This Easter was the Devizes to Westminster canoe race – 125 miles, non-stop from Devizes in Wiltshire to Westminster bridge, taking about 24 hours.
This Easter I spent about 16 hours supporting two paddlers from my canoe club who were competing in this race (in the same boat). Overnight. It was freezing! Our job was to feed them, give them hot drinks and generally make sure they were ok when we met them at locks. We took over from the daytime supporters and our first job was to help the paddlers change into fresh, dry clothes to get them through the night. They’d been paddling for nearly 12 hours at this point and when you’ve been paddling for this long, it’s pretty much impossible to change into new clothes on your own as your fingers are so numb and used to being in a certain position that they don’t really work any more. This meant that we had to attempt to hold a towel around each of them to maintain at least some modesty whilst we stripped them off and redressed them in dry clothes. It’s a lot harder than you think, doing this in the dark! But we just about managed and made them eat some food, take some paracetamol and wash it all down with hot ribena before sending them on their way to paddle on the Thames in the pitch black.
This Easter, I dressed in about all the clothes I own (five layers on top, 3 layers on the bottom and 4 pairs of socks!) and still spent most of the night shivering. I thought it would be a bit unfair to complain about the cold in front of the paddlers though…
This Easter I did that really awkward thing where you mistake a stranger for someone you know and start asking them what food they recommend for feeding your paddlers. Thankfully at 3am, everyone’s a little doo-lally and it wasn’t out of the ordinary. She was very nice and I think she would have genuinely advised me on food to give if I hadn’t realised, apologised and then died of embarrassment when I finally found the person I actually wanted to talk to!
This Easter I cut my finger whilst I was trying to break off the centimetre thick ice that had formed on the boat overnight. It bled a lot. We searched through the extensive first aid kit to find that the one thing missing was plasters. I soldiered on though and now it looks like the tiniest scratch in the world. You can see the ice on the boat in this very bad quality photo below – the boats were just covered in it!:
This Easter I stood opposite the houses of parliament for three and a half hours waiting for the paddlers to finish. It was a very cold and increasingly worrying wait as the time got further and further away from when we expected them to arrive.
This Easter I ate a nutella crepe while I waited and realised just how starving I’d been and just how exhausted I was.
This Easter I watched one of the other crews from our club finish after having fallen in halfway through the night and turned up at a lock coated in ice from head to toe. One of them had hurt their back so was paddling practically horizontally in the boat and both were pretty much hypothermic. They crossed the finish line and fell in again, at which point all the safety people rushed in to help them as one couldn’t support his own weight and the other was nearly as bad. They got escorted up the steps by several first aiders before being taken straight to the hot showers with instructions to change into lots of dry clothes and eat lots of hot food. I honestly don’t know how they finished – they just have so much grit and determination!
This Easter I watched the paddlers who we’d been supporting cross the finish line in a time of 26 and a half hours after two swims on the tidal stretch of the Thames. We left them with their families to help change them into dry clothes and take them home so we could get home ourselves.
This Easter I had one of the best sleeps ever in the car on the way home – three whole hours of complete dead-to-the-world sleep. It was awesome!
This Easter I ate a whole lot of cake and chocolate once I got home. It was Easter, after all!