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. :/