No matter the distance, no matter the challenge, the last section always seems to be the toughest. My shoulders and lower back were not looking forward to the final 100km on the Paddle Pikcup expedition. And although I was excited about paddling through London, I can’t deny that my mind was on finishing and sleeping in the comfort of my own bed.
We didn’t see that one coming
The first day went well and the 5 new team mates threw themselves into the daily 20km and the litter picking. That night we had the riskiest camp of the whole expedition. We weren’t able to get permission to camp anywhere and, as the area was so residential, we had to settle for a small park overlooked by houses.
We only pitched our tents when it started to get dark around 8pm, a common practice with wild camping to stay as discrete as possible, but my heart sunk a little when I saw one of the back doors open from the nearby house and 2 people make a beeline for us. There was always a possibility that we would get asked to move.
‘Do you want to use our hot tub?’ They asked when they reached us. I didn’t see that one coming!
The team didn’t quite believe me when I told them what we had been offered but 20 minutes later, thanks to the generosity of Emma and Jamie, we found ourselves in a gorgeous hot tub sipping on champagne!
That wasn’t the only example of generosity we experienced that week. The Hall family invited us in for mid morning tea and pastries and Ian and Gina (from Incredible Oceans) came to visit us one evening loaded with an amazing vegan curry.
So much nostalgia
I never realised before how much the Thames has played an integral part in my life. We went through Kingston which is full of memories visiting my grandparents as a child. I yelled out when I unexpectedly spotted the pub that I met Alex Mason in for a drink post work….the place where Love Her Wild was born!
We passed my wedding venue, the Banker, and the Mayflower and the Salty Quays – popular get together spots for my much-loved friends.
But the strangest was on day 2 when we stayed overnight in a hall in the London Rowing Club in my old home, Putney. I visited the flat where I used to live. I hadn’t been back since I packed up my life and went on my Israeli hiking adventure. And here I was, one year on leading another crazy adventure!
I stopped in the Rocket, my old local and the place where I sat and wrote my first ever blog on this site. Being here made me miss my London life so much! The familiarity of my old life. And my friends who I barely get to see anymore. I really did love living in this city.
Waves and waves
As we set off on Day 3 everyone was excited. This was a big day. We would be paddling through the centre of London and all it’s major riverside landmarks. But there was also some underlining nerves. The Thames presented all sorts of new challenges. The tides meant we could only paddle during certain hours. The water was choppier, especially when we were hit with the waves from passing boats. And, worst of all, the traffic. We stayed tucked in as close as we could to the right-hand side keeping a close eye out, concentrating on not getting swept into a jetty or boats.
Bristol MP Kerry McCarthy arranged for us to have a wave from the Houses of Parliament…surreal moment!
The tourists took our picture as we passed and we even had some excited people running after us as they’d read about our journey in the Evening Standard.
From 0 to 308km
Our last night was spent sleeping in our tents on a patio behind a leisure centre. We had a 5am start to catch the early tide and just 15km left before we reached the finish line.
East London was a vast industrial area full of huge factories and large ships that most people will never get to see. Likewise with the resident seals that live there and who popped up their heads to nosy at these strange 8 women who came paddling by. I can’t believe London has seals!
We crossed the huge Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and the standstill traffic and had a 30-minute hard paddle against the tide to reach the jetty, our end point. There stood my husband, Gil, my mum and my little niece. Hugs and champagne at the ready to meet me at the end of a trip that came from nowhere and had consumed every ounce of my energy over the last 2 months.
When I went into it I genuinely had no idea if it would be a success or if I could even complete the challenge myself physically.
This really was a journey that I hope will show people that if you’ve got an idea you should run with it. Find your passion or something you care about and make something of it because I guarantee there are others out there who feel the same as you.
Before this trip, I had only kayaked a handful of times in my life. Yet here I was at the end of an epic coast to coast expedition a competent kayaker. My biggest concern was my upper body strength…..of which I have none, no exaggeration. Sure, I’d suffered and hurt, but by breaking the journey down into small targets, I’d been able to push my body to do something that I didn’t think it was capable of.
Never underestimate your own abilities!
In 17 days we collected 3240 pieces of plastic litter from our inland waterways. Over one-third of that was plastic bottles alone.
Picking up other peoples litter was a pretty demoralising thing to do at times. But worse than that was having to see first hand what plastic has done to our wonderful world. Birds making nests out of straws and the swarm of micro plastics that hit us when we reached the Thames.
Virtually every plastic ever made still exists in some form so every time you use plastic and throw it away, you are contributing to this problem. This is a material that does not belong in the environment.
This journey came about with one thing in mind…doing my bit for the environment. As a team, we’ve removed 3000+ bits of litter taking from our environment where it can cause damage to wildlife and, more importantly, raised awareness on an important subject. If just one person decides to now say ‘no straw’ over time they order a drink, or uses a refillable bottle rather than buying plastic ones, then we have succeeded!
What difference could you make?
The awesome people at Incredible Oceans are running a crowdfunding campaign to turn the plastic we took out of the waterways into an art piece to take to events and schools. Please show your support for this expedition and pledge now!
Thank you, Sammy Seely, for the brilliant photos!