A liberating journey - Follow your dreams

I've been playing with Buddy at liberty for a couple of years now.  I say playing and not working, not to diminish our efforts or learnings, but to remind me that 'work' is not a great term to use when we do things with our horses, and play sounds much more fun. 
When I see other trainers and displays where liberty is done, it very often looks more like play and enjoyment, and for many years I thought 'If only I could do that with my horse, I bet if I let my horse loose in the school she would just walk off, or not move'.  (She being Coffee - Buddy's Dam)
 For a long time I just thought I wasn't good enough, my horse wasn't good enough, I didn't have the right trainer, the right equipment, blah blah blah, any excuse to distract me from what that 'i bet...' thought was saying.  I knew back then that my horse was trying to say something to me.  Something about what I was doing, or how I was acting, meant my horse did not want to be around me.  A hard pill to swallow when you are passionate about horses and riding, and you have a deep desire to do well with them.

That was the first thing I had to not only acknowledge, but come to terms with and accept, before I could move forward.

Humans take these things personally.  I thought my horse doesn't love me, she only does things for food or because I make her.  I felt like a bad human. 

Eventually, after I stopped having my own little pity party, I started to search for ways to do something about it.  How can I be a human that my horse wants to be around and wants to try things for?  I had used a Monty Roberts trainer in the past to help us with our loading issues.  I thought they were her issues but lately I've begun to realise some of the issue is mine.  It was at a time when I knew something was a miss but didn't yet really want to acknowledge it.  I hurts our ego as a human, to feel small, insignificant, unloved, and useless.  When you take a horse off line, what you are left with is the truth.

So, I looked further in to Monty Roberts and I had heard of some guy called Pat Parelli, who was also some master whizz at liberty and knowing how to speak horse.  I read articles and watched videos, I basically found every free titbit of information I could find.  Free because I didn't have any money spare to invest in courses, training and equipment.  I started to use some of what I had learnt from the loading sessions, along with the bits I found on the internet and in magazines.  At the time, there wasn't much out there. 'Natural horsemanship' was still very new and you were basically considered wierd by the majority of horse folk, if that's what you were in to.

By following these methods I found some improvements.  I developed my way of looking at situations and found new 'better' ways to solve problems.  Some took more time than 'traditional' solutions I'd heard of or used, but the horses seemed more resposive and accepting, and the results were longer lasting and the horses seemed calmer.

It wasn't long after this that we had to sell our horse.  I was distraught and thought I may never have the chance to have another.  I returned to riding school lessons, and mostly put aside the 'natural' horsemanship ideal. 

Cut forward a few years and an even longer story, I had my old horse back and also her foal.  I was determined to train him myself in everything.  Cut forward a few more years of searching, researching, making mistakes, fixing them etc etc...  And one of the biggest things I've found so far is that, of all the trainers I've read about, watched videos of, been to demonstartions and seen articles in magazines and so on, I don't wholly commit to any one of them.  Every single one so far has done something, said something that just doesn't ring true for me.  That's not to say they are wrong.  They are all professionals in their own right, and have huge success rates with horses.  So I've also been through those moments of 'what the hell do I know, they are successful, so I should listen to them, and follow their program' and I've tried and tried to do it their way, but if I have had results, they've just not always felt right. 

My next big hurdle to overcome then was to drop the 'want' feeling.  I was getting a lot of good stuff done on-line, I had a responsive, relaxed horse I thought.  With a bit of rope and almost no pressure what so ever, I could have him doing all sorts of things, I thought we were playing together well.  But take away the rope and what are you left with..... the Truth.  I would try taking away the rope, and for a few minutes he might stay with me, but then he would go.  This might be when he realised he no longer had that rope, or perhaps that I had no treats, or maybe it was when I asked him to do something or tried something new. 

I signed us up to go to a liberty clinic with a local trainer Cheryl Buck.  She had done Parelli training to a high level, and then like me (I felt) she had found other ways of working/playing too, and had not got a 'This way is the only way' approach.  I explained to her what was going on and we did some nice work on-line.  She had a few things to adjust that helped, but largely I felt I had proved my point of 'we can pretty much do anything on-line'.  Then the liberty session came and it wasn't long before Buddy left.  He stayed with me this time longer than he ever had, and wether that was taking some comfort from me as someone he knows in a new environment, or something to do with the pointers in the online session, who knows, but one things for sure, he still left. And it still hurt. 

She asked me then how much I wanted it to work.  How much I wanted him to come to me and to be around me.  I of course replied, 'a lot'.  To which she said, 'stop wanting it so much'.  She had me send Buddy away and got me to just follow directions from her, and when he was just on the verge of completely leaving me, at a distance, at canter, she got me to crouch down in to a ball.  The timing wasn't so apparent then, but the result was clear.  As I crouched and because I was working only on her instructions not doing things to create a result, Buddy came cantering over to stand by me.  I hadn't wanted him, in that moment, to come to me, I hadn't expected it.  I had only crouched down and made me and my energy very small in a big arena; he felt the absense and came to me. 

This was also the turning point for two more things that followed (and I feel are connected to) losing our 'want', which is our energy and being present in the moment. 
If we want, very desperatley, for our horse to come to us, our energy is likely smothering... it is based on our ego.  If they come we think they think highly of us, other people will be impressed, perhaps we will be impressed; this is in effect an energy that will push them away.  It is not an energy that is to be followed like a leader, or 'respected' ( I use this term lightly here. The word respect could take a whole blog of it's own). 
If we 'want' very desperatley our horse to come to us, we are thinking in the future, we are hoping, and not looking at the here and now, and probably we are expecting it not to happen, because it hasn't happened before.  We are not present and in the moment.
I've found further clarity in these points by reading and watching Anna Marcinak - One Horse Life, and have attended a couple of her webinars.

Since that clinic I've also played with Straightness Training, Horse Agility and Rider Biomechanics.  This has helped me notice and address any body tensions and imbalances in the horses body, made things more fun, got more ideas for things to do and further energy work, and notice rider tensions and imbalances and how to address those too.

My next bit of learning in this area is to come from Karen Rohlf - Dressage Naturally at a clinic by one of her endorsed clinicians in the UK.  I look forward to hearing more about Dressage Naturally as it is another view point I've enjoyed reading about so far.

So the point of this story?  Well I'm not sure there was one.  I felt compelled after this morning to write about my liberty journey, and so I have.  I hope reading it helps you in some way.

My advice from here? 
Never stop learning. 
Don't be afraid of making a mistake. 
If you find something doesn't work for you, maybe try a couple more times and then put it to one side if it's still not working.  You may find in time or with another horse you will use it again, but trust that you know what is right for you and your horse right now. 
If other people on the yard make you feel wierd for doing something different, this is not a reflection on you.  This is a reflection on them.  Let that wierd light shine!
Your dreams are not made of what other people do.  Follow YOUR dreams.

Please note there should be links on my website LJM Equine for all the trainers mentioned.  If anything is missing and you want to see it linked there, please let me know.
If you have any questions or comments please do send me a message.  You can find my contact details on my website too.

New wheels....

Alright, I haven't listened to my own advice... no surprise there really.... no 'to do' list created and not feeling much more productive business wise.  I did go to a table top sale last week and I got a few cards out there, managed to make back the cost of the table with items sold too so not an entirely useless few weeks.

I have however, managed to get out exercising more.  The Birmingham Velo came through the area the other week; as we were unable to get very far without difficulty, and Keith has an interest in his bikes, we went over to Bewdley bridge to watch some of the cyclists come through.  It was nice to see them come past actually, all the different charities and causes they were riding for, the more 'professional' looking types and those who appeared to be more 'leisure riders'.  By the time they reached Bewdley they were just over half way, with a little shy of 50 miles to go, and none of them looked tired or out of breath (although I suppose if they were they would have been in trouble!)

