I’m scrunching my eyes closed and even my butt cheeks are clenched; I’m just dreading this kayaking river trip today. Huddled under the awning at the Wild Water Kayak Club on my beautiful Strawberry Beds, I squint a glance out at the river, as the raindrops drain down my curls and onto my face like tears. I hate the cold, I hate being wet, I’m bloody scared and simply grumpy as…(ahem).
I’m squeezed into two wet-suits; a 7mm and a liner, and my toes are squeezed into these expensive ‘kayak-faster’ booties that cost a fortune and are now fashionably dividing my big toes away from the rest of my foot like a cloven hoof. It hurts – and my feet are still cold – and I’m only standing on the bank. The gang are late, and with the first shimmer of enthusiasm of the day, I wonder if perhaps they’re not coming? Too late, they arrive.
I’m going out with Andy Cahill the fearless crusader featured in the picture here, a bunch of lads and lassies from the DCU crew, and my WeightWatchers’ buddy, Vera Baker, who’s also travelling to Uganda with me next month, for Concern.Pulling out boats and gear and strapping the kayaks to the cars is fun, the work warms me and the adrenalin begins to flutter through my veins as we jump in and head off to Lucan Weir. I don’t mind the walk down to the riverbank carrying the kayaks, or getting on the water, I’m comfortable at this stage with paddling, even in slightly rough water. I also don’t mind falling out and being in the water – truth be told, I can hold my breath for ages and feel like I’m in my element underwater. I don’t panic and I’m always aware of where I am and what I have to do. So WHY do I have this mental block about going over weirs? Is it the fear of heights thing that’s crippling me? It’s not the falling out of the kayak or spinning underneath – what’s the worst that can happen? I fall, I swim, I get back in the boat?
So why the sickening fear as the water catches me and I feel myself and my ‘Kendo’ (kayak) sweeping up to the high drop at Lucan. Despising my negative vibe, I go with the flow and prepare to get dumped out at the bottom of the weir. My kayak reaches the crest and for a second I see the height of the drop below as the foaming white river reaches up to grab me – before we’re over and plummeting, my heart in my mouth, like when I was a child and my dad drove fast over country roads on the way to visit relatives in Cavan. Andy’s words pound in my brain, lean forward, paddle like F###, and smile. I’m leaning, I’m paddling, I’m sure as heck not smiling – and I’m over, and in white water, and I’m paddling and the river’s racing past, and my kayak’s pulling over, but I’m NOT going down this time, paddle, paddle, paddle – and there’s the smile – beaming – whooping, screaming “I’ve done it!” I’m through, I’m down, I’m in the eddie, the still water, I’m safe… and I’ve DONE IT. Finally I’ve got it. After 6 weeks of training, and three other attempts at weirs, I’ve finally made it down. My confidence is soaring, like a bubble on a breeze.
The bubble burst shortly afterwards – I ploughed through the next challenge, The Anna Liffey Shackletons Weir, and the Wrens’ Nest, further down the river. An appalling display of growling menace as I got rescued and dragged myself into my kayak – frowning – yet again! “I’m flipping walking, I can’t do it, I’m brutal, I’m never going to get this right…” etc., etc., etc.. The most annoying part of the day is knowing that even as I’m cursing the river, I know I’m not going to leave it there and I’m going to put myself through this torture yet again. There are times when I just wish I could settle for giving up!
I’m back on the river this Sunday – my last chance to get this right, before heading to Uganda to tackle rapids in the mighty Nile. I’m fit and strong, and I’ve spent months building muscle and core strength, but the skill level is going to be touch or go. There’s a volcano over 4,000 metres high to climb, with a tough incline and altitude thrown in, there’s camping and cycling for 200k in tough heat in the bush, and there’s The Nile, the mighty Nile, with her crocs and hippos, waiting for the last kayaker home!
It’s hard to believe there’s just about 10 days to go. I’ve been training for months now and all of a sudden the expedition is hurtling up towards me at the speed of light, and I’m running out of time. If I’m not ready now – it’s going to be a tough ten days in Africa. :/
Well an early start for the hills…. fumbling around in the dark, so that I don’t wake up my friends – in the bedroom at the Crowne Plaza where we all collapsed around 3am, after the Community Counts Fashion Show. I put on my bra, only to discover it’s Fiona’s. Ooops, sorry Fee. I put it back neatly on the floor beside your knickers. I hope you found it!
My head is not exactly healthy, although I don’t remember drinking that much wine – but perhaps that’s the problem. Down to breakfast and I bump into Vera and Andy, the hostess with the mostess, and our DJ and soundman from the night before. Cheery greetings and I grab a plate of beans and mushrooms, with a slice of black pudding, and deny myself the sausages! (I am supposed to be training after all.) It’s 8am and I’m pushing off shortly to join some of my old Mountain Rescue buddies on a mountain in Wicklow for a day’s hiking.
