A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the tag “canoing”

Hibernation

I’ve decided to place my blog into hibernation. I started it as I wanted to share the difference in outlook that our tandem had brought to my life, now that MS is part of it. I hope that I’ve been able to get across how it’s helped me, not only to get outside again, but to actively try to be out in as many different ways as possible. And not just to be outside but to be immersed in the countryside once more, to get muddy and rained on and to smell the grass in sheep-nibbled fields again.

enjoying a summer evening

enjoying a summer evening

I don’t want to become repetitive so I thought I’d take a break. I shall only be taking a break from writing the blog though – definitely not from having adventures! We shall continue to cycle, bumping along uneven paths, to track down more bird-watching haunts and to splash about in the canoe. I might even try something new again if something catches my eye. I know it would be worth my while.

by Hebden Water

by Hebden Water

In the meantime, I’ve loved hearing from other people who have tried out new ways of adventuring, be it by adapted cycle, tramper or horse riding.

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

We have a weekend away coming up with EMpowered people which I’m looking forward to. It will be good to mix with others who have similar tales to tell again, and to swap our experiences. There are many more Lakeland tarns to glide across and the wheelchair is getting used to being pushed along unlikely paths.

muddy Pennine paths

muddy Pennine paths

Then there’s the Paralympics coming up soon, and when I start to feel a little bit inadequate in the face of their superhuman efforts, I can remind myself of just what I am achieving. Just as the Olympics inspire people to try something out, the Paralympics remind me that I have adapted my life to get out there and do something – there will be no hibernating for me!

tandem happy amongst the sheep

tandem happy amongst the sheep

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Brrr! Easter!

Waterhead, Windermere

Waterhead, Windermere

We spent a couple of days visiting my parents in the Lake District over Easter so, regardless of the stiff 15 mph breeze whipping across the lake, we decided that it was time that the canoe had its first outing of the year.

Although we have already had an outing on  Windermere near Bowness by canoe, it is pretty large, so we felt it ought to count as separate “bagging” if we launched from the top end of the lake, at Waterhead.

Carrying the uninflated canoe to the lake shore

Carrying the uninflated canoe to the lake shore

It took me about the same length of time to put all my layers on as it did Pete to inflate the boat and put the seats in ready for launching. In my defence I had on so many layers that I looked like the Michelin man – there are definitely no photos of this look!

Once afloat (another ungainly procedure – this is where having MS is a good excuse for the palaver involved!) we hugged the coast, negotiating our way past the many boats bobbing at their moorings. It’s funny how very close to the water you are in one of these canoes, and yet how stable it feels too.

As soon as we’re away, we get straight into Swallows and Amazons mode, and everything is a huge adventure. (You can see why the teenagers want nothing to do with us!) In fact, we were very soon in danger of being dashed against rocks poking their jagged edges out towards us. Suddenly, not only did the water feel very close, I was very aware of being in an inflatable canoe. However, fear not, I bravely lent a hand to avoid calamity and we were soon heading towards calmer water, and I could stop “helping out”.

We headed towards the far side of the lake, less than 2km as the crow flies, flying along very much as a crow would until we realised that we would have to make it back without wind assistance; indeed, battling very definitely against the wind. Once more, I felt it my duty to assist as otherwise we would have been knocking on the door of some unsuspecting local asking, shamefaced, for a lift back to our car.

At the cove

At the cove

So, some time later, we rounded our own Cape Horn and glided into a hidden cove, somewhere we fondly imagined that no-one had found before us. We hauled the boat out of the water (oops, that’s a royal “we”!) and set about munching our lunch. We were immediately disturbed by a rowing boat filled with six people making the same discovery and were sadly reminded (again) that nowhere is undiscovered on Windermere (it’s much more fun to live in Swallows and Amazons world though!)

Using the bothy bag!

Using the bothy bag!

After a leisurely lunch stop we made an exploration of the mouth of the River Brathay, wondering about the possibility of a trip downstream another day … we’ll see. It was very mellow and gentle, and we watched families walking along the river as we paddled by.

