Trip report to follow soon!

We’re back from our epic canoe trip paddling down the Thames from the headwaters in Cricklade (we could start there this time of year only because of all the rain this summer).

I must say, we are awesome, we are rock stars, we paddled 91.8 miles! 91.8! MILES!. This involved about 10 hours of paddling each day, our big day we paddled just over 28 miles!

Trip report, complete with photos to come soon, for now there are the few camera phone shots from along the way on Flickr.

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Paddling the Thames: Day 4

Near Mapledurham to Mill End

Gmaps route: 16.6 miles

Day 3 campWe were up fairly early and particularly well rested. Although I could have easily crawled back into my warm sleeping bag and enjoyed a lazy morning with a cup of tea. Our campsite was visited by the super cute and rather musically chatting English Robins. They were pretty bold, sitting on our canoe right next to our tent, we must have been in his territory that he was trying to defend or chase us away from, but we just thought he was insanely cute.

The wind was in our faces most of the day and there were far more boats on the water creating a lot of chop which slowed us down. The locks were also time consuming today, we were near more populated areas with larger numbers of boats, not too mention the ferry boats where only one would take up the entire lock, making us wait through several cycles. We lost a lot of time at the locks.

English Robin on our canoeToday we passed through Reading. Here the paths along the river and half a dozen large ferries were riddled with ASBO’s coming from the Reading Festival over this Bank Holiday weekend. It was interesting to note that we were paddling faster than the rocked out campers. On the surface and from the way the paddles and canoe seemed to be moving through the water, we thought possibly we were paddling faster and stronger than we had all weekend. Or maybe the river started to actually have a current. Standing on the bank of the Thames in Bourne End, it really seems like the river is raging past you, surely we’ve reached a point where there current finally has picked up. Alas, I don’t think this was the case at all with the wind coming directly at us and the heavy chop, this really wore us down, as evidenced by the day total of 16.6 miles.

Still no sign of cream tea. I was completely fixated on the idea of having cream tea and scones with clotted cream today. At the Sonning Lock where we ended up waiting through multiple cycles, Mark got out of the boat to see what was going on, he comes back to show me the photo he took on his phone, a picture of a sign saying, “Now serving cream teas!”

We had a special mini-goal of meeting friends at the St. George and Dragon for lunch. After hours of paddling with no breakfast and passing up the lock’s cream tea, and then the waitress telling us they had stopped taking food orders for the next twenty-five minutes and then nearly having an aneurysm at the news, lunch was so well earned, an entire pizza and a steak was quickly inhaled by the two of us. Henley-on-Thames was a particularly lively and festive town, I enjoyed the band and dancers on the upper deck of one of the larger ferry-like boats.

Mark with the River ThamesAfter paddling a couple more hours we started talking about what time or where to stop. We had a number to call to get picked up, we could stop short of our goal if we stopped at a lock and called from there. Not five minutes later, we get a phone call from one of the canoe folks wondering how far along we were and when we thought we anticipated reaching our original goal of Bourne End. It was after four pm and at that point we had about ten miles to go. Paddling around two miles per hour would put us home much later than we would have liked.

We decided to stop early and arranged a pick up point a half mile beyond the next lock. Those last few miles seemed to be the longest and hardest to paddle, the instant we set our end goal short it became so far away.

91.8 miles is an impressive amount and I’m incredibly proud of both of us for what we accomplished. It’s 11.8 miles more than we thought we were getting ourselves into, so it’s a win and quite the accomplishment no matter how we look at it.

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Paddling the Thames: Day 3

Abbingdon to around Mapledurham

Gmaps route: 25.3 miles

Setting off on Day Three!Day three and still no sign of cream tea for breakfast or ice cream as a treat. Despite the rude awakening of the fire alarm in the night and not hearing our alarm but being awakened by breakfast at our door, we woke up fairly refreshed. Sore and stiff, but refreshed none-the-less. We set out bright eyed and bushy tailed, as we paddled through and out of Abbingdon, church bells were ringing from the towers. The river is well into being an actual river in size at this point. Still, no real help from the current.

Moulsford Railway BridgeWe were not nearly as delirious today. Well fed and well rested we were able to make good progress without getting too tired through the first part of the day. We paddled along and passed through our first big city, Oxford, the river became considerably busier today. We passed by where the two rivers Isis and Thame come together to form the Thames (around mile 59) without noticing the other river. I’m not sure how we missed it, we were looking for it to merge on the left. It was one of the landmarks to look for.

