22 June 2007

960 minutes to go...

It isn't long now till I'll be setting off for Dover and my ferry to France. I haven't done that much today, which has meant I have been able to sit at home and get a bit nervous about what is about to come. However, today has allowed me to clean both Alistair and Roger and move them up into my bedroom along with my paddle and spraydecks. This will be their home for the next seven weeks; they will not be seeing water in this time so I thought it would be best to bring them inside away from the harmful effects of Britain's fickle weather.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

21 June 2007

2100 minutes to go...

The Business Studies exam went alright I suppose. It was all about Google. Anyway I've now packed. My bag weighs 32kg so it's 9kg too heavy for flying. Good job I ain't flying to France!

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

2525 minutes to go...

I've done some revision and cannot process one more piece of information on Crises Management or Social Audits so I decided I would take a picture of the stuff I've got to pack. Hopefully by the time the afternoon rolls around I'll be able to think business and answer the questions set by them delights at the AQA.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

2805 minutes to go...

The sum of my European wealth. It's not a lot, but it'll get me through the time it takes me to find a cash machine to withdraw money from my Travel Money Card.

It isn't long now till I leave Preston for seven weeks and head over to France to start as an Activity Instructor for PGL at their Camping les Tamaris centre. Over the last few days I have been going through a mix of emotions; one minute I'll be reluctant to be leaving and then the next I can't wait to be in foreign climes. I suppose with it being such a big change to my everyday routine I am right to have some anxiety over what I am doing. However this should not hold me back and I am just going to have to overcome all these worries, get on with life and get settled in at the centre. It will feel like home after a week. Well it is going to be home for seven weeks so I suppose it will have to feel somewhat homely.

Since I last posted, Tuesday, I have been getting my head in some books so that I am prepared, to a degree, for this afternoon's Business Studies exam. In fact once I've clicked 'Publish Post' I'll be heading to the kitchen and then upstairs with a coffee to do some last minute cramming. Yesterday allowed me to get my finances in order before I set sail at 15:30 on Saturday as well as sort out some travel insurance for the 59 days I'll be away. Last night one of my best boating buddies came round for a chat over some coffee. It was good to catch up before I leave and it will be a shame I won't be able to share any boating missions with this particular paddler in the near future. In fact it is upsetting to think that I won't be having any more boating missions with the people I have come to respect and enjoy the company of on the water in the last four years. What is maybe even more upsetting is that I won't be on a river for a considerable time as my centre is on the French coast meaning I won't be able to have any river adventures with the French locals - that will have to wait till New Zealand. Obviously I won't be having any adventures with French locals there, it'll be Kiwi's, unless there are some French people over there.

I may just have to go and watch all my LVM DVD's before I leave for France just to get my fix of white water paddling before I settle down to some hard core sit-on-top work.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

19 June 2007

Not long now

Monday night: some of my stuff laid out on my brother's bed ready to be packed into The North Face bag on the floor.

Today I sat two A Level exams, one in ICT and the other in 3D Design, which means that I only have one more exam in Business Studies left. That is on Thursday, but that also means I am that bit closer to leaving home to go and work for PGL in France. It's kind of scary to think that I won't see home for such a long time, but it is also quite a big step for me as a person who has never left the country before. In some ways I am looking forward to it, but at the same time it is quite daunting. After a couple of days I should be settled in and it will feel like second nature to be living in a tent in Southern France paddling a sit-on-top every day.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

16 June 2007

Necessary Evils

Eventually I have the paperwork organised.

Yesterday I was offered a job, in fact I was offered two jobs. One was from Acorn Adventure and I was on the verge of signing the contract when I thought, I know we'll see if PGL can offer anything. They did, and the offer was considerably better. This has meant that the last two hours have been spent trawling through paperwork, crossing the 't's' and dotting the 'i's' on contracts and CRB disclosures all with PGL letter heads. It has been somewhat stressful and only now have I managed to get it all in some sort of order.

When am I going? Next Saturday, the 23rd June, leaving Dover 15:30.
Where am I working? Camping les Tamaris. It's on the Mediterranean Coast and I'll be working mainly from sit-on-top kayaks. Not my first choice, but it's enough to get my Gap Year started.

I think it is time to add some extra categories to the twenty I already have for this blog. I'll start with France and Work, but I will not be going through the past hundred or so posts adding these categories to relevant entries. I may add more categories when I see fit.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

15 June 2007

Shameless Self Promotion

The postman came this morning - no it wasn't Postman Pat - and dropped some things through the letterbox. In the pile of things he popped through were my stickers from Bala Graphics. They look rather splendid when positioned on Roger in appealing ways. I've just got to decide upon a final position for them before peeling back the paper and adhering them to the shiny red plastic. They're a good advertisement for the blog during my gap year and a bit of shameless self promotion never hurt anyone.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

14 June 2007

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3...

