Saturday, 25 August 2012

Paddle Pedal Hobble Report

After three months of training the car was packed and loaded with bikes, paddling and running kit at our meeting point in Sleagill, near Penrith. On 29th July Al, Vicky, Dino & myself headed off for Fort William. We arrived at our friend’s house in Ballachulisch at 5:00pm where we received a warm welcome and a large bowl each of Nigel’s bean chilli. Then, with the canoe now on the roof rack, we were ready to make the final part of our car journey.

Stage 1
Chris & Al at the start of PPH
Arriving at Neptune’s Staircase (a set of locks at the start of the Caledonian Canal), the start of the six day charity event, Al and I headed into the unknown. Had we trained enough? Was it going to be six days of fun or six days of pain?
7:00pm we were sitting in the canoe and on our way. I was in the back and Al in the front. We had perfect conditions - a slight tail wind which was due to increase slightly over the next 24 hours, meaning that there may be the opportunity to get the sail out for some of the journey. The water was pan flat and our spirits were high. We had agreed to swap the side we paddled on every 30 minutes and swap positions in the canoe every couple of hours. We reached Gairlochy lochs with ease and the light starting to fade. We carried out our first portage and decided to take food and drink on board to keep our strength up. At which point we were reminded that if we stopped for too long we would be eaten alive by the mighty Scottish Midge!

We carried on paddling into darkness on Loch Lochy. Our eyes started to adjust and we could more or less make out which way to go with just enough light from the moon. After a while the wind picked up so we put the sail up. This was a bizarre experience as we couldn’t tell how fast we were travelling but it was an opportunity to rest.  After an hour the wind eased and we had to carry on paddling. We soon reached Laggan Lochs.

By this point Al had made me aware several times of his dislike of portages. Each time we pulled up Al would explain how long and un-enjoyable they were going to be. This wasn’t helped by the heavy weight of my £50.00 plastic canoe with a yoke which looked like it was made from half of an oak tree! Oh yeah, and no canoe trolley to put the canoe on! By this point we weren’t keen on carrying the canoe very far but dragging it worked well. We were back on another stretch of canal. This point of the canal was narrow and surrounded by tall Scots pines. A perfect mirror image led to Al’s mind playing tricks on him. He thought he was floating in the sky and he couldn’t work out where the water was. By this point tiredness was setting in. We managed to get into the open on Loch Oich. While on the lookout for an island we were due to pass, my mind started playing tricks too, telling me the island was up in front but it wasn’t. Eventually, the island came and went and Al suggested we aim for a house which was lit up in the distance. As we got nearer it looked multi-coloured and I said that they were having a party, maybe we could join them. Eventually we arrived at the house which turned out to be lights on a bridge. I think we were getting tired!!!
After some awkward navigation we arrived at a deserted Fort Augustus at 6:00am. Refuelling on the bridge by eating tongue and pickle sandwiches followed by peanut butter, banana and jam sandwiches………the food of champions. We were now just past half way and I had to kneel  when paddling as my back had started to spasm.

All alone in the middle of Loch Ness!
Daylight on Loch Ness - The never ending mass of water! From the start you can see the end of the loch, it just never seems to get any closer. We passed the power station which is roughly half way along but it seemed to take forever to leave it behind. The ferries had now started to operate, leaving a large wake behind them.  The closer we got to the end the bigger the swell and the stronger the wind. This combination meant the sail could no longer be used. Ferries started to pass us now quite regularly making it awkward when the wake came at us from the side. At this point I asked Al if he was good at doggy paddle. We looked to either side to see at least a mile swim if we fell in! A rapid decision was made that we needed to be closer to the shore.
Happy to complete Stage 1
The next hour was hard graft in heavy rain, strong wind & big swell. We had received a phone call from Vicky & Dino to say they had spotted us. We had a big push thinking there wasn’t far left. Yet again Loch Ness deceived us and after an hour of paddling the end looked no closer. It felt like we were paddling through treacle. Arriving at the end of Loch Ness I told Al never again! Al said he was going to sell his canoe! All that was left was the last section of the canal to meet Vicky & Dino.

19 hours non-stop paddling and we were at the end of stage one. We were then chauffeured back to Ballachulisch, fed and watered and left to recover for the next day.

After waking up surprisingly fresh we were dropped off at Fort William to start the bike stage. The weather was perfect, a slight breeze, clear sky and the sun shining.  I had only cycled up to 100 miles in training. There were two days of 125miles and a day of 50 miles back to back to get through. This was Al’s strength, could I keep up?
There were three of us on this day; Dino was helping as a pacer for all of the cycling. We were a little wary of Glen Coe thinking it would be steep and hard work. Actually it was a nice ride with steady climbing, fantastic views and beautiful weather. Vicky was acting as road support. We seemed to reach Crianlarich with relative ease. Here an extra member(my mum) joined the support crew. The ride along Loch Lomond was beautiful and quiet and we seemed to be working as a well oiled cycling team all doing our fair share at the front. We reached Kilmarnock in no time at all!
During the evening we were joined by another cycling pacer, Al Whittaker. He kindly got the train from Saddleworth to join us. 
The cycling team about to set off from Kilmarnock
The next day was filled with bad weather, bad views, bad traffic and a sore derriere! However, frequent stops (which included more peanut butter, jam and banana sandwiches than you could shake a stick at) made the journey more bearable. Also, with an extra pacer we were able to shelter more effectively from the elements.
On the way to Penrith I found myself struggling after doing a stint on the front. I realised that I was drained of all energy. Then came Al Whittaker’s finest 30minutes! He looked me in the eyes and told me to get on his wheel and “Eat food big man”, as he cruised to front. I followed hanging on in. He set a perfect pace. I suffered for half an hour until the food kicked in. Thanks Al.
We arrived at Sleagill in style, the bunting was up and Tony & Jo were out on the street with party-poppers. Then came a giant’s portion of chilli courtesy of Jo and her slow cooker.
Riding along the cobbled streets of Dent
The next day was set to be a hilly 50 miles. Jo joined us for this last part of the ride through Dent Dale and finishing in Horton in Ribblesdale. The weather held out and a re-fueling stop at the village of Dent (coffee and cakes from Janice’s camper van) meant that we were ready for the big pull, a 21% hill out of Dent.

