Podcast: The Adventure Scientists who Paddleboarded the Thames River – Source to Sea

Southend approachingI had the pleasure of recently connecting with Steve Marriott, an awesome Travel Writer.  We talked passionately about travel, adventure and living a life with purpose.
What happens when you start saying yes?  Exciting opportunities start becoming a possibility.  I can’t wait to share what Mel and I will be getting involved in shortly… so watch this space!  In the meantime I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Steve Marriott for his podcast on travel, inspiration and adventure, where I got to share about how our Thames Source to Sea Paddle Board journey came about, our challenges and a sneak preview of what we will be up to next.

Check it out… http://www.marriottsquest.com/blog/the-adventure-scientists-who-paddleboarded-the-thames-river-source-to-sea2112015 

 

Paddle boarding in LONDON?!? Try Active360!

Thames SUPPaddle boarding in LONDON with Active360?!?  How did I get hooked??

My love of paddle boarding began when my sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  Fast forward a little time and there we were in Auckland Harbour learning to paddle board around the mangroves, my sister, mum and I.  It was SO MUCH FUN!  What an awesome memory, but also one that became a little life changing. 
 
Back in the cold London January, I'm waiting impatiently for the weather to get warmer before my first time out on the Thames.  I’d never seen the London waterways as recreational before, apart from walking on the rivers edge... and yes, probably like most Londoners I thought the Thames was heavily polluted. 
 
I was wrong. Yes, there is a lot of rubbish (which we all must do something about), but its safe.  Paddling on the river means you can have a little adventure on the water without leaving London; to see London from another perspective and surprisingly give you the feeling that you are in another city!! 
 
So where do you go to try it out? 
 
Active360 is an awesome paddle boarding company.  Based in the arches of Kew Bridge, The Crew Room at Putney Bridge, a barge in Paddington Basin (and now a few other locations they’re trying out)… there are lots of options.  The team at Active360, Paul, Mo, Sam and a few others are super fun, have loads of experience and will have you standing up on your first session.  Trust me, its super easy - even my mum could do it on her first time (sorry mum).
 
You can have a taster session, or go straight in with a beginners lesson where you learn different techniques, a little about the river and how to keep yourself safe.  That done, you can join any session the team run every week - from trips down the river to fitness lessons.  
 
Sign up to a session with them on their website www.active360.co.uk, or get in contact with us and join Mel and I for a paddle on the Thames. I promise your totally missing out if you don't give it a go! 
 

Why should you plan a little adventure?

Adventure is doing something that's adventurous for you... what pushes YOU outside of your comfort zone.  I've meet some pretty inspiring adventurers... those who've walked to the South Pole or the length of the Nile, but they are completely out of my league. I'd never do anything if I compared myself against those amazing human beings.  But by bringing a little adventure into my own life, it's taught me that... 

  • it makes you smile, laugh and have a ridiculous amount of fun
  • it introduces you to awesome people… the supportive ones, the ones who know stuff you need to know or have stuff that make life a whole lot easier, the ones who’ll just have your back, the ones that will listen, those who are doers, and the general super positive, outgoing and inspiring ones
  • teaches you how to work with those in authority (when you really need them)
  • teaches you how asking with a smile goes a long long way
  • you learn when things get tough, if keep your eye on what you want to achieve and don’t give up, amazing things can happen
  • makes you challenge your comfort zone and boundaries
  • makes you question what you can really achieve (and what could be next!)
  • makes you realise what you can get done outside of your full time job
  • makes you realise how much you can still learn and teach yourself
  • will leave you feeling like you’ve done something pretty memorable and that it's been a year of living with purpose
Adventure makes you feel ALIVE!  I would encourage everyone to try something they haven’t done before, because the feeling you will get will be pretty special.   

Off we go 

River Thames Source to Sea SUP

Looking back it was an epic adventure SUP boarding the length of the Thames, source to sea.  Our adventure though definitely started well before getting on the water.  The question we asked ourselves was, do we want to travel from the source to Putney Bridge, or the source to the sea?  Our answer was HELL YES to the sea!  