His interest for road bikes revitalised by watching the race, Keith 'joked' about signing us up for next year.  A few days later, we were both pre-registered and I had a shiny new (second hand bargain) road bike.... New Wheels... The surprise was the same as when I suddenly had a kayak at my disposal, but at least this time it didn't have the same terrifying undertones!

Well, I figured what the hell... I need to do more exercise anyway and I'd rather cycle than swim.  I've never ridden a road bike before, and it is quite a different feeling at first.  The difference between riding a solid hunter and a race horse.... it still has two pedals that make the wheels go round and whole bunch of gears, handle bars and a seat, but has completely different feel to a mountain bike.  I still don't know anywhere near enough to explain it any better than that.  If you've ever ridden one you'll know what I'm talking about, if not... maybe you should give it a try and see what I mean.

So with my lovely new cycling attire (Aldi specials) and Keith digging out his stuff too, some lights on the bikes and some shoes sorted, we set about getting some miles done on the bikes.  After a shaky start and with a few adjustments to the bike on the way (another thing that was way more complicated with cycling than I thought it would be, is how much the bike set up makes a difference) we did just under 10 miles.  If you fancy a look at the stats for that you can find me on Strava (Laura Morrish) .

Having found that I enjoyed myself I managed to get in a little ride on my own.  I kept hold of the bike after one evening ride from a house sit, and cycled home from there on a quiet afternoon.  It got me another 8 miles under my belt and it felt good.  A little healthy competition never hurts, and Keith was keen to 'catch up' with me.  He did another 17 miles so now I had a few to do to catch up, and I managed another solo ride home via the yard and surprised myself clocking up 17 miles too.... I'm still a little ahead.... lol... it's more fun and cheaper than the gym, but since I haven't paid a subscription the motivation to get out and cycle is sometimes a little harder to find.  I'm determined to keep it up though.

I've also been swimming again, and 32 lengths (1/2 a mile) felt even easier this time.  This may be largely to do with giving up smoking (stoptober) and swimming has provided me with the only noticeable difference, other than my terrible irritability and consistent frustration....  So I think swimming will be useful, at least as a benchmark.  I do enjoy it to a point but it's certainly not my favourite sport!

So now I'm looking forward to a trip to the lakes in November.  It's a kayaking trip, but I've not really done any practice since the Alps (aside from a splash about on flat water shortly after we got back).  My lack of motivation to paddle in the cold UK climate, in murky UK waters, matched by Keith's lack of motivation to do the same.  It has started to dawn on me that this trip isn't far away (a little less than 3 weeks) and my potential paddling days are well... one... before we go.... maybe I'll get Keith to load the bike on ther car too.... :s I've got a bit more time to stress over that one.....

I suppose I will see what the next few weeks brings!


One foot in front of the other

It's been a while since I last updated, and unfortunately I've done very little paddling too!  I'm starting to feel like I'm going backwards having not paddled for so long.  It's the head games but I know it's going to up the nerves next time I go out.  It's getting dark earlier in the evenings now too so the potential for getting out in the week is slim.

On top of that it's also been difficult to fit in some exercise.... Oh who am I kidding?  I've been putting off exercise because... *insert any poor excuse available*.  So last night I went swimming...

Swimming has never been my favourite sport, but with only a couple of hours available to us our choices were limited.  We had cried off the bike riding on Tuesday because the forest was going to be pretty muddy (example of poor excuse), and I was determined to do SOMETHING, knowing that making ourselves do something would be the hard part, but we'd feel good for it.

No surprise then that after 32 lengths (half a mile) I felt pretty good.  I've definitely felt fitter,  but it didn't feel as bad as I thought it would.

Now the harder part, keeping motivated to do more.  I know when I exercise regularly, doing things I need to do to progress my business (marketing, organising and so on) but it is very easy to slip into the habit of not doing things....

So one foot in front of the other, time to make a list of things to do, so as I pick up the exercise and start to do more,  I know what I need to do! 

The mighty T

After a busy week Keith and a quick play at the club Keith and I were keen to get back on the water for a play.  Keith had a new boat to try out and I wanted to see how different I felt on UK rivers after being in the Alps.  So we got together with a few other paddlers and headed over to the mighty T.  The last time I came to the T was an emotional visit, I was a nervous wreck and it all seemed to big and overwhelming.  I faced my fears and along with some tears made it through the pre-graveyard section by the end of the day.  I was determined this time I would do more and I wouldn’t get so wound up.

We got down here and without too much faff we were kitted up and on the water.  I spent much less time on the pre-pre-graveyard with some ferry glides and S-turns to get the feel of the boat again and settle in.  I was still nervous here but it was more a residual feeling from last time than actually to do with today.  Once I felt reasonably comfortable, I decided not to dwell too long on getting it perfect here before I moved on, and I hadn’t had a melt down so I had already felt an improvement.  We paddled on down to pre-graveyard and hopped out on the bank to take a look. 

The rapids here now looked a lot smaller.  I wouldn’t say I thought they were friendly looking but not the huge crashing swirls of death that they looked like before.  I looked at the eddies on each side and could see how I might want to get in and out of them.  For the most part I thought I might be able to get to them, but wasn’t too happy with getting out of them.  I decided I would take the first eddy on the right and then run through the rest.  Taking these eddies I realise gives other paddlers space to get out in front of you.  Now I’m not fussed about others getting on and doing their thing, I don’t own the place and I certainly don’t feel entitled to anything, but this is something I need to get over.  Keith went out of the eddy (confident in his ability he is able to see a gap and take it) and then I go to follow.  While I’m ‘setting up’ my line to get out of the eddy just where I want to, running through my little mantra that prepares me to keep the right edge and angle, and have the paddle strokes where I think they need to be, a few other paddlers come through.  I back off and wait for the next gap, again I take so long that more paddlers are coming across the lines where I want to be, and I’m not confident enough to go for it anyway.  Keith is patiently waiting for me a couple of eddies down and Alex (who was now in the top eddy next to me) suggested I go in front of her and Dylan.  I set up again, saw a gap and went for it.  This got my heart racing more than the waves themselves, but once in the flow I settled a bit, Keith jumped out of the eddy in front of me and we ran the rest.  No tears of relief this time, and I could feel that I had started to make a change in myself.  It’s no longer terrifying.  Still scary but not terrifying.  Having had to deal with so many other paddlers and finding a gap to get out my adrenaline was up and I hadn’t had chance to look for eddies or notice anything on the way through. 

I decided I would do the same again on the next run but try to notice where the eddies are as I passed them.  I found a gap to get out of the top eddy a lot quicker this time, had a slightly better line through the last wave and had noticed at least one eddy on the way through (There must be at least 10 eddies.  From the bank I can find them but shooting past on the river it’s much more difficult to see!)  We went again, Keith had suggested trying for another eddy but having stepped up from last time and made big improvements already I wanted to do the run the same again and have it feeling good.  This time I saw two or three eddies and only had a small fright when Keith went river right on the last wave.  It totally threw me and I ended up further river right than I needed to be to eddy out river left where we had planned.  That gave me another bit of an adrenaline jump but I made it and on the whole felt good with the run.

I was feeling tired by this point, happy with my progress since the last time we came and decided to call it a day for me.  My time paddling in the Alps has clearly upped my game but I wasn’t prepared to push it further and risk knocking my very new and tentative confidence.  So I walked along the bank with Bill, taking photos and video of the others as they moved down and played with the rest of the features.  I got changed after tea and cake break at the cafe, and walked again with Ali (who had now swapped to dog care duties so Bill could paddle) and enjoyed chatting and watching from the bank.

I look forward to my next trip there to see what I feel like I can go for to improve again.  One step at a time!

Back to the river

After three weeks back at home it was time to get back on the water.  Keith and I have both been a little lazy since we got back.  The post holiday blues you might say.  Nothing seems so much fun when it’s raining and miserable, and motivation is hard to find when you don’t have a big group of people all getting out doing fun stuff together every day.  