We marked our miles by setting mini-goals to look forward too. 2.5 miles to the next lock, 4 miles to the next bridge, 3 miles to the next landmark. This was important on the small scale, not looking or thinking too far forward. It made us feel like we were making progress. Frequently we would again state the obvious, “What mile does this Whitechurch lock mark?” I’d ask for the sixth time, “we’re at 73 miles,” Mark would say, I would then repeat matter-of-factly as if this was surprising new news, “Do you realize we’ve paddled 73 miles so far!”

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)It seemed for awhile that we had started to work the kinks out of our muscles and joints. But, taking a break seemed to only make paddling harder, restarting became harder. I did reach a breaking point today, I think it was before we stopped for dinner, possibly after. The sun was intense today, even with sun screen we are both thoroughly sunburned. The air temperature was nice, but the direct sun wore on us, not too mention the indirect light reflecting back up at us from the water surface. I just needed to stop, but in interest of continuing to make progress, I just sort of laid down in the canoe, leaning back over our gear behind me, while Mark continued paddling. Mark checked up on me, wanting to know where I was mentally, we could abort, stop at the next lock and call it a trip well done. But I was still optimistic that we could and would make it the entire one hundred miles. I just needed this little break, staring at the wisps of clouds and contrails in the clear blue skies above.

We found a nice little secluded nook in sight of the Mapledurham lock to set up camp for the night, and managed to do so at a reasonable hour. Even with our bright yellow little tent you would have been hard pressed to see us. We sat up along the side of the river for a bit, basking in the full moon light that was casting sharp shadows. We both slept well, even for sleeping in a tent, even with as chilly as it did get over night.

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Paddling the Thames: Day 2

Carswell Marsh to Abbingdon

Gmaps route: 28.47 miles

Morning of Day Two, in sight of the riverWe woke up to a world soaked in dew, it hadn’t rained, but everything so wet it might as well have. As we decrinkled ourselves little did we know what was ahead of us on what would turn out to be our longest day of paddling.

We had our two oranges to eat for breakfast and that’s all. They were super juicy though. In the morning, spirits were still high, but as the day rolled on, the paddling did get significantly harder. Remember those gliding sentinels and clouds of damselflies, in our exhaustion and hunger induced delirium, we discussed the merits about the possibility of physically harnessing the flying and swimming biota around us, having a menagerie armada of a chariot, pulling us through the water that at times felt as thick as molasses.

Hot Air Balloons floating aboveWe were treated to some wonderful sights today. Including a couple of hot air balloons crossing our path. I had too wonder as we were looking up and taking photos of the balloons if the balloon people were looking down on and photographing us, the lone canoers on the Thames.

We discovered that some of our assumptions we had about this trip were wildly wrong. Assumption #1: The river has a current. We seriously thought we would have much more help from the current of this river. River! HA! Portions of which, we swear, had a barely perceptible current, it’s just one really long narrow winding lake! In the faster portions, Mark estimated the water was flowing at about one mile per hour. And this is with the river high and in theory moving fast!

Assumption #2: That we could reasonably paddle three miles per hour. No, at best we think we were hitting two and half miles per hour. When talking about distances on the scale of 80-100 miles, the difference between two miles per hour and three miles per hour is a colossal amount of time and energy.

No, that's not a happy DebAssumption #3: That there would be canoe friendly pubs we could paddle up to with welcoming energy providing meals. Did I mention the flooding? The kitchen too damaged to be open for food? Even two pubs, directly across the river from eachother, both boasting signs saying food served all day, both closed for repairs (note my grimace in the photo to the left upon discovering they were both closed). Or the pubs whose kitchens are only open 12-2 and then 7-10pm? And we arrive at said pub shortly after or before kitchen hours?

I’m sure there were further assumptions we had misconceived and discussed, but they currently slip my mind.

Ruins on the riversideWe were operating on the assumption that the guide that said we had 100 miles to cover was the correct mileage (and it was) so we really needed to cover more miles and pressed on well after dark. There were ruins gleaming in the sunset as we paddled on. With a nearly full moon, we had plenty of light to work with. I turned to Mark and remarked, “we are paddling the Thames by moonlight” I know it sounds strange to state the obvious while you are doing the obvious thing, but it was amazing and beautiful and still, with just the sound of our paddles pushing us through the water under the silvery light.

Deb in a lockLock workers leave the locks at 7pm, after which the boaters take charge for their own passage. These are complicated systems, Mark can discuss these in better detail than I could. But to suffice it to say, after 7pm, it was simpler to portage our boat (i.e. empty it’s contents and carry it and contents to the other side of the lock). We were coming up onto one more lock, “Just one more lock,” Mark said, “then we’ll find someplace for the night, the next town is just a half mile after this lock” My spirits were pretty low. I was tired, hungry and rapidly getting a bit cranky.

