The Dart 10k swim goes downstream from Totnes to Dittisham in Devon. It is an annual event organised by the Outdoor Swimming Society and attracts 1600 swimmers over the weekend. As part of my 60at60 events I found myself standing on the quayside at Totnes in an excited huddle with other swimmers about to embark on several hours of swimming. The tide and current definitely help, but this swim still involves a fair amount of effort and several hours exposure to cold water, hence a requirement to wear a wetsuit unless you were proven capable and competent without one.
I was not confident that the day was going to be a success. My original 60at60 idea had been to do one of the Great Swim mile events, which was duly completed in Windermere back in June, but the Dart Swim was on the Adventure Daughter’s tick list, and she considered a single mile to be unchallenging. On the other hand she is an accomplished club swimmer and diver, and I am not. We had agreed there was no point in her trying to wait for me, so although we started together she was soon a sleek dark shape disappearing into the distance.
I had done hours in the pool (thanks to Medway Council’s free swims for over 60’s) and practiced at Leybourne Lakes, an open water venue near Maidstone but six months previously I wasn’t doing any swimming; this was the equivalent of a couch to marathon transformation. I was happy I had fitness and endurance, but I had not managed to bring about much improvement in pace.
It took me a long time to settle, my front crawl fell apart with the jostling and moving water, and the low sun bounced off the water making sighting in goggles tricky. After a while getting frustrated I resigned myself to more comfortable gentler strokes and removed the goggles so I could enjoy the views.
All the briefing prior to the event emphasises it is a journey, not a race, but there is also an expectation that entrants are able to make good progress down the river, and a very efficient rescue system was clearly in place to fish out strugglers and stragglers. I developed a feeling that I was heading for the announcement, “Come in number 366, your time is up”, heightened when I suspected that I was the last swimmer. This position was confirmed for me by Ben, one of the safety team on a board who had become my shadow. However, far from this signalling the end of my swim, it became clear that Ben’s mission was to encourage me to Dittisham. So, 5.2km became “over half way”, I was advised the second half of the course provided more benefit from the current, Ben counted off the kilometres, gave me timing updates, advised direction changes, and simply presumed we were going to do this.
His intervention that I appreciated most was during a spell when looking around there seemed no-one on the tree draped river but me, Ben and the birds. The hurly burly of the mass participation event had long left us behind. “This is what wild swimming is really about”, said Ben. I agreed.
I am very grateful to Ben, and the team who waited on the raft in the middle of the river to feed me jelly babies, and the Outdoor Swimming members and volunteers who waited at the end. It’s a powerful thing, the kindness of strangers.
The North Downs Run is an 30k event with a justifiable reputation for being well organised, well supported and good sweaty fun. The 2018 running was no exception.; but it is also accepted to be a tough one. This is not only because it often seems to coincide with hot temperatures and the start time inevitably means that the running takes place at the time of day usually reserved for “mad dogs and Englishmen” – it also goes up and down a fair bit.
Desperately clinging to the comfort of some shade at the start of the race with Adventure Daughter, it was clear that the distance running adage of start slowly and then go slower was the only way we were getting around this today. And so that’s what we did. Tagging along behind an obvious veteran running a metronome pace we traversed woodland, planted fields, fields with great biodiversity and occasional rural roads we reached the halfway point in good shape. At halfway was just one example of the great water and jelly baby stations along the route, supported by lots of cheerful volunteers.
We pressed on across fields, passing the Cock Inn where the crowd usually found at this point must have been distracted by the England display at football World Cup and up the infamous cricket pitch hill (in the picture).
We finished in just under 5 hours.
My thanks to the organisers Istead and Ifield Harriers and to everyone who volunteered to make this day happen. I know there were another 500 plus runners but you made it feel like you were there just for us.
Photo Credit - thanks to Dawn Granger Photography www.dawngrangerphotography.co.uk/
There’s something strange about doing an activity like open water swimming as a mass participation event when it has so many attractions on a small scale. Last weekend, 9 June, we took part in the Great North Swim at Lake Windermere. It is reputed to be the largest open water swim event in the UK, and judging from the number of people we saw having quiet swims on their own in high tarns the next day, a number of people felt a need to restore balance.
It was a great day! Weather was kind, water was relatively warm, organisation was excellent, people were friendly, participants enjoyed a shared experience. From the “Hands up if it’s your first Great Swim” during the warm up it was clear that lots were in fact first timers like us. Adventure daughter swims a lot; I had built up to this day over several months, going from coughing and spluttering trying to remember how the breathing bit works to a confidence that I could cover the distance in a pool. The transition to open water can be daunting. No lanes – no boundaries also means it looks a long way, you can’t touch the bottom or the sides, and the water moves about on its own. But taking part in the event made the transition fun and safe. The build up to the day is intended to encourage more activity. There is a difference between floating on your back for a few minutes at the seaside and purposefully setting out to swim a mile, but both have their merits.
I suspect we’re hooked now – longer distance or the swim-run next year?
The river cruise element of my 60at60 was intended to be a multi day boating trip down a river, driving the boat and making stop offs as the mood took us. Something many people enjoy every year, but which have been a first for me. Add this to the point that given a selection of outdoor activities I would set a low priority for boat trips. For me they are usually a means to an end, or a compromise on a family holiday in exchange for also doing more interesting things. Therefor I put this event in the challenge category while others would have seen it as a straight pleasure, presumably leading to the misnomer "Pleasure Boats".