We made the effort to get to a Friday night river session with the club, despite the miserable weather which had stopped us the past couple of weeks.  I had my niece for the day and she was excited by the prospect of doing some kayaking with me.  After an awesome afternoon with the horses we got our stuff together and headed to the club.  Pennies paid, we got changed and I got some kit out for Freya to borrow.  It was only once we started to get a boat and paddles sized up for her that reality of what we were doing set in.  I think having seen some of my videos from the Alps she was worried about it being big feisty waves or something, and asked if we were going to start slowly!  I reassured her of course and told her if she doesn’t like it, that I won’t be upset if she wants to stop.  A quick brief and introduction with Keith and we were heading down to the water with our boats. 

At the steps we let a few others get on the water first so Freya could take her time.  I can now appreciate what everyone else could see in my face when I first paddled off flat water.  I recognised the look because I could see the feeling sat behind it.  Wanting to try something new and exciting but that fear and apprehension that comes from jumping in to the unknown!  I let Keith show her how to hold the paddles (we had gone through how to sit in the boat back up on the grass) and he slid her and her boat off the side to sit in the water.  I took over then while Keith got himself ready.  We just sat in the eddy and I got Freya to take some deep breaths.  Once again, I knew from very recent experience just the sort of thing she would be feeling.  A little twitch of your body making the boat wobble while you float around at the mercy of the water (We were still in the eddy but you still bobble about a bit) feeling like you’re about to go in at any moment, and this lump of plastic you’re sat in feeling so alien.  Still in the eddy Keith and I sat with her and got her going through her first tentative forward strokes.  It wasn’t long before her panic eased and we set off for the other side other river. 

Now that her panic had settled Keith went through a little more detail about forward strokes and a couple of basic turning strokes and had us both practicing spinning around on the spot.  Some might think a little basic for me, now that I’m an Alpine paddler and all, but most of this stuff was skipped over with me, as I had some very faint memory from my previous paddling and could go just about in a straight line.... It felt good to go back to these basics and know a little more about some techniques I didn’t even know I had been using. 

By the end of the session, Freya was paddling back and forth confidently, and I introduced the idea of Ferry Gliding to her.  When I explained, she said ‘Oh, like leg yield!’ which is about the closest horse movement you can compare to a Ferry Glide.  She picked this up quite easily and we then joined in with some games at the end.  I didn’t see how Freya got on with the T-Bone game, she was paired up with another young lad who started last week and I was paired up with Dean.  In our first round I just managed to get to the side of Dean.  I had honestly thought I’d lose very quickly but we both spent a good couple of minutes fighting it out!  In our second round Dean tried a little harder, and then tried so hard not to get caught out that he went over and had to roll!  A little relay race finished of the evening.  Our team having both Dean and I in it, and the other Team only having quite new paddlers, we had a handicap that Dean would have to go backwards!  I was so impressed with Freya paddling off to the other side and back on her own, it didn’t matter that we lost the race.  It was good fun and I was glad to have made the effort to go (as I always am once I get there).  We had hardly noticed the rain.

It also seems that Freya has another new hobby, she said to me on the way home... ‘That was so much fun, I nearly asked to stop in the beginning because it was so wobbly but it was really great.  I can’t wait until my next Friday with you!’.

It felt good to have got on the water and practice before Sunday, when Keith and I were heading back to Wales for our first ‘proper’ paddle since our return home.... Watch this space for that update!!!

Lessons learnt - the early years of business

We’ve been home from the Alps a little over 3 weeks now, and I’m only just starting to feel like I’m really home.  My mind has stayed in holiday mode despite getting straight back to work only a few hours after we got back. 

I use the word work here fairly lightly.  As I’ve mentioned before my work now doesn’t feel much like work as I enjoy what I do, and what I came back to was caring for a house full of animals. 

In the last 3 weeks I’ve spent 2 nights in my own bed and otherwise been engaged staying away pet sitting, alongside various lessons and horse care.  Not a bad way to coin a living and being an animal lover it’s something that comes easily and naturally to me.  There are stresses involved of course, as I’m caring for someone else’s beloved family members, I want them to be happy and healthy, with the love and attention they are used to. 

This year I have realised the first stages of my dream.  My work now fits in around my life instead of the other way around, and although it still needs a little adjustment to get things the way I want them, I’m in a much better place than I was 4 years ago.  I don’t make any grand earnings (yet) but I’m now at a point where I’m getting by.  A few more years perseverance and hard work and perhaps I’ll be truly standing on my own two feet, and my business should be well established.

It’s now I realise just how much effort I need to put in ‘behind the scenes’.  In the first couple of years I didn’t have much more than a rough idea of the sort of work I wanted to do, and just took on anything that I could get.  I’ve SLOWLY worked out a clearer vision for what I want my future to hold, and just as slowly started to piece together a plan for how I will actually get there.  It’s still not a solid plan and I’m determined to work on it.  I’m held back mostly by the fear of the unknown. The fear of failure.  I must be more positive and proactive in making plans and sticking to them. 
I now have an active facebook page, an instagram account and a full ‘professional’ looking website, alongside this blog.  I try to keep these updated and relevant as much as I can, and I’m gradually getting my head round how it all works.  I’m sure I’m still not using it fully to my advantage but I’ve not used the internet for much more than searching and general social media in the past, and I don’t understand computer lingo.... so not only am I always trying to keep my knowledge and experience up to date and growing, to be able to offer the best service I can, but I’m also learning new things that are more like work again... a necessary evil to create the life of my dreams!!

What I’ve learnt from my first few years...

- Work can fit around your life.  You don’t have to fit life around your work.
- Enjoy what you do, or you spend your life waiting for the weekends.
- It’s not easy but it’s worth it.
- It takes more effort than getting the job and showing up for work every day, but you’ll find you don’t mind so much!
- It takes time.  Don’t give up.
- Stand by your guiding principles, and do work you are proud of.  Sometimes this means turning down a job or a client.  If it doesn’t fit in with your plan or goals, and how you want to be, don’t do it.
- Money isn’t everything (but it helps)

- You are worth more than you think you are!

Alps 2017 - Galibier.... and The End.... :(

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do on Thursday.  It had seemed we had so much time to fit everything in, but with just two days left there was just so much I wanted to do, and nowhere near enough time to do it in.  After weighing my options and then sleeping on it, I decided I’d join the group Mountain biking.  They were driving up to the top of the Galibier and then taking the off road route back down, all the way back to the house.  It was a little chilly at the top of the mountain but I knew it wouldn’t take long to warm up, and the further down we went the warmer it would feel anyway.  The first bit of the route was on the road, only a few bends, but I haven’t done an awful lot on a bike.  I also didn’t know this bike well, and it was a bit scary going round the road bends where the edge of the road turned in to a huge drop, with no barriers to stop you going off the edge.  I soon found that, as with many sports (kayaking and horse riding most notably) I don’t much like being behind someone.  My fear being that I’m going to crash in to them, and cause a huge mess. 

I wasn’t particularly confident of the brakes on this bike at the start, and I needed them quite a lot on the steep mountain road.  When we got to the monument, just before the route goes off road, we stopped for a couple more pictures and set off down the gravel track.  I dropped in behind Rob, and headed off down the bone shattering route.  I’d have liked to go faster but it was so bumpy my arms felt like they were going to get shaken off, and then the loose surface made slowing and turning for the hairpin bends a bit more tricky.  We stopped after a little way to make sure we kept the group together as some were going at a more sedate pace.  Everyone in the group was at different levels, and had different things they wanted to get out of the day.  Matt was also hiring a bike so was in a similar boat to me with not knowing how it handles. 

