Share: The Cookbook


One of my aims for going back out to the Congo is to help create interest and awareness of a new cookbook launched by Women for Women, called Share. 

100% of the publisher’s profits will go to Women for Women International and help women in war-torn countries rebuild their lives. You can buy it from Amazon here!

Share: The Cookbook

 The book is a collection of recipes from the women living in the war-torn countries where we operate and also from renowned international chefs such as Alice Waters,Maggie BeerRene Redzepi and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and humanitarians such as Aung San Suu KyiNelson MandelaChristine AmanpourDesmond Tutu,Emma ThompsonJudi DenchRichard BransonAnnie LennoxPaul McCartneyand Mia Farrow. The foreword was written by Meryl Streep.

There are over 100 recipes from traditional Afghani bichak pastries and Congolese sticky doughnuts, to sweet-potato-topped salmon, Thai fish curry and cheese and leek tart.

Hopefully the recipes in the book aren’t too complicated as I’ll be cooking them for the women in the Congo when I head there in June, including a rather tasty pasta dish contributed by me!

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Cosmopolitan Ultimate Man of the Year


at Cosmo awards with Jessica Ennis

Last night i won the Cosmopolitan Ultimate Man of the Year award…here’s the speech i gave upon accepting the award:

Thank you very much for this award. I never thought I’d win this, especially when I read that only 3% of cosmo readers said they liked a man with a moustache….

In all seriousness….. 

I’m not the one who deserves this award and won’t be keeping it. I’ll be buying some bubble wrap and sending it out to the women I met in Congo.

Many women in the Congo have spent their life running from fear, suffered the cruelest attacks, but still get up in the morning and remain strong and work, work to pay for their child to go to school. It should be those beautiful, courageous and resilient women that are recognised for their determination. Women like Solange, Alice and Genarose.

From my time out there, the one thing that helped was for the women to know that people, women like them in the UK were aware, so that they did not feel alone, forgotten or further stigmatised.

I’d like to thank Cosmo for helping to spread awareness about the Congo. It is an excellent recognition of the work that Women for Women do in the Congo and the fantastic film work of Millie Harvey.

I made a promise to myself, after visiting Congo the first time, that i would make people aware of the plight that many women and children had suffered. When you’ve sat and listened to ordeal that many women have gone through, running a marathon is nothing. Today is another step in making more people of the impact of the conflict on women in the Congo. But it isn’t enough and I’ll keep running till one day they won’t have too.

Without a paddle, skill or much else


I am not good at kayaking, I’m shockingly bad if I’m honest, I’m a novice. Seeing the skill and appreciating the difference in class from myself and those taking part in the race this weekend, it made me wonder why. Why take part in a race when the gulf in ability is so grand, as to put my own body in danger and to finish hours after the real kayakers. I do it, because I shouldn’t do it, because it makes no sense whatsoever and only at the point where the challenge seems impossible does my brain think, yeah let’s give this a go, let’s see what happens, how bad can it be. I might be wrong or I might be right, but I kind of think that the harder the challenge the more people will take an interest. If that’s the case then hopefully about millions of you will know about the Congo and Women for Women. Because this weekend was gruelling, demoralising but satisfying.

The paddle itself doesn’t look that complicated piece of equipment, essentially a broom with a table tennis bat at either end. How hard could it be to make one, to make a functioning one: practically impossible.

At about 6am on saturday morning, I was up a tree with a pocket knife in my hand, sawing off a suitable branch to use as a paddle. I’d looked around for some sticks on the ground, but they were all soft and broke too easily. 20 mins later I’d got the branch, after a bit of handy work, I’d carved two areas to grip, so I wouldn’t get blisters, and the attempted to fasten my frying pan to the stick with some string. The other end I’d split and forced some sticks down there and tied it up. I’d love to say that this worked well, but within minutes of paddling it broke and I was back to paddling with a 7 foot stick.

I had gotten into this mess at about 11pm the night before. After a strong start to the race, the sun was down and it was almost a blackout, I was kayaking with a head torch and another strapped to my boat, but they weren’t powerful enough, and the light barely stretched two metres. I first heard the rushing of water and felt the boat quicken its pace, then suddenly I could make out a felled tree in the river that was stuck there, I tried to steer round it, but this just took me side on to, smashing the kayak on the side. I made a feeble attempt to right the kayak, but it wasn’t enough and the kayak was flipped, sending me straight under the tree and trapped underneath.

I managed to pop out the kayak underwater and came up for air, I smacked my head on the boat, realising I’d come up between the tree and boat. I tried to stay calm, but it was cold, dark and in the back of my mind, I knew I was in trouble. But unlike last year when I caved in, my mindset was completely different, the capsize made it real and more than just endurance, but about survival. I didn’t have distance checkpoints in my head anymore, rather my brain was full of survival checkpoints: get out the river with kayak, get out of wet clothes, dry off, make fire, hot drink, food, make shelter, work out plan.

I really don’t like the dark and I’m scared of water. So standing neck deep in a river when its pitch black is horrible. I knew I had to be quick, so attempted to swim the 30 metres to the river bank. I tried to kick my way there, but the flow of the river took us down stream and pushed me under the boat. I clenched my knife in my teeth, in case I had to cut my legs free from anything in the water, eventually I made the bank ramming my kayak up the side and out the way. The next 30 minutes I scurried back and forth getting dry and fixing things- keeping busy and pushing how bad the situation to the back of my mind. A few other kayakers came by and helped, letting the organisers know my position and getting my kayak up on to the side of the river. I tried to make a fire, but the wood was a bit damp, so I resorted to using my stove and gas canister to make a blowtorch to get it going. The wood quickly started burning, but the flames and licked the gas canister and the flames were out of control, making a flame about a metre or so high. I panicked about it blowing up like a grenade so kicked it into the river, to put it out, before retrieving it and then knocked up some stella chicken noodles and green tea. I could feel the warmth flow around my body and my mood change. Things were bad, I knew my paddle was gone and checked the map, knowing there was nothing around, the organisers couldn’t reach me till the morning at the earliest, so i wrapped myself up in a sleeping bag (thank you Will Hardy) and then an emergency blanket I had left from the London marathon the week before. I was pretty warm to begin with but then the rain, thunder and lightening began, soaking any part of me that couldn’t get under the blanket. As I tried to sleep, my phone rang, I nearly slit my body open with my knife. I was so worried about being in the wild that I slept with my knife open, it was Coop. Taking calls from Coop and Maggie was a massive morale boost, both of them keeping me chipper.

I managed about an hours sleep, but I was distraught. Not because of the cold, rather I’d fucked up again. I couldn’t finish the race, the paddle was gone and the organisers expected me to quit. I came here to finish it, but within hours my dream seemed over, it hurt even more that I was so bullish about finishing.

I phoned the organisers and told them I was carrying on with a stick. I wasn’t quitting that easily. I needed to show him I was real about finishing, so he’d do his best to get a paddle. He didn’t seem optimistic about me getting a spare, but I had to carry on, I didn’t want any regrets.

Kayaking with a stick is hard, almost impossible. It is all effort for little reward, turning it left or right took minutes, whilst navigating passed fallen trees, bridges and rapids was scary and stupid. I knew if I went in again, that could be it, my last chance to gain some redemption from last year. It was slow and frustrating, but it was all I had, I couldn’t give up. A call from hardy and messages from others kept me upbeat and I began to embrace the challenge of finishing the race.

