Saturday, 22 March 2008

Ten Years Ago

You've been warned: self-indulgent nostalgia wallowing incomprehensible to 99.9999% of the human race lies ahead.

Today is an interesting anniversary for me. Ten years ago, Easter Saturday 1998 (which was actually 11th April that year), was the greatest, in terms of challenges and achievements, day of my life. That morning, I completed the race I had begun just under 23 hours earlier, Devizes to Westminster 125-mile International Canoe Marathon, better known to its friends as "the DW".

The Daily Telegraph ran an article on this year's race, which paddlers will be competing in as I type, here: "The DW canoe race: 'The common man's Everest'". It's so-called because it stretches all of its competitors to their limits - but you don't have to travel to Nepal and pay tens of thousands of pounds to do it.

Quoth the Telegraph article:
"It is a race so punishing and physically tough that entrants can experience sleep-deprived hallucinations, exhaustion and hypothermia, not to mention the aches, pains, cramps and sores that come from sitting in a confined wet space for more than 24 hours. Their training regime is tougher than the Lenten fast of an Opus Dei monk, and lasts a lot longer. Social distractions have to be put to one side to prepare the body sufficiently to make the 90,000 paddle strokes required to get to London. Adventurers and SAS types view it not so much as excellent training but as the real thing. To finish, they have to dig deep and call upon every reserve of mental fortitude. And therein lies the DW's appeal."
Last week with my wife I watched the movie "Into Thin Air" about a real-life attempt to climb Everest that turned into disaster. The movie began by telling us that if you don't already understand the attraction of such challenges, it can't be explained to you. I could understand what that meant.


The above photo is of myself and my canoeing partner, Peter Dove, setting off from the start line in Devizes, Wiltshire, at 8.22 a.m., after around 3 years preparation and training. The one below is of us crossing the finish line at Westminster, London, at 7.14 a.m. the next day.
In between the taking of the above two photos, quite a lot happened! We finished in 19th place after 22 hours, 51 minutes and 58 seconds, ahead of all the SAS crews who entered that year. It was the coldest night of the year up until that point, and half of the crews which began didn't make it to the end. We were the youngest crew in the race. We also beat famous polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, but on the other hand he'd only taken up canoeing a few months beforehand! Having run a marathon myself, I have the utmost respect for anyone who's completed that challenge, which is a very considerable one, but trust me: it doesn't even begin to approach the challenge of "the DW". Some people run a marathon off a few months' training; only Sir Ranulph Fiennes, teaming up with an experienced paddler, could even consider doing the same with the DW and have a hope of making it past 1/4 of the way.

Unless I go insane, I will never forget that day, and it will always be one of my most special memories. I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to do it; thankful to God for his providence in giving me the opportunity, and thankful to all the people who made it possible, especially Peter, our coach David Ward, our long-suffering fathers and teams of supporters. Since then, the race has moved from Friday/Saturday to Saturday/Sunday, and since that time I came to the conviction not to be involved in Sunday sports. I also have responsibilities as a husband and father to young children which could by no means co-exist with the kind of training regime you need for the DW. More than that, as a Christian minister I've been commissioned with an urgent task which needs to have the absolute priority. And I live in the wrong hemisphere! So I don't expect to be able to do anything like it ever again, though if I had could have one wish to do one more thing again before I die, it would be that. Even ten years later, every Easter, like the tide a wave of nostalgia, sweet memories and longing rolls unstoppably in, and I try hard not to bore my wife with it all. Instead I've been doing it to you; but you were warned!

Two more photos: climbing the steps at Westminster: this bit is great because now that you've finished after lugging your own boat for just over 200 kilometres, race stewards carry your boat for you up the stairs! In the final photo, we've received the medals that we went all that way for.

Climbing the steps Having received our medals

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