I’m climbing today with www.irishguidedwalks.ie and the target is ‘Lugalla’ or ‘Fancy’ Mountain. So good they named it twice. It’s a long, slog up – heading up past the old Guinness Estate and lake, then a climb along a ridge, a water crossing, and back down again to the cars. I start out on the upward climb to the ridge and I quickly realise the pace is fast, a bit too fast for me. Instead of huffing and puffing, I take off a layer of clothes, drink some water and drop back. Ronan’s a good guide and he’s going to stay with the slowest in the group, so I’m happy that I won’t find myself under ‘unreasonable’ pressure. As it happens, the fast pace killed some of the early starters and they dropped back – leaving me about 2/3rds of the way down the line by the time we reached our first summit.
I wonder if I will ever be fast? I never seem to have that pace that pulls ahead under a head of steam. Maybe that’s my short legs (I’m 5ft), or maybe I’m just not fit enough yet. But where I’m building confidence is with the conviction that I don’t generally get tired. I have a slow, but steady pace and I’ll just keep plugging along. My knees are dodgy, but I use walking poles to get me through the most difficult bits; and so far, I’ve been lucky. Everything’s held up.
The hike takes about 3.5 hours to cover just over 8-kilometres of mixed incline, at a pretty reasonable pace….a good little training walk, to keep me ticking over for that volcano we’ll be climbing in Uganda for Concern in less than a month’s time.
The sun was beaming, all traces of the night before evaporated quickly, and it was good to be back on a hill with friends. A girl finds a lot of answers on a mountain, and tripping over the heather was just what this girl needed this weekend!
Climbing a volcano for Concern in Uganda won’t actually involve rock-climbing, although there may be some scrambling (climbing without ropes), but I reckon all exercise counts when you’re training for a big challenge like this – so I grabbed at the chance to celebrate the PPI Radio Awards in Kilkenny this year – by going climbing the next day in a local quarry – with my old buddies from the WetN’Wild adventure club.
Ballykeefe quarry blew me away, it’s a natural amphi-theatre and they have cleverly adapted the place to hold open-air concerts, with seating and a covered stage area, which has a beautiful and sympathetic design that adds rather detracts from the views – and also provided a welcome shelter for us climbers and our gear.
Amazingly – with the sort of year I’ve been climbing through – there was no rain. The day dawned bright and sunny, and as the quarry is south-facing we enjoyed a micro-climate, with our voices challenged by the noise of bees buzzing – as we sizzled in the sun, wishing we’d brought sun-block and repeatedly declaring our good fortune. I saw my first butterfly of the summer – on this gorgeous October day – and several more before the day climaxed in a sunset born of molten gold. We climbed for six full hours – a whole day hanging of a sunny slab… I haven’t described the climbing – the pictures do that so much better……
What a fabulous weekend. I needed a good long hike to stretch the legs as part of my training for climbing Mount Elgon with Concern in Uganda this November, so I headed down to Killarney to my old mentor, adventurer and mountain man extraordinaire, Pat Falvey. I’d climbed Carrauntoohil a couple of weeks ago with my Concern buddies, and it’s been 2 years since I last climbed Purple Mountain with Pat – and that was in the dark! So when he suggested an amble across Purple and Tomies, he didn’t need to twist my arm. I’ve always been intrigued with the beautiful Purple Mountain, that gets it’s name from the fabulous sandstone that glows purple tones at a distance, when conditions are right.
The morning dawned magically misty, and I caught my breath as I peered out my window at the mountains in the distance, my head slightly under the weather from my Killarney reunion the night before with glasses of chiraz the size of buckets down in Beaufort Bar. A good breakfast under my belt and a spring in my step – I took off for Pat’s new shop, beside Kate Kearney’s cottage. It’s an Aladin’s cave for hikers… you can top up your gear, pay hundreds of euro for a top of the range down jacket, or poke around in the bargain bucket and come up for air with deadly gloves for a tenner, like I did… you can also book a hike in the hills, a boat trip or climb – or even look further afield to plan an expedition in the world’s exotic high places, before relaxing next door to plan the finer details over a pint of plain…
Heading up to the Gap the wisping mist had suddenly thickened to a heavy fog and I’d resigned myself for another wet one; but as I strapped on my gaiters and checked my pack for waterproofs and extra gloves – the fog suddenly blew away as fast as it came, and my heart sang as bright sunlight unexpectedly poured into The Gap. Avoiding the 1300 athletes who were milling through the gap for a running, cycling, kayaking adventure race – we headed up into the hills, quickly dropping layers and shoving hats and gloves deep into our kit bags, as we picked up a rhthymn, breaking into a light sweat, laughing with the sheer joy of being alive, and rejoicing in the music of the mountains, with the sound of water trickling over mossy rocks, and catching my breath in puzzlement to see fish jumping in lakes high in the hills. How do they get there?