About 5hrs of kayaking later, I’d taken a call from a random number, telling me I had a paddle if I was committed to the finish. I met Lazy Turtle at a bridge to get the paddle, in my excitement, I’d fallen in the river again, soaking me through (I’m so bad at this). But Lazy Turtle was kind enough to lend me some more thermal trousers and boil water to get me warm. After that break I carried on.

I took the decision to hitch a lift a little down the river, as I’d lost 14hrs or so because of the fall, I couldn’t make this time up and the check points would close otherwise. I didn’t want too, but it made sense for my safety, I couldn’t take another fall being in such a remote place.

I was just happy to keep going and I tried my best to set a decent pace. I was so frightened of rapids and obstacles in the river that I had this bizzare look of concentration of my face, just focused on the river, grinding my teeth and screaming at myself to work harder when I took a rest. I loved it, it was so easy for me to quit, I had the perfect excuse for giving in, I had no paddle. But despite this my resolve to finish firmed up. I wanted to prove to the latvian guys I wasn’t a quitter, I may be awful at kayaking, but I could still finish, I wanted their respect. The guys I met along the way either supporting the other racers or those taking part, were a massive catalyst for me getting through it.

It was coming to about 10pm and I was pulling into the second check point. After dropping my phone in the river and a few portions of soup I carried on. Having done what I thought was the hardest rapids, earlier in the day, I hadn’t thought about others down stream. As we were leaving someone mentioned a set of rapids about an hour down the river. There was a cliff, which got the river swirling and could crack you against the rocks if you went the wrong way. No one knew which side of the river the cliff was and there were a variety of opinions on how to tackle it. This sounded bad enough in the light, but in the pitch black taking on rapids is probably the most idiotic thing I’ve done. As I kayaked towards the rapid, I was a mess. I wanted to get to the finish, but what began to scare me was the fear of another capsizing. Falling out and being smashed against the cliffs in the dark and having nothing to keep me warm was petrifying. I’d promised Maggie and my family I’d stay out of trouble and there I was having been awake for over 30hrs I was now kayaking in the dark towards some rapids. As I got closer thunder and lightening erupted echoing all around, rain lashing down the river, exploding light around me, this only heighten my senses, hearing the bubbling river turn into crashing waves and not knowing where it came from is petrifying, the river quickened, pushing you closer, scanning the feeble headtorch looking for the cliffs. Why did I always need a piss when danger strikes, pissing into a bottle I could hear the rumble of the rapids, I couldn’t stop, finally, I added a little bit extra to the river from my urination station and quickly pulled over the spray deck just before i began bouncing through the rapids squeezing the paddle tensing my whole body, I’d gotten through it, physically shaking with cold and panic.

The next 5hrs were hard, being in the dark, searching out things of danger in the river, trying to stay awake when you body is ready to collapse is horrible. Hallucinations began to play tricks in my mind. I saw a bluey green light that I tried to follow into the night, occasionally I’d see a red light that looked like a kayaker in trouble, I’d paddle to catch up, straining my eyes and seeing him submerged in water and trapped in a dead tree. I shout but heard nothing back and never getting closer, I was chasing shadows and lights and never getting there. Ahead of me I could see a giant cruise liner, I paddle to get out the way, but it kept coming towards me, I shouted for help, it carried on, eventually I realised it was smoke on the water from a capsite. These images carried on, seeing snakes in the river, a sea lion and tiny green bears running along the bank, they threw rocks at me so I threw them gummy bears and nuts. Only when I got closer, the rocks that they were throwing were nothing more than little rock falls. My headed was messed up beyond belief, I sat in my kayak making animal noises, talking at great length to the different objects scatter around my boat. Maggie phoned, this helped to speak to someone, but got freaked out by me speaking to my headphones, telling them to “be quiet as I’m on the phone to maggie”. The whole sequence was bizarre, I spent the next 14hrs kayaking to the finish. I arrived broken, but happy, knowing I’d battled through an awful lot to reach the finish, I’d made it.

There is no special finish line, like the big marathons where thousands greet your arrival, rather it was much better. Handshakes and congratulations from fellow racers meant a lot. What I didn’t predict was the sauna that someone had brought down to the finishline. I thought they were joking at first, but there sat a small wooden old gypsy caravan, I pulled it open and in side was the best sauna I’ve ever been in. Chatting about the race, feeling my muscles unpick themselves and the sweat and dead skin drip of my body.

I finished the race how it had pretty much how I started it by falling back in the river, this time it was my own decision, washing the muck off my body and the disappointment from last year when I had left latvia angry and upset.

Maybe kayak racing isn’t my thing, because I’m really bad at it and I fall in and put myself in trouble. But through this trip and others, I’ve learnt more than I could from running and I bloody love it. I wouldn’t have wanted the race any other way. The moments of fear, crisis and self doubt made this fun, coming through each challenge and preparing for the next.

I have a choice though about doing things like this where, I put myself in trouble, but others don’t. Many women in the Congo, face far far worse that what I’ve gone through and ever will. So please remember why I’m doing this, take an interest and learn about the DRC, share this video (http://vimeo.com/m/31188445) or drop a few quid to women for women: http://www.justgiving.com/runforcongo

Going back to where it all went wrong


Latvia kayak trip

Hello, so you’ve had some rest bite from my blogging.. I’ll be back to it the next few days as I look to take on my next challenge..

I’ve just finished the London marathon yesterday (2.58) and now I don’t have much time to rest before I move on to my next challenge – 310 km kayak race from Eastern Latvia to Riga, all to be completed in under 52hrs. You may remember last year I attempted this race and failed miserably, I made it to the first check point and had to quit, I was broken, cold and destroyed. I wasn’t ready for it, I hadn’t got a plan, I didn’t have a clue. ( https://runforcongo.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/how-it-all-went-wrong-in-latvia/)

I don’t like to lose, let alone be humiliated. That’s why I’m going back. It’d be easy to forget about it, but I promised myself last year, I’d come back and complete this race. I managed the Yukon in the summer and that was tough, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My motivation as always is to raise awareness about the Congo and I that hasn’t changed. I won’t lie, I was crushed not being able to finish, the people I met were so strong and have endured much more in the Congo, but there I was in plastic kayak destroyed and not able to go much further. I have to finish this time round.

I need to make amends, complete the race and make up for my epic failure last year. I’ve got one crack to do this and I’ll do it this year.

I haven’t spent much time in a kayak since the Yukon, but that trip taught me so much about approaching this challenge. I’ve learned the lessons from last year, built on them from the Yukon and now I’m set for my next step into the Wilderness. I’ve checked the forecast: rainy and cold, 9hrs dark each night. This is going to be really hard to do and I would welcome as much support as possible from anyone and everyone. I’ll be posting updates on the trip, providing I have reception to keep you all up to speed with how its going and all I ask that if you can spread the word, retweet and share that’ll be immense. I don’t want to rattle the donation to hard as you have all been so generous, but if you can spare any money for Women for Women would be immense – http://www.justgiving.com/runforcongo

I depart early Thursday morning and the race begins 6pm on Friday, I’m hoping to be finished by midnight on Sunday, fingers crossed I can do this in less than 52 hrs!