The hire of the boat was duly booked and the event scheduled to take place in late May, when life intervened. Jane, my wife, has been waiting for a hip replacement for several months and was firmly scheduled for mid June, but the date of the surgery was changed and brought forward. There was no choice really between missing the boat trip or declining the operation slot, so this trip became the third Jane has had to cancel due to the wayward hip. Jane now takes the view that any forward booking of trips is just a fruitless and expensive exercise, best avoided. I guess we may become more spontaneous for a while.
So that we would not be cheated of a boat trip, the adventure daughter arranged for us to take an excursion on a barge at Cambridge run by Camboats www.camboats.co.uk/ and organised by the Cambridge Museum of Technology www.museumoftechnology.com/ which is currently closed for lottery funded upgrading, giving its curators the opportunity to #getoutside.
The journey went into Cambridge and then back out into the countryside with lots of wildlife and expert commentary on the history of the locality, from medieval trade fares to the technological phenomenon that is the present day local economy of Cambridge. That this history included a fair slice of dealing with municipal rubbish and sewage was bonus for me. Looking forward to a return visit when the work is finished and the museum is reopened.
Adventure travel comes with an acceptance that things will occasionally (or even frequently) not go to plan.
On my recent trip to Costa Rica, all was wonderful and dare I say it efficient on the travel front – until it came to the short hop back from the Frankfurt airport hub to London Heathrow with Lufthansa. In Costa Rica we had navigated washed out mountain roads, diverted along dirt tracks due to a road closure for an accident, been dropped off by boat on remote beaches, and then picked up again when scheduled. We had covered a lot of ground without a serious hitch.
We flew from San Jose to Frankfurt in good time, but we were travel weary: as last days often can be when they involve being awake for a long time. We settled onto the flight from Frankfurt to Heathrow, due to take just over the hour, with thoughts of getting home a little too prematurely on our minds. At 30 minutes into the flight the announcement was made that the aircraft would be turning back to Frankfurt.
On one perspective, the plane developed a fault which Lufthansa decided on safety grounds meant it could not continue, they returned us safely to Frankfurt, put us up in a hotel overnight and flew us home again the next day.
The other perspective is, the flight had gone hallway when they decided to return to the home airport – I’m sort of okay with that, many a time I have decided to return an ailing vehicle home rather than seek a mechanic in a strange place, but it was clearly a commercial decision to do this. We landed back in Frankfurt after our scheduled landing time at Heathrow. The “We’ll sort you out” promises evaporated faster than aviation fuel. They started with the assurance that another plane would be prepared and we would be transferred onto it, which quickly moved to an assurance we would be split onto later flights (and the ground staff had all the details waiting for us) to a total absence any helpful ground staff greeting us or alternative flights home that day once we had landed.
Eventually, we headed back on the airport side of security to the Lufthansa desk who were advising people they would be put up in a hotel and would probably be able to continue on the journey in a couple of days. As my travel companion really needed to get back to work the next day this was a difficult message to receive. Flights on this shuttle route were more frequent than hourly and the wonder of smartphones revealed several companies still selling tickets for the route that day. With hindsight resisting the chosen solution by Lufthansa was futile, but those of us who refused to believe were sent on a wild goose chase in search of standby seats on the remaining Lufthansa flights leaving that day, before returning to the desk in failure and accepting the hotel voucher. We were promised we were on a flight at 18.30 the next day – others fared worse being told they would have to wait several days.
We stayed overnight and returned first thing in the morning to engage once more with a now less hassled and refreshed Lufthansa staff. Turns out we weren’t actually booked on the 18.30 flight but were cheerfully told that was not a problem as there were seats available on earlier flights. We eventually arrived at Heathrow 21 hours after scheduled, and my travel companion recorded the first absence from work of his career.
Seems clear to me to that these events meet the criteria for the compensation scheme so I duly applied for compensation. I received a response from Lufthansa saying they were receiving a lot of complaints so it might take longer than usual for them to respond. An ignored chase up after a week and I am still waiting for them to get back to me.
It’s not always the obvious risks of adventure travel that catch you out - but at least I had a good view of the green roof at Frankfurt Airport.
A visit to Costa Rica featured high on my list of things to do this year. The landscape, animals and the reputation for peaceful, green and positive living, Pura Vida is what attracted me – and I wasn’t disappointed. The country has lots to offer, including stunning beaches, unspoilt jungle and adventure activities galore.
I went on a two week long varied trip organised by KE Adventure which covered volcanic highland savanna through to coastal jungle fringed beaches, accessible only by stepping over the side of the boat and timing your landing with the surf. The trip was led by the effervescent Joe Bernini, who was effective at spotting and identifying wildlife and interpreting the spirit of Pura Vida while handling all the organisational stuff. Little wonder he has been voted a winner of Leader of the Year by KE Adventure clients.
Highlights of the trip for me were the antics of the spider monkeys, bathing in refreshingly cool pools beneath dramatic waterfalls and the privilege of close up views of a Quetzel, a fashionista of the bird world.