How it all went wrong in Latvia

I failed. This isn’t the easiest thing to write…I always dreaded having to write something like this last year, thankfully I didn’t, but it doesn’t take the edge off today. I wanted to write this while it’s still fresh, I’m hurting.

I can’t have any excuses for what happened, I just wasn’t prepared for what I was due to face in terms of my level of experiences or preparation. I could point to the river being only 3kph rather than 8kph as usual or that half of those who took part dropped out. But for me I was arrogant to think I could rock up and kayak 310km with no kayak racing experience, not even racing, just how to use it.

Yeah I had a rough time on the river, but if I had thought more the challenges I would have faced it would have been achievable.

With 25 metres gone I had already run aground and then spent a nervous few minutes going backwards as I tried to turn the boat around. I spent the first 3hrs just trying to keep a straight line. I lost count of the times I planted the boat into the bank or ran a ground. As happy as I was when I did 1km in vague control, it was a sure sign of my incompetence that it gave me such satisfaction.

The frustrating thing was that it wasn’t tiredness or even a lack of strength that eventually crashed this challenge.

Why did assume it was automatically going to be warm, just because I was out of the UK? I didn’t pack the right clothes. Shorts and a long t-shirt and one pair of leggings to keep me warm and dry. A pair of running gloves and trainers. By about an 1hr my body temperature was dropping and I could feel my fingers and head turning numb. Despite this I tried to ‘power’ on for the rest of the evening. Torrential rain, thunder and lighting made things worse. I was soaked from top to bottom, I fell in as my paddle got caught in the water. I pulled myself up and got in and carried on. My waterproof head torch didn’t live up to its billing, by 9.30 it had ceased to function leaving me paddling blind, hitting rapids through the evening, all I knew was the sound of rushing water. I couldn’t see where I was going, I developed a knack of finding dry ground in a river, to move, involved planting both hands in the river and pushing along until I found flowing water, soaking myself each time.

I even managed to hit a tree, getting caught on the head and knocked faced down in the river, I tried eskimo rolling but the water was too shallow and I could feel my head scraping the floor and sand flowing in my mouth. Yet again I had to ditch.

With a bit of fleetwood mac playing, I started to get the pace going- I remember screaming the lyrics to each song. I’m not sure what time it was, but I texted a few friends to tell them I was struggling and got such amazing support (a massive thank you to Tanner, Simon, Hardy, Shani, Goggins, Rhona, Goodall, Marriane, Vicky, Reg Doorey, Coop), at that point I still believed I could do it, I had to. By about 4 or 5 I think, it was still raining and my core temperature was dropping, my brains and hands weren’t connecting, I couldn’t even open a snickers- I had to clench it between my fists and bite. A similar process led to me eating a slice of tinfoil- that horrible feeling of teeth on metal.

I needed to stop but I couldn’t, the river level was too low meaning that the banks were either to high or too silty. I tried once to get out and my feet just sunk.

For a while I was just floating, it felt like my limbs were just shutting off, my hand resembled darth vadars face, having spent hours in the water. I had to stop and have some hot food. I had lost my spoon (it doesn’t sound that bad, but it is) ended up shovelling food in my mouth with my fingers, not the best idea with rice. Especially as my hands were literally plastering rice around my mouth. As people paddled by I resembled, stig of the dump in leggings.

I was cold I crawled into my sleeping bag on a river bank and tried to warm up, I thought about going to sleep, but I knew that was the last thing to do. I was soaked and no matter what I did, I stayed, wet, dam and freezing, it was affecting my morale and thinking. Managed to fire the stove up and made some coffee, which helped. There’s something quite reassuring seeing a little stove boiling water, knowing it’ll warm you up. My eagerness led to scolded hands and lips. It was at this point I realised I had lost most of my food when I had fallen in. The worrying was that I wasn’t bothered about eating, just thinking that I’ll stop later a sure sign I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

It wasn’t a case of giving up then, I was genuinely worried about my safety, hypothermia seemed a not to distant reality, my fingers were blue and my lips, I couldn’t stop shaking. I had lost about 90% of food when I capsized, leaving me with coca cola, haribo and nuts. But with no contact number or any idea where I was, I just had to keep going, I didn’t know how far I had to go, which was so frustrating, every turn in the river I hoped I’d see the next checkpoint, I think this is the thing that took me down, expectation followed by disappointment. I thought I might be there by 7, sadly not, only at 11.15 could I hear roads, meaning I wasn’t far.