Further updates to come…

Equipment

Nalgene

Platapus

Waterproof map case

stove and kettle

Fork, spoon

Cup

Map

Sleeping bag

water proof bags x 4

Camera

head torch

ipod battery

phone chargers

Kindle

Headphones

Passport

e-ticket for flights

print off of check points

Clothing

North face jacket

Helly Hansen thermal

Thermal trousers

wolly hat

all my technical t shirts

x5 boxers

x5 socks

Jeans

long t-shirt

jumper

old asics trainers

vibrams

kayak jacket

Sun glasses

waterproof hat

Things I need

waterproof shoes (l)

waterproof gloves (l)

Knife (l)

fleece

drugs?

waterproof matches (l)

gas (l)

bivy bag

food (l)

water

Build a daily routine whilst in the kayak.

and with that, i learnt to run again.


Well what the hell happened today? My face is still covered in energy gel, salt crystals and lucozade dashed round my neck like a school boy with a new fragrance.

 

I don’t really know what to say, but I’m happy. Sod the time, I just ran one of the hardest, most painful and extraordinary runs I’ve ever had.

 

The weirdest thing about today was the ping-ponging in my mind. Through the early miles I sort of wanted to stop and couldn’t be arsed. My legs aren’t what they used to be and at times, I just thought do I need to put myself through this. People were speeding past me and I was blowing smoke struggling for breathe up the hills and then felt my legs just juddering on the downward slopes.

 

Normally I’ll run with a little piece of paper that tells me what time I need to be at each mile marker to help me not go too fast or too slow. Not today, I thought about it but could get one, so I tried to do the arithmetic in my head. It may seem easy adding 6 minutes 45 on to 6 minutes 45 to give you the next time you need to be at the next mile, but I just couldn’t do it… I also kept missing all the mile markers, so I’d be worried that miles were taking me over 12 minute and then I’d realize that I just ran past the previous mile… it turns out I was going pretty fast I managed to run the first 6 miles in 37 minutes and 13.1 miles in 1hr 24. I was flying, as much as it didn’t feel like it. My legs are so stiff these days, when I stretch it feels like my tendons and muscles are made out giant pieces of spaghetti.

 

I probably sound like a complete tit, but the best thing about today was being able to see people in the distance and begin creeping up on them. For so long, I felt like that my running and competitive edge was waning, giving up almost.. When you feel you are getting stronger whilst the guy in front is struggling it gives me a massive boost. I spotted a group of about 7 runners ahead of me and began ticking them off. The running equivalent of a badly dress hitman in short shorts, armed with the potential to pop out at any moment. It sounds harsh, but you need that sense of competition to keep you going, there were moments when I was dry wretching and wanted to stop, but I didn’t want to let the guy ahead of me drift off into the distance, so you paint a little target on them and begin reeling them in.

 

I think the thing I enjoyed the most about today was seeing everyone out watching and cheering everyone on. I’m not sure what people think when you run past them, but the boost they give you when they tell you to keep going makes so much difference. I tried to say thank you to as many people as possible and they always look so surprised that I’m trying to be chatty. If I was them I would be a little miffed if I’d popped out to support people and they didn’t acknowledge it. The crowd make the race, without them we might as well just run on our own and drop the times on website.

 

It was quite a surreal moment when I realized that I was on to do sub 3. I hadn’t really thought about it as I didn’t want to get down if I missed it and today was very much training. But as I did a few sums in my head, I calculated, in the looses sense of the word that it was possible and with that, I just started charging forward, . Charging equates to me huffing a bit more and trying to lengthen my stride… a strange goosestep with my left hand doubled over to make a weird claw. It was brilliant though, I now had this little target in my head and I was just going for it, I had nothing to lose and with that I crept past a few more until I was on the final mile, I kept trying to sprint for the finish, but it edged away. Having worried for months that I’d never run a marathon again, let alone to the degree of last year, I was just ecstatic that I was there, near the finish, in one piece and going strong. Screaming to the finish-line and just letting out months of frustration. It was almost cathartic crossing the line, I leaped in the air and came smashing down on my left foot, something I would never of done in the past months and with crossing the line I felt that I’d gotten over my running inertia. The odd nature of the finish did lead the commentators to say I the best finish of the day, the sub text to this is obviously: idiot of the day, but I couldn’t careless, I’d done it. This gives me a massive boost ahead of my challenge next year, when I’m going to have to be able to push myself harder than ever in a much more uncertain environment that the East Midlands.

Running a marathon again for me is the bravest thing I’ll do.


This whole blog is a jumbled up mess, I don’t know what to think or feel ahead of running a marathon again because it has been so long and used to be such a large part of my life…running a marathon is hard, tomorrow will be the hardest yet and whilst I’m excited, I’m scared and worried I can’t do this anymore. Running a marathon again for me is the bravest thing I’ll do in a long time.

Running again. I didn’t want to run again after last December at first, I wanted to move on, but injury and stupidity stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t really get back into running this year probably because I feared running a slower time that I did last year because of my injuries. That was just the varnish to the problem though.

The real reason I wasn’t so keen was that I hadn’t trained, I’d smoked and drank too much. I’d become complacent, believed my own hype. And the main reason I didn’t want to run was because I’d be found out, that whilst I had ran last year, it was a one off and now I was on some sort of running scrap heap. I had had a scan on my ankle to get it checked out, but never got the results back from the doctor. I knew that I was better, I still have a lump on my ankle, but that will always be there, I’ve got a build up of scar tissue which won’t disappear. Now I could have used that lump as an excuse not to run again and sit back and point to doing 13 the year before, and for a while that seemed like the thing to do…

But it wasn’t until I was sitting in my little kayak in the Yukon, that I had a good period of time to think about the running. And it boiled down to be being scared of putting in a bad time, and ultimately because of this being a coward. There I was in pretty much last place in the Yukon River Quest, it doesn’t matter what time or place you do it matters that you enjoy it and run because you have purpose. So after a bit of time recovering from the Yukon I decided to go for the New York Marathon, but I didn’t want to just turn up and run round at an average pace. I needed to train, I hadn’t ran properly for 7 months. Furthermore I had spent 5 months building up my back, arm and shoulder muscles for the Yukon, I needed to shed that muscle asap. I began with 5km, slowly building up to running 10km and I was exhausted, but I was training and getting the distance in, it was hard, it is pretty soul destroying struggling to breathe after a 10km run, when in the past I could finish that distance without breaking sweat. The first time I managed to run home with out any problems in my body was unbelievable and actually felt better than finishing many marathons…. Being at the top of my road and sprinting and screaming with happiness that I could run again, I didn’t realize how much I missed it. I just laid on the pavement shouting and screaming. I didn’t care that I looked stupid, I’d turned a corner. Since then I’ve carried on training and I’m slowly getting there, 10km, 15km, 20km, 25km and 30km. I haven’t dared go above 30km and this Sunday I’ll be trying to complete the Nottingham Marathon. I’ve told myself that tomorrow’s race is merely training for New York, but I know sitting here now that isn’t going to be the case, I can feel the competitiveness beginning to surge….spotting people who look like they might be running and weighing up in my mind whether I’ve got the skills to beat them… I have no idea, what time It’ll take me tomorrow, whether I can finish it or not. But I do know that I’ve trained hard for this marathon, much harder than any others that I’ve ever done because I have so much to prove to myself that I can complete the distance that my body is better and break the cowardice that I think I had suffered for many months. If I can sit here on the train back to London knowing I’ve trained my hardest, ran the best I could then I’ll be happy, the time is just an after thought, well that’s what I’m telling myself.

