A few weekends ago I was lucky enough to attend the British Universities Kayak Expedition 2015 Selections, having had my application accepted along with 19 others, out of 35 applicants.
I was initially quite nervous about applying as I was worried I wouldn’t be good enough, I might not get through and be very disappointed (and maybe a little embarrassed) as a result, and maybe my worst concern… the other people just might not like me!
Eventually having talked to a number of people (all of whom were very enthusiastic and supportive about me applying, which was a nice confidence boost) I decided to apply. I got my application in hours before the deadline, having taken a terrible selfie in rubbish lighting after hours of scouring my pictures and facebook for decent enough ones to put on of both me kayaking, and one of me recent enough to be recognisable (and evidently failing). I actually expected the written aspect to take me the longest, but it all flowed pretty smoothly; turns out I quite like talking about kayaking! After some minor proof reading and tweaking it just needed some pictures and colour! (I think I succeeded with the colour, see my previous post to read/view my application!)
I was pretty nervous for the weekend, not really knowing what to expect, although having been told the standard of paddling was going to be very high and that we’d probably be paddling the Fairy Glen… an idea that made me very nervous!
I turned up at my friends Rosie and Nicky’s house on Wednesday night and along with their friend Jack, we went for Noodles in Bangor and bought and played with some fire works. Thursday brought a pleasant trip on the Seiont which went a long way to calming me down and getting me into the right mind set (or maybe that was the nice hot shower after, who knows?).
My Sat Nav took me a roundabout route along all sorts of interesting and clearly not well-used back roads to get to the Imperial College Mountain Hut. Throughout the drive I was very nervous, but for no reason: I arrived and was greeted with smiles and beer! Throughout the course of the night people gradually arrived, and whilst people were obviously a little awkward to begin with, everyone was soon chatting and exchanging stories or their opinions on what ‘Boof left’ actually means…
Friday brought an early start heading to the Mawddach, where we split into groups of 4 or 5, mainly with new people so we got to know everyone on the water. I was paddling with Ant, Leslie and Campbell. I was extremely nervous, not really knowing what to expect, but the friendly and chilled nature of the group soon had me relaxing and enjoying the river. We arrived at the first drop and whilst nervy, I stepped up and decided to run it. Not an excellent line by any means, and no boof to speak of, but no roll either, and at least I hadn’t walked! So a happy start, and the guys’ lines were also pretty sweet, with considerably more boofy-ness than mine, unfortunately there were no pictures of my run, so I guess I’ll have to return and do it again some other time!
The rest of the trip followed in a similar vein with a relaxed atmosphere whilst still stepping up to fairly decent white water (certainly harder than I’d got on for sometime!) I walked around the second big drop, and everyone walked around Rhaeadr Mawddach. Myself and Campbell also walked around the first of the Three Nasties as we decided the trees were a bit scary! On the portage I also disappeared up to my thigh in a bog, to much amusement on Campbell’s part, and much struggling and cursing on mine until I managed to pull my leg out without loosing my canyoneer!
The rest of the river went smoothly and we got off feeling tired but satisfied!
Next we headed to the Wnion, which I was informed I would be able to cope with just fine. The groups were swapped about a little and I was now paddling with Greg, Calum and Matt. After the first couple of easy rapids I was relaxed and pretty confident all would be absolutely fine. The next two rapids were considerably steeper, with quite large boulders and holes to avoid, although still within my ability. I asked Greg in the eddy at the bottom if that had been the gorge… to which the reply was ‘ummm… no we’re not even in it yet!’ at which point I started to think I may have bitten off more than I could chew.
Once we were in the gorge we were fully committed, and we were told that if we swam, we were going to be swimming the whole thing as there was no where to get out! Fortunately the lines were actually pretty straightforward, and whilst I was certainly being challenged I was actually enjoying myself a lot too! It was far too fast for me to really concentrate on how scary anything was and we didn’t stop at all except for one accidental eddy. We came out at the bottom with huge grins on our faces, I was exhausted but absolutely thrilled! Probably my favourite run of a river ever!
The guys all went for a ‘second run, twice the fun!’ but having survived the first one, and being very tired I decided to quit whilst I was ahead having had a fantastic day’s boating!
The evening was kicked off by a bolognese cooked by Ruth and Greg (YUM!) and followed by the destination presentations (well after everyone was drunk enough to stand up and present them first) which included: Laos, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Greenland, South Korea, Ecuador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. The three finalists were Iran (which was George and my destination choices), Colombia (Calum Peden’s destination choice) and Madagascar (which was four people’s choices of destination!). After these were presented and whittled down to the final three everyone set about getting even more drunk before stumbling off to bed in the early hours.
Saturday brought a slightly less early start, heading to the Aber Glaslyn Gorge for a few laps and a boaterX! I didn’t swim at the Breaker this time so I consider my two runs (the second of which I forgot my bung! …rookie error!) fairly successful, but decided a boaterX may be pushing my luck. The group then headed to the Fairy Glen (some of us getting rather lost en-route) which I decided I wasn’t going to step up to after only 8 hours sleep total over the last two nights. I spent the rest of the day running shuttles and taking some (pretty bad) photos!
The evening was then filled with haggis, neaps and tatties from the Scots for tea, a few games such as climbing a ladder upside down (pretty tricky, especially when you’re as short as I am and there’s one rung effectively missing!) followed by the voting.
At this point I had pretty much decided I wasn’t going to go on the expedition, although the people were all amazing, and I’d had a fantastic weekend of boating, I was pretty much of the opinion that I wasn’t at the kind of standard of paddling I’d like to be at before heading out to the amazing destinations on offer. I felt like I probably wouldn’t get as much out of the expedition as if I waited a few years, and organising NSR this year and the amount of Uni work has been cranking up this year. I think I probably needed to focus on the stuff already on my plate before taking on anything extra otherwise I wouldn’t get to make the most of any of it. With this in mind, when they asked anyone who had decided they didn’t want to go on the expedition anymore I raised my hand. I wasn’t the only one, as Ruth had also decided similar things. The voting then took place, and it was difficult to choose only six people who I thought deserved to go on the expedition as pretty much everyone there were all incredible people who all would have brought different elements to the expedition. I did eventually chose six although I won’t reveal their names. Once the votes were in we set about with drinking games whilst the ex-BUKE paddlers counted the votes.
When they came back with the results, seven people had been chosen to go on the expedition: Josh Brewer-Smith, Calum Peden, Campbell Simpson, Leslie Simpson, Jacob Collings, Matt Brook and Samuel Lyons. Whilst I think many deserving people missed out, I also think the team is a very good one, and will have an amazing expedition to Madagascar (their final chosen destination)! Good luck boys!
The night dissolved into more drinking games involving funny animal noises and moving seats, whilst the team disappeared to talk about their expedition.
Sunday morning was filled with a few photos and lots of goodbyes as people began their journeys home or headed to various rivers.
A fantastic weekend was had and I’m so proud and thankful to have been part of it! I wish the 2015 BUKE team luck on their Madagascan adventure, and a little jealousy! I hope we’ll all be seeing each other on the river soon!