What did we do that really made this trip an incredible journey?  Not only did we successfully complete what we sought out to achieve, we received help from so many supportive, amazing people, often at first complete strangers who ended up rallying around us.  Our biggest challenge wasn't the actual paddle, but learning about risk assessments and passage plans, working with the Port of London Authority (PLA).  We needed the PLA's permission to paddle the last section of the river from Central London to the sea.  I was totally passionate about our journey and we eventually got what we set out to achieve with a lot of hard work, productive conversations and determination… a massive thank you to the PLA.

Here's what we did and what we started creating without even realising it… a melandmichelle.com event.  Once the seed was planted, we… 

  • learnt to build a website 
  • created a FB page 
  • had a stab at the whole twitter tweeting thing
  • started raising money for Tree Aid
  • joined the This Girl Can national campaign
  • linked in with Thames21 to become volunteer citizen scientists (AMAZING!)
  • secured board sponsorship with the super supportive team at Active360

AND

  • spent three months in almost weekly communication with the PLA, creating our incredibly detailed passage plan and risk assessment 
  • spent one month searching for and negotiating a safety boat with qualified crew, securing the Gravesend Sea Cadets (for the last three days of the trip) 
  • secured our safety kayaker, a massive adventurer himself Mr Harry Whelan (to support us for one day through Central London)    

And lastly of course we whipped our bodies into paddle shape.  After a few weekend trips away on different sections of the Thames, our muscles started to figure out what they needed to do, which made every morning we woke up on our adventure one of excitement to get back on the water.

If you are keen on doing this adventure yourself or something similar, we'd love to hear about your plans and help you out where we can. 

BBC London News, 25th July 2015

Mel and Michelle on BBC News - 25th July 2015

A huge well done to Mel and Michellei who have just completed a SUP journey from the source of the River Thames to the Sea. Great to see them get some BBC coverage yesterday, well deserved after months of effort and planning to get to this stage. SayYesMore Active360 #Begin

Posted by SayYesMore on Sunday, July 26, 2015

A surprise visit by an inspiring adventurer – Dave Cornthwaite!

It's day two and we find Dave on the side of the River Thames with our Thames SUPport crew Ben, a drone and then this crazy footage happens... 

Good afternoon! Just caught up with Mel and Michelle, who are paddling the length of the River Thames by SUP. Give them a follow on @melandmichellepaddle! Ten days left! #begin #adventure #sayyesmore

Posted by Dave Cornthwaite on Friday, July 17, 2015

Kemble Camping

A little piece of awesomeness from our friend Simon and Thames SUPport crew, who captured our first night away in Kemble.  Star of the show was definitely Poppy, Ben's one eyed dog!

M&M's SuptoSea from SimonA on Vimeo.

A short film from the first night of Mel & Michelle's Thames source to sea expedition

Why is the Thames brown?

I love a body of water.  Any body of water. I spent most summer nights after school growing up at one of our many beautiful beaches only minutes from home.  It has the ability to take all the weight off my shoulders.  I still get a massive smile whenever I see the Thames - makes me remember how I felt when I first came to London.  And in only a few days Mel, the Thames and I get to hang out for 11 days!

One last thing about my school days. It was drummed into us to 'be a tidy kiwi'.  Those of us who have walked along the canals or the Thames in London know how much rubbish is in there… and its us as people that have created that.

The River Thames plays an important role in all our lives (did you know that?) I wanted to share a little of what I've learnt from my training with Thames21 to become a citizen scientist, and a few facts from the Port of London Authority.  Here’s a few interesting things I found out:

General Facts

1.  The Thames is 215 miles long, with 38 contributories, is in 16 key UK cities and has 60 active shipping ports

2.  It is no one’s legal responsibility to ensure our rivers are kept clean and to remove the rubbish - it falls in-between authorities, which is one of the reasons why the charity Thames21 was set up 10 years ago 

3.  All the rubbish from the City of London is removed via barges on the Thames

4.  Its a tidal estuary which carry’s 20,000 tonnes of sediment per tide and has a 7 metre tidal range - thats what makes it brown

5.  The tidal Thames (from Teddington) has 30 bridges and 20 tunnels

6.  The tidal Thames is the UK’s busiest inland waterway for freight.  Over 2 million tonnes of materials are moved on the river every year, keeping more than 100,000 lorries off London’s busy road network

7.  The Thames Path has been linked up to make it the longest riverside walk in Europe - 184 miles (296 km) from source to the mouth of the estuary.