This post has been created in my email account so that I can test this particular function of Blogger to see how it could work for me when I am on my Gap Year. If it works well it may just prove a god send when it comes to updating the blog.

My Camper Van Money Box, given to me yesterday as a leaving present from two people I may not see for little over a year.

Today, I've been on the phone chasing up jobs with PGL and Acorn Adventure. Both firms are going to get back to me, but I have said I can now start on the 23rd June instead of the 1st July. Hopefully this change in date will improve my chances of a job greatly. We can but hope.

Yesterday I went to the pub to see some of my kayaking mates and if all goes to plan I won't be seeing some of them for little over a year because they won't be there next Wednesday, when it will be my last Wednesday night drinking session.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

PS. I have had to do some alterations to this post logged into my Blogger account as the post was not produced the way I wanted it through my email account. This means that I will be using the email function for small posts, which will require little HTML editing during my Gap Year. The main Blogger posting function will be used for anything else; mainly those posts requiring HTML editing and images inserting. Not ideal, but I don't want the quality of my blog to suffer whilst I am away as it is going to be the main portal in which I communicate with everyone back in Preston.

13 June 2007

Catch up time

I've not posted for a while, OK I have posted twice this month, but they were looking at paddling trips and on re-reading them they were a bit stale and boring. Sorry about that. I have however not posted any rambling posts (using them lovely 'Categories' down the side I can see that the last entry under 'Ramblings' was made on the 26th May) about anything and everything to do with my paddling life so this post is to make up for that.

The picture has no relevance. I took it some while ago and also photo shopped it a long time ago. I just thought I'd tag it along with this post as it is totally random, just like this post.

I started my A Level exams yesterday and now have only four left, which is nice. However, what is not nice is the fact that I can hardly bend my thumb's because of Sunday's hand V's rock incident. This would not have been a problem if it had just been my right thumb, but it is also my left, which basically means I can hardly hold my pen to write and answer such delightful questions on the differences between summer and winter anticyclones. This isn't the ideal situation at the moment as the five exams, including the one I completed yesterday, are some of the most important ones in my life - obviously when I go off to the University of Cumbria to do my Outdoor Leadership degree those exams will be the most important, but at the moment my A2 ones are - and cannot be resit like previous A Level exams I have done. I suppose I've just got to hope for the best and that the results (all A's, apart from one which was a B) from the other modules will keep my overall score high ensuring I get the grades for Uni.

Something else that I am hoping for the best in is my plans for the year to top all years, the year that'll change everything that has previously happened, the year that is going to be simply know as the 'Gap Year'. That was a pretty unimpressive build up, but the last time I mentioned it in a post was the 5th May and I thought it may warrant a few extra words! When I mentioned it on the 5th May I was talking about applying for my New Zealand visa and how some lovely Kiwi chappy was going to phone me up. Well they never did, and at the moment I have left that all on hold mainly because I need to get the starting months sorted before rushing into the main months of the year.

So how are the starting months looking? It could go either way. I rung PGL up last Monday (4th June) and they were as vague as ever saying: "we'll let you know nearer the time." How much closer do you want to get? I want to be at a centre by the 1st July so on this news I dropped Acorn Adventure a line. They were much more helpful saying that they had jobs in France if I wanted one. Well I did want one, however with the little matter of exams still to do I couldn't really take one :-( They'll ring me back later in the month to keep me informed - let's just hope they've still got a vacancy. A word of warning to anyone who reads the blog (that could be a fair few people I'm warning as over the last three days, on average, I've had 82 hits a day - cheers Playak) if you are looking for a job with PGL or Acorn Adventure in France/Italy don't take it unless you know I've already got one!!!

However what has become clear from my phone calls with Acorn Adventure and PGL is that it looks very doubtful I'll get a centre I really want to be at. This ultimately means I may not be in a prime kayaking location but stuck instead in the Ardeche or by the sea. This is no real problem, as at the moment I am seeing a job with either company as a foot in the door of a well known and respected institution that could prove useful later on in life. Three months of paid work will also be earnt, which should fund the majority of the New Zealand trip. I am going to have to accept that river paddling is going to have to take a back seat for a period of the Gap Year, but if this allows me to then spend October through to April in New Zealand paddling some world class rivers and doing the odd days work to top the funds up I am sure I can live with it.

The final part of my Gap Year, the desert I think I'll call it, will be back at PGL or Acorn Adventure. Here I am hoping that the three months I previously spent in their employment will prove useful as I have prior experience and can begin at the start of the season, May, and work through untill the middle of August. This should allow me to have a pick of the centres - Embrum here I come. Also financially this could be quite useful as being a previous employee and a qualified coach allows me bonuses on top of the standard weekly wage. A bonus is always nice.