When I got there, the first thing the steward said: “you finish?”, i said not yet, eye brows were raised. It wasn’t the welcome I had hoped for, especially as I had to wade through a muddy stream to get out. The people there were both suprised, concerned and impressed that I had come to Latvia in the first place to take part. If I had finished, if, bloody ifs, I would have been the first british person to do so.

Quitting at that time seemed the right thing to do, despite some excellent motivation from friends in London, I was at such a low ebb, it fell on deaf ears. I’ve never been so beaten, I could see no positive, not even the fact I’d kayak further than I ever had in chaotic conditions. My body was so cold. I don’t think they understood how bad I was feeling, I’d gone through 1/3 of the mill and had the toughest 2/3s to go. When I run, I don’t notice the pavement, as I kayak it felt like I’m lifting buckets of sand with a paddle, with my hands to cold to grip.

Despite all of the above, I don’t want you to think I didn’t enjoy it. I loved it. There were moments last night that were breathtaking, the breaking of moonlight lit up the mist dancing off the river, little fish jumping and then large splashes of beavers and carp. I kept thinking someone was around me, but it was my shadow on the banks. The number of times I lashed at a stick thinking it was a snake, was ridiculous.. I always seem to say it, but it’s hard to describe the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere on your own and just taking it all in. It’s when I’m happiest, just exploring. As frustrating as this was and the pain I suffered, I don’t regret taking part, not one bit.

So where does this leave me? We’ll I’m frustrated that I didn’t complete the race, please don’t think I took the easy option- I was close to phoning the police as I crawled into my sleeping bag.

I think that if you give up once then it sets a precursor for other times, I don’t want this to be the case. I’m drinking a beer, but it doesn’t taste how it should, to make matters worse I can barely lift the glass, my arms are so sore, my lips chapped.

So I’ve begun writing a list of every lesson and mistake I made and how I can rectify it for the Yukon, because that is what it’s all about. I don’t want to let those who have taken an interest in the DRC down, the people I’ve met in DRC, who inspire me to do these things, and from a personal point of view I don’t want to let myself down like this again. I can and should have done better. I’ll be working off the basis of the only bad mistake is the one you don’t learn from.

5 weeks to Yukon and a lot to learn. Better to do it today than with a grizzly chasing me through the woods.

It all seems so bloody obvious, looking back on it, it always is.

Ohh well you live you learn and I won’t forget this trip.

Next year I’m coming back to Latvia to finish this race and would love to bring friends back with me to take it on.

thank you to all those people who sent me messages of support, without them i would bein a lot worse condition.


11 thoughts on “How it all went wrong in Latvia

  1. Hello. What you do is incredible. I hope you feel a little happier now after a few days to recover. The decision to stop was the only one you could have made, you have to keep yourself well and safe so you can continue to do such a fantastic job 🙂 Good luck in Yukon.

  2. Alrite Jacko , nice try mate .. I would have stopped before the first 10k.
    Better to live to fight another day !

    Keep at it if anyone can do it you can ! , good luck for the Yukon !


  3. It sounds as though this was one big tough lesson that you had to go through and thanks for sharing it with us all. We know you’ll come back stronger, just like the women in Congo. Lots of love from all of us at Women for Women, Kate x

  4. Chris
    Your story is a tough one to tell – but you are big enough to say it didn’t work out – only through trial and error can we learn and improve. Gita Bellin says ‘Success is journey not a destination – half the fun is getting there’. You are challenging yourself and taking on new skills each time you try something new – you are not going to be brilliant on the first attempt. Keep trying and you will succeed – all the best people do – and you are a great guy!Thank you trying. Maria, Women for Women International.

  5. Don`t beat yourself up! Just a few did reach the finish – and men who had paddled hundreds (maybe thousands) of KMs also dropped out. Good luck in Yukon!

  6. Pingback: The end of the blogging and run for congo. « Kayaking for Congo!

  7. Pingback: The end of the blogging and run for congo. « Kayaking for Congo!

  8. Pingback: Going back to where it all went wrong « Kayaking for Congo!

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