Running a marathon again for me is the bravest thing I’ll do in a long time and i can’t wait to qwash a few demons.

Update


It’s been a few weeks now since finishing the Yukon. I’m no closer to understanding the whole thing. People ask how it was, what happened any scary moments etc. Yeah there a few, but the trip was much more than that and to focus on those little things would be to discredit the race, the river and the challenge.

What I’m struggling to get my head round is that I completed it, not only that I really enjoyed it, the harder and more tired I got the more I relished it and the more determined I was to finish. Each stroke felt like an investment and as I moved I along I became more and more attached the challenge and didn’t want to let go. Normally I scream and shout at myself to pump myself up to overcome hardtimes and difficulties, but the Yukon was different. I felt composed and full of determination to finish what I started. I’m just really happy, I put so much physical and emotional effort to crossing the line, the relief and belief (not meant to rhyme, couldn’t think of better words) that I now have has really grown. I’ve learnt a lot in attempting challenges like this and the importance of getting on with it and not thinking about anything just the task in hand. I know that with the next challenge I have in store, I have to be able to draw as much as I can from the Yukon experience, just as I applied everything I learnt from the marathons last year.

It feels quite funny having completed my challenge for the year and still have 4 months on the table. I’ve enjoyed the last few weeks relaxing and letting my body recover, I still have pains and numbness in my hands, but I’m nearly back to full health. 

However what I have in front of me means that I cannot sit and relax for too long. Project 2012 is slowly coming together after 7 months of quiet prep, I’m edging closer finalising my plans. Quite simply what i will attempt next year will dwarf everything else, this is something I’ve dreamt of since a child and now I feel I’ve reached the point to stop thinking about it and actually make it happen.

Generally feeling more positive about my body, there were times months ago when I thought it was on the scrap heap, but I’ve rested and now I’m starting to improve. I’ve got 2 marathons to complete this year- Nottingham and New York and hopefully those and the training will put me in good stead for next year. 

Full Yukon River Quest report


Sat in a kayak half full of water with waves lashing against the side of the boat, I didn’t think that i wanted to carry on the race, finish it or know that I would even make it to safety. The fear of drowning and hypothermia was real and I was scared, more scared than I had ever been.

About one or two km from shore, I didn’t think I would be able to swim to shore if chuck capsized, for a few minutes, I began thinking about bailing out of the kayak and swimming to shore, at least that way I would have been able to make sure I had a few things with me if I made it. It would have been an impossible swim through four foot waves and freezing water. I was alone; screaming and crying to myself, begging to get closer to the pebbled beach. I was cursing myself for being in a situation that I couldn’t get out of. How could I be so stupid to sign up a challenge that could leave me badly injured. I kept running through my head at how selfish this decision was to do the Yukon River Quest. I was alone, with no one to help me. Only I could get me out of this mess. I kept on thinking about Christopher McCandless, an inspiration of mine, who broke away from normality and set off on adventure, only to die alone in an old bus.

It was the hardest and most draining hour of my life trying to make it to shore, I paddled as hard as I could, but it didn’t seem to make any difference, I was still miles from safety with my boat taking more water on. But little by little the trees got bigger and I could feel myself slowly edging to shore. I was only about 4hrs into the race and I was already a wreck. By the time I landed on the side of the lake, I was cold, shivering and soaked from head to toe. It didn’t feel like a race at all at this point, more like battling for my own safety. I kept telling myself:

“Don’t give in, you can’t give in”

“Stay positive”

“Don’t tell me what you don’t have, tell me what you do”

“You can’t give in, it isn’t an option”

“you are not a quitter, do you want to quit and sit in a hotel room or hospital and imagine what might have been? No? well then paddle harder, paddle stronger and you’ll make it”

Now and again I would talk aloud to myself and repeat the words that I would imagine my friends and family would be saying to me if they were close, they may have been thousands of miles away but they felt close:

“You’re doing well, stay strong”

“Concentrate, you’ll make this and when you do, you’ll grow in strength”

“If you think of quitting, give it one more try for me”

Slowly the waves would ease off for a while and I did my best to make the most of the calmer waters, I didn’t dare go out too far from shore, when I did move out a bit too far, I’d be shouting to myself “what are you doing, get back in, remember what happened before, don’t let that happen again, you’re not good enough to be all the way out here, paddle in”. The wind would pick up and the waves would grow, my body would tense as I tried to manage the next set of waves. I was so worried about falling in, that I didn’t dare lean back and get my sunscreen, so I was getting roasted by the sun at the same time, I felt like I was getting hit from every possible direction, I was determine to not let this get to me, I needed to stay positive and upbeat. I could see a boat in the distance, so I put everything I could to paddle closer, it took an hour until I was in speaking distance of it, but it was a huge relief to have some company on the lake, because for me, company brought safety and that’s all that I cared about.

When I chatted to the guys in the canoe, they told me that my rudder was up on my kayak, I already knew this, as I had kept it up as I didn’t know how to use it, however, the guy recommended to me that I flip it down and when he did I began to see how much easier it was steering with the rudder than my paddle, sadly by this point I had already damage my left wrist battling the waves when trying to steer, but at least I knew going forward steering would be much easier.

I think I got to the 3rd check point at Goddard Point at about 11.30 at night, after 11hrs and half of paddling, I was exhausted physically and mentally but here all the same, the lake was the hardest part supposedly and I was relieved to have passed that test. I could see the fire and looked forward to putting on some warm clothes for the cold night of paddling ahead. I didn’t realize how tired I was until I got out the kayak, I tried to get out, only to fall in to the freezing water and to be washed against the shore by the waves, I was soaked and wet again. Despite everything that had happened I had to stay upbeat, getting frustrated would have only made things worse – I still remember the words from Emery in Bukavu, Congo telling me the importance of staying positive even when you hear and see the most appalling situations. Emery works for Women for Women in the Congo and helps translate for the women, despite the horrific stories he has heard from women in the Congo when they are assulted he always remains upbeat and happy, because if he let it get to him then he would never be able to help the women look ahead and beat the cruel attacks that too many women have suffered.

When I picked myself up from the water I started running around the beach trying to warm my legs and body up, I met with some other racers and did my best to stay chipper, I hoped that my upbeat attitude would help a few of the others who were looking jaded, I couldn’t dwell on the negatives. As I dried myself off, put warm clothes on, ate, and exchanged stories with others, I got chatting to Lars from Team Bonefish, another solo kayaker. He asked if I wanted to kayak with him and this turned out to be a complete blessing and changed the shape of the race for me, having someone close to you was incredibly important, I was really worried about capsizing as I got more tired and not being able to make it to shore, so kayaking with Lars helped to bring more safety to this crazy race.

I’m not sure what it would have been like if I’d just been on my own throughout, but I doubt I would have had as much fun and it’s really special to have made a friend and experienced such an amazing race with someone who knew what it was like to solo kayak the Yukon. Lars came into a league of his own with his floating pharmacy and sports nutrition centre, he was always so willing to offer whatever he had along the way. The level of composure and silent determination that Lars displayed was phenomenal, I have enormous respect for him. We both came from similar kayaking backgrounds (limited) and had a similar philosophy on the race, it was about finishing and getting there rather than beating some arbitrary time – not quite a race and not quite a river trip.