8.  Our drinking water comes from the Thames, but thats also where our sewerage sometimes ends up!

Wildlife

1.  Seals breed and nurse their young in the estuary 

2.  Bottlenose dolphins and porpoise 

3.  Eels although these have dramatically declined in numbers

4.  Short snouted seahorses (in Greenwich)

5.  120 fish species, including salmon and a tone of birds

Sewerage

1.  London has a combined sewerage system, which means all our sewerage and rain water goes into the same pipes, whereas most other cities have theirs split between two pipes

2.  Our sewerage system was built for Victorian London which was advanced in its day for up to 4 million people.  We have the same system in place now, but with 8 million people 

3. Our sewerage system is no longer fit for purpose… when it rains, the pipes reach capacity, so there is only one option… the overflow is released into the Thames (heavily diluted from the rain water… but still!)

4.  On a normal day, all our sewerage goes to one of the six sewerage treatment works along the Thames

There is a massive megastructure project that will hopefully be underway soon.  Its the Tideway Tunnel project.  The plan is to build a major new sewer to tackle the problem of overflows from the capital’s Victorian sewers for at least the next 100 years and enable the UK to meet European environmental standards.  The sewers will be the height of two double decker buses!  Check out the clip below to learn a little bit more about it.

What can we do to support the health and wellbeing of our river?   Get involved with Thames21!

Anna McNuff just ran the length of NZ

Have you ever thought about running the length of a country?  Anna McNuff did and has just finished an amazing six month journey.

Around October last year I was at an adventure talk with Explorers Connect where I listened to an incredibly inspiring women who cycled the 50 states of America - Anna McNuff. I thought her story was crazy and awesome, but she has gone and blown that adventure out the water by running the length of New Zealand! 

Following her every week on FB she had me in constant laughter from her hilarious inspiring posts, made me question what I can achieve and left me feeling 'wow' from all the beautiful photos she's posted of my country #feelproud :)

Check out Anna's journey here and her clip below.

How do you beat a trip like that!? That's the question I am starting to ask myself about our Thames paddle, and Mel and I haven't even started our wee adventure yet.

I know when we do start paddling and have a tough day - paddling 332km of the Thames over 11 days, I'll think of course we can do this - Anna just ran about 3200km six months! Amazing lady!

Tiger Feet Goes to Oxford

Photo courtesy of David AltabevHaving total disregard for my own advice, I will now live summer in a semi-perma glaze of camouflaged patterned glory. Thats right folks, apply sunscreen EVERYWHERE! I guess I can be rest assured that should my feet somehow get lost in a Sunshine Bronze Pretty Polly Pantyhose haze, or the world becomes awash with Pantone Shade No 153, that I will be suitably disguised.

So last week I took my tiger feet to Oxford for a two day meander down the River Thames. Michelle and I met with 17 other like-minded, adventure seeking, tent pitching, pub swilling, paddle loving folks….. This kind of mix of course could only lead to a bubble of bombastic fun, with shared stories of fascinating endeavours had or to be had; moments of inspiration; excessive consumption of all things pub grub; collective gasps of horror at the plight of a flock of birds as they were being mowed through by some hardened canoeists in training (eeeeekkkk!); and new friends made and found.  A huge thank you to Dave Cornthwaite (adventurer extraordinaire and one of our go to people for pearls of wisdom on paddleboarding) and Annie Ross (check out Annie’s website eXerK.com – 52 challenges in 52 weeks – join in!) for organising it all!

Michelle and I have spent most of our time paddling the tidal Thames, so the weekend in Oxford provided us with the four way opportunity to look at:
A – how to manage the locks
B – going the distance with no tide to help or hinder us
C – carrying gear on the boards considering the above
D – dealing with any adverse weather conditions

With all due respect to BBC, the weather forecast was slightly misplaced. My expectation of a pictorial of a sun with a teardrop eventuated into a torrential downpour. But none the less we persevered. More than grateful for the absence of headwinds and those strange and wonderful sidewinds that seem to grace us from time to time (not sure if there is a technical term for this, anyone?). The group as a whole either walked our boards and gear around the locks with a daisy chain of team effort or some kindly lock keepers would let us go through. As for the distance….. well we made it! Approximately 44km over the course of the weekend. Not bad innings and the ability to move all limbs in a co-ordinated and mostly pain free fashion after could only give us hope for the adventure ahead.

