerous.
There is no doubt that the training has made both Mike and I far better paddlers. At this point the training itself is standard stuff and I ache as much now after a 30+mile training session as I did last september after an 8mile session. However, the improvements in my paddling are not just in speed and endurance. I have learnt a huge amount about the importance of eating and drinking properly before, during and after training. I've learnt the importance of carrying the boat properly, the neccessity of having spare clothing at all times in case of rapid temperature drops and how important it is to keep my hands warm.
Please sponsor us in our attempt at this event. It has been described as the "Everest of the Kayak world" and all donations will go to the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
To follow our progress over the Easter Saturday / Sunday race you can use this link and look for race number 309 – http://www.dwrace.org.uk/results/2012/dw.html ; Scroll down to the "where is everybody?" and click on "overnight crews".