The track continued for quite a while being steep and rocky, but I gradually started to get used to the shake, and got a feel for the turning and so on.  I’d also dropped in to lead, which meant I wasn’t worrying about crashing in to anyone, and I just hoped I wasn’t holding anyone up.  Keith and Trevor who were shuttling the cars for us had driven round so they could get some pictures of us coming past (Keith would have joined us on the bikes but his wrist was too bad).  Having checked I wasn’t holding anyone up I stayed in front after the road crossing, and the next part of the path got a little different.  It was still bumpy but now more grassy with narrow ruts which I struggled with a little at first.  I had a couple of wobbles where I couldn’t stay in one rut and ended up going back and forth between a few of them.  Once I got the hang of looking ahead a bit further (This is something I’ve noted is necessary in kayaking and horse riding too) I settled in a bit easier and eventually the ruts evened out a bit.  We went through a herd of cows (slowed down for them of course) and then the track started to get a little less steep.

It was still mostly downhill though, and now that I was more comfortable with the bike I started seeing if I could plan my line on the track better, and then rather than avoiding everything could I use a flat rock here or there to jump off and so on.  Teeny tiny jumps but it made it really interesting for me.  The scenery was stunning of course, as it has been everywhere we have gone during the holiday, and it was very nice to be rolling through the countryside.  The route was taking us somewhat parallel to the Guisane River, and at times we crossed some little adjoining streams too.  It was quite welcome to have a little cool splash, with the temperatures getting warmer now we were pretty much off the mountain.  Rob and I seemed to be reasonably well matched for speed, with him having to overtake me where we came to any short uphill sections!  I don’t like going uphill, it’s too much like hard work and I never know what gear I should be in to make life easier! 
We had caught up with a group of French cyclists on the path and as both groups were stopping and starting to rest and let group members catch up and so on, we decided to take a break on the side of the path and let them continue so we weren’t constantly on top of each other.  It was very nice to sit in the sunshine and let our arms have a little break!

After this the route took us through a wooded section and through a couple of little villages before we got on to a section of road.  This had some uphill to it, so the group overtook me and I caught up with them where the route went back off road again.  It was at this point I realised Matt was not here.  I had thought he had gone past me with the others, but he must have been behind me.  We had taken a few turns and wondered if he had gotten lost!  After a few minutes sat by the river side and a bit of phoning round and looking we found him and carried on together again. 

After this we came to the last couple of sections where the path went along the side of a leat (surface water drainage channels).  On the other side of the narrow path was a steep drop and we were advised by those that had cycled it before, that if you’re going to fall off, go for the water!  It was narrow and winding in there, with rocks and tree routes as obstacles.  There were a number of times I had to stop and put my feet down to ‘walk’ the bike round or over them before carrying on.  It was really important here to keep looking at the path ahead so something like this didn’t take you by surprise.  Rob and I had gone to the front of the group again and got to the end of the first section of leat.  We waited here for some time, knowing that not everyone would go through this so quickly.  I was quite surprised to have handled it so well and felt really good.  After about 15 minutes we wondered if perhaps the rest had taken one of the paths off to one side to head to the bottom so we decided we would carry on and meet them further down.  A few minutes later I got a call from Keith,  Sam had wondered where we were but didn’t have my phone number so had got in touch via Keith.  They had taken a slightly different route to head to the ski lift station for lunch.  We had stopped just above this when we were waiting so it was only a mix up in how we were getting down there.  At this point it was going to be a long uphill slog for me and Rob to meet back up with the group and we were only about 10 minutes from the end of the forest track, so we agreed to just finish off the route now.  We asked Keith to come and fetch us from there with the car and bike racks, as I didn’t really fancy a hard ride uphill back to the house; Rob didn’t take much convincing that this was a good idea either!
We were much too late by now to go out and do the Via Ferrata that we had discussed going to do in the afternoon, and actually I was quite drained.  Although it was downhill, your core and arms get used a lot, and in the sun it still took a lot of energy out of me.  I headed upstairs for a little lie down.... which turned out to be a long 3 hour nap!  I was even more tired than I thought!  We had discussed going climbing again if the Via didn’t work out but everyone was totally wiped out from the day (and probably from the last two weeks) so it was a restful evening in the garden again before dinner. 

And so, our final day was upon us.  It seems to have come around so fast, as the end to every holiday and adventure tends to do.  With tidying and cleaning in the house needing to be done we only had the morning to get out to do some final activity.  One group went out biking and the other went kayaking.  I went to join the group on the water, returning once again to the Briancon to Prelles run.  Sam hadn’t paddled since her swim on the upper Guisane last Saturday, so felt quite nervous, and I felt a little nervous too, but I couldn’t really figure out why.  Keith wasn’t paddling with us as his wrist was still swollen and sore, but this would be the third time I had done this section of water and the levels seemed very similar to when I had done it last and felt so good here.  In any case we got on the water, I made an eddy on river left and waited for the group to be ready to go.  Keeping space was less of an issue down this river now, given its relative ease in comparison to others we had done, but I still gave myself ample room from the person in front to help settle my nerves.  I soon relaxed and felt comfortable, but again made sure that I concentrated so as not to ‘fall over’ on something simple.

The section I had lead last time was exactly the same as before, although there may have been a small difference in the water levels it didn’t make any difference to the wave trains or technicality of the section.  I kept well back at this point to give myself chance to pick my own line again.  This time it was a much cleaner run, it felt smoother and I was quite confident as I went through.  I also went to the eddy on the other side at the end to make it a little different.  As the barrage was open (the Dam was releasing) we had to use a get out a little earlier and walk a few hundred yards down the road to the cars.  I felt great but also a little sad that this marked the end of an amazing trip.

All that was left was to tidy and pack, ready for our journey home tomorrow.  Keith and I walked in to the town to look for some presents to take home once our bags were packed, and then the group went out to a local restaurant for the last evening meal.  I did take a few moments to look back at the holiday.  Every holiday and adventure I go on changes me a little.  I’m certainly not the same paddler I was when I arrived, I’ve strengthened a few friendships and met some new people, and I’m very happy that Keith and I had passed the ‘first holiday test’.  I suppose as this was a big group holiday we did spend time apart when groups split up, but it was still a lot of time to spend around each other.  Even the long trip home with us both exhausted (total 18.5 hours straight as we didn’t do a hotel stop over this time) didn’t have any problems. 

I’m already looking forward to next year!

Alps 2017 - Star fish and steak

We’re now well in to the second week of the holiday, which I’ve been told is less ‘paddle intensive’, and most people start to do more of the other activities out here.  This is largely due to the water levels dropping during our stay, and there being less rivers running at suitable levels by the second week.  Last week on our way back from Argentiere, Sam and I found a place for some horse riding and we had booked that for today (Tuesday).  Keith was keen to join us too, so we later added him to the booking.  That wasn’t until the afternoon though, so we decided to go with Chucky and Dean to get a Via Ferrata done, as we hadn’t managed one so far.  The Via we went to was just a short easy one, about half an hour from the house, and on the way to the horse riding so it fit in perfectly.  It also gave us chance to check out some sport climbing, as there is a little crag at the bottom of the Via. 

The walk in to the Via was probably harder than the Via itself!  Basically because I’m actually pretty unfit when it comes to cardio!  But, after a bit of a scramble up the path we reached the start of the Via wires.  Dean and I hadn’t ever done one before so the others gave us a couple of pointers before we started, mainly to do with the cow tails used to clip in to the wire, and keeping one bolt behind the person in front of you.  The cow tail has two ‘tails’ if you like which attaches to your harness.  You clip these tails on to the wire that is bolted in to the rock along the route.  When you reach a bolt you unclip and re-clip each tail separately, so you’re always attached to the wire with at least one.  If you slip and fall you’ll still be safe.  Staying one bolt behind the person in front means if they fall, their cow tail won’t slide down the wire and take you with them.  All these adventurous activities come with some sort of brief, that give some ‘lovely’ pictures of the terrifying possibilities ahead, however I’d like to note that if you go about this stuff with the right attitude, they really are just a ‘safety net’.  You wouldn’t go without using one, but hopefully you never need it.