It was a nice, steady pace, four of us in the group and no-one in a hurry. Laughing sometimes, silent for long spells, listening to the sound of breathing, of boots sucking in soft peat, and the clickety clack of poles tapping on sandstone. A picnic sitting on a warm stone with stunning views as the mountains fell away all around us to the sea, the comaraderie of good friends. My heart full of the joy and simplicity and beauty of a sunny hill. We pushed on, and up to Tomies Mountain, leaving the sandstone stepping stones behind, and making the summit to push down into spongy heather. Pleasant at first, and then a bit of a menace, as the legs continued to push through it’s springy depth, finding footholds – or not. Quite a few bottoms were kissed by the Kerry mountains this day….. down from the heather fields and into ferns, as my imagination took flight and I was beating through bush in Borneo…. until I met the beautiful ash-tree that signalled the end of our hilltop adventure – 5 minutes later, we’re on hot tarmac, and dodging pony-traps as we skip back up the road to Kate’s. A good six-hour trek, a beautiful day… and another training milestone on the road to Uganda. Does life get much better than this?
Myself and Concern/Uganda buddy Vera Baker are heading off to Kerry tomorrow evening to climb with the extraordinary adventurer Pat Falvey on his beloved mountains.
Vera and I have been building up our hours on the hills in preperation for climbing Mount Elgon as part of our tri-adventure in Uganda for Concern next month. Two weeks ago we climbed Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain – and that was the plan for this weekend too. But Pat might have something slightly different planned. He mentioned Purple Mountain and Tomies – a beautiful hike through gorgeous Killarney, with stunning misty views of the Gap, and the purple-hued shaly rock, after which the mountain gets it’s name.
Looking at the magical view of the Gap from the top of Purple, here, I feel my breath catch in my throat with excitement and emotion. Only some of us feel this way about mountains. You either love them or hate them. Sometimes I hate the way they make my body feel…. but I’ll always love them.
The first time I climbed a hill – Spink Mountain in Wicklow with Rosaleen from the Hope Foundation, I stood at the summit and told myself with complete certainty that I’d be back when I was 80…. I weighed 19 stone at the time, and getting to the summit had been excruciating. Then Rosaleen turned me around to look down across the lakes of Glendalough and said in a soft Dublin/Scottish burr “look how far you’ve come girl”. It meant so much more than that as I looked off across the lakes…. and there were tears.
There will always be tears, and there will always be fears, but thank God – there will always be mountains. x
Well it’s taken over 2 weeks to get myself back on the bike. I wimped out one morning during that heavy rain we had, and the bike’s been sitting forlorn and mud-caked in the hallway ever since.
I tried to cycle into work on Monday, but couldn’t bring myself to start off the week that way. I tried to cycle into work yesterday, but listened to the voices in my head telling me I was too tired (after a good night’s sleep too!)… Then finally this morning, when the alarm went off at 6am, I grudgingly dragged myself away from my pillow, struggled into my padded lycra shorts suit (this so wasn’t designed for my body) and after finding every reason not to leave the house, I eventually edged my silver dream machine (Les bike) out the hall door.
It was damned cold this morning, and I realised that as I wheeled off down the end of my cul-de-sac, my nose was already weeping, and my ears were cut to shreds with the breeze. I grumbled for the next 5 mins or so, and then I suddenly realised that I was in top gear, flying like the wind, and absolutely loving the freedom of whizzing down the road into the dark morning.
There’s a lesson here. I avoided cycling for 2 whole weeks and convinced myself I hated it. I don’t. I love it. I loved cycling in this morning, I felt really good and strong – and I got into work in 45 minutes flat – without pushing the pace. As it turns out, I hadn’t lost a minute on my time for the 15k cycle. I’m thrilled – and I’m back.
It’s 6 weeks now, to my Concern/Uganda challenge; and the training is stepping up in earnest for myself and my WeightWatchers’ buddy Vera Baker. We’re off to Kerry and Limerick this weekend to climb and hike. Personally, the plan from here on in, is an hour of heavy-lifting in the gym twice a week. Cycling the 30k round trip into work 5 days a week. At least one swim at the weekend, and as much kayaking and climbing as we can fit in, between now and the off-date.
I’ve also started my injections and have Hep A and the first of THREE Rabies shots done. They warned me it would hurt – it didn’t. Hope that continues, and I hope I don’t start howling at the full moon…. wuff wuff folks…