A NEW video detailing an attempt to complete the River Wye 100 in record time shows the painful contrast of conditions that adventurers can face when taking on challenges.
Ever Wild Outdoors editor Darren Parkin took on the River Wye 100 – a famous paddling route from Glasbury to Chepstow – earlier this year as an endurance challenge for charity.
However, the seemingly straightforward effort to paddle for as long as daylight would allow at the fastest possible speed took on a more daunting air with a freak weather forecast. A blistering heatwave hit the 50-year-old with scorching 32C temperatures on day one, which was swiftly followed by heavy thunderstorms the next day.
“It was a remarkable turn of events that threw an extra element of physical struggle to something that would have been difficult enough even in the best of conditions,” Parkin said.
“You’re doing roughly 14 to 15 hours paddling a day, which is a huge physical effort and puts an enormous strain on your body – but to do that in high humidity and temperatures with the sun bearing down on you is something else.”
The ravages of heat on day one were swiftly swapped for altogether damper conditions on day two as rolling thunderstorms crept across the England/Wales border, presenting a different set of challenges.
“I was wearing decent Colombia waterproofs, but the downpour was so relentless that they were compromised after about five hours and I was pretty soaked through,” he added.
“I think you can tell in the video that I’m doing a pretty poor job of hiding my dampened spirits. And the footage where I’m talking on day two was being filmed during the spells when the rain had eased off and it was safe to do so!”
All did not go to plan for the experienced canoeist, however. Despite decades of outdoors instruction under his belt, he was drawn into the temptation of clocking up as many miles as possible before nightfall.
“I got past Monmouth and was already wet through to my skin before the rain started coming down heavily again, and I told myself out loud that I should start looking for somewhere to bed down for the night,” he explained.
“But, rather stupidly, I began thinking about how much I could shave off the finish time in the morning if I just bagged a couple more miles – this was a very poor decision because I was moving into the tidal reaches of the Wye which meant places to beach the boat and find a spot to bivvy were getting few and far between.”
Two possible spots were ignored due to Parkin looking at his watch and knowing he had 40 minutes of daylight left in which to continue paddling. By this time, the banks were getting steep and muddy, and he was becoming increasingly fatigued – both mentally and physically.
Finding a rocky spot with a scramble up to a tree, he dragged the canoe and equipment to a plateau before setting up shelter.
“It was at this point that I realised what I’d allowed to happen,” he recalled.
“My body temperature had dropped, I was shaking from head to toe, my thought processes were skewed, and I was even hallucinating. I thought I was looking at someone 30 yards away, staring back at me with a shotgun in their hands, motionless they were.
“After what felt like about 15 minutes I started walking over to them to say something like ‘look, I’m in a bit of a trouble and I need to get warm and dry, I need to bivvy down under a tarp by this tree and I’ll be gone at first light, I’m sorry for any inconvenience’ but, as I got closer to him it turned out it was just an old fence post with a stick poking out at a funny angle.
“I was in the early stages of hypothermia, and just hadn’t spotted the signs because I’d been so hellbent on eating up the miles – a terrible error of judgement.
“Luckily I had a decent sleep system – a Robens Mountain Bivvy with a Rab Storm Bivi as back-up. I wouldn’t be so dramatic as to say it saved my, as my life wasn’t in real danger, but I’d certainly go as far as to say it saved my expedition as I may not have been able to continue if I hadn’t been able to get warmed up and stay dry that night.”
After setting up a tarp shelter and a bivvy bag, he managed to eventually bring his temperature back up to normal and prevent himself from slipping further into hypothermia before continuing his money-raising quest the next morning, only to encounter another problem – the incoming tide.
“It was gruelling,” he laughed.
“Once I got beyond Tintern you could feel the water take on a different attitude as the tide turned against me. It was the worst possible timing.
“I barely had a couple of miles to do to reach Chepstow, but they were the hardest of all the one hundred miles. At one point a huge plastic-wrapped haybale came hurtling past me from bow to stern and it was only then that I could fully appreciate the power and speed of the water I was up against. That was slow-going and utterly energy sapping. Even paddling at my top speed, I was just about matching the speed of the River Wye tide.”
Fighting the oncoming tide, the weary paddler finally managed to cross the finish line in Chepstow in an impressive two days, five hours and 42 minutes.
“It’s a crazy time – and one that didn’t feel possible half-way through day one in the heatwave,” he added.
“I think there would be a couple of things I would have done differently, like understanding my body’s warning signs for a start, and maybe planning things a little better around the tidal section, but that’s all.
“I don’t like doing too much planning, and I always advise people not to overthink the planning stages. I mean, I didn’t even realise Chepstow didn’t have a boathouse – imagine my surprise when I got out at the finish line to discover it was a pub!
“Sometimes it’s best to throw yourself into an endurance challenge and face things as they happen because, most of the time, the things that go wrong aren’t things you can plan for – they happen come-what-may.
“Last year, for instance, when I set the record for canoeing the Avon Ring, I don’t think I would have even got to the start line if I’d put too much thought into what I was getting myself into. Sure, plan sensibly and give every aspect of what you’re doing some careful thought, but don’t go too deep or there’s a danger you could plan yourself out of the adventure of a lifetime.”