Traversing Costa Rica

Costa Rica. Adventure is out there.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/53197929@N00/6641930801/

I’ve been talking about a new “big” adventure for a while. It’s been more than three years since I was in the Arctic Circle, and while moving to Australia and completing the country’s highest urban abseil have kept me occupied, I need a real adventure like drop bears need warm human blood.

The good news is, I know what the adventure should be. The bad news is, there’s a high barrier to entry.

First: the adventure. The Costa Rica traverse is a 12-day journey crossing the Latin American nation on foot, by kayak, on bicycle and by raft — distinguishing it immediately from my hike to the lost city of the Incas, and a world apart from driving a pack of huskies across Norway’s frozen tundra — making it easily my most ambitious adventure yet.

sea kayaking

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a expedition for the faint-of-heart. There are full days of hiking, days of nothing but cycling, and days split between activities — such as rafting and cycling, or cycling and sea kayaking.

I haven’t cycled anywhere in years, haven’t hiked seriously since I was in Peru, have never set foot in a white water raft, and my one and only experience with sea kayaking was a recent trip to penguin island [aside: it’s opportunities like that I live for in Australia].

These days, I keep myself in something vaguely resembling a state of fitness, even without a specific adventure to train for — on a good week I visit the gym several times a week in the mornings before work, and add on a couple of trips to the rock climbing wall. To get myself to the required level of fitness for this adventure I am going to have to add at the very least swimming and cycling to my weekly routine.

I’m presuming lack of experience kayaking and rafting isn’t good to be an issue, like a lack of experience with a rickety wooden dog sled wasn’t in Norway. This kind of training is all part of the adventure, though — it’s not fun like the adventure itself, but feeling yourself getting fitter and stronger and knowing what you’re training for is almost an adventure in itself. Almost.

There is a dark cloud hovering over the whole adventure, however, and why I haven’t yet registered.

While there is a fundraising element to it, this is quite modest and something I could achieve without too much hassling of friends and family for donations, a bigger barrier to entry is not having the funds to pay to sign up. Without even including flights from Perth to San Jose, or additional costs, I need $3,600. And I don’t know how to find it.

Costa Rica Traverse

In previous adventures when there’s been large sums needed to be raised, the full amounts were going to charity — making it slightly easier, because I could spend entire days standing in train stations with collection buckets, or organise fundraising quiz nights. This doesn’t work when all the money is going to you: or to the trip organisers, via you.

I have considered crowd-funding the adventure through the usual websites, but get stuck on the question what’s in it for anyone else? I’m taking suggestions here, and welcoming feedback: how can I raise this money, or what can I offer sponsors in return for donating towards it?

A challenge in review, and a new adventure ahead

Thames Dragon Boat Club

Thames Dragon Boat ClubThe Year of the Dragon hasn’t been entirely a success. I have raced with the team. Trained with the team in the winter with the freezing water. Worn bandanas in the summer when training with the team to stop stinging sweat from getting in my eyes. Dressed as Spiderman for a party with the team. Felt disappointed not to win an award for being the best newbie. Drunk bottles of supermarket beers with the team in a Regatta centre car park.

But I said I would compete in an international competition. That was my self-imposed goal, that was the challenge. That was the adventure. It didn’t happen. Sometimes it can be hard enough to get a team together to race anywhere outside of London, I lacked the courage or confidence in myself to go alone.

I lost my job a few months back, and the black dog came padding back almost unnoticed. Unnoticed except for a loss of interest in doing things. My original motivation to get up and go swimming every morning fell by the wayside, and when one week a training was missed and another week training was missed, I find myself having missed more trainings than attended.

Next month I leave London, and have made the decision to leave the team when I go. It’s hardly worth the round trip car journey to and from London on a Sunday morning, likewise commuting into London when my current job has me working from home.

We can’t call the Year of the Dragon a challenge bested, but a challenge attempted is better than one not taken up.

Next month I leave London. Early next year I leave the UK, and probably for good. That’s rock climbingan adventure all of its own, and I will find a new dragon boat team in Australia to join and train and paddle with.

This week, after a delay of far-too-many years, I am getting back into rock climbing. It’s hard to believe it’s now been a few years since I last climbed. I climbed, I passed my safety test, then I broke my collarbone snowboarding and haven’t climbed since. But this week I will again.

And although I have nobody to join me climbing, I will go anyway, and find my peace on the wall once again.

Guest post: Low Ropes

I ended up in a bit of a knot on this one…

Today’s blog is a guest post from Marz of Shutter and Ink fame. Marz is a tiny bit cool. She’s a writer, photographer and the kind of all-round adventurer you’d want on your side in a zombie apocalypse.

I’ve been trying to write about an adventure for a while now, since my friend Jay here asked me to write a post for his blog. You see, I’m always having adventures in my life, bite-sized ones, but I rarely write about them. Don’t ask me why. They seem, I don’t know, way too domestic, or something.

However, last weekend, I went out on an adventure day. Now, is there any better excuse to finally write a post on the subject?

 Very early in the morning…
Very early in the morning…

Despite the fact that I had to wake up unnaturally early for a Saturday, I was quite excited about the day.

I packed a change of clothes and some lunch, and set off to meet the rest of the group.

The day consisted of different activities we would enjoy in groups. Our group’s first activity was Low Ropes – I believe that’s the name, anyway, it looked more like one of Takeshi’s Castle games, to be honest.