We weakly paddled into Abbingdon at 10:30 at night hoping to find a room at an inn on the water. I was seriously prepared to cry if Mark came out saying they had no rooms. My psyche was in such a fragile state I nearly shed a tear on hearing that we had a room! Oh, the decadent luxury of a bed and a shower and fast food in town, since all other restaurants kitchens had already closed for the night. And the hotel’s kitchen was closed due to repairs from the flood.

Until 1:00am… I woke up to shouting outside… then the fire alarm went off. Was this for real? Soon, pounding at the door, we needed to get out. It was a false alarm, the arguing had been with one of the workers and the hotel manager. We sat outside for an hour, the entire time the alarm screaming in the background. This is what we get for *not* camping out in the quiet solitude of our tent. We did meet and chat with a fellow American ex-pat and his son until we got the okay to go back in. We again sacked out quickly and too soon our continental breakfast knock on the door rudely awakened us.

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Paddling the Thames: Day 1

Cricklade to near Carswell Marsh

Gmaps route: 21.5 miles

Just about to set off from CrickladeAs we set off this morning, our spirits and morale were high, we were excited about this adventure in true Denovich style. One that sounds, and probably is, a bit insane. Planning to paddle 80 miles of the Thames in four days.

Although technically we were starting on the River Isis, the Thames wouldn’t really be called the Thames until the Thame (with no “s”) River joins the Isis 59 miles down stream. But we are in the headwaters of the Thames starting in Cricklade. We are only able to start this far up stream at this time of year due to how excessively wet this summer has been. The Isis can be a dry trickle normally this far up in August. Where we put in, we could almost reach both banks with outstretched arms, it’s not so much a river as it is a shallow stream.

The first several miles were riddled with fallen trees and debris from the flooding. It was slow going at first, we paddled straight through some branches before getting the knack of maneuvering around these obstacles.

Taking an early break on the bankI also must mention we lucked out on the weather for all four days we were out. Summer really just never happened in England this year, we had that one day that reached 84 degrees, but since then it’s been chilly, gray, drizzly sweater wearing weather. These four days were all sunshine and warm 70’s. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or temperatures for what we were doing.

We had “Canoing the Thames” guides printed out with conflicting distances. The spreadsheet the Thames Canoe folks provided us gave us 80 miles vs. the 100 miles on the detailed mile by mile guide Mark had found online. Twenty miles is a huge margin of error and caused us some distress considering we can paddle maybe 2.5 miles per hour.

Deb and another bridgeThese guides also had listed inns, canoe friendly pubs and camp sites along the way. We anticipated having plenty of places to stop to eat, so we didn’t provision ourselves with a lot of food. Just snacking bits. We did not anticipate nor know the flooding from recent weeks had closed down many of our expected stops for repairs. What does this translate into? For our first day we only ate one meal. When we are paddling for 10 hours a day, not being properly fueled is a problem.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)We were not disappointed with our wildlife sightings. Cormorants, herons, Great Crested Grebes galore and flashes of electric blue Kingfishers skimming the water’s surface ahead of us. We frequently had the white swan sentinels of the river gliding gracefully in front of us as if we were in a chariot and they were our steeds. Fluttering emerald and sapphire jewels of Banded Demoiselle damselflies were ever present clouds around us. Paddling along we were in a meandering maze lined with Great Willowherb, forests of Phragmites and towering Typha (Common Reed and Cat Tails, I just enjoy the alliteration of the genus names).

We more or less had the river to ourselves for the entire first day. A couple kayakers here and there and more smaller boats as we got closer to our campsite. We set up camp just past the Tadpole bridge. We were out for the night quickly, day one was exhausting. Several times in the night I awoke thinking someone was shining a light on our tent only to realize it was the moonlight from the nearly full moon.

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Paddling the Thames

The plan has only just crystallized in the past hour, but Mark and I will be heading out tomorrow morning to paddle 80 miles of the Thames River, starting where the navigable waters begin and ending in Bourne End (the village in which we live). We’ll be leaving Friday morning and returning Monday night, camping out along the way and renting the canoe from the friendly Thames Canoe people. They drop you off and pick you up at whatever start and end points you choose and they provided us with a list of campsites (and inns) to use along the way.

Now to pile up the gear!

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Dry Tortugas: Day 2

View from tentWe shifted to a different camp site, yes, it’s only a difference of a couple of yards, but we moved to one that is sheltered by the trees and vegetation. It became quite windy during the night and with our all mesh tent, it was a little chilly to have a constant breeze blowing over us.