About half way up the Via, Keith and I had got a little out front so we stopped on a little ledge in the rock, and took in the stunning scenery.  The views all around the area have been gorgeous all week anyway, but when you take it in from the side of a rock face, about a foot of a ledge to sit on with a very steep drop below you, it gives you a whole different perspective.  The others weren’t far behind and we were soon moving on.  We came up to a part where the route took you down a little in to a crevasse, under a big boulder that had got wedged in the opening, and out the other side.  That was quite interesting, and in the shade of the rock it was nice to cool down for a few minutes.  This route is quite exposed at times, and you certainly do feel the heat!  Once at the top it was a nice walk through the forest to get back to the cars, and we all sat in the shade to eat lunch, and took a look at the sport climbing routes.

Dean and Chucky headed off then, I can’t remember what it was they were up to in the afternoon, but it was only Sam, Keith and I going riding.  We headed over to the yard and found out which horses we would be riding.  I had a little chestnut mare called Lady, Keith had a nice looking paint called Urais (I think) and Sam had a nice Dun called Fenatta (again I’m not sure I’ve spelt those names right.... my horse had an easy name!)  The yard staff helped Sam with her horse, I helped Keith on to his before getting myself ready, and we all set off.   We had a few photos and few laughs along the way through the town and for me it just felt odd to be riding on the wrong side of the road.  It’s mostly odd that this affected me more than driving on the other side of the road!!  We were soon on the forest tracks heading up in to the hills and we had a couple of trots, Keith’s horse was an expert at eating on the move, and managed to get a huge mouthful, while trotting, without Keith even noticing!

One of the trots took us on a short section where the path when downhill, so I told Keith to make sure he kept his shoulders back... trotting downhill was not something we’d covered yet... he managed just fine though and was rather enjoying himself even when his horse came cantering past me, annoyed that we had switched places on the way!  We had our first canter then, and it went well, Keith just about managed to find the rhythm by the end of it, and was keen to canter again as he’d enjoyed the feeling when he got in time with the horse.  The second canter started well but, as I’d mentioned Keith’s horse was getting right up the bum of the horse in front (Sam’s horse) he had tried to ask him to slow down, having only cantered a couple of times (actually only having ridden a handful of times) this was possibly a bit much to be doing on a strange horse (which I think was a tad small for him).  He lost a stirrup, lost his balance and then as he was wobbling he was also turning the horse.  He did well but, after few strides he decided he was better off out of this situation and bailed out, quite dramatically. 

I’ll probably have the image in my head for some time, of Keith throwing himself like a star fish off the side of a horse.  Now in hindsight, there is some comedy value to that image but at the time it was far from funny, and it may not be funny for Keith for a while longer.  The ground on these tracks is very hard, he hit his head and shoulder and managed to twist his wrist and knee.  The ride stopped obviously, and it took Keith a few minutes to gather himself, as his hearing had been a bit affected from the fall.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d had a mild concussion, but after taking some time to sit in a little shade and have a drink he felt OK and.... he got back on... many might have wanted to give up from here, but I think perhaps the fact we were not even half way through the 2 hour ride, and it would’ve meant a LONG walk back he decided getting back on was the better option.  We stayed in walk after this, which extended the ride a little, not a problem for me as it meant I got more time in the saddle for my money, but for Keith it got quite uncomfortable.  As Urais was a skilled snacker, and Keith’s wrist was now sprained, he used EVERY opportunity to get his head down and eat.  This aggravated Keith’s wrist, and when he gave up using the sore arm, and only used his good arm, he ended up with some skin missing on his fingers.  He eventually had enough, and once we were down on some flat open ground he decided to dismount and walked the horse back the last part of the ride.  Not long before this though he had sat a big spook really well (which would have unseated many) so maybe, if I can get him near a horse again, he will make a good rider in the future!

When we got back I got mine and Keith’s horses un-tacked and put back at their spot on the rail, and Keith was understandably keen to just get back to the house.  I put some wet tea towels in the freezer to make an ice pack of sorts for his wrist/knee/neck/whatever, and gave him a little sympathy.  I did feel a little guilty that it was my chosen activity that had gotten him injured, although I had warned him a two hour ride on a trek horse would be a big ask for him, and it would be completely different to the safe, sensible Toronto he had had ridden at home.  The rest of the group gave him a little less sympathy, and saw the comedy value of the John Wayne walk, but they did open his beer for him!  This fall and the sprained wrist unfortunately put him pretty much out of action for the rest of the holiday.
Thankfully he had already accomplished what he had set out to do this year, and had only missed out on the more gentle stuff in the last few days.

Wednesday was a laid back day for us.  There was group going out cycling, and they were going uphill so that didn’t interest me much, and a group going out to find some higher grade water that would be beyond my capabilities, so we stayed at the house for a lie in and relax in the sunshine.  Gregg, Sam and Trevor had all stayed at the house too so we all made use of the paddling pool throughout the day.  I got a little more of my book read and worked on my tan, which after paddling for a week had only really improved on my face and arms!  We had thought about going over to Le Lac but none of us made any moves to make it happen.  The garden and the views at the house were spectacular enough, and I felt I hadn’t really taken the time to appreciate them much yet.  When Chucky got back though, Sam and I were keen to go and have a go on the sports climbs we had looked at yesterday, and we had enough time before dinner to go down there.  Sam had only climbed outdoors once before, and it was some years ago, so this was practically a new experience for her.  She did really well and completed her first sport climb, with a little encouragement.  Keith had joined us too, and as there was a way to walk round to a ledge half way up the longer climbs, he was able to lower himself down from there and take some photos.  I hadn’t been out on rock for many years so I was glad to get out and second a couple of routes, and Chucky was happy to lead.  It made for a nice way to spend a few hours, and we got back to a nice steak dinner, which Chucky was particularly pleased about!

Alps 2017 - Super hero bat pants

On Sunday morning, we got a bit of a lie in.  This was definitely needed as I ached from head to toe.  Keith and I were joining Brian and Rob to make the quick run from Briancon to Prelles again.  The levels in the river had dropped (as expected at this time of year) but the flow was still strong and it hadn’t made it so rocky here.  Waiting for Keith and Rob to shuttle the cars, talking with Brian, I realised I wasn’t really worried at all about running this river now.   I had looked at the get in, and considered how I would break in to the flow and head for an eddy on the other side of the river, and I didn’t even have the slightest bit of nerves. I still knew I would need to concentrate, I didn’t want to be complaisant and trip over on something simple because I was too cocky about it!  We hopped in our boats when the cars were ready, and the get in worked as planned.  After this it was a bit of follow the leader, as in previous days, but I was now able to talk as we went along, look up at the scenery and generally enjoy the little wave trains that, only a week ago, had terrified me.  The smaller group was also a little more comfortable for me.  Having paddled with these guys on several occasions now, I knew not only would they look after themselves, but they would look after me too.  We didn’t get too bunched up as a group, and even when we did get closer to each other, this didn’t worry me anymore.

We had plenty of time to make the run in the morning, and as we weren’t in any rush we used the run to practice dropping in to lots of little eddies.  The guys all took turns leading and we generally just kept moving around in the group as each one of us chose different eddies, then one would go past the other and so on.  It began to feel almost like a dance between us.  Not really choreographed or by design, but just a few folk moving easily around each other.  There was a lovely section where there was a load of well-placed eddies, not just at either side of the river, but behind rocks in the middle too.  This made the eddy hopping even more dance like, and catching one big eddy at the same time as Brian will stick in my mind for a long time.  He came in from the left, I from the right, and we both glided together simultaneously.  It was just a nice moment that worked so well and couldn’t have been planned better, we shared a smile and a few words before we both broke out, and moved on to our next chosen eddies.  This run was the first time since I started kayaking that I really started to relax and enjoy.