I don’t remember him complaining once or moaning, let’s face it I can be pretty annoying at times and this can only have been exacerbated by tiredness, but despite not knowing each other we never argued or had a bad word to say, even when I would get directions wrong or lost the caffeine pills, there was no cursing, only a little chuckle. At one point our rudders would get stuck together and we were floating down the river backwards trapped, it took about 5 minutes to sort it because we were laughing t the trouble we were in.

Racing through the night on the Yukon River was unbelievable and I understood why they call it the race to the midnight sun, the darkest it got was a light dusk, a surreal experience. At about one in the morning freezing fog would appear on the river, as you looked down the river, it would resemble a wide fast running channel of jet black coffee with hot steam rising from it. Truly spectacular, something I will never forget. Paddling through fog felt like you were passing a thin veiled wall that would instantly vanish as you reached it. As the hours passed the sun would crack through the mountain tops and with each stream of light you could feel the cold vanishing and the valley heating up, slowly the frost on the bow and stern of my kayak would melt telling me that a new day was beginning, time was irrelevant – the only way I knew what part of the day it was, was the temperature.

The sheer beauty of the Yukon River is something that needs to be experienced, there is so much to take in and only by looking through your own eyes will you be able to draw your own conclusions about what makes this part of the world so special. I felt privileged to be able to make this trip down the Yukon and my respect for the river grew with each stroke. To be on the Yukon River, brought many dangers, but if you can get past this then you really are rewarded, with an experience of something that is incomparable to anything else. Being here in the middle of nowhere, feeling that nothing in life mattered about from the flow of the river and the eddies in the water left me humbled by the beauty and scale of this vast territory.

The warm smell of the morning air as the flowers and trees heated up and the crisp sharp scent of the evening chill as the sun fell behind the mountains, gave the feeling that every sense was being touch by the Yukon. My eyes would be mesmerized by the infinite shapes and sizes of rocks along the river banks, broken into an impossible jigsaw puzzle that would take eternity to finish, each rock seemed to sit there in a perfectly irregular order.

Minutes seemed to pass like hours at times and the time seemed to blend into one long day as my body and mind grew tired, I was willing the next check points to come quicker, but as the energy dropped each stop seemed further and more unattainable. My mind began to wander and I began thinking about the luxury of a 7 hour stop at Carmacks. Sadly it didn’t come around as quickly as I hoped, the river was slow and the bends grew longer, my arm was really beginning to suffer. Each distance calculation I made was way out and I began to worry about missing the cut off time and being thrown out the race. I thought we’d be there by 2 in the afternoon, but it was about 9pm by the time we got to Carmacks, I think it took 30hrs of paddling to make it. As tiredness crept in, I kept catching my paddle, the propensity of mistakes grew larger (see chart 1.).

Whirlpools would emerge from nowhere and would spin the kayak round, or a tired stroke would unsettle the boat and I would panic and try and steady the ship.

My arms, legs, back and ass would hurt from being in a kayak for so long, but it was my mind that was hurting so much from concentrating and trying to make sure I didn’t tip the thing over. My brain was so sore and felt like it was cramping at times, I’d stare at the river bank and mountains and begin seeing shifting shapes across the land. It was a bit like when you look at the clouds and you can make out images, but much more vivid. I saw the strangest things – images that were like 3D holograms painted in the changing colour of petrol in water – blues, pinks, purples and greens. I’m not sure of the significance of what I saw but I remember a giant converse high top trainer chasing a spade and on the spade were lines of writing type in WingDing font (e.g subfbodfour). Behind the spade and shoe were two giant fish cheering the shoe on. Occasionally a ‘Hello Kitty’ picture would emerge on a river bank and then transform into that thing you play Kerplunk with, it would then switch back to a unrecognizable cartoon character with huge eyes, eyes like satellite dishes. I wasn’t too worried about these visions, as I assumed this was normal when you are tired, especially when you stare at things long enough, later on in the race the hallucinations were to become stranger and more worrying as I battled for focus.

It got harder to reach Carmacks and with each check point I’d pass, you’d learn of another team scratching. It might sound harsh, but knowing that others had quit and I was still strong, really gave me a boost, much more than any power bar or gel. I began to believe I could finish the Quest and that was a special feeling, because for many months I didn’t know if this would be possible.

My arm was beginning to stiffen up and I was in real agony. I was alarmed at the swelling above my left wrist, my hand had doubled in size, shooting pains were running up and down my body, telegrams of pain going straight down my spine. I vomited over the side of the kayak as the pain burned deep, I breathed deeper and tried to push it to the back of my mind, I wouldn’t tell Lars the extent of the pain, as I didn’t want to let him know what I was feeling, I didn’t want the doubt to set in my mind that an injury could end this for me, I had come to far. I was reluctant to acknowledge the degree of pain in my arm, I think the minute you do, it’ll take over and absorb your thoughts. My body was riddled with aches and tenderness. I kept telling each muscle or limb to take a ticket and get in line because I could only deal with one aspect of injury at a time. I had told my friends and family that before I had gone away, I would pull out if I was in trouble or injured, there reality was I was never going to scratch, even if I had broken something I would have taped it up and gone on, I was determined to deal with it. Lars helped greatly by knocking up a prescription to help with my arm, I would take 4 of his pills and then double up with a few of my own, it would give me some rest bite. I had told Lars I couldn’t reach my pills, as I didn’t want to worry him, by the doses I was taking.

I’m conscious that this blog is quite long, but there is a lot to cover off and will post another section of the race in a few days, I’m still trying to put everything in order in my mind and remember what happened and how I felt then and how I feel now. Being able to write about the race having finished it is a wonderful experience because I knew I went the distance.

I looked like shit when i reached Carmacks, powerbar bits in my beard, tiny squinty eyes from wearing contacts for over thirty hours, the lingering smell of piss from when i’d miss my piss bottle. Having got out my kayak and stumbled around, i didn’t really know what to do. It was such a novelty to walk around and talk to new people, different people, i found it quite hard to comprehend. I tried to figure out what i needed to do, but i just sort of stumbled round the campsite in a daze. When i’d sit down, my body felt it was still at sea and my vision was still bobbing like i was on the water, i still had sea legs and was like Bambi on ice as i tried to walk about.

I grabbed some food and sat in this old wooden hall and munch on a foul burger and fries and just began laughing to myself uncontrollably, i think part of it was happiness, the other half exhaustion. There were some children playing in hall, i remember one of them pointing at me and saying “Mommy, that man has feet like the bogey man, he’s scaring me”. I found this hilarious and pretended to growl at her, she cried and the family left the hall… I hadn’t thought about my feet during the trip, but i took a look at them and saw they were in a very bad way, all blistered, cut, swollen and red. I ran my finger across the arch of my foot and it burn to touch. I didn’t realise it at the time, but i had begun to develop trench foot, even as i write this, nearly a week later, chunks of skin continue to fall off.

Crawling into my sleeping and into the foetal position i pulled out some of the messages my friends had sent. I knew the race was going to get harder and i wanted to have the messages fresh in my mind, the long days paddling had made me feel that my mind was being erased as i was finding it hard to remember things, and if i did it’d take me about 5 minutes. As i drifted off to sleep, it felt like my body was full of helium and i was bouncing and floating round the tent, i stared at the roof of the tent and began to drool, i kept looking and then the top of the tent seemed to start spinning similar to water going down a plug hole.

