I sit here tonight, thinking about my young people who are on their final expedition in North Wales, unaccompanied. I have spent 12 days with them on their 19 day expedition, training them in the hills, majority of the time walking, a few days of sea kayaking and a day of scrambling up the North face of Tryfan and a day in the Afon Ddu gorge. It is now the second day of their expedition, and the weather is complete shite – rain, wind, poor viability, they have got it all. I’ve had numerous calls from my team, who are suffering on the hill due to the wild Welsh mountains and weather.
The Ultimate team on Expedition coming off Carnedds into Ogwen Valley
The difficulty here is that I only feel pure empathy for them. Just last month I went through the same cycle on countless days paddling around Ireland. I begged my family to come and get me some days – fortunately they were never available to help when I was in this state of mind. So... eventually Id pick myself up and paddle again. Of course, they said all the right things, gave me only words of support but ultimately it was my head that had to get me out of those dark holes. So now I sit here having moral dilemmas about my kids in the mountains – can they get themselves out of their lows? Will they find that well deserved high that will spur them onto Wednesday when they arrive back at centre or should I be out there supporting them, collecting the ones who want off the hill?? It's tough because I know what the team went through in the training stages of the 19 day expedition, I have seen what they are capable of and I only have faith in every single one of them they will make it through the pain barriers, the tiredness and the cold!!
Ultimates after getting up at 3am to paddle the Conwy - Sunrise!
If there is one good thing that came from attempting to Paddle Ireland it is having that bit more understanding and care for young people I work with, when they struggle mentally or physically. Over this expedition with the young people, I was given my first proper opportunity to reflect on the trip as I’ve been working non-stop since my return to Wales. On the expedition, the young people had a 40 hour Solo, were they built their own shelters and stayed out for 2 nights with only a notebook and pen – no books, iPods, technology or even a watch to entertain themselves. The idea that they would rest up after 7 days of walking non stop, get bored after a while and the start thinking and reflecting on the expedition, life and the future. As a consequence I was also left alone, with my own thoughts. I got my notebook out and reminisced my Ireland trip – the people, the places, the highs, the lows, the fear, the fun, and the facts!
I paddled around the 4 Provinces of Ireland (still have a good wee jaunt of Ulster to finish)
Paddling past 12 Counties
Paddling approximately 1044 KM with 540 KM to go
I was on expedition for 57 days – 21 days of which I was off the water due to poor weather conditions and 6 of which I recall as being Caoimhe useless days!
All in all, when I reflect on the facts of the trip, I cannot help but be happy with my performance. I never went out to boss it, and I never was with my experience and the fact I hadn’t trained in rough conditions alone. Now I look back on some of my experiences and I feel brave I kept going. A year ago when planning the trip I never imagined it would be so difficult physically and mentally. I never prepared myself for the fear or boredom, I experienced at times. I have came away smarter and stronger. I learnt a lot!
Some things I’ve learnt:
Solo paddling is nerve-wracking and exciting
Never place tent poles under your compass, your bearing will be well off
Meeting people and friends makes a trip, and reading the letters and messages of those who couldn’t visit
The worst part of solo paddling is getting you boat up the shore every evening and down to the shore every morning
Don’t drop your paddle in seaweed, especially when its black, you’ll have to spend 15 minutes trying to fish it out
Never fight with a full expedition boat in surf – it will ALWAYS win and leave you with the bruises to remember it!
Peeing solo is impossible – I learnt that quickly
Expeditioning causes you to become a teenager again – lots of spots
Showers are amazing… when offered, take it!
I still hate sand
Wildlife is astonishing and will always bring back high spirits
Respect the sea and it will respect you in turn
People are fantastic
The body is unbelievably strong (even my feeble body haha)
The mind can make you and break you all in one day
You do not need many possessions, happiness is experiences and moments
Nothing beats a hard day like a cold pint!
Planning is key
There is always someone to help you out
Smiling and laughing keeps the spirit alive
The funny thing about this trip, is that when I think learnt all I can from they experience, I’ll remember another moment or feeling that gets me thinking. It is still a process of reflection I am going through and it feels surreal in the same incidence that I attempted it and it is over for now.
I will go back and finish my circumnavigation of Ireland, I would love it to be this year ideally but time and weather will tell the tale. Until then, I will continue to work with inspiring, strong, brave young people and continue with my own micro adventures kayaking, swimming, running, climbing, and just being outside.
My world challenge team in July - Enjoying their RnR at Pankor Island, Malaysia
I plan to write a blog shortly when I’ve a bit more time about the money raised for Inspire and what they plan to do with the money raised. Thank you again for all the kind donations. Until then find your own adventure and challenge, that will help you learn a little more about you!