|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!|
|Happy to complete Stage 1|
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|
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|
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|
|Chris topping out on Midge Hill|
|Al topping out on Midge Hill|
Now time to party and drink beer!
|Beer & Medals! Medals made by Nell, what a little star!|
|Almost the full team at the end!|
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!|