I’m not too sure how i got up, but i was up, as was the sun, it was a gorgeous day. I visited a paramedic to get my arm checked out. I was told i had develop severe tendonitis in my left arm. Basically the little tubes that the tendons live it, were too small because the tendons had become swollen. As i moved my arm i could hear the crunch and grind of the tendons pulling up and down my arm. She told me i should really not be paddling with my arm as it was, but i think she realised that there was no way i’d quit, i’d come too far and some pain in my wrist wasn’t going to bring this down. My arm is still in severe pain now, i’m worried as it feels numb and i have pins and needles in my hand, i should go see a doctor rather than sit here typing. Getting tendonitis in my arm is kind of ironic as the reason i had chosen to kayak was because i had developed tendonitis in my ankle from running 13 marathons last year. A cruel and painful piece of irony.

I’d heard from many competitors that if you made it to Carmacks you would make the finish, as happy as i was to have reached Carmacks, i didn’t want to allow myself to get complacent that i had all but completed the challenge, i still had 200+ miles to do, rapids and the ramping up of fatigue. The water was quick on the way out from Carmacks, the speed was probably exacerbated by my fear of the rapids coming up – 5 finger rapids. I’d been worrying about this for months, well 3 months, it may sound silly but i don’t really like water at all, i’m scared of being dragged to the bottom and seeing the light disappearing from me as the rocks on the bottom take their grip. Getting through a grade 3 or 4 rapid, was going to be practically impossible, i was struggling to keep the boat upright on flat waters, let alone rapids. The thought of coming out the boat would have sent shivers down my back, however, it had gone numb by this point. As you got closer to the rapids, you could first hear the crashing and then slowly you’d see on the horizon the white water. I began fastening everything tightly to the boat. Strangely i was most concerned about my urination station and opted to fasten it to my belt. We’d be told when you reach the rapids, take the first three rapids on the right and then cut left for the ‘V’. Yeah it doesn’t make sense to me either, but i was hoping it’d become clear or clearer. Well i was feeling pretty sick at this point from the nerves. I hit three waves, bigger than i had faced before, i nearly came out, i tried to gather my composure, it hadn’t dawned on me that these were the first three waves, and after that i was supposed to go left, instead i paddled hard to the right, unknowing that i was heading into the roughest waters when i should have gone left. I found myself being battered by waves, water flying into my kayak, horrific. I was paddling hard, trying to head for the calmer waters, as much as i was battling, the boat was stuck just being bombarded with waves and white water. Yet again i found myself screaming words of encouragement to get me through it. Slowly Chuck began to move and the waves subsided, i was physically shaking having made it through, i could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body, the hairs on my arms felt like my nerve endings my body was alive and buzzing, i’d made it through, only just but i’d beaten the rapids on this occasion. I didn’t exactly celebrate, just let the current to take me along for while as i regained composure. That brief spell through the rapids reminded me of the awful memories i had of Lake Laberge.

Having made it through the rapids (5 fingers and Rink), this was another big challenge we’d beaten and meant that there was one less obstacle in our pursuit of Dawson City. Making Dawson now seemed like a possibility and it was just up to me to make it there. Despite having had 7 hrs kip in Carmacks, i was feeling so tired and because of this my brain started to go a little funny. When i’ve done long distance cycling trips, i’d often talk to myself. But the conversations i was having on Friday morning were pretty full on and straight out bizarre. I remember having a fairly detailed conversation with an empty bottle of powerade and a trail bar. We’d just chat, i’d ask them about their ingredients and they’d ask me about work, family, life plans etc. After a while, i’d grow board and shout MUNCH really loudly and eat the trail bar. I had also begun shouting and talking loudly to the river bank when i’d see something interesting. It was also becoming apparent that my food strategy wasn’t great, my body was growing tired of energy bars and sweet food, it was reaching the point where my mouth was full of ulcers from the level of sugar i had been consuming. Occasionally i’d crack open some pasta and rice i’d cooked before the race, but this was sickly and warm having been heated up through the day. I naively thought that as long as i had enough food then that would be all i needed, i was wrong. Variety is the spice of life, and my food had little variety. As the hours ticked over i began rejecting my food, and only nibbling at bits and pieces along the way, i wasn’t consuming anywhere near the 7,000 calories i was supposed too. Water was becoming a problem too, i had made the decision to drink from the river, this was ok at first, when the river was fresh and clean, but as we’d got further down stream, it would become dirtier and foul tasting. You could taste the smell of burning in the water from recent forest fires. As i’d drag water up the little blue platapus tubes, i’d get increasing amounts of dirt, wood and grit amongst my teeth. Like the food i grew tired of drinking water and only really took token sips of water when i noticed that my piss was bright yellow. A happy mountaineer pees clear.

Decreasing energy and hydration, meant my mind started playing more and more tricks on me. i’d would imagine i’d see bears, moose, beavers, sheep, canoes, they’d turn out to be bits of wood and rocks. But as we ventured further down or upstream i’m not sure what’s right as we were going north but down a river… Anyhow, the place was remote, and as the hours passed i was sure we’d meet a bear. I really don’t like bears. Bears were my nemesis. I had no idea what to do if i saw a bear, i’d bought bear bangers and bear pepper spray but the general consensus seemed to be that they were as useful as a chocolate teapot. You can’t reason with a bear. He wasn’t going to listen to me if i tried to tell him that if he attacked me then he’d be shot, i didn’t want this and neither did he i’d imagine. I had been told from another competitor who raced last year about a bear who had swam straight towards him and only just missed his boat by a matter of metres. I was about 15 metres from the bank and i saw something up ahead which seemed to be moving, i assumed it was another hallucination, so i carried on paddling, as i got closer i could see it moving it’s head – it was a black bear, just sitting on the river bank watching the world go by and enjoying the sun. The sight of the bear made me panic, so much so that i nearly toppled the thing. I tried to gain a bit of composure and paddle out into the river, i thought this would give some safety, but i’m sure i’d heard that bears can swim at 20mph, i’d have stood no chance.. I put my head down and paddled hard, looking occasionally at the bear, yet again adrenaline again pumping round my body. In my panic i’d forgot about Lars, i started shouting “Lars BEAR”, “it’s a BEAR”, i turned round to see Lars, casually paddling past it taking photos…

It was about 11pm and you could feel the cold creeping in as the mountains grew too high for the sun. We were still miles from the next layover stop at Kirkman Creek, where we’d have 3hrs sleep. Despite getting closer to the finish the distance we were covering seemed to be getting slower and slower. For the first time i thought i’d put some music on to help pass the time. I played a song and when i heard it, it just didn’t feel right, i don’t know, listening to music in such a cavernously beautiful place seemed also akin to dropping litter. I felt like i was disturbing the peace. It just didn’t fit, digital sound was interfering. I didn’t want some random words encroaching on my view and feelings in the Yukon, this was my time and i had my own feelings, i didn’t want music to muddle up how i was feeling. Let’s face it, if you can’t be entertained from kayaking down the Yukon, then i shouldn’t be in the bloody kayak.

As the sun fell away behind the mountain valley at about midnight it would be like someone was moving their fingers in front of a flashlight, sometimes the sun would vanish, other times you’d be hit by a column or a shard of light that would warm your body up.