Photo attributed to David Altabev

Not long to go before the big one! Thank you everyone for your support!

Paddle boarding and lying down – blissful combination!

Note: Being slightly technologically disadvantaged most of the photos I took seem to have a body part or two (all my own) obscuring most of the image. So all photos attached to this post are courtesy of the fabulous photographer that is Mr David Altabev (www.facebook.com/davidaltabev.photography).

Patrolling the Thames with the PLA

Feeling pretty lucky!
 
We keep being overwhelmed by how supportive everyone is of our adventure project.  Last week it was the PLA's turn!
 
Mel and I were given the opportunity to spend the morning on a Port of London Authority patrol boat, from Gravesend to Southend Pier.
 
We had a brilliant time on board with the PLA guys, who taught us so much about the river.  We went through our potential route of travel, all the hazards and where we could safely cross the shipping line.  We can now visualise our checkered flag, because we've seen it!  After 332km we will be paddling to our finish line at Southend Pier.

Our morning left us with a few thoughts...

1. The Thames is soooo wide at that point of the river

2. There are some big cargo ships that we definitely will be staying clear of

3. We can so do this!  It is possible! 

Next step: To submit our Risk Assessment and Passage Plan to the PLA and hope they grant us permission. 

Check out our gallery to see a few more pics

PLA Patrol Boat Fun

PLA Patrol Boat Fun

Front row seats

Front row seats 

Megastructures!

Megastructures!

80% planning, 20% execution… it’s so true!

I could have, a week before the big paddle, picked up a board, packed the camping gear, clothes, a bit of food and made my way to the source of the Thames and started paddling. Sounds easy.  That would have been easy, or easier. But I was inspired to do more... a bigger more challenging adventure, where it wasn't just about me and by myself. 

 
I thought a little research was a good place to start and quickly learnt that paddling from Putney Bridge to the sea is prohibited by the London Port Authority (PLA). Safety of course being a big factor. 
 
IMG_0467
Do you know that feeling when you want something so much, you won't let something saying 'no you can't do that' stop you? That's exactly how I felt, so Mel and I started thinking of ways to get around the prohibited bit.  A whole lot of work followed, and ended with an email and phone call to the PLA.  They granted us a meeting - unbelievable!  They were giving us a chance to discuss our 'event’ with them and were willing to hear more about our adventure.  This all started as a tiny idea and now we are having meetings with the PLA.  Crazy.  
 
We walked out of the PLA meeting an hour later with them not saying NO to us! But they didn't say YES either.  They are responsible for the safety of everyone on that stretch of the Thames, paddle boarding is a fairly new sport and Central London Thames is like the M4.  Its busy, has strong currents, not many exit points and is very tidal.  A fact for you - in the past two years, freight on the Thames has kept 500,000 lorry trips off London roads.  Basically there are lots of hazards for two of us on our paddle boards.
 
IMG_2240
So how can we possibly get the PLA to agree to our trip and say yes?  I am now for the first time ever writing a Risk Assessment and Passage Plan for 92kms of river, 15 bridges and countless number of hazards.  We could do all this work and they could still say no!  But what happens if they say yes.  In my mind there is only one option - we have to do it.  If not, when I'm in my rocking chair at 88 I'll be kicking myself for not trying and always wondering ‘what if?’.
 
Mel and I will keep you posted.

Training weekend – this is for real folks!

Training starts!

Training starts!

Training weekend - this is for real folks!

Because I like lists this is the low down on our first training weekend:

1. The river rules pecking order. Paddleboarders should be bequeathed with another set of eyes at the back of their heads upon onset of their trip. Failing that always check your rear. Inevitably at some point there will be some sort of vehicle pummelling towards you from behind and as the order on the river goes, boarders give way to everything. Think scissors vs paper. Or eagle vs shark.

2. Technique is key. Mental willpower. Fitness (getting there).

3. Always, always make room for a pub stop, or two or three. Something needs to fuel number 2.

4. The river has a life of its own. From houseboats, river side estates, pubs, derelict abandoned boats, some serious looking canoeists, a hundred and one ducks marching across the shores with their kin waddling in tow.

5. Always wear sunscreen. Apply it everywhere. Having had a wee giggle at Michelle's mid leg tan line I inadvertedly decided to up the ante and resemble both a zebra and a tiger. My days as a leg model are numbered.