Having found the enjoyment factor, I decided I needed to find a way to push my boundaries a little on water that now felt a comfortable level, so I asked if I could lead a short section.  When I first asked I was a little shy of it, I was a bit quiet and Keith had to get me to repeat what I’d asked several times.  Asking this, and Keith telling the others, put a little knot of nerves in my stomach.  Where we had eddied out at this point we couldn’t see far around the corner past the next rapid.  I’d said perhaps if we found a short rapid that looked good I would take the lead there, rather than jumping in here.  We went through the first rapid, Rob and Brian eddied out and called me past, and off I went in front.  I was now picking my own line and the line for the group to follow.  I had no idea what was ahead so it was a case of picking it out, a little at a time as I went along.  The first bit of rapid we came to had many easy lines to pick.  It was just a wide wave train with very little to avoid.  I came through this and just as I was thinking I was done, I saw another piece of rapid coming up.  I made the snap decision to stay in front.  It turned out this next piece of rapid was the most technical part of the run!  I only had a couple of parts where I felt I could have picked a better line, but the line I took wasn’t a bad one, and the only criticism Keith had for me when I stopped at the bottom, was that I had chosen a smelly eddy to finish at!  There was only another couple of short rapids after this before we finished.  It was only lunch time and I was on a high for the day!

The four of us then went over to Mont Genevre to meet up with the rest of the group at the uplift centre.  The ski lifts are opened during the summer for downhill mountain biking. Given how much I was aching when I got up I had decided I wouldn’t take a bike and instead joined Brian for a walk down.  We got our passes after lunch and headed up on the first ski lift with the others.  We then left the bikers and went on to the next ski lift, and the views at the top were breathtaking.

Brian and I then made a steady descent.  We crossed paths with Keith, Gregg and Chucky on their third run down, but we had little time to chat as they were in a rush to get back to the lifts, for one last run before it closed.  After an hour and a half, walking down hill starts to take its toll on your legs.  At the end we had a short (100m or so) where the ground levelled off and went slightly uphill.  Both Brian and I felt like were we floating, as it was quite a relief!  We met with the rest of the group at the bar for a drink before heading back ‘home’.

It was then back to the adrenaline fuelled activity on Monday.  Today we had organised to head over to the Guil again, but this time with a view to including some white water rafting!  The group was split with half wanting to paddle the big sections, and the other half wanting to raft.  So once we had all made our way over the mountain and had a few photo stops on the way, the groups split up.  The rafting group were running the upper section from the wood yard down to where the rafting starts, and then rafting through the Chateau Q Gorge, Guardian Angel, and Triple Step in the middle Guil gorge.  The big boys got on at Chateau Q and paddled straight through it all from there. 
I was of course with the rafting group (Certainly not yet capable of running with the big boys groups through the Grade 4+ features) and headed off to get on at the wood yard.  Keith was going with the big boys, as Chateau Q was something he had not yet done on previous trips, and he had finally felt ready for it this year.  He was a bit nervous at the start of the day though so I lent him my ‘super hero bat pants’ to carry for luck!

Up at the wood yard the levels on the river were so low we had to drag our boats out to a beached section in the middle of the river to make a start.  Having decided to wear my short cag and neoprene shorts, my feet actually hurt with the cold just crossing the short section of water to the beach.  I did NOT want to be swimming today!  Not just because of the temperature of the water but also because of how shallow and rocky it was.  The swim I had had on the Upper Guisane came back to mind and I was a nervous wreck again. 

The run through was rocky.  It was a real ‘bump and a scrape’ sort of paddle and with my nerves jangling I didn’t enjoy it that much at the time.  Then we got down to the broken weir.  We had looked at this before we headed up to the get on, and I had already thought I would get out before this point and just walk the last few hundred metres down the road.  It was a messy weir with some awkward boulders to dodge and I didn’t feel my skill set or my nerves were up to it.  However, we were at the weir very quickly, and I didn’t realise that’s where we were until I started to see the people up front dropping over the edge.... We hadn’t eddied out before it and it looked as though the group were running through it anyway!  The swearing from the beginning of the trip returned (this time at the river, rather than at any person in particular), I couldn’t be any more pumped full of adrenaline, nerves jangling and feeling sick.  I watched Dean get bumped on the way through so tried to adjust my line to avoid having the same... I managed to adjust my line but went a little too far and ended up sideways, pinned on the two boulders we were going between.... I just saw the gap I should have been in to my left, thought oh s*** I don’t want to be upside down here, I think I put in a back paddle, got myself un-pinned, and then had the big boulder to avoid at the bottom.  I very quickly sought out and eddy after this.  I let the panic subside a little, and yes, I had a little cry as the adrenaline level plummeted, my shaky hands holding on to the bank.  A couple of people had asked if I was OK when they went past, but it was only a minute later when Tom came past and asked that I could make myself speak (through a few tears) to say that I just needed a minute.... I then carried on the last few hundred metres to the get out, and I was back on dry land. I felt just like I had that day at the Tryweryn (see the blog – FEAR) and I was just glad to be out of the kayak.

We had lunch then and I calmed myself a little.  The nerves didn’t completely subside though.  Now that my paddling was done, I started to wonder how the ‘big boys’ were doing (or more importantly Keith who was pushing his comfort zones, and stepping up his grade). I tried to put this to one side, as there was literally nothing I could do, whether it was going well or not, so I might as well just enjoy my day.  It was difficult not to think about them while I was rafting, as we took the rafts through the same sections that they had been paddling.  In a raft it was great fun, it was just a laugh and at no point did I feel worried about rafting it.  I certainly would not go anywhere near it in a kayak though.  At one point while rafting we got wedged up on some boulders, the raft was at about 45 degrees to the water, Matt at the front was almost out of the raft, Tom had fallen pretty much on top of him and was struggling to get back up to his seat so I had to pull him up by his buoyancy aid, we were all bouncing, pushing and shoving to get off the rock but we were all (except Sam) laughing about out predicament.  We made it through though and at a couple of points had an opportunity to jump in to big plunge pools in the river (I had swapped in to my dry suit so the cold water was more welcome!).  This was at places where we couldn’t go through in the raft (either the guide went down on their own, or we had to carry it round an obstruction).

By the time we were done it was nearly 5pm.  I sent a message to Keith to see how he had got on, and then had to drive his car back home.  I couldn’t open his reply as I was driving but, I saw the message come up on my phone; it started ‘Awesome. Just sat.....’ so I knew he was OK.  They had finished a few hours before us (there was a lot of ‘faff’ at the rafting place) so they were already back at the house making the most of the paddling pool in the sun!  We all had a good night sharing the stories from the day over dinner and drinks, and the weather was in our favour to stay out in the garden until the late evening. I was very happy to see Keith smiling and having had such a great time through the tough water, that has been something he has looked up to doing for so long; he was buzzing. He
had paddled through more than he had initially thought he would do, and aced it.  The ‘super hero bat pants’ had worked! Lol!

Alps 2017 - Metre pizza and a bumpy ride

Friday morning then was an early get up as the whole group was heading over to L’Ubaye for a run which was a little broken, and required some odd shuttle organisation.  Once there a few guys got on at the big boy start, approx. half a kilometre upstream from the main get on.  The remainder of the group went down to the main get on, and waited there for the big boys to join us.  I was understandably a bit nervous while we were waiting, I picked the eddy I felt happy with to get on at, and waited for the big boys to discuss how the groups would work.  Admittedly I was a tad nervous to find Keith would be in a different group, and I was paddling with Crazy Chris.  His reputation preceded him, and already shaken after the events at L’Argentiere, I almost had a momentary break down.  However, I trusted the judgement of the group (and I knew Keith wouldn’t have me there if it was anything but as safe as could be) so I stopped myself falling apart within a second, and tried to get my mind focussed. 

