Day 95 has seen 2 miles walked, 7 miles paddled, rapids negotiated, a near capsize and so many wonderful people met. 

It was another pleasant 2 mile walk this morning before breakfast, another packed lunch made of the usual and final kit packing in preparation for my first canoeing trip in many years. I was lucky as a boy to have been given the opportunity to learn to kayak and even managed to get to 2 star level but had hardly paddled since. I wanted to though. I saw it as a perfect way to explore the waterways of the UK while improving my balance, fitness, stamina and cognitive motor function while meeting great people and I was so right. 

On Friday evening as I finalised my planning for the Stirling and Falkirk Canoe Club New Years Paddle down the River Teith I realised that I couldn’t get to the Rendezvous at the stores in Stirling for 0900hrs on a Sunday morning by bus or train but could get to the start point in Callander on the No59 for 1030. I could get to the stores in Stirling by bike for 0900hrs but would then be left with a bike in Stirling after a tiring day kayaking which I would then have to catch the bus back to Stirling to retrieve and cycle back to Doune carrying all my wet kit and probably still shivering having just got fresh out of the water. It didn’t seem like a sensible option. Doubts and negative thoughts about the validity of this aspiration to join the trip started to permeate my consciousness. Maybe my epilepsy is not under control enough. What if my balance isn’t good enough on the water as the river drives me in one direction while I am trying to paddle in another direction. Will my brain be able to compute those visual references quick enough and keep me balanced. Maybe I’m just not supposed to go canoeing. Maybe I should just be thankful for the opportunity I had as a boy and leave it at that. But I had explained it all in great detail to the canoe club and they thought it was a great idea for me to get on the water; but then I couldn’t start without a Canoe. My confidence started to seep away rapidly but I couldn’t just leave it like that and walk away from it. I may as well walk away from the whole idea of the challenge. I can’t give up just as soon as I hit a road bump there had to be a way. After looking at the website and the facebook page for the trip I decided to phone the storekeeper Jim Wardlaw. All the concerns that were creeping in about this trip vanished in an instant. He was the kindest, nothing is too difficult, what would you like sort of a man you could hope to have to run a store. He didn’t even think that stores were for storing not for lending. He firstly confirmed that it was a great idea. We discussed what sort of boat he and I thought I should go out in and then what kit would I like to borrow from the store. I thought an open canoe with another paddler was probably the most sensible option as an untested returning canoeist with slightly dodgy balance and almost controlled epilepsy rather than a kayak and otherwise had an old wetsuit, buoyancy aid and helmet et al so ‘I leave it down to which ever boat you can find for me Jim’. I texted him my sizes for a cagoule and a kayak then he texted me back. He was going to come and pick me up from Doune on his way through to Callander from the store. Awesome and when he did this morning he had even better news. He had found a guy in an open canoe happy to take me with him. Amazing. I was a lot less nervous about this trip.

Out in the Canoe at Deanston
Out in the Canoe at Deanston

When we arrived at the old Scout Hall in Callander I was met by a huge number of smiling faces as they changed into their wet kit and sorted boats for the journey. Men and women alike, young, middle aged and older it didn’t matter. Everyone mucked in and helped. Jim introduced me to my new skipper who had kindly agreed to take me down river with him. Martin Clough. A guy my age from Glasgow and also a Royal Engineer Reservist. He was quiet, unassuming, attentive, strong as an Ox and ensured I was all squared away for the trip. Safety brief and capsize drills given we were ready and then he asked me what I did. I introduced him to the challenge and we were suddenly off. On the water with me at the front and gliding down the water with the other kayaks bobbing about in the water around us. I was happy, very happy on the water and had come back to it like riding a bicycle. We were covering the ground quickly as the river was moving fast and pushing us down rapidly and then we hit the first of what I didn’t even realise existed on the Teith. Rapids, White water. I was nervous because the water looked quite big and as we got close I realised that some of the waves caused by the turbulence over the river bed were actually higher than the boat. Martin however gave excellent paddling instruction and took us through the white water expertly. We had survived the first set of rapids even though I had got soaked as we ploughed through the big stuff. We were working hard and we had our wetsuits on so we were not cold. Just smiling and having fun. I am pretty sure that I heard the odd whoop as we progressed further downstream, through more rapids. We were moving faster than the smaller kayaks so had to pull over every so often to let the smaller boats catch up and keep the team together. While we moored alongside it was an opportunity to tell more of my story in response to some of Martin’s questions but also to receive some first class lessons from the open canoe instructor Dave whose guidance we put in to practice on the next leg which included even bigger rapids than the last. We discovered that his guidance was first class and we smoothed our way through the rapids far easier and much drier than the last. Then came the really big one whose name I forget but we went for it and as we descended one wave into the bottom of the big wave in front, called ‘The Stopper’ the force of the water pouring into the boat would have blown me back up the boat had I not been knees locked in under the bench on which I perched. Suddenly Martin was shouting paddle, paddle, paddle over the roar of the torrents of water gushing past us in great floods and churning the surface of the river into an angry cauldron of choppy water each wave on which seemed determined to turn us over assisted by the gallons of water now sloshing about in the boat. We paddled hard working off the concept that forwards momentum gave us a little more stability and somehow managed to stay afloat until we reached the river bank. We had avoided a capsize but as we tried to get out, the angry river trying so hard to pull us back out into the maelstrom we had, what I termed, a halfsize. In trying to paddle ourselves onto a position alongside the river bank rather than just poking front end onto the river bank we tipped the boat and managed to tip ourselves out onto the river bank. We were already soaked so it mattered not except that I dropped my paddle but our ever watchful mentor and coach Dave spotted it and recovered it for us. What a guy because for a moment there I thought we were going to be up the creek without a paddle!!. We had learnt our lesson. Boat emptied we were back on the water and catching up again. A few more rapids navigated beautifully with Dave’s excellent advice then as we approached the Weir we hauled ourselves out of the water. This sort of obstacle was perfect for a small slalom boat but even they were having trouble trying to break themselves free from the vicious currents at the bottom of the Weir but was not what an open canoe was designed for. We pondered it. The small child in both our minds quietly whispering ‘do it, do it, do it’ in our ears. I could sense the indecision in Martin’s mind. Then we both agreed that we should ask our Mentor Dave what he would do. Don’t do it was the response. In a sense I was relieved but saddened all at the same time. If I was a boy I would have gone but right now in the current circumstances it was probably the right decision and with the light fading fast we hauled the boat along the bank a little further, got back in the river, hit another set of rapids, smaller this time but large enough for us to go backwards and try our hand at surfing a canoe on the rapid. Not quite but we made it to the landing point at the Distillery at Deanston. Hauled the boat out. Stacked and racked them, got changed and then made our way back to the Scout Hut for stovies and meeting a few more members of the club. It was a brilliant day which built my confidence further. My balance was at time sorely tested when travelling backwards or sideways while pointing in another direction. The brain was having to work hard at times to keep up with the changing dynamics of the river but with Martin’s superb supervision we made it home with only a halfsize to blot our copy book and that was probably my fault. I didn’t have a seizure. In fact felt great throughout the whole day. My upper body strength and stamina was tested and improved and the best bit was that Martin thought that we would make a great team for more technical stuff with a bit more practice together in a boat. Thank you Martin for a really great day that has really buoyed my confidence. I will definitely be paddling again one day. Maybe even in a kayak too.

