Stage 3 was the setting for the biggest paddle leg. This one we had predicted though our ultimate arrival point was a toss up between Fanore and Ballyvaughan. In that we were wrong as Kinvara was the goal.
Anyhow, on with the story as told by @triharderKate…
When we got into transition at the community hall in Maam just before 5pm, I started getting our meals ready. These have to be reconstituted with hot water and it’s quite difficult to mix them when you only have a plastic spoon. Every team was required to write a blog at this TA so Mike was busy doing that and Sean and Peter started to pitch the tents on the GAA field outside so we could have a sleep. Once we had eaten (whilst comparing each others battered feet) and organised stuff we headed for the tents.
It was a nice evening, dry for a change but very humid and I only lasted in the tent for about 10 minutes. The lads were all out for the count so I went back into the hall and after I’d cleaned and powdered my feet again, I started to get ready for the next paddle. I had cut the legs and arms on my wetsuit last week to make it more comfortable and easier to get into and I put this on and then I got our pfd’s and seats and paddles organised. It was around 19:30 when I woke the lads (approx 60mins sleep time) and I think we were ready to leave by about 20:15. We had to portage the kayaks about 500m down the road to the lake on our little trolley and then that would be coming with us as there was another portage stage planned around Galway.
The lake was pretty calm and in total contrast to the sea and the plan was to get as much as we could done during daylight as the navigation was going to be challenging with all the little islands. After a couple of hours the weather worsened and the paddling became slower and more difficult. I think Peter was finding it hard to keep his eyes open and I suspect he may have nodded off a couple of times because every now and again I’d say something to him and we’d suddenly be paddling much faster.
Sean – as night fell we caught up with the French team that set out ahead of us. They were hard to spot as all glowsticks were to the front of the boats but as we passed them they fell in behind us for a while. Mike was navigating flawlessly, the relative calm (compared to the sea) allowed him more time to consult the map and pick the spots.
After another while we were all getting sleepy and we decided to pull over to one of the islands for a 10 minute power nap. There was a French team following us and when we diverted to the island, they did too. They had pretty strong headtorches which they kept shining at us so it was difficult to get any shut eye but we got a bit of a break at least.
Mike – The paddle started relatively calm as light faded. A we entered the North West of the lough in opened out and the real Nav began. I managed to keep us on the map and gave the bearings to Sean behind me. He steered perfectly and the guys kept tight behind us.
When we started back on the paddle we seemed to lose the French team and we were pretty much on our own now. We paddled away for another bit. My eyes were getting very tired now and it was hard to keep them focused. Everything was taking funny shapes and as we followed the front boat it looked like Sean, who was in the back, had monsters leaping out from under his arms. I had to shove handfuls of winegums into my mouth to try and stay focused. Shortly after this the weather became really foul, with driving wind and rain making it very difficult to see even a few feet in front of the boat.
We pulled over to another island to take shelter, even though shelter was difficult to find. We left the kayaks on rocks and ducked in under some trees and sat down by an earthen bank. Luckily Sean had a large survival blanket that we could all just about huddle under but we were crammed together like beans in a can. The only advantage of this was that we needed the body heat to stay warm. Peter was most at risk of hypothermia because he only had his shortie wetsuit on and no leggings. Despite the miserable weather, being soaked through and the discomfort we all dozed off at stages and we stayed there until dawn.
Mike – The “Islands” are not the sandy images you see on postcards but rather hostile, thorny bush. We pulled the boats onto rocks and hoped they would still be there in a few hours, picked our way through the thick briars and huddled together under a space blanket. My shoulder got very stiff and I spent about 2 hours shaking uncontrollably. Peter was frozen. It was more a makeshift storm shelter than a sleep! A one point I managed to fall out of our huddle and ended up on my back like an upturned beetle.
The dawn brought a respite in the wind and rain and we set out in our kayaks once again. As we got further South the paddling became much more difficult and progress was slow. We caught up to another team who were stopped for shelter and we discussed the option of paddling to the quay (Knockferry) and portaging the boats for a while. Our average speed in the kayaks is usually between 5 -6 km/hr. At this stage we were only covering about 1.5km/hr and if you stopped paddling the boats would actually start moving backwards.