Even the main get on looked technical.  A ferry glide would be needed to get out in to the flow far enough to miss a rock I could see behind me, and the water looked fast and bouncy.  Our group set off second, and I was third in the group.  Crazy was leading with Gregg between him and me, then I had Ed and Brian behind me.  It was swift start and straight in to some water that was right at the top of my ability and stretch levels.  I couldn’t even sing to try and calm myself, all I could do was focus on breathing, and I felt like I sounded like a freight train, chuffing away through the bigger pieces of water!  We hit an eddy fairly soon after setting off, this was to let Brian catch up as he had stayed back a little way to get some photos.  This also meant the third group went past us.  Sam was obviously unsettled being on a new river (she didn’t do this river when she came out to the Alps last year) as she went past squealing with Keith next to her coaching her through.  I understand she did calm down soon after this, and on catching up with her at the end of the run, she said she had enjoyed the run but it was type 2 fun. 

After we had broken in and gone through a couple more of the rapids we pulled in to another eddy.  Crazy had seen the other group just up ahead so he broke out to give them a few minutes more lead, and to check the group was happy.  It was here that Ed said his back wasn’t coping well.  He had been having some trouble with it over the last few days and it was causing him some trouble now.  This river wasn’t a difficult one for his level of paddling but he needed us not to hang around too long so he could get out of his boat ASAP.  Although I needn’t have been worrying about him, as his paddling level is far beyond mine, the thought that he was following me with a bad back, made me want to get the best line I could.  I’m sure he picked his own line but mentally this gave me something to think about other than how scary it was for me.  I made it though and I’d say the run was about a Type 1+½!  The big boys went on from there to do some bigger sections again while the ‘main group’ (now smaller than big boy group) went over to Le Lac, it wasn’t really warm enough to swim but Sam and I had a quick dip because we were there, and got out very quickly.  After the groups had got back together, the evening plan was to go to a Pizzeria local to this river for ‘metre pizza’.  3 metres of pizza was enough to feed us all and we all had ice cream after.  It’s another tradition of the trip to do this evening out after paddling the Ubaye!

On Saturday we had a late morning get up, and planned paddling for the afternoon when the last two paddlers would join us.  Tom (Jnr) and Tom (Snr) were set to arrive around 1pm at the get in for the upper Gusaine, so we all went back to paddle this again, and it would be a good warm up for the two of them.  I was feeling reasonably confident having had a good run on this river earlier in the holiday, although the water levels were much lower, so knew there would be more rocks exposed and needing to be avoided.  The run started well, but with us all getting slowed down by scraping over rocks we did get a bit bunched up.  I was feeling ok about the paddling but the technicality of it all had certainly increased.  I needed to be even more on the ball with watching Keith’s line at the front, and reading the river where I could, if he and Sam took what looked to be a bumpy line.  We were around a quarter of the way down the run (at a guess) when I was heading straight at a rock I didn’t want to be heading at.  I had little option at my level of paddling but to try to bouf over it as I didn’t have enough time to get around it. It wasn’t covered well enough so the boat went up but came down at an angle.  The front of the boat was in the tow back of water behind the rock and the back of the boat in the flow.  As I had come down oddly, the water had also caught the side of the boat and I was basically capsizing.  However, with the water levels being so low I didn’t go upside down, and the river carried me on my side for a few feet while I tried to push up off the river bed.  This didn’t work though and it wasn’t likely that it would so I had to pull my deck.  It wasn’t as easy to leave my boat while on its side, but I was soon out and floating (bouncing) downstream behind it.  Rob called ahead to Keith to stop with Sam, and quickly set on to getting my boat toward an eddy, as Brian was taking care of helping me to the side.  The rescue was swift and my swim was short, but it was not too pleasant.  I had bumped over the rocks on the river bed on the way and even in the cold water, with the adrenaline flowing, I knew I might have a bruise or two to show for it.  I wasn’t shaken much as, again, I knew where I had gone wrong and I knew the technicality on the river at this level was step up for me.  I was quickly reunited with my boat and was back on the water.

Not much further on from this, Sam got beached on a very shallow section but I made my way around her (the more experienced paddlers behind me would be able to do something to help her, and I was worried about going over again!).  It was only a few minutes later that Sam had the same problem as me and also took a swim.  It took a little longer to reunite Sam with her boat, as it had got taken in slightly deeper water and washed a little further down.  It was also in an area where there wasn’t a decent eddy like mine, but the rescue was still quick and efficient.  (It is reassuring to see how quickly the experienced paddlers respond in a rescue situation).  Waiting to find out what had happened and what was going on, in a tiny eddy, clinging to a tree on the side, my leg going to sleep a little and the ache from the swim starting to make itself known, I did consider whether to walk out from here.  I remembered though that the worst and shallowest part of the river was virtually over by this point, so unless I was told I should get out, I was going to complete the run.  Sam Decided to get off the River here and Rob got off the river too so he could get the car, and Sam wouldn’t be getting cold on the riverside waiting for us all to finish.  Keith, Brian and I caught up with the other group (Tom, Tom, Dean and Matt) and we all went on together from here.  I portaged ‘S Bend’ alone today as Dean decided to run it.  He aced it and the smile on his face when I met up with them again told me he felt great about it too.  We did the remainder of the run as one big group and only spilt up again close to the get out, where space in the eddy is a little restricted.  By the time we got back to the house I knew I was going to ache in the morning but at least the following day was set to be an ‘easy’ one.

Alps 2017 - Salom course swim

Read Part one here

On Tuesday another couple of paddlers had joined the group (not everyone could get the whole two weeks of holiday) and we headed back to the Sun Run again.  This time we started from St Clements slalom course and did the full run down to Embrun.  The addition of the two new paddlers, people who I had not met or paddled with before, meant the feel of the group dynamics changed a little and I was back to feeling a tad nervous.  I had the little bit of sick feeling from the start as the Slalom course was also the part I had portaged when we did the run on Sunday, so it wasn’t familiar, and it meant starting on top form. 

We got in at the bottom of the slalom course and used the leat (a channel of flat water up the side of the river) to make our way to the top of the course.  Once all at the top and in an eddy we waited for some rafts to pass before heading down the first drop in to the next eddy.  The first swim of the holiday was taken by Dean at this point.  He got tripped over by the eddy line, which was a little more confused water than a lot of the eddies we had done on previous days.  The group waited for him to get back in, after he and the kit were rescued, and then…. He swam again.  It was the same line that tripped him up and he was quite frustrated about it, but unscathed and not too rattled by the experience.  The group then moved on to the next eddy before continuing a straight through run of the rest of the course. 

Not feeling at my best anyway I was paddling hard, especially when I felt some of the boily water in between features turning me and making me feel like I was getting tripped up.  I ran straight in to Rob who was leading, despite having given a good gap between us when we left the eddy, but was not comfortable enough to stop paddling!  We were at the bottom on calmer waters anyway so he directed me past and I hugged the bank until I could eddy out.  I didn’t feel much more settled by the time we made it to Rab wave, as the water levels had changed slightly and meant there were some more boily patches of water and the odd rock, although it was definitely an improvement on the previous run.

Rab wave also looked different with the change in the levels, the waves themselves were just as big but there was less ‘messy’ water either side, so we aimed straight for the middle this time rather than the slightly river right path we had taken two days before.  I was singing away all the way through the run up, then paddled like mad for the wave itself.  The first of the waves virtually covered me completely, and I couldn’t see anymore (I hadn’t shut my eyes in time).  I wasn’t sure if I had capsized but carried on spinning my arms, and realised I ran through the second wave blind.  Type 2 fun but I’m glad I went through it again. 