Lars had mentioned that him wanted to pull over to put some warmer clothes on. I hadn’t realised he’d stopped, i looked around for him for 20 or 30 minutes and couldn’t see him, i started to panic – i instantly assumed he’d been attacked by a bear or fallen out the boat. I sat in the boat shouting his name and blowing my whistle, but the only response i got was my own echo. Eventually he popped out through a different channel. It’s moments like this where i realise i was out my depths, I didn’t know what was best to do, paddle on and tell the check point, wait or paddle or run back up stream. Waiting seemed the sensible option, it wasn’t the sort of place you wanted to be on your own.

We slowly crept towards Kirkman Creek and reached it about 2 in the morning, my body was freezing, i should have stopped to put warmer clothes on, but i was worried about the bears and thought it best to carry on paddling. The drugs had been wearing off and my arm was flaring up again. My whole body seemed damp and cold. I knew this would be a short stop, but hopefully give me a chance to build up the energy for the last push on to Dawson.. The trip from Carmacks to Kirman was arguably the hardest stretch, you’re body and brain is so tired, the initial excitement of the race has died down, you become eager to cover more miles faster, but as your body is tired it takes you longer and longer. My own irrational fear of bears made it difficult for me to relax and i stayed uptight during this stretch. But despite all this, stroke by stroke we were getting closer and hopefully we’d have one more day of paddling.

The stop at Kirkman Creek was a funny one. Staggering up the bank and I saw this old wooden cabin, fully donned with an authentic outhouse and antlers on the roof. The people were incredibly friendly and helpful, but the building had the look of a place where people would be found hanging from meat hooks. It was so remote.

I remember standing in the kitchen naked, trying to get changed, my arms were so tired it was such an effort. I shook off my clothes, and resembled the dancing baby from Ally McBeal.

We were given a sandwich and soup, without exaggeration it was the best sandwich of my life. Soft bread and tender beef with salad. Greg Wallace from Masterchef would have cried if he had ate it. It just wasn’t a power bar and that made my mouth happy.

Eating soup with the giggles is an experiment of control, something set us off and within minutes Lars and I were spitting pipping hot soup around the cabin as we laughed out loud, completely delirious.

I crawled into my sleeping bag head first, I couldn’t get my waterproof shoes off and given that they stank of rotting flesh (my feet were beginning to decompose) and piss I didn’t want to cover my new bag with that smell and liquid.

I came round 2hrs later, face burning and my head damp from sweat. As I shed the sleeping bag skin, I realised I had bedded down next to an open oven fire.

The kayaks were loaded for the last time and we departed ready to take on the final stretch, it was 5am, we had about 100miles to go, the body was already hurting and I couldn’t wake up, feeling so lethargic and sluggish, I couldn’t get my timing or groove. I thought the last day would be easy, paddling to the finish, as it were. It turned out to be anything but, with energy levels completely run down, each stroke was a battle, forcing your body to keep going.

The kayak was moving agonising slowly, paddling through treacle as my body stiffened up.

I started seeing things again, but much more vivid. I’d look at the sky and the clouds would fall vertically to the ground and then just vanish. I’d look again and they’d be back in the air.

Often I’d see a flock of birds fly by my kayak as I watched them fly past, they’d just explode in mid air, hundreds of them bursting into thousands of tiny feathers that would float to the water. I’d start seeing more and more bears in the final stretch, not real ones though, I’d see cartoon bears, bears made out of gingerbread and also people in fancy dress bear costumes. The bears would wave and I’d wave back, the bears seemed to be holding a toy box.

None of the above seemed that odd, it actually all seemed pretty straight-forward and logical. I’d just watch, laugh and then paddle waiting for the next episode. I think these bizarre moments kept me sane as it helped keep my interest and concentration along the way. Life in the kayak was a giant spot the difference, you spent most of the time wondering what was real and what wasn’t.

The final miles to Dawson were the hardest, I could feel the twisted blood in my muscle. Progress was aided by taking three of the largest herbal energy pills from a stranger. Having taken three in one go, when I should have only taken one, my heart was popping out my chest, eyes kept on blinking and blinking. I kept humming the Gummy Bears song.

Eventually the boost would die off and I’d be back to struggle against the wind. It didn’t seem fair at the time that the last miles were so hard, I kept telling myself, don’t I deserve a break, why isn’t it easier. Things don’t get easier because you want them too or feel that you deserve it, you have to work for it, you make them easier by staying upbeat and putting your head down and paddling.

As we pushed on harder to the finish we slowly clawed at the remaining miles and Dawson finally emerged in the distance, the crossing of the fast river and a giant paddle boat gunning straight at me were the last remaining obstacles of the trip.

I didn’t know what to expect when I finish, partly because I didn’t expect to finish for many months. But as I got to the line, I didn’t feel a rush of excitement or happiness, just a sense of relief and pride that I’d made it. I screamed a little and let the pain out..

What originally started out as a wild plan cooked up on a sofa in March, had unfolded into something much more challenging than I initially envisaged, and I’m glad it did.

I took an enormous step outside my comfort zone in kayaking the Yukon, and perhaps too far, but the experience I’ve gained from it is huge and I’m all the better for it. Finishing something you didn’t think you could, is a brilliant feeling. Having had all those doubts and then dispelling them, felt cathartic.

It is a cliché, but you only get one crack at life, and if you don’t push yourself and move away from your routine, you’ll never understand what you’re capable of, and for me that’s so important. I really suprised myself in completing the Yukon. Three months ago I’d never kayaked, but three months later I had completed the worlds longest kayak race in the toughest category.

It was dangerous at times, and this was made worse by my level of experience. However, as a wise person once said: if we are always ruled by reason and rationality, then all possibility of life and adventure will be destroyed. The Yukon River Quest set a spark of spirit, drive and wonderlust inside of me and when I felt it, I had to grab it, because it’s too easy to let it slip away, these opportunities don’t always crop up so you’ve got to take them while you can.

The trip gave me the opportunity to expand and continue the conversation about the DRC with a different set of people in a new region, who maybe wouldn’t have known about Congo. Being alone on the river also gave me time to think about the women I’d met in DRC and how else I can support them going forward.

In terms of completing the race I didn’t have a real sense of completion until I reached the hotel room in Dawson and if I’m honest it still hasn’t fully kicked in – I don’t really know what to expect.

But as I sat on my bed on Saturday evening I heard a couple of pings from my phone, I looked over and it was lighting up with messages from friends. I hadn’t seen any of these whilst kayaking, as I looked through them I saw how my friends had pushed me on along the way. Being so far away but knowing they were checking on the race meant so much, more than they might appreciate. When I read people saying I had done it and congratulating me for finishing, I just wept. It was at that point I realised I could stop. I was exhausted, battered, and broken but I had done it.

I had been so worried about letting friends and myself down, by scratching and not finishing, I just felt a lot of relief for getting to the end. Knowing that 20, better prepared teams had scratched, but I had finished, made it all the sweeter. I could have quit a couple of times, but I didn’t, I carried on and went the distance.

For me kayaking the Yukon was a dream, I love the wilderness and a challenge. But the Yukon was the first time I’d really stepped out my comfort zone. Because of this I had become worried that if I couldn’t finish the Yukon then everything else in life that I wanted to accomplish wouldn’t be possible, I was scared my other goals and challenges would be just pipedreams and the ramblings of some guy who thought he could do anything, but ended up doing nothing.