When we set off again we moved to the other bank and the going was slightly easier there for a while. About an hour later we spotted some people at the next quay and a big white van. Hopes soared that it was the organisers taking us off the water and we made a beeline for the quay. Even a long trek had to better than this kayak! Alas when we reached the quay we discovered that it wasn’t the organisers, it was 2 people from Wales in their camper van who were over supporting friends who were doing the race. But they did have fig rolls for us! While we were talking to them the other team who we met earlier came over thinking they were being taken off the water. The look of disgust they gave all of us when they discovered that wasn’t the case was comical! As we got ready to depart again, Peter was handing back the fig rolls and became unbalanced and capsized our boat so at least we provided some entertainment for our Welsh visitors!
As we moved away from the quay the going was so difficult that when we turned the corner up from the harbour we could see the other team about 300m in front of us. That was the progress they had made in 10 minutes. We still had roughly 13k of paddling left before we reached Galway and despite my reservations, we decided that we would be better doing a portage. We turned around and headed back to the harbour again and got the boats out. While we were getting the boats up on the trolley, the lovely Welsh couple made us the nicest cup of hottea and then we set off, all happy to be out of the boats and jogging along by the trolley.
The plan was to portage for about 3k and then slip back onto the lake. The weather had dried off and we made good progress with the boats. Unfortunately the land at the end of the 3k was private and we couldn’t cross it (race rules) so we had to turn around and come back the way we had just come and then go further down the coast and hopefully put in there. We made a mistake here and went down a road we shouldn’t have so we added a couple of extra kilometres to our trip. (Sean – we actually missed a turn which would have given us an ‘in’ potentially but we took a shorter route when bypassing it) There was a bridge on the road where we might have been able to access the water but it was difficult and I’m not even sure it would have lead back to the lake anyway. We’d done about 8k portage at this stage when we passed a hardware/animal feed/grocery shop. We stopped here and Sean and I went in for provisions and to ask the owner if there was access to the water from the road we were on because it was difficult to see from the maps. The owner was a lovely man and he was revelling in the absurdity of 4 randomers rocking up to his store with their kayaks. He was fairly sure we could access the water where we showed him on the map but he was going to ring his friend who had a riding stables that way and she’d give us access anyway.
We stocked up with bottles of Coke, chocolate and jellies and we went back out to Mike and Peter who were sitting in the coal shed on a pile of briquettes. They had been having a bit of discussion about the 20k trek that lay ahead of us on the next stage. The lads all had very sore feet and we were way behind schedule so it was unanimously decided that as we were going to miss the cut off anyway, it would make life a lot easier if we skipped the trek and got a taxi instead. Once this was decided the whole demeanour of the team lifted and we resumed our portage with raised spirits.
The road back down to the lake was quite undulating so by the time we reached the water again, I was more than happy to get back in the boats. The portage took us 4.5 hours and once we got back on the water we had less than 5k remaining. The tide was still against us and it was just as difficult but the break had freshened us up so it was well worth doing in the conditions. As we were paddling across the lake we were met by a boat which seemed to appear out of nowhere from the reeds and told that we were allowed to use the old river entrance. This boat carried on so we figured there must be at least one team still on the water behind us.
It took a few minutes to find the river entrance with all the reeds and a couple of times I thought we were never going to get off the water but once we reached the river, in spite of a strong headwind, we started to motor again. We were half way down the river when the team who had passed us when we were talking to the Welsh couple came up behind us. They seemed knackered and we pulled away from them again after a quick chat.
Finally in a final angry outburst of torrential rain, we spotted the green ITERA flag on a quayside at the Corrib rowing club and as we were pulling the boats up the gangway we got the delightful news that the 20k trek had been cancelled, we were finished with the kayaks and that our bike boxes were waiting for us in the carpark!!