The remainder of the run down to Embrun gave us more big bouncy wave trains and some more boily water, although I found these didn’t unsettle me so much, and even dropped in to follow Keith for the most of it.  A little up stream from Embrun the group eddied out just before an old bridge stantion on a bend in the river.  The water here piled up on the outside of the turn against a big rock, and the leaders just needed to make sure everyone kept river right.  We then quickly came up on Embrun.  There were a number of large waves on the short run in, I had my eyes trained on Keith a couple of people ahead of me at this point, I felt the big waves and saw him eddy out to the right, I started planning to get to the eddy thinking ‘oh that wave was cool, just this little drop down to….. OMG!...’ There was a huge wave of white water up on my left side.  I hadn’t realised I was in the main wave until I was deep in it!  I quickly shut my eyes just before it hit so I wasn’t paddling blind, and made it quite neatly in to the eddy.  I had done it without even realising it, gone in sideways as well, and not been unbalanced or had my nerves shaken.

We tried again to get out to do a Via, aiming to do the short one in the park near the house.  It wasn’t our day again, as when we got there the gates to the entrance were shut.  It was nice to have a little walk around the park though, and we once again headed back to the house for the evening.

The storms and dreary weather continued through to Wednesday.  The group headed out anyway as we planned to cross the mountain roads and head in to the next valley, where we hoped the weather may be a little better to paddle on the Guil.  This wasn’t the case and with the water levels looking a little low on the proposed river, enthusiasm among the group was low.  We decided not to paddle here, and headed back to the house to eat the lunch which had taken a nice road trip over the mountain with us in the ‘car fridge’.  Trevor, Keith and I decided not to paddle after lunch either, instead opting for a lazier afternoon.  It was mine and Keith’s day to cook anyway, so we had shopping and food prep to get on with, and Trevor decided to take a walk into town.  The rest of the group went on to paddle on the Upper Guisane again.  I was really pleased to hear Sam had a good run through, even though she was nervous at the start (given her incident the other day playing on her mind) and she was singing ‘Do your boobs hang low’ as she went as well!

Thursday saw the group head out to L’Argentiere.  Sam and I were not paddling the first section of this river as it was a bit of a step up and the advice for me at least was that I might be up for this next week, but at this point it would be a stretch.  I certainly didn’t feel like stretching myself too much so Sam and I had a more relaxed morning and did some house tidying before we headed down to meet the group at the L’Argentiere slalom course.  We had planned to use the lake here to do some rolling practice for me but, with the weather being not all to wonderful again, and a bit of faff and chatting, the group had made it down to us before we were ready anyway.  We finished kitting up and headed over to the slalom course.  A few of the group got off the river at this point, happy with the paddling they had done in the morning and ready for lunch.  At the top of the course we sorted out that Sam would follow Cakey, with Chucky as her back marker/my lead then me followed by Keith.  Missing a days paddling and getting straight on to some big features I was fairly nervous, even though I was feeling quite good about my paddling this week in general.  I took a bit too long to get moving so I ended up just following Keith instead with Brian and Matt coming down behind us.  For me, I felt like the first and last drop were the biggest features here.  The first mainly because I’d had no warm up so was a little tense in the boat.  The slalom markers also had me a bit distracted as I was paddling through these, and no matter how much you tell yourself you don’t need to avoid them you still duck or try to move paddles round them as instinct, which is not constructive for me at this point.  (Slalom markers/poles are suspended above the river on wires that go way overhead, they aren’t particularly heavy, just solid enough so they don’t sway about too much in the wind.)

I made it down the run without incident but it didn’t feel smooth as I hadn’t loosened up in the boat yet, and it was all much more effort than it needed to be.  I was very happy however, that where Keith chose to eddy out in the middle of the course, was the one I had seen from the bank to perhaps be one that would be tricky for me.  There was a rock half way down the edge of the eddy so you needed to either eddy above it or below it really.  As I had imagined might be the case, I was a little too late to eddy at the top, and got pushed back out/spun round by the rock.  My heart rate certainly raised as this meant I was now heading down the course in front of Keith, but I didn’t panic, and as I expected he quickly got past me and back in front again.

I decided I’d like to run it again, hoping to feel a little smoother this time, and as this was the only section for me to be paddling today, I may as well give it another run through to make it worth the hassle of coming out and kitting up!!!

This time it didn’t go so well.   Sam, Chucky and Cakey had come up again, but were a way in front of us before I was ready so I just paddled as a pair with Keith again, Brian and Matt had got off the water as they weren’t doing another run here.  We decided to eddy river left before heading down the first feature this time, instead of right as we had done before.  As we left the eddy I realised I hadn’t made sure what our plan was for the next bit of water and consequently I was not paddling forward with much conviction in to the first wave.  This top wave had a little bit of a curl to it on the left side of the tounge (the tounge is the middle part of the wave that forms a V shape you go down).  Being a little to the left of the tounge this time and not being committed to the paddling, the curl of the wave caught the edge of my boat.  I was already shaking so when I tried to brace out of it, my arm felt like it was moving through treacle, I could see myself tipping faster than I could get the paddle in the water, and when I did get it there, it did nothing.  Knowing I was going in I gave a snort through my nose as I went under (this avoids half the river going up your nose and cleaning out your sinuses), I briefly considered whether there was anything I could do about it, but as I can’t roll it was time to pull my deck and resign myself to a swim.  This all happened in a matter of seconds; it felt like minutes.  Although the water felt cold I was glad I‘d chosen to wear my drysuit.  I was quickly on to trying to do the right thing when you swim.  I got my feet up in front of me, and used ‘defensive’ swimming while I looked for an eddy.  Remembering we were river right for get on and off, I first started trying to go that way, but then realised I was closer to eddies on river left, so worked back that way.  I went past a couple of eddies before I felt close enough to turn over and swim forward towards it.  I didn’t quite make it so I had to go back to the defensive position to go round a rock, and swim for the next eddy instead.  Once in the eddy, I could kneel on the rocky beach area but I was still not at the river side.  These eddies were behind rocks about 10 feet from the river bank and there was a little bit of a flow over the rocky area before I reached the bank.  Keith had been with me just a few feet away the whole time, making sure I got safe and stayed with me until I’d slowly made my way over to the bank on shaky legs.  As soon as I was safe he was heading down stream to chase my kit, which I was sure was long gone by now.  While I was walking back up to the bridge, over, and then back down river right to help with a boat recovery (if they found it), Keith was heading down stream.  Chucky who was in the bottom eddy had seen my boat go past and jumped to action, with Cakey close behind.  They managed to get the boat over to the side and a couple of others in the group had walked down the bank to get it out up the rocky side of the river.  Keith, Chucky and Cakey had then paddled on further down chasing my paddle, which I'd seen, washed up and stuck in a rocky beach area in the middle of the river below the slalom course.  They were looking for something they wouldn’t find!  I then met up with the guys who had pulled my boat up, helped them get it back to the car park, and got some other people to get cars to head on to finding the paddlers if they needed a lift back from wherever they had given up chasing imaginary paddles.  Once we met up with them they then sorted fetching my paddles.  During the time since getting out of the water and now, I had started to feel a twinge down my back and leg, and although I would’ve liked to try again, I didn’t want to pull something and damage myself.  I decided to leave it there and just rest.  I was determined (as long as my back and leg didn’t feel any worse) to paddle tomorrow to make sure I didn’t let my subconscious build up a sense of dread about getting on the water again. 

I didn’t feel too shaken by the swim, mainly because I was aware at the time of what was going wrong and why, and it was more annoying than terrifying, and this also made me note how much my confidence has been boosted by the paddling this week, and how glad I am to own a dry suit! I headed on to lunch, and once afternoon paddlers were sorted Sam and I headed out to find a horse riding venue for next week.  It wasn’t until much later in the afternoon, when I knew my leg and back were doing ok, and we were back at the house chilling out, that the adrenaline really dropped off and I got frustrated and wound up about the ordeal.  I was also frustrated and wound up about the fact I had let it bother me.

Last river and a surprise find

Wednesday soon comes around, and this is likely to be my last opportunity to paddle.   The plan today is to travel to the Isar.   For thi...