Tony, Chris & Al ready to start the hobble!

Stage 3 
At Horton in Ribblesdale we decided that we had enough strength in our legs to tick off some of the running miles. Tony Tombs (Vicky’s dad) joined us as a pacer for all the running. We set off in perfect weather heading for Penyghent. All was well and we continued over Fountain fells before 40 minutes of rain hit us. This made the limestone at Malham Cove very treacherous and slow going. We finished for the day at Kirkby Malham. The whole team went out to a local pub for a nice meal to re-fuel and then on to the youth hostel to rest.
Next day was the longest for the running, 27miles. We were running as a team of three: Al & myself with Tony as the pacer. For most of the day I was at the front of the pack with Tony sprinting ahead to open gates or to get on the front to slow the pace down when it was too fast. After 5 miles or so Al’s body posture changed from upright to slumped. He was tired and just hanging on in! His tactic was to just watch my heels and try to match the pace. We had crucial refreshment stops every 10 miles, at which Vicky was on hand with food, drink and a welcoming smile. The weather was fantastic, which allowed us to take in the ever changing scenery along the Pennine Way. We left Vicky at Ponden Reservoir and headed up the final climb of the day. Half way up we met Ian and Ozzy(dog) who had run out from Widdop to pace us in, which was brilliant. This was a great morale booster for the whole team.
Al was getting exhausted but he would just suffer in silence. He had taken a few tumbles, crumpling to the ground. He just straightened himself out slowly and carried on! Hard as nails!!!
The Pack Horse Inn came into view and we could now relax knowing day five was almost in the bag.
The support team at the Floating Light
We started the last day feeling surprisingly fresh. Ian and Ozzy joined us again. With only 25 miles left it felt like the end was just around the corner. After 7 miles or so Al looked tired again but he was still going! 5 hours later we arrived at the Floating Light to be greeted by friends and family who spurred us on for the last five miles. Our running team also doubled in size at this point! 5 miles of canal path to go, which felt like hard work and never ending.

Chris topping out on Midge Hill
Al topping out on Midge Hill
We had our final challenge to do, Midge Hill. A steep hill ending at the finish line, the Rising Sun Pub! We found there was still plenty in the tank and in no time we arrived at the pub to be cheered in by lots of friends and family.

Now time to party and drink beer!
Beer & Medals! Medals made by Nell, what a little star!

Almost the full team at the end!
A big thanks to our support crew Vicky & Mum  - without them the challenge wouldn’t have happened. Also a big thanks to Nige, Mary and Jo and Tony(food & accommodation support).
Last but no means least thanks to our pacers Dino, Al, Jo, Tony, Ian, Ozzy, Vicky, Mum, Ewan & Shiela. Never ending banter and jelly babies kept us going!
We have raised over £2000 pounds for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and £500 for the Willows Foundation!!!!  Thanks to everyone for your donations.

Al with more than enough energy to party!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Day 4: The bike stage is now complete, after the most hilly day of three with 1200 metres of climbing in 42 miles. We felt good so ran 15 miles which took in Pen Y Ghent and Fountain Fells. Good weather all day. Getting an early night ready for a tough 28 miles tomorrow!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Day 3: Cycling from Kilmarnoc to Sleagill.  A tough day had by all due to strong winds and heavy rain, and the hilly nature of the route.  My backside has got some good blisters, but only 42 miles cycling to do tomorrow.
Day two in the bag! 125 miles in 8 1/2 riding hours. Great weather and great views cycling up Glen Coe. I made a school boy error and had boxers under my shorts.... why didn't anyone tell me this is a bad idea? Im going to have a sore arse now for the rest of the week!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Paddle Pedal Hobble - Day 1

Following many months of training and preparation we have finally started our challenge - Paddle Pedal Hobble.

At 19:15 29th July 2012 we started paddling from Neptunes Staircase in Fort William. The old canoe will do us proud I'm sure.

The weather looks okay - just a few showers (and midges to contend with)!

Pictures to follow tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Winter Skills Course 25th-26th Feb 2012

 On the 25th February we started the Winter Skills course heading for Aonach Beag. The weather wasn't very kind to us and gave the group some tough conditions to deal with in the form of strong wind and rain.

Despite that the whole team got stuck in and learned lots of new skills for moving around on the snow.

Si demonstrating how to cut a bucket seat
 With a dodgy looking weather forecast we decided to head for Stob Coire Nan Lochan to look at some more movement skills, rope-work, and ice axe arrest.
Si and Chris demonstrating belaying technique

Kim grabbing her ice axe before breaking!

Ruth thinking of her next moves to carry out an ice axe arrest
I would like to thank everyone who attended the course, we had tough conditions but everyone was very enthusiastic and always had smiles on their faces. Great company and a pleasure to work with.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Green Man VI 7

Here it is, footage of the new route. Unfortunately my camera stopped working so haven't got all the footage for the second pitch.