Did Hagit make it out of Nepal ok?

DSC08254I love so many things about travelling.  One of my favourites is meeting amazing human beings with the most incredible stories… some that make you reflect on your life, others that inspire you, and some that just make your experience a thousand times more fun. 

When Mel left Kathmandu to learn to commando roll in grade three rapids in a kayak, I booked myself into a more sedate activity, a Nepalese cooking class.  It was here that I met Hagit, a 57 year old women from Israel.  We spent the afternoon shopping in the local market for our ingredients, before getting our aprons on and cooking Aloo Paratha (flatbread stuffed with a spiced mixture of mashed potato, with salsa, mint and yogurt sauces).

DSC08238

It was over lunch where we almost inhaled the delicious food we had just cooked, that I learnt how Hagit came to travel in Nepal.

It was all due to a conversation she had with her son, who had just experienced his own adventure. He thought his mum needed an adventure of her own, and to take a break from being a wife, a mother to her grown children and a nurse.  It just so happened that her sons friends mother was going to Nepal for seven weeks and then India for a further six weeks.  With a little coaxing, a week later Hagit met this women, asked the hospital for three months off, had her travel injections and was flying to Nepal - and all within the month.  

Her first adventure was landing in Nepal with this women she’d only met once.  The plane didn’t land on the runway but on the grass next to it!  The wheel didn’t come down, so the pilot made an emergency landing without telling passengers to ‘brace brace’!  Oxygen masks came down, but there was no hysteria… everyone was in too much shock she said, as the wing was smashed into the grass, and passengers exiting the plane from the emergency slides.  Hagit was on the Israeli news that night!

DSC08241

And then her second unexpected adventure.  Three weeks later, her new friend told her she wanted to continue this journey on her own and then left Hagit.  On a whim Hagit had taken three months off work for a journey she didn’t plan on taking, with a person she expected to travel with for three months and felt scared about what to do next.  When I met Hagit three weeks later, she was positively glowing and her smile was infectious.  She fell in love with the adventure of travelling on her own… becoming more confident with her english, learning to use the internet in a way she’d never needed it before, deciding what fun she wanted to experience day to day, and more importantly meeting people, sharing stories and adventures with others from all over the world.

DSC08259Hagit was due to leave for India the Wednesday after the first earthquake.  I don’t know where she is now or if she is ok.  I have emailed her, but I am still yet to receive a reply.  Hagit is an inspiring women who showed me and all those she met along her travels, that you are never too old to start your adventure.  I just hope she is now having an amazing time in India.  

 

The Earthquake in Nepal

I first heard about the earthquake in Nepal in the early afternoon on 25 April. I was sitting in the airport in Muscat, having only flown out of Kathmandu a few hours earlier when I received a message from my friend asking where I was and letting me know about the tragedy that had just struck. It is with mixed emotions when I think and talk about Nepal – it is heartbreaking to think about the devastation that has torn through this truly magnificent country and affected its people so profoundly.

As recent visitors to the country Nepal resonated strongly for both of us. From the hectic mish mash and clutterball nature of Kathmandu to the endless vistas of the Khumbu region. We were fortunate to experience both ends of the spectrum. We met a lot of people on our journey, both travellers and locals alike – and can only hope that everyone is safe. We have been in touch with the company that we organised our guide through and were relieved to hear that all their staff are safe and accounted for, though sadly a lot of their homes and villages had been destroyed.

We hope and know that Nepal will recover from this. The Nepalese people are not only kind and gentle in their nature, but they have a resilience and strength that is second to none. International support and personal donations to reputable NGOs are urgently required and will be a major contributing factor in helping Nepal get back on its feet. So please donate where you can. On our part melandmichelle.com will donate any additional money raised over 500£ to a Nepalese charity of our choosing.

I know I will return to Nepal someday and hope that others will follow suit. It really is like nothing else on earth.

Mel’s Magnificent Monologue of Disconnected Thoughts on the Everest Base Camp Walk

Mandatory

We made it!

 

Part One

A ten point summary of the Everest Base Camp Walk

1. Cabbage, carrot and onions. I knew this marvelous concoction was coming and embraced it.

2. As a general rule in life, always give way to anything with horns.

3. We had an incredible porter-guide in Gumbu. A quiet, gentle, hardworking man of this world. Patience of a saint. The best full body laugh I have observed yet. Or at least at 4900m.

