A picture just for Steve…
I woke before dawn on our last day. I sat on the beach and brewed coffee as the sun came up over the perfectly flat loch. It was so flat that if Nessie had blinked at the other end of the loch I’d have seen the ripples.
I’ve said previously that first light is the best light, and sitting on the beach, watching the sun slowly rise, was the best way I can think of to start a Friday. As a result, it was almost 4 hours later that we finally set off slowly for our final couple of hours of paddling.
Gradually, we made our way out of the beauty and tranquillity of the Highlands and returned, paddle stroke by paddle stroke to ‘civilisation’. I’ve written in this blog before
about arriving slowly, usually by bike. But kayaking gives the same experience. The scenery doesn’t change as quickly as it can if you travel by car. It evolves. The outskirts of Inverness did the same thing. The number of joggers slowly increased. The buildings got closer together. Before long we were passed our first golf course and mobile phone mast. We saw the first litter in the canal since we’d started out.
The end of our adventure was the British Waterways facility in one of Inverness’s least attractive areas. It is the final set of locks that lead down to the Beauly Firth and the North Sea. Despite our slow arrival, the beauty we had left 4 hours previously seemed a world away from the traffic and (relative) hustle and bustle of Inverness’s retail park.
It doesn’t take me long to regress back to my caveman roots. A week in the outdoors, not quite hunter/gathering, but pretty well removed from the comforts of everyday life, makes me frustrated when I do get back to what most people would see as normality. I see people in a rush, using cars to cover short distances, getting angry about trivial things. Suddenly, I was back to worrying about my kit getting nicked if I didn’t keep an eye on it. I wasn’t expecting to be invited in to stay in someone’s spare room that evening…
But that was it, we’d made it. It had been beautiful, miserable, exciting and demanding both physically and mentally. While at no point did we consider giving up, leaving that cafe (and hand-dryer) in Fort William and heading back out into the wind and rain had taken about as much resolve as I could muster.
It had been dangerous too (the trip, not the cafe!). OK, so we hadn’t needed the flares we’d been carrying, but there were times when we had experienced the real power of the weather and water and had ‘got off with a warning’. I’m sure it wasn’t as dangerous as driving to work or a Friday night out in Leicester, but it was a danger that was more real and personal.
When I did eventually turn my phone back on and get back in touch with my regular life, I received three pieces of terrible news. I won’t go into the details, but they certainly put a new angle on my thoughts as I waited for Steve and Mark to return with the cars.
The news made me realise how far removed from ‘normal’ life I had been. I had been focussing on the important things to me each day. They revolved around blistered hands and dry underwear. I was completely immersed in the effort and challenge – nothing else. As I came to terms with what I was told, I felt selfish that I was enjoying myself away from the important things.
But on further reflection, the news made me feel great about what we had done. We’d raised money for LOROS and so helped many other people. And we’d also made the most of our lives and our health and done something special, memorable and satisfying.
I’d like to think we might even have inspired others. I don’t expect a rush of my friends to start kayaking long distances, but maybe some will see that adventure and challenge can be close by. Maybe some will walk rather than taking the car, ride a bike to work, go for a jog instead of watching garbage TV, or even sit with someone different at lunchtime – it’s all adventure. It’s all doing something without knowing exactly what the outcome will be…