09 February 2008


For the more astute followers of this blog I am unsure whether you have noticed that many of the pictures over the previous three months, and probably going back before I left for France, have featured one person more than anyone else. I have never really talked about any of the people I paddle with in the blog before as I am unsure whether they want mentioning. I think once I let some name's slip and the person that has appeared in most of my pictures was mentioned first in that post. However, today, with only three day's left before I leave the area, I think I will break the mould and talk about one person in particular who has been with me, and I am thankful for that, on most of my paddling adventures; Tony Morgan.

On the road again. Tony and me heading onto the motorway for another day's adventure.

I began paddling properly in November 2004 and was ok. I didn't really get the hang of it all and was just told constantly edge that way, go at that angle, do this, do that, not that, that, but one day up at Halton Rapids one of the more experienced club member's was knocking around in an Eskimo Topolino Duo with no front seat passenger. I filled that void and spent a good hour, maybe two, paddling around the rapids and things started to click. Having that person in the back, getting everything sorted like it should be sorted helped no end to steepen my learning curve in paddlesport. That person in the back of the Topolino Duo that day was Tony. It was typical Tony really to give up his paddling time to help someone new to the sport develop into a better paddler.

Tony at the top of the rapid which flows under Middleton Bridge on the Rawthey before we hit the Lune.

From that point forward he continued to give me pointers on my paddling whenever we were out on a club trip together, but we never really made any special plans to go paddling together. As I progressed as a paddler I started to get known in the club as a paddler and as a bit of a character. I think this may have been when we started paddling together a bit more, but still it was only on club trips. Last winter, 2006/07, we were paddling most weekends together on rivers without the rest of the canoe club. Sometimes we would take a few other members' along, but other times we use to beg shuttles off other paddlers and just paddle with them. He would pick me up on the way through to the motorway and we'd just go and paddle what ever had water in. They were always good days. Sometimes we would only get down one river, other day's we would managed two. It was all a bit of an adventure.

Tony surfing his new Jefe on the Lune.

When I came back from France in September my biggest regret was not going paddling, or catching up with Tony for that matter. He had done so much for my paddling, which had helped secure my job at PGL. It was a bit discourteous of me to ignore him for the week I was in Preston. Anyway I left for six weeks in Scotland and on my return I got back in touch with him and straight away we were off down the Kent on a Wednesday afternoon. The shuttle was a walk back up the river. This was the start of something. Nearly every other day we were on a river paddling with people we had only met at the put-in or take-out or occasionally paddling with club member's that were not working through the week. That was the great thing about paddling with Tony. He's a freelance outdoor instructor and doesn't have much work during the winter. The only day's he did were the day's I worked in the shop so we covered a lot of miles on the road and the river and they were all good times with lots of happy memories and funny stories from my time away in France and Scotland and Tony's travels across America and New Zealand.

Tony, another boat, another day in the first gorge of the Kent again.

Tony, even over the last three months, has made me push my paddling, not through tuition, but by just being there and setting up safety for some of the grade 4's and 5's I've paddled this winter. He'll help me scout out the lines so it's all clearer in my head and then be happy to stand on the bank with a throwline just in case the worst came to the worst. I think this gave me extra confidence on these day's as Tony is the guy you'd want on the other end of a throwline if it all went flying towards a fan. Thankfully that never happened and at times I would feel guilty about the time it took me to paddle a rapid compared to the time it took him to clamber over to the ideal position for rescue and set up many a system to make sure he didn't get pulled into the river, but he never minded and that what makes Tony such an amazing person to paddle with.

Tony getting swamped in his Skeeter above the L-Shaped drop.

The day of all paddling days, the one that made me think: "what do I do all this for?" saw me and Tony on the river again with my dad and some other club paddlers. It was good to be paddling with my dad, as this hadn't been that common recently with me being away and doing a lot of my paddling during the week. It was all good until the pinning obviously. It was Tony who was the guy still trying to pull off something that may have changed the outcome well after I had given up hope. I was glad he was there that day and the days that followed. He's been an amazing help through it all. I am always happy when he's on the river watching my back and it's been said by other club member's as well. Though my name is always mentioned in the same sentence. I am unsure why as I don't feel like I am a pillar to turn to if it all went wrong. I wouldn't want to paddle a river with myself if that was the only other boat on the water, but I would happily do a two man descent of any river if the other paddler was Tony. He's dependable, always in control and on the watch for any mishap to try and pull off a quick, successful result.

Tony lining up on the L-Shaped drop. I'm sat in the cave on river right. A line which was shown to me by the man himself on the previous trip down this river.

When I returned to the water twenty day's after the accident it was Tony I went with and I am glad it was just the two of us. No one else to worry about at a time when we both just needed to paddle and get down a river. We watch out for each other and everything usually comes good. It was just the two of us in the van telling stories and just talking, paddling the river like we always did, and then heading home with more stories. I think it was a Doubleyouess Team Paddler that said: "half the fun of paddling is in the journey" and it's definitely the case when we load up the van and head for the river.

Tony, swamped and upright at the bottom of Force Falls, but ready for the next river.

Looking back over the past winter's paddling I can only recall one day when Tony wasn't on the water with me. It was the Keld Gorge of the Swale. It was just me and someone else. It didn't feel right being on the river, me and another paddler that wasn't Tony. It wasn't comforting to me to think my back wasn't being watched by old faithful. I had tried getting him along for the trip, but I clearly remember him saying: "it's all right. You go and get something interesting done." That's the kind of guy Tony is. He could have quite easily come along on the trip, but he didn't want to as he didn't want to think himself a burden on the other paddlers. He didn't want to stop me going and exploring something that he thought was beyond his ability. He was pushing my paddling forward without being there. It's going to be strange, the next seven months, to be on a river, making a break out and looking back upstream not to see Tony catching a smaller eddy higher up that I had failed to see or surfing a wave I had dismissed. It won't be the same. It won't be paddling like I knew it over the last three months and many months before that as well. I won't have that dependable figure watching my back.

Making it look easy breaking out on the Graveyard section of the Leven. Second river of the day for Tony and me.

Will that stop me from pushing my paddling? I doubt it, but I'll be thinking twice as hard over the lines I need to run mainly because I've not got that person to turn to and discuss my options, but also because I've not got that wisened figure, with his blue helmet and foam visor, stood on the bank, rope in hand waiting to fish me out if it all went wrong. It definitely won't be the same by any stretch of the imagination, but I suppose it will make them times on the water with Tony even more special, like those memories I cherish of paddling with my dad.

Tony back on the water after we had all portaged the first weir at Backbarrow.

When I return to Preston for that short period before disappearing off to University it will be Tony I will be contacting about a quick paddling mission as I am sure he'll be ready to get in the van and head for the river. I'll have new stories from my paddling on the East Coast of Scotland and the French Alps and he'll happily listen to me rabbitting on adding his own stories from trips he's had to those areas. We'll get back on the river and it'll just be like old times: chasing each other into eddies, trying to find a shuttle back to the van as there was only the two of us and then heading off for another river before even thinking of returning to Preston for a coffee and a quick look at the pictures from the day.

Tony getting low in the Skeeter to avoid the rhododendrons in Fisherman's Gorge.

Friends are the most important part of your life. Treasure the tears, treasure the laughter, but most importantly, treasure the memories.
- Dave Brenner

The pictures in this post were taken on Friday's Lune trip which started nine miles upstream of Devil's Bridge, Kirby Lonsdale and Saturday's Kent and Leven mission. More pictures from the Lune can be found here and more of the Kent and Leven can be found here.

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

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