Finally, I'm betting some stickers produced to advertise the blog during my Gap Year. The stickers are being made by Bala Graphics, a company run by a kayaker from Bala incidentally. The stickers are based on the banner at the top of the blog (is it being displayed? Comment me if it is not) so hopefully they should work out alright and stick nicely on Roger to push people over to these pages.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

10 June 2007

Man down

There was another Washburn release today so I posted a message on my club forum, got a bit of a response and planned to meet some mates at half ten in the top car park of the river. Easy days. We set off from Preston at nine, heading for Darwen where we were to pick a boating buddy up, and then off down the M65 onto the A59 and onto the road to the Washburn, finally arriving at the planned time of... half ten. Easy days. Got changed had a bit of friendly banter and then headed down to the river for some general Washburn fun. Easy days.

Roger and I in the top Wave; pulling hard to cut back into the eddy besides the bridge (which the photo was taken from).

One of my boating pals playing in the river wide hole. I haven't paddled with them for a while because they've been at Manchester Uni so it was nice to catch up.

Another one of my pals in the same river feature.

One of the rafts descending the river in a somewhat poor fashion. These raft guides were no Tryweryn raft guides. Through out the day I fished out two of their paddles, which had been left to float down the river.

The paddling buddy we picked up in Darwen making a bit of statement in her pink boat. Very feminine.

Me after running the 'Big Drop' being camera man for the next paddler down. The picture I got was crap and was dutifully deleted when put onto the computer.

Walking back up the river. I had steamed off ahead as Roger ways a tonne now that I have all my kit in the back of him.

Once we had reached the top car park I swapped boats, leaving Roger on the car and taking Alistair for a spin. Obviously I changed my Teva's over to some Palm Neoprene socks as not a lot fits in the front of Alistair.

Posing in front of a tree. I think the river may have been in spate. It was hardcore. Easy days.

Getting use to Alistair once again - that's me on my bow. Going from Roger to Alistair seems to improve my playboating no end. I can just throw the old boy around like there's no tomorrow where as in Roger a little bit more persuasion is needed.

Unfortunately my time in Alistair was short lived. I made it just down to the first bridge, had a quick surf on that wave and then moved onto the little, inconspicuous wave that is usually ignored by most people. Perhaps I should have; what followed was not pretty, it wasn't nice and it certainly wasn't easy days.

As I peeled off the wave my bow pearled and over I went. Not a problem I thought as I set up for a roll and for some reason I just hung there and didn't do anything. Then I did something and up I came. Once upright I realised that my boat had floated downstream through a small gap and over some rocks. On looking down at the damage this had caused me I was a bit shocked to find both hands covered in blood which was oozing out of several wounds. Time to head for the bank for some first aid. My first aid kit was still in Roger back up at the car park so I shouldered the boat and headed for help. Blood was dripping everywhere and on returning to the Washburn the trail will still be visible on the bridge as there was a fair bit dripped over them wooden slats. First aid was applied to the wounds and when the blood was stemmed the extent of the damage could be seen. The thumbnail on my left had been ripped off and all the thumb was grazed. The thumb on the right had taken a bit of a battering as well and a deep cut on the underside of the knuckle was quite deep. A nice theatre nurse offered assistance and cleaned and dressed the wound.

The hands all bandaged up.

Some blood clots forming on the diamond pattern on my AT4 paddles. Blood was everywhere.

I decided that it would not be wise to head back to the river so I donned dry clothes, my Animal flip-flops and Bloc shades and went for a walk down the river to watch my paddling buddies have fun on the water.

An Eskimo Topolino Duo was on the Washburn. I have taken one of these down in the past and they are much fun. As it happens the paddler in the front is one of my mates I have not seen for a fair while as they have relocated to Teesside.

Going for an end in the broken weir on the bottom section of the river.

All smiles despite the damaged thumb.

More pictures can be found here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

04 June 2007

A water free weekend in Wales

I had booked on my Five Star Training at the beginning of April thinking it was a long time off, however the weekend rolled around fairly sharpish. Friday afternoon saw me packing up my clobber and getting an early night so that I could be up at the crack of dawn to make the 8:45am registration in Wales. We packed everything up on Saturday and were leaving sunny Preston at 6am heading south for the M6 and then onto the M56, M53, A55 and finally the A494. This would bring us into Bala and then there was just the short drive up the side of the Tryweryn to the The National Whitewater Centre, Canolfan Tryweryn, where we arrived in good time with a half hour to wait before I could register.

It was however unfortunate that the weekend I had chosen to do my training for the highest BCU personal award was a weekend Wales was with little water and the Llyn Celyn Dam was not releasing for the whole weekend. This meant that once registered we loaded our stuff into the back of a centre minibus and headed, for an hour, down the roads we had previously driven back to Llangollen where JJ's Rafting is based and a short stretch of rapids known as Mile End Mill can be found and negotiated in all but the lowest conditions. Here we geared up and then spent sometime on land talking about kit, boats and all things which can be talked about by a group of six paddling addicts. We eventually headed to the water for some personal skills work.

