• Michelle Mudhar

A wee little paddle

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

A 5 day paddle from West to East of Scotland along the Caledonian Canal (aka the Great Glen), including Loch Ness. Wild camping along the way! Quite the adventure! This particular brand of wild camping involved using the lovely plumbed and heated toilets in the Locks! Not authentically “wild”, but I’m working up to it!

1 Adventure Van, 1 Tent, 1 Birthday, 1 Central Nervous System break down (not a doctor, but maybe?), 1 Support boat and not forgetting 2 random Dutch guys in a sinking homemade raft……so nothing much happened then!

Ben Nevis, start of the paddle

The Adventure Van is AMAZING, being able to sit up in bed and not hit your head is AMAZING. Having a loo next to your bed is AMAZING. Not so amazing is waking up to ice on the windows after a -1degree night ON MY BIRTHDAY, and discovering that the diesel heater is broken! My birthday present? A quick drive to warm the van up using the main engine hahahaha. We were only in the van for one night though whilst we waited to get the support boat up the locks...going forward it would be all about the tent.

The kayak was transported up the locks on top of the support boat, Neptunes stair case, 6 locks. It takes a LONG time.

The support boat takes the kayak up neptunes staircase, 6 locks and then we PADDLE

Once everyone was together we got to paddling 10km. We were joined by our friend and his grandson who enjoyed shouting “grandad go FASTER”, perfect company haha.

I was glad it was a short distance, having never paddled the tandem before we needed to do a lot of adjustment to it to keep the pain at bay. We ended up with 2 dry bags either side of my hips filled with padding to stop me from moving around in the kayak. And a large wedge of foam (envisaged as a foot rest), used as a back rest. Now fully supported we thought the boat was ready for a full day!

Our first full day paddling, 33Km achieved! I’ve never known weather like it! We’d had cold nights (-1 degrees) and I had been sleeping in every bit of clothing I owned…..my fleece onesie didn’t come off for the WHOLE trip (ewwwww…I know!). Then during the day 20 minutes of sunshine gradually greying for 20 mins then 20 minutes hail…..REPEAT ALL DAY. Thats a Scottish spring for you!

By the end of the paddle the temperature had dropped again, I was waiting on the dockside for the kayaks to be put away and tent put up. I got cold and started shivering….but the shivering wouldn’t stopped. Even after I had gotten out all my wet stuff and gotten warm. My body just wouldn’t stop shaking, and then the pain started. I laid in the tent not understanding what was going on. My legs wouldn’t lie flat. The pain just grew and grew and I didn’t know what to do. Any kind of movement just made things worse, my back and legs locked into spasm. It was scary….not knowing or understanding what was wrong or how to fix it, just the pain. We experimented, seeing if alternative positions eased anything. Then we found that if I laid on my back with my legs in the air, bent as if they were sat in a kayak, something unlocked. We stretched out the tendons gently, and slowly they moved more and more, until eventually my legs laid flat. Relief. I don’t know how long it took, maybe an hour. I just wanted to sleep. I stole the warmer sleeping bag that night……my birthday present a couple of weeks later was a super warm sleeping bag so that I didn’t have to steal it again!

After the drama of the day before we decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of a repeat. We spent the day on the support boat (aka canal boat). Gave my body time to recover. One of those decisions that could have gone either way. Some people might be congratulated for pushing through, but adventuring should be fun imho. So the kayak got stowed on the roof again and we took a trip through Loch Ness.

Rest day through Loch Ness on the support boat

And canal boats can be just as much fun…..especially when two dutch guys need rescuing from their home built tree branch raft and find themselves sinking in the middle of Loch Ness! To put this into context, Loch Ness is the largest part of the trip, it would have taken a bout 1 - 1.5 days to paddle. But we were in the canal boat so it was pretty quick. The loch has ALOT of boat traffic on it, it was the BIG trip boats which really weren't helping their raft, the wake from the bow breaking it apart. So they were really quite happy that our little canal boat came along to rescue them. One of the lads was shivering, clearly on the verge of hypothermia, no buoyancy aid. The canal boat's shallow hull could tow them directly to the shore. We fed them coffee and chocolate and left them on their way. They were doing some sort of documentary and really wanted the photos I took….its just instagram gone mad.

Two crazy dutch guys

Happily we finished on a high. The next day I sat directly on my wheelchair cushion in the kayak, not the air thermarest. My body just likes to sit wonky, the exact shape that 4 years of sitting on the same bit of foam has produced. It DOES NOT like it when I sit on something that corrects that wonkiness, something to do with having movement in one leg but not the other. What can i say, its a work in progress. But i’m glad we finished the trip on a high and still paddling. If only to prove that we can adapt and over come. Until next time Loch Ness. WE’LL BE BACK!

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