Jennifer Price Veterans' 20 miles by canoe

Editorial Feature

Challenge 11. Paddle, Paddle, Paddle – for 20 miles

Words By: Jennifer Price

So big confession… the channel didn’t happen, and, holding my hands up, most likely won’t happen this side of Christmas.

Unsurprisingly the weather in November was not on our side (the 40 knot winds would have taken us to Norway rather than Boulogne) and there were only so many tide windows available to us.

Nevertheless, it will happen next year (safety boat deposit having already been paid) and so the team and I decided that, rather than come up with a completely new challenge, we would complete a placeholder paddle boarding adventure for November.

Jennifer Price on paddle board, with a canoeist on the Wey Navigation in Godalming

At the very last minute we grabbed our boards, lots of bananas and a giant slab of home-made flapjack, hit the Wey Navigation in Godalming and aimed to cover at least the same distance as the channel (18.5 nautical miles).

In order to maximise daylight hours, the alarm was set for 0500 on Saturday morning, ready for a sunrise start and the team arrived in good spirits, if not slightly dampened by the disappointment in it not being the channel challenge we had hoped for.

That aside we were looking forward to testing our bodies and equipment over the same distance, as well as finding out how long it might actually take.

However, one slight issue was that, due to our rather last minute and very flexible planning, we had checked the weather forecast and the distance, but we had not accounted for the river level itself. It turned out the river was in flood…

Now I must point out that the other 2 paddle boarders and 1 canoeist that were with me are very physically fit and experienced individuals which meant that we were able to conduct a dynamic risk assessment and continue… despite two warnings from lock keepers not to be on the river… But I absolutely wouldn’t recommend that you paddle a river in flood unless you are also experienced, and a little mad.

The fact that it was in flood meant that some sections of the canal/river were running extremely fast, and we quickly realised that paddling back upriver was unlikely to be achievable in day light hours, never mind being extremely unpleasant and a tad dangerous!

We therefore decided that, rather than trying to complete an out-and-back route, we would paddle all the way to the river Thames, which would be approximately the same distance as the channel crossing, and taxi back.

This placeholder challenge reminded me very much of challenge 4; with 17 portages to haul kit over and the persistent drama of trying to eat and drink on the move, this time without a support crew. But, unlike the Devizes to Westminster canoe race, there was no night-time paddling and no stupidly heavy kayak to shift so, despite the persistent drizzle, and cold toes, it wasn’t anywhere near as tough.

However, even with those little bursts of river power, it still took us over 6 hours to cover 20 miles. We also noted that it was without waves and wind to contend with, so it was a great indication of what to expect next year. 6 hours doesn’t sound like much but it’s still a fair amount of time to be paddling and my back and shoulders are definitely feeling it today!

So, all in all a bit disappointed that I haven’t managed the channel crossing this month but, to be perfectly honest, I think I’m still recovering from the last mega challenge! And with the last, rather epic, challenge peeping its naughty little head above the horizon I am content to let this one be. Sometimes you have to account for energy levels, finances, and planning capacity!

Sometimes you have to step back and appreciate the bigger picture.

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Jennifer Price on paddle board, with a canoeist on the Wey Navigation in Godalming
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