4. Sometimes weather is weird, wonderful and unpredictable. One morning we woke up to yaks half up in it in snow. This lead to a slightly treacherous, yet remarkably beautiful journey across the perilous edge of a mountain ridge.

5. 6000, 7000, 8000m peaks. I am unable to proliferate enough adjectives in order to describe the sights, sounds and feelings of being in the presence of one of the worlds most magnificent mountain ranges, having been dwarfed by some of the highest peaks in the world. It’s like trying to capture a sunset in a photo. Maybe you just need to see it for yourself.

6. Nepalese people. Some of the most kindest, resilient, wonderful people.

7. Dahl bhat. As they say dahl bhat power for 24 hours. Or something like that. It’s the national dish of choice and fuels the soul after a hefty walk.

8. Kala Patthar. My personal nemesis. Very lovely to have Michelle waiting above, to allow me to collapse on!

9. After all these years I will never get used to squat toilets.

10. Tea. Started of drinking single cuppa joes, ended with the fantastic ability to drop 4 litres in a sitting.

Part two

Altitude is king. It will let its presence be known in some way or other. It will send your heart throttling across your chest like a race car driver on a bend and simultaneously make you keel over in bouts of breathlessness. And that’s just walking to the toilet. It’s like some mad experiment where you begin your journey by breathing through a slurpy sized straw, gradually reducing, minimising, narrowing your vessel as you ascend, until you realise you are now attempting to breath through the words smallest reed. Altitude will turn your once healthy stride into half steps, granny steps, micro mini steps, a foot shuffle. Forward. Altitude can do funky things to your body systems. From blasting headaches to making you want to pee like a banshee, seemingly at times when conveniently placed boulders seem to be in short supply. Of course altitude can be so much much more dangerous then this. The only thing is to listen to it, respect it and do what it says! It is royalty after all.

Part three

We made it. If Sir Edmund Hilary was here he might have said something along the lines of “we knocked the (little) bastard off”** Or words to that effect.

One of our hardest and most rewarding days yet. We left Lobuche and made our way up to Gorek Shep, the highest camp we were to stay in on our trip. We were given the option of staying in the “new” building, which in effect was a construction site, with its two unique features being that it was colder in our room then outside and this strange humming noise that seemed to embody our room throughout the night.

After fueling up on either pasta, potatoes, noodles or rice (menus repeat themselves throughout the guesthouses, but suffice to say we were well fed on all combinations of these carbs), we ascended to Base Camp. Making it to base camp lead to a wonderful sense of euphoria and jubilation. We were met by a tangle of prayer flags flapping in the wind, interspersed with trinkets and messages left by others before us. Relief, joy, and some serious light-headed ness from completing our umpteenth obligatory star jump at the top (possibly not advisable at altitude), we started our descent.

** the first words Sir Edmund Hillary said to his friend George Lowe on returning from Everest summit were “. So we didn’t quite make it to the summit, but everyone has their everest and base camp was ours.

Nepal here we come!

Our bags are packed with what feels like 20kg and we are ready to go!  My back is already thanking me for us hiring a porter/guide.

Only a year ago Mel and I were taking on another hiking challenge at Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile.  And last week I shared a little bit of our story, along with others from my journey so far on The Michael Serwa Show (YouTube).  I am still learning editing skills so I haven't been able to chop this down in size yet (any tips welcome!), but if you watch between 10.16-12.58mins you'll hear about what we got up to last time.

Training begins at Mt Everest

As humans we only live once
We all have an opportunity to leave a legacy
We all have the power and ability to make a positive impact on the world
To inspire others to be the best version of themselves

Mel and I want to inspire. We are just two normal women who live and work full time in London, with a passion for travelling and having an adventure.

Our next stop.  Kathmandu Nepal.  2nd April 2015.

Why?  To walk to Basecamp Everest.  

Training for our paddle board adventure?  Mental toughness training!  

Mel has done an amazing job at organising our trip.  There will be no tour guide for us.  It will just be the two of us, our gear on our backs and the porter/guide we have hired to support us on our journey. 

If you want to see how special our journey will be, check out the short clip.