We started off on the flat water experimenting with edging and body position in the boat before discussing river signals and heading off down the river to the first rapids of note. On this short, shallow, rock filled rapid we did a little bit of eddy hopping using the hand signals previously learnt to communicate to the rest of the group . Once at the bottom of the rapid we looked at crossing the current and using the hole formed at the bottom for a bit of side surfing fun. I think I may have taken this a bit to far as I found at one point that my head was under water bashing the rocks before I rolled Roger up for the first time in anger. We moved on downstream to the next feature, which had been the scene of my first Freestyle Competition two years ago and it had not been a great experience. What with a flip on my first ride as I moved into the hole and then a rather slow roll meaning that I had flushed a bit too far downstream resulting in a low score, which did not pull me off the bottom of the score sheet. Anyway at this feature we looked some more at side surfing and edge control as well as speed before finally breaking for lunch as it seemed that every raft in Wales had joined us in the eddy.

Over lunch we discussed kit and this has left me with a bit of a shopping list, which will have to be full of ticks before I go for assessment. We then headed back to the water for some work on the Slalom Gates. This absolutely finished me off, and I think I may have to alter my views on Slalomists as all credit to the guys what they do requires some great reserve of stamina, which it seems as a river paddler I, and a lot of other paddlers, just don't have. This, I suppose isn't a good thing as we need a reserve of strength just in case we need to pull harder, go further or do some great strength sapping task like rescuing a pinned boat. Once finished on the gates we moved on downstream for some more boat control sessions in the final rapid and then it was back up to the minibus and home to Bala for a night under canvas.

A rather interesting flower pot at the campsite. In the background you can just make out my boat on top of the car.

When booking this course I had put a shout out on the old UK Rivers Guidebook for the name of the campsite by the Tryweryn. Within minutes I had numerous replies, one giving the information I needed, and the others telling me not to go there. I ignored them, booked a pitch for the night and it was at Tyn Cornel Camping and Caravan Park we spent the night. Regardless of what everyone said about the place it was one, maybe even the best, campsite I have visited over my short lived camping life and I'll probably go back there if I was planning another weekend in the Bala area. The only disappointment of the night was the poor and rather expensive meal we had in Bala.

Looking up the river on Saturday night before the tap is turned on at the Llyn Celyn Dam.

Sunday morning rolled around and it was back up to the centre to meet the coach at 9am for registration. Today the Llyn Celyn Dam was releasing 9 cumecs of water so no driving was required for the course to run. We were on the water soon after ten once we had, had a brief classroom session on CLAP, leadership styles and methods of descending a rapid.

Reaching for the lip, maybe a bit too early, in order to boof the hole beyond.

Once on the water we were worked hard and it was common for us to get out of the boats walk back up the rapids and repeat a stretch of water looking for the most economical way of moving from one eddy to the other. At every occasion it was drilled into us that we should be using the water to aid our movement and not hinder it. At times it felt like hard work getting Roger to move as I was fighting the water, however over the day things improved and my paddling felt a lot better. We eventually moved onto the Graveyard section of river where Leadership Skills were put to the test as each of the students took it in turns to lead a longish section of river.

Ferrying across a wave into the eddy.

Looking down on the main building of Canolfan Tryweryn.

The section, which I first lead down was from the aptly named Cafe Wave, which is by the cafe, down to Chapel Falls. I think I did relatively well, making eddies so that line of sight could be maintained on the sections which needed it, moving the group as one when the water allowed and getting out to inspect at the right times as well as getting some safety set up on Chapel Falls. This was all communicated by hand signals, which as a paddler I use infrequently. I know this is wrong and it won't be happening from now on in when I am on a river trip.

We headed back to the centre where the Rafting buses took our boats back up to the Chipper whilst we had a spot of luncheon sat on the river side at the bottom of Ski Slope. Once lunch was finished the afternoon session looked once more at Group Leadership skills with each student taking on a different section of river.

The group of Five Starers sat at the top of the river before entering the main rapids found on the river.

Ferrying across the current lining myself up to eddy out.

Posing for the camera.

Crossing International Wave to make the eddy on the other side.

After descending the river to Chapel Falls we headed back to the classroom for the debrief and some final words on the assessment before getting changed and headed off into the setting sun for Preston. All in all it had been a cracking weekend and a great success, even with the disappointing dry Welsh rivers, but I think this was down to the great group of paddlers on the course which were taught by a really nice chap (Richie Watson) and helped by an equally top bloke (Geraint Rowlands) on the Saturday.

More pictures can be found here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...