With Martin at Deanston
With Martin at Deanston

A few more introductions to the challenge, flyers handed out and invitations to enjoy a glass of wine while watching a video were made before all too soon it was time to get down to the bus stop. I bade my farewells and set off in a brisk walk for the bus stop and if I could whistle I would have been whistling. I was feeling great and was even warming up now. Then there was almost a disaster. As the first spots of evening rain started to fall on the bus stop bench with no shelter I checked the bus timetable and realised that because it was a Sunday the 1647 bus didn’t run. I had an hour to wait. I turned in disappointment but then leapt for joy as I saw the lights on and the door open at the Deli Ecosse. I walked in. It was most unusually empty except for one man in the corner just finishing his coffee. ‘What time do you close’ I asked. ‘5pm Julie replied but don’t worry come in and relax, What can I get you?’ Julie never asked me that. Instead I usually got the confirmatory ‘Mocha and a flapjack?’ I was in two minds. I wanted a Mocha but knew I should have a green tea. I didn’t want to wait for the bus in the rain so I should have something and had had a great day. ‘Mocha please.’ Julie gave me that knowing look that told me I had been so totally busted. ‘Would you like to try a decaf Mocha instead?’ I forgot that Julie and her team read my posts too and are great supporters of what I am trying to achieve. I was busted and so very nearly ordered a green tea instead. But then I remembered my Oncologist telling me that it was important to have the odd treat now and again and decaf meant no caffeine. ‘Let’s try it please’ I exclaimed with a cheer. I was excited. I was celebrating a good day and when it came it was delicious. I didn’t stay too long because the girls wanted to get home so once finished bade my farewells and went outside to wait for the bus. The rain had eased so I walked up to another bus stop that I knew had a shelter. I sat and listened to myself. 20 minutes until the bus arrives. How was I feeling? Were my lips tingling? Was I going to be seizure free? Was the decaf Mocha the new reward? I was feeling great!!

A huge thank you to the committee of the Stirling and Falkirk Canoe Club who did so much to make sure that I was welcomed in to the club and safe to paddle. A huge thank you to Jim for settling my nerves, finding me a partner to canoe with and making sure I got there. A huge thank you to the entire club for making me feel so welcome on arrival and finally the biggest thank you of all to Dave and Martin who guided me so clearly through the choppy waters of today and brought me home safe, sound, wet but happy!!

I have 3 days of hospital appointments and assessments now so will not be writing another post until the evening of Wed 06th Jan in which I will let you know how I am getting on so until then however the challenge in numbers in total since the start:
Days completed: 95
Total Miles Cycled: 511
Total Miles Walked: 471.0
Total Miles Run: 25.6
Total Miles Paddled: 7
Total Distance Cycled, Skied, Ran and Rowed in the gym: 8.4 
Total Distance Swum: 300 metres
Total Miles covered under own steam.1023.0
Total Height Gained under own steam: 31,645 feet
Mountains Climbed: 5
Hills Climbed: 17
Days of Voluntary Activity: 5.5
Organ tunes learnt and performed: 5
Salmon Caught: 0!
Curling Matches played in: 4
Curling stones placed on the button (the centre of the target): 1
Weight Training Sessions: 8
Aerobic Circuit Sessions: 4
Press Ups: 188
Pull Ups: 48
Sit Ups: 188
People Met and Hands Shaken: 335
Pots of tea shared: 21
Prayers joined on the top of a hill: 2
Prayers joined in the street!: 3
Prayers joined in a Train Station: 1
Pills popped: 412
And most important of all – Money Raised as at Day 77 – £5,395.

Considering I started this challenge 12 weeks ago very quietly with no target beyond a fiver, thanks to the brilliant advice from a friend of mine, I am absolutely thrilled and again thank you all. So far that is £70.06 for each and every day that I have managed to find the will and energy to do something worthwhile and my goodness it has been worth it for my peace of mind, for my healing and for the five wonderful charities you are supporting through your generosity. Long may it continue.

Thank you

Yours aye