Once back on land a trip to the teashop warmed us up sufficiently to be able to feel our limbs again. Brrr! Easter!

On the River Brathay

On the River Brathay

Thinking Differently

I’d been living with MS since 2004 and was feeling the increasing frustration of not being able to get out into the countryside with my husband, as my legs were no longer prepared to carry me any distance.

Pete, clearly not prepared to let this be a permanent problem, hit on a solution whilst we were on holiday in France, where everyone was enjoying travelling to the beach by bike. He arrived back at our tent one day, having hired a tandem for us to try! I have to say, I was sceptical at first; I hadn’t been on a bike for many a year and now I was expected to ride on the back of something when I couldn’t see where I was going and wasn’t in control of the brakes.

However, after a few anxious squeaks (by me, not the bike), I had to admit that it was fun, cycling along special cycle lanes the few odd miles to the beach in the sun. I mastered the art of letting my legs move round on the pedals without actually putting any weight down and so minimising my effort. I could see that I was successful when Pete looked more tired than me as we dismounted.

First steps, west coast of France

First steps, west coast of France

We didn’t initially consider getting a tandem ourselves. After all, we live in the Yorkshire Pennines; there are lots of hills there. It would be a silly idea. So for a couple of years we just hired a tandem for a sunny two weeks. At least it was something, and I looked like everyone else as I pedalled away; no stick, no wheelchair.

Taking it easy near Lake Annecy

Taking it easy near Lake Annecy

In the meantime, not to be thwarted by our home geography, Pete kept thinking and came up with the notion of canoeing. Again, the Pennines are not known as great canoeing territory. The solution was to get an inflatable canoe and escape to the Lake District when we could. We discovered that it is feasible to travel there and back in a day, and still have a lovely few hours out on a lake. My parents also live up that way so we can even claim a bed for the night. We’ve had memorable days on Coniston, Windermere and Ullswater … and there are many more to try yet. It’s becoming something of a challenge to “bag” them all.

One great day out was to canoe about half-way down Ullswater with the wind behind us to Howtown, pack up the canoe into its, not exactly portable, but manageable, bag, and wait for the steamer to take us back up to our car at Glenridding.

Ullswater, near Howtown

Ullswater, near Howtown

An important trick that I’ve learnt in order to minimise fatigue is to only paddle when I feel like it, generally when other boats are nearby, so that it looks like I’m pulling my weight, but otherwise just dipping in a blade now and again, to “help out”. Fortunately, Pete is great at doing all the hard work, which also includes getting the canoe inflated and deflated.

It then occurred to us that maybe it would be feasible to use a tandem round where we live if we used the car a little, either with me driving to the start of a flatter route and Pete cycling solo there, or putting it on a bike rack. After all, I’m never going to give Bradley Wiggins a run for his money; I’m just tootling short distances of about five miles. So, we took the plunge and bought a mountain tandem (yes, they do exist!) a few months ago.  They come with lovely fat tyres which absorb a lot of the bumps. To make it as suitable as possible for me we fitted a crank-shortener to the back pedals which makes it much less tiring (since my back pedals still have to go round in time with the front ones). In order to minimise any complaints about my sore backside, we also got a very wide springy seat and a seat post with a spring shock absorber which is very helpful over all the bumpy paths.

Moors near Widdop

Moors near Widdop

So far we’ve made several trips in the local woods, had a bit of an epic trip following a reservoir road amongst the moors and a cycle along a canal towpath. The railway follows the same route at that point and we left the car at a station so that I could travel back by train but, after a good rest and refuelling stop at our destination, I was really chuffed when I made it back again too.

We have plenty of stops to admire the scenery and rest, and cafés are always popular, or flasks of tea. I stagger off the bike feeling utterly exhausted but extremely happy. I am out in the countryside again, smelling the earth and feeling the fresh air in my eyes. I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain and, whilst part of the tiredness is fatigue, that speciality of MS, most of it is the same as that old feeling of happy tiredness from having been outside on the fells all day.

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