The previous tenant of the site gifted us with several gallons of fresh water they did not want to carry back to the mainland. We soon learned, this is what campers here do, gift extra supplies to the campers who remain after you. Most campers just stay for one night, we would become the veterans as each night we stayed new people came and went. We were later gifted with more water and shared food and drink with our neighbors.

Kayaking to Loggerhead Key

IMG_0381We loaded up the tandem kayak and set out for the hour long paddle to Loggerhead Key about 12:30. It’s a 3.6 mile journey; I brought my gps along to record our travels around the islands. This is where the light house was located and where two volunteers and 15 Cubans were there to greet us. The paddle was challenging but so worth it. There was no wind what so ever which had there been any, we would not have dared to make the pass across. Even in clear calm weather, there was some chop, and we did start to get a little green as we neared the island “Just 500 more yards!” “You said that 500 yards ago!”

We made land fall on the far end of the island and sat for awhile, took some Dramamine and I walked and Mark paddled the kayak further up the island. We stopped and greeted one of the volunteers; their little house had an array of solar panels to provide them with power. She directed us to “Little Africa” the coral reef head that was the reason for our paddle over, an unspoiled pristine coral head that when viewed from up in the light house was in the shape of the continent of Africa, hence the name.

I was still quite green and stayed on land while Mark went out to explore Little Africa. The coral spread all the way to the shore, it involved careful and tricky maneuvering to walk over the slick surface of coral to get into open water. While Mark was in the water I was able to observe quite a bit of wildlife through the crystal clear water just from shore. I eventually joined Mark out in the water and hand in hand we swam together over the coral.

The barracuda were a little spooky. Here are fish nearly as long or longer than I am, circling and following us around with their snarling unhappy expressions on their tooth filled mouths. They were no threat to us, but spooky none the less, as they would not budge. We had to swim around them if we wanted to get by.

Resting On Loggerhead KeyWe needed to start our return paddle, it takes and hour and a half on the return trip. We popped a couple of precautionary Dramamine and set off, we were both pretty beat but were rewarded with some gems on the trip: two turtle sightings coming up for air very close to our kayak, Mark was fishing on the way back and caught a barracuda and a yellow tailed snapper (which we let loose, but would have made a nice dinner with the lemons and onion we had brought), we paddled directly over quite a commotion of tarpin (?) that had swarmed around a school of smaller fish for a feeding frenzy� fish were flying out of the water and splashing and sea birds were circling over head and diving in for a catch as well, it was exciting to be in the middle of this in our small boat.

IMG_0384We made land fall right at sunset and beautiful and fitting end to our days’ adventure.

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Lake Stoneycreek

In classic Deb and Mark style, a last minute plan (plan “C” of the weekend) to camp out at Mark’s uncles place on Lake Stonycreek came together with about an hour of planning and packing. It turned out to be a wonderfully fabu low key time with George and Chris, the weather was perfect, the water just right… even discovered that blowing, mounting and riding a cactus * is an excellent way to spend your time floating around in the water.

Snorkeling proved interesting exploring the depths of the lake, finding schools of hundreds of baby bluegill among the algae grasses. Bass and Crappy eluded Mark’s fishing lure as he cast off a few times to see if anything would bite. Had a great late night canoe around the lake where we were the only souls on the water. At the far end of the lake near the Indian Lake spillway was a party blaring Van Halen, they invited us up for some beer, we theorized they thought we were a canoe full of girls as we all had long hair :)

Friday was the maximum for the Perseid meteor shower, so we did see a few meteors. It was rather hypnotic. Reclined on blankets, gazing up into the night sky with the whirring buzz of insects enveloping us. We all could have easily fallen asleep laying there on the dock. Each time one of us was ready to get up and stop watching there invariably was another streak across the sky.

All this fun, completely sober as the beverage committee (aka Tom, et al) decided not to show. Which is fine. We had no access to phone service, unless we went for a drive, so communication was at a minimum. Although I am certain a larger crowd would have had the momentum to prompt an after midnight dip into the lake, with our bellies full of grill fare (pork chops, chicken, hot dogs and marshmallows), there was little to be done to motivate us off that dock.

Morning greeted us with a mirror smooth surfaced lake, until some jackass decided 7:30 am was a perfectly reasonable time to use a jet-ski to run the mile and half length of the lower lake. This didn’t stop Mark from heading out solo in the canoe with fishing gear in hand.

Next time, a little more planning just might behoove us. It’s such an easy drive and such a no-brainer for a low stress get away. Last year, we stayed at the lake a few times toward the end of the season and we remarked to ourselves, “we’ll have to remember to come out more frequently next season!” This has been such a hectic summer, that this was our first return visit this year. We will plan another trip soon!

*footnote: these are not two-man cacti, as one sustained minor injuries as evidence

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