Pat Hanlon and Dave Clark – Kayak the River Thames 

July COTM

Life long pals Pat and Dave aren’t the type to shy away from a challenge and their latest feat showed just how oarsome they really are – kayaking the non-tidal length of the River Thames (all 135 miles of it!) in aid of Shooting Star Children’s Hospices.

A whole new discipline for them both, the pair had undertaken several practice runs before the challenge, but certainly weren’t prepared for what they had to face on the very first day! “During the first day in our kayak ‘Cream Crackered’, from Cricklade to Rushey, we encountered 12 obstacles along the route – in the shape of fallen trees! We had expected 2 or 3 as we’d both watched several YouTube videos of others paddling it. You could tell that they were fresh fallen trees, hit by lightning,” explained Pat. “It was a hugely tough day, particularly as we were only very novice to kayaking. Having to search for routes through, around, over and sometimes under these obstacles, proved really energy sapping.”

Pat went on to explain, “On one occasion, I could see, from the back of ‘Cream Crackered’ that there was a branch sticking up along our path, around 15 inches in diameter. My thought was if we could attack it at speed, the branch would give way and we could just paddle straight over it. So I said to Dave, okay Dave ramming speed!” With a plan in place they paddled at ‘ramming speed’ and hit the branch, with the front of the kayak going up onto the branch and staying put. “I could feel the water coming into the back and made sure Dave was well aware I was getting increasingly soggy! The water was getting higher and higher up my back, so in order not to sink I abandoned ship. The river there was deeper than expected as my feet did not touch the bottom.”

Despite the unforeseen encounter the pair managed to continue on their route, only stopping around 2 miles short of their intended finish point on day one. Tired, wet and cold, thankfully the local lock keeper allowed them to pitch their tent to warm up and rest up.

Luckily day two was kinder, with the pair realising that the kayak went better with Dave in the back. To increase spirits further their friend Ray ‘Basher’ Bateman arrived on the towpath to offer some support for the week, helping with most of the camping equipment, which saved lots of time not having to put tents up and down, allowing them more time and energy to complete their tough challenge!

“By day three, the two of us had really started working as a team, our paddling skills had much improved and we weren’t calling each other names anymore!” chuckled Pat. Although they had mastered their kayaking skills they hadn’t factored in the surprisingly hot weather – which certainly added to the challenge! “We were sensible with suntan cream, hats and keeping ourselves hydrated. It became almost enjoyable. Almost!” said Pat.

The rest of the week went to plan, as the pair meandered their way through the many locks, negotiating bridges, boats and wildlife. “We’d organised camping for most nights including rugby clubs, rowing clubs and pub lawns. One night we risked a wild camp under the bridge at Sonning, just 6 inches from the river.”

As the week drew to a close they could certainly feel the affects of the consent physical strain they were putting themselves through; “Although we had both got ourselves into shape for the challenge, the motion of paddling isn’t something you can train for down the gym. From day one our shoulders and backs took a pounding. It really was mind over matter. Waking up in the morning. Stretching off and getting on with it;” said Pat.

“We purposely left our shortest day until the last. We’d asked friends and family to come and see us pass the post at Teddington. It was brilliant to see so many of them up on the footbridge cheering and clapping. It was funny but during the last couple of days, and thinking of the finishing line, you get a sense of maybe missing it.”

Pat and Dave have gone on to raise over £3,300 and counting in support of Shooting Star Children’s Hospices; “Once it all came to an end there was a great sense of pride, realisation and achievement, and the icing on the cake was that we managed to raise loads of money for a great cause!”

If you’d like to donate to Pat and Dave’s fund you can here and if you are inspired to take on your own challenge click here!