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Night Vision Challenge

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Circumnavigating the entire Thames Valley Region in a kayak is tough – but imagine doing it in the dark. That’s exactly what Thames Valley Air Ambulance’s (TVAA) doctor John Pike, and world adventurer Phoebe Smith, did in their ‘Night Vision Challenge’. 

To raise awareness about the life-saving night operations that the critical care team regularly provide, the pair kayaked 300-miles (the total circumference of the distance the TVAA covers) in a specially made Air Ambulance kayak. 

Taking in some of Britain’s most iconic waterways – including the River Thames, Grand Union Canal, Oxford Canal and Kennet and Avon Canal – and a night hike through World's End (see map below), John and Phoebe paddled throughout the night starting on Sunday, 29 Sept – and ended on Thursday, 10 Oct, sleeping wild by day, and using only what they could fit into their kayak. 

“Navigational challenges, lack of daylight, tough weather conditions and extreme physical and mental fatigue are just some of the difficulties faced by Air Ambulance teams every single shift,” says John. “The Night Vision Challenge we undertook was designed to mimic these conditions for myself and Phoebe to highlight the vital work that TVAA do over such a vast patch of the country with no Government funding, relying solely on donations from the public.”

During the day John and Phoebe did pop-up talks around the region sharing tales of their adventures and giving insight into a day in the life of the Air Ambulance. They revealed their locations daily (and nightly) on social media using the free location app, what3words (who partnered with TVAA in August) to encourage the public in the three counties to download it, as it can be vital for the teams to quickly locate casualties in a precise 3x3metre square, anywhere in the country.

Phoebe, who is a Berkshire-based award-winning writer, photographer and broadcaster, as well as an adventurer famed for her charitable extreme sleeping escapades – where she travels both the world and Britain in search of some of the wildest places to spend the night (including dangling from sea cliffs, trees, caves and mountain tops) – used the words generated by what3words each day to create a special daily Night Vision Challenge poem which she shared on social media and BBC Radio 6 presenter Cerys Matthews played on her Sunday show on October 6th.

“There was a really serious message behind our Challenge, but I loved the idea that the life-saving app could also be used to help people meet us – for talks and to come and spot us night-kayaking on the beautiful British waterways, for example – and as a resource to have a truly epic adventure right here in the UK,” explains Phoebe. “It’s was a tough undertaking, but telling the Air Ambulance story through a journey that took us 10 nights, but which the helicopter could cover in just 45minutes, helps people understand the vitally important role it plays in our community.”

Both John and Phoebe donated their time to undertake the world-first challenge. To donate funds to the Night Vision Challenge (all proceeds go to Thames Valley Air Ambulance) visit:


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Night Vision Challenge

Night Vision Challenge

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