I wanted to know I could do more than just run, understand that I could learn new skills, face different challenges, be brave enough to keep believing in myself, and ultimately know that I still had my drive and thirst. I was scared this might have waned after the marathons.

My arm is still in agony, my fingers are numb, my back tingles and my feet are a mess (no change there at least).

But I’m happy. When I land I can hold my head up knowing I achieved what I set out to do and I’m coming back positive, stronger (mentally, not so much physically), and most important happier, happy because I did it and that I’ll see the friends that helped push me along the river.

Cheers,

Chris Jackson 8.7.11

The Yukon River Quest – final blog


The stop at Kirkman Creek was a funny one. Staggering up the bank and I saw this old wooden cabin, fully donned with an authentic outhouse and antlers on the roof. The people were incredibly friendly and helpful, but the building had the look of a place where people would be found hanging from meat hooks. It was so remote.

I remember standing in the kitchen naked, trying to get changed, my arms were so tired it was such an effort. I shook off my clothes, and resembled the dancing baby from Ally McBeal.

We were given a sandwich and soup, without exaggeration it was the best sandwich of my life. Soft bread and tender beef with salad. Greg Wallace from Masterchef would have cried if he had ate it. It just wasn’t a power bar and that made my mouth happy.

Eating soup with the giggles is an experiment of control, something set us off and within minutes Lars and I were spitting pipping hot soup around the cabin as we laughed out loud, completely delirious.

I crawled into my sleeping bag head first, I couldn’t get my waterproof shoes off and given that they stank of rotting flesh (my feet were beginning to decompose) and piss I didn’t want to cover my new bag with that smell and liquid.

I came round 2hrs later, face burning and my head damp from sweat. As I shed the sleeping bag skin, I realised I had bedded down next to an open oven fire.

The kayaks were loaded for the last time and we departed ready to take on the final stretch, it was 5am, we had about 100miles to go, the body was already hurting and I couldn’t wake up, feeling so lethargic and sluggish, I couldn’t get my timing or groove. I thought the last day would be easy, paddling to the finish, as it were. It turned out to be anything but, with energy levels completely run down, each stroke was a battle, forcing your body to keep going.

The kayak was moving agonising slowly, paddling through treacle as my body stiffened up.

I started seeing things again, but much more vivid. I’d look at the sky and the clouds would fall vertically to the ground and then just vanish. I’d look again and they’d be back in the air.

Often I’d see a flock of birds fly by my kayak as I watched them fly past, they’d just explode in mid air, hundreds of them bursting into thousands of tiny feathers that would float to the water. I’d start seeing more and more bears in the final stretch, not real ones though, I’d see cartoon bears, bears made out of gingerbread and also people in fancy dress bear costumes. The bears would wave and I’d wave back, the bears seemed to be holding a toy box.

None of the above seemed that odd, it actually all seemed pretty straight-forward and logical. I’d just watch, laugh and then paddle waiting for the next episode. I think these bizarre moments kept me sane as it helped keep my interest and concentration along the way. Life in the kayak was a giant spot the difference, you spent most of the time wondering what was real and what wasn’t.

The final miles to Dawson were the hardest, I could feel the twisted blood in my muscle. Progress was aided by taking three of the largest herbal energy pills from a stranger. Having taken three in one go, when I should have only taken one, my heart was popping out my chest, eyes kept on blinking and blinking. I kept humming the Gummy Bears song.

Eventually the boost would die off and I’d be back to struggle against the wind. It didn’t seem fair at the time that the last miles were so hard, I kept telling myself, don’t I deserve a break, why isn’t it easier. Things don’t get easier because you want them too or feel that you deserve it, you have to work for it, you make them easier by staying upbeat and putting your head down and paddling.

As we pushed on harder to the finish we slowly clawed at the remaining miles and Dawson finally emerged in the distance, the crossing of the fast river and a giant paddle boat gunning straight at me were the last remaining obstacles of the trip.

I didn’t know what to expect when I finish, partly because I didn’t expect to finish for many months. But as I got to the line, I didn’t feel a rush of excitement or happiness, just a sense of relief and pride that I’d made it. I screamed a little and let the pain out..

What originally started out as a wild plan cooked up on a sofa in March, had unfolded into something much more challenging than I initially envisaged, and I’m glad it did.

I took an enormous step outside my comfort zone in kayaking the Yukon, and perhaps too far, but the experience I’ve gained from it is huge and I’m all the better for it. Finishing something you didn’t think you could, is a brilliant feeling. Having had all those doubts and then dispelling them, felt cathartic.

It is a cliché, but you only get one crack at life, and if you don’t push yourself and move away from your routine, you’ll never understand what you’re capable of, and for me that’s so important. I really suprised myself in completing the Yukon. Three months ago I’d never kayaked, but three months later I had completed the worlds longest kayak race in the toughest category.

It was dangerous at times, and this was made worse by my level of experience. However, as a wise person once said: if we are always ruled by reason and rationality, then all possibility of life and adventure will be destroyed. The Yukon River Quest set a spark of spirit, drive and wonderlust inside of me and when I felt it, I had to grab it, because it’s too easy to let it slip away, these opportunities don’t always crop up so you’ve got to take them while you can.

The trip gave me the opportunity to expand and continue the conversation about the DRC with a different set of people in a new region, who maybe wouldn’t have known about Congo. Being alone on the river also gave me time to think about the women I’d met in DRC and how else I can support them going forward.

In terms of completing the race I didn’t have a real sense of completion until I reached the hotel room in Dawson and if I’m honest it still hasn’t fully kicked in – I don’t really know what to expect.

But as I sat on my bed on Saturday evening I heard a couple of pings from my phone, I looked over and it was lighting up with messages from friends. I hadn’t seen any of these whilst kayaking, as I looked through them I saw how my friends had pushed me on along the way. Being so far away but knowing they were checking on the race meant so much, more than they might appreciate. When I read people saying I had done it and congratulating me for finishing, I just wept. It was at that point I realised I could stop. I was exhausted, battered, and broken but I had done it.

I had been so worried about letting friends and myself down, by scratching and not finishing, I just felt a lot of relief for getting to the end. Knowing that 20, better prepared teams had scratched, but I had finished, made it all the sweeter. I could have quit a couple of times, but I didn’t, I carried on and went the distance.

For me kayaking the Yukon was a dream, I love the wilderness and a challenge. But the Yukon was the first time I’d really stepped out my comfort zone. Because of this I had become worried that if I couldn’t finish the Yukon then everything else in life that I wanted to accomplish wouldn’t be possible, I was scared my other goals and challenges would be just pipedreams and the ramblings of some guy who thought he could do anything, but ended up doing nothing.

I wanted to know I could do more than just run, understand that I could learn new skills, face different challenges, be brave enough to keep believing in myself, and ultimately know that I still had my drive and thirst. I was scared this might have waned after the marathons.

My arm is still in agony, my fingers are numb, my back tingles and my feet are a mess (no change there at least).

But I’m happy. When I land I can hold my head up knowing I achieved what I set out to do and I’m coming back positive, stronger (mentally, not so much physically), and most important happier, happy because I did it and that I’ll see the friends that helped push me along the river.

Cheers,

Chris Jackson 8.7.11