Friday 10th July saw us lashing kayaks to the roofs of our vehicles for an assault on the Welsh border and a second stab at her longest lake. Oh how we’d joked and jibed about that elastic and how it would turn around and whip us in the face several times over the weekend…..
Our crew: John Willis, Rory McPherson & Mandy Byrnes travelled in the plug-in electro-mobile. Lesley Cook managed to find a dirt track that led to a lane leading to a road coming out of Devon and I drove Granny Mellett from Shoobs while she entertained herself with her colouring-in book. A bloody long journey for all of us on a lovely calm, warm and sunny day. Sadly the last of it’s kind……
We descended on Bala town (pronounced Lllllll Lllllll Llllllllll) at pretty much exactly the same time and headed for camp at the far end of the lake. All a bit tired from our seven hour journeys, we held a quick pow-wow before bedding down for the night. First up on Saturday morning would be the circuit swim. Our Mandy had entered the 3k so, after the traditional camp bacon buttie, off to registration we trundled.
I’d been asked a while back to provide kayak support for the swim and dutifully identified myself at the sign-in desk. Screaming nerve pain from my left wrist told me it was a bad idea but I needed a distraction and bobbing up and down on a kayak abusing Mandy seemed a far more preferable means to take my mind off things than slamming my hand in a car door. So off we went to unpick the gazzilion knots we’d used to secure the kayak. And what a farce that was!! Lacking the requisite fine motor control I left that job to the others and stood back laughing at them for a change as they struggled with the task. The job was even too much for them to sort so out with a knife and bye bye elastic. It took the best part of half an hour to get the damned thing off…..
Out on the lake the water felt pleasantly warm. But it was choppy and a strong wind made headway up the course quite tricky. Mandy got off to a great start and held her ground safely clear of the mid-pack. The front-runners absolutely hooned it around and it wasn’t long before the 1k folk left the water. Manders swam on, never once losing pace, and after just over an hour in the water she slammed in for bronze. Nice one girlie 🙂
Next up was team Willis-Bell for the 2-way. John paddled for me in last year’s event so it was time to return the favour. After battling the chop at the start line we rounded the first headland to be greeted with howling winds and white caps. A proper scrambled mess that just wasn’t going to go away until he reached the turning buoy at the top end of the lake. In his true style John kept his head down and just plugged and plugged, picking off the miles one by one. None of the moaning ‘are we nearly there yet’ that I’d inflicted on him in 2014, but halfway up he did confess to ‘not enjoying it one little bit’. I treated him with a feed and on he went. On and on and on, the conditions worsening by the minute. If I stopped for even a second I was blown a good distance away from him and it was really tricky to get back.
Never in my 30 plus years at the paddle had I ever kayaked such atrocious conditions in the ‘flatwater’ category. A good luck message from a friend read ‘Have a good swim. You can do white water rafting nr there’. Near there? Are you shitting me? Dude right here right now it’s all about the slalom!! Waves crashed the spray deck and we took on a significant amount of water, spinning with the wind and nearly capsizing at one point. But John kept on and after just under three hours of effort he finally reached the turning buoy. Heading back down the lake we’d hoped for things to get easier but rather than being directly behind us we had a cross wind and got blown into the middle of the lake where the water was at its messiest. We were in this for the long haul!! Out with the milky ways to keep us happy 🙂 The difficulty for my swimmer now was to time his breathing with the wash and occasionally I’d see him stroke five or seven times before even contemplating coming up for air. My own challenge was to keep the brakes on, back paddling so I could stay with John.
Vince and Jackalyn Classen stuck with us on the rib and we were visited by the safety boat on & off too. Everyone aboard was dressed to the nines in waterproof gear as the storm clouds moved in. Thanks guys, a tough day out for you too!! Despite the awful, awful, awful conditions John finally touched in to finish his heroic double crossing in 5hrs 33minutes, a full hour longer than anticipated. He may very well have been last man home but that epic took serious guts and determination and many would have thrown in the towel and retired. Bloody well done to you John Boy!!
With the dreaded elastic cord cut I had to borrow a couple of ratchet straps to secure the kayak back onto my car. No faffing with fiddly knots and how we laughed when it took a matter of minutes to strap it on. We had a ‘recovery curry’ back at camp and turned in for an early night (in the pissing rain). Sunday morning and the wind had died down (at least the one in the sky had…..). Not altogether gone but it was in our favour. At three miles this swim was a ‘tiddler’ so I had every intention of going flat out and hoped to make the finish in under two hours.
But first we needed to get the kayaks off the roof bars….. Groundhog day. Same shit, different fixing device. How the bloody hell do these ratchet things work? Spaz hand stood back all smug again. That’ll learn ’em for taking the rip out of me for dropping things. Five people and half an hour later the kayak was free…… All that was left now was for me and Kookie to swim the 1-way event so off we went with John at the paddle for me and Mandy supporting Lesley.
I gave myself a good talking to which involved affirming that this was only a two hour swim and with longer (much, much longer) swims ahead I should treat it as a sprint. The cross wind and wash were still a little tricky and John had to back paddle to stay nearby but the conditions were nowhere near those we’d faced the day before. The landmarks were all familiar. Our campsite on the other side, the yacht club approximately halfway down and the ‘white house’ just over a mile from the end. I tried to keep up with the swimmer in front and just imagine my delight when John told me we were 20 minutes from the jetty. If I kept pushing I’d be looking at a 1:40 finish. Clapped out with the effort, this was just what I needed to up the ante for the home straits so head down and onwards. 1hr and 32 minutes after setting off I spanked the finishing buoy, knackered but absolutely made up with my time. Lesley had finished 11 minutes ahead and scooped the bronze so results all round for our crew 🙂 🙂
As ever a big fat well done to everybody taking part and to the BLDSA for staging yet another extravaganza. A fabulous weekend was had by all, it only remained to strap the blooming kayaks up again and drive all our soaking wet gear the seven hours home. Tough swims, soggy camping but a massive howl and well worth it!! Until next time 🙂