There is a course of ropes to test your balance and coordination, ranging in difficulty. We started with some easy ones, on the ground area, to get used to it. Moving from one platform to another while balancing on a wire was relatively easy. You just need to hop on the wire, and hold onto the ropes for balance and support. Simples!

I ended up in a bit of a knot on this one…
I ended up in a bit of a knot on this one…

Once we mastered the easy ones, we moved up on difficulty. Now, water was involved. The first one consisted on a series of tyres forming a bridge. The first couple of tyres were above ground, but then the rest of the bridge was above shallow water. You were supposed to walk on the middle, stepping where both tyres joined. I waited for my turn, watching others walk on the bridge with more or less ease. I set off, and after walking a bit on the bridge, as soon as the water was below me, I realised that the tyres were quite wobbly, and it was quite early in the morning, the water looked cold and after all, I didn’t want to be the first one falling down, so I decided it was best to crawl on my fours for the

rest of the bridge. Seriously, my balance is bad, and I’m a bit of a chicken!

Better safe than sorry?
Better safe than sorry?

One of the bridges was quite tricky. It consisted of a wire, again, and a long low hanging rope with no tension at all. The difficulty was in managing to distribute your weight between the wire and the rope, without pushing the latter outwards, which would result in you being completely sprawled, losing your balance and falling face down in the water. I somehow managed to tense the rope somewhat with one hand, while using the other one for support and direction.

Two kids did go in, I’m guessing because they were too short and couldn’t reach both the rope and the wire comfortably, and two of my friends almost fell in as well. We were all in tears with laughter, but we managed to pass this obstacle with some dignity.

The last one of the Low Ropes activity was to involve tyres again, this time as swings. The idea was to lower ourselves from a platform onto one of the tyres, hold the single rope and swing ourselves back and forth to the next one. I lowered myself onto the first tyre with some resemblance of success. Stepping into the next one was relatively easy, but I still struggled a bit. The third tyre proved a task for me. Here, I have to let you guys know I don’t have any strength on my arms whatsoever, so I was already quite tired. At some point, it seems I did manage, so I was now on the fourth one. Then, as much as I tried to grab for the next rope, I never managed to reach it. The tyre wasn’t swinging at all, and I was scared I would lose my balance. Finally, for some reason, and mainly due to tired arms, I somehow ended sitting on the tyre.

I stretched my arm and reached the next rope. Great! I was now sitting on two tyres! Now what? I thought… Well, somehow, I managed to get rid of the fourth tyre, and was now sitting on the fifth one. I managed to stand up, but was losing the balance (it’s very possible I got my soles wet, or maybe I’m just that clumsy). I think I did stand up completely, and even try to reach for the next rope, without success. Thanks to the two kids falling in the water earlier, I knew the pond was extremely cold, so I was going to try a bit more. Nothing, there was no way I could reach the rope and make the transition between swings. My arms were extremely tired by now, so I tried to rest them a bit by lowering myself again and staying on a crouch. As soon as I got into this position, my balance got a bit wobbly and ended up having to sit down on the tyre again, legs up so as to not get my trousers wet. I tried to lift myself up again, but couldn’t find the strength.

Everyone in my group was cheering me and encouraging me to keep going, while my friend, who was on a tyre behind me, was laughing and telling me to go on quickly. I looked at my friend, at the group safely on the platform, at the water, and saw it clearly: I was never going to make it. No matter how long it took me, and trust me, it would have taken me hours, I simply didn’t have the strength to go on.

At that point I thought: rather than falling into the water by surprise and accident, I rather do it on my terms. I said: I think I’m going in, and so I did.

I’m just going to let myself go down quietly…
I’m just going to let myself go down quietly…

The water was cold. It was freezing. I felt the air being pushed out of my lungs, and the cold shooting up my spine. I shouted “Oh f***, it’s cold” and started shivering and swearing. I swam as I could to the bank, and couldn’t get out for a moment, as my trainers were getting stuck on the mud, so I couldn’t get a proper grip. Finally, the instructor came to give me a hand and I managed to get out, completely soaked and cold.

It turns out, one of my friends had also gone down, but I didn’t even notice. I was too busy trying to survive myself!

Now, I know what you might be thinking. You’re thinking I gave up, but I must disagree. True, I decided to let go, but there is no shame in giving up when you know you’ve lost the battle. I could have persisted on my task, only to fall minutes later, but when you know it’s a lost cause, it’s better to withdraw and keep the energy for something you actually have a chance in.

All in all, the Low Ropes challenge was truly entertaining. We laughed a lot and learnt about different skills and team effort. I will train to get better and learn how to use my strength more effectively, and will definitely try it again!

After a change of clothes, we then proceeded to the rest of the activities, which consisted of Abseiling, Archery and Caving, but those are stories for another time…

*Please note that due to a sheer panic of falling, and not paying attention to anything but not falling in the water, the true account of each transition between tyres might differ slightly!

The Successful and the Passionate: An Interview with Peter Lubbers

Peter Lubbers, HTML5

imageIt seems to me that people who are passionate and successful in one area of their life are often just as passionate in other areas. In this interview series “The Successful and the Passionate” I will talk to some successful and passionate people about some of the things they share a passion for that they aren’t so well-known.

Today, we talk to Peter Lubbers about running. And jumping.

Peter Lubbers is best known for his work with HTML5. He is the author of the book Pro HTML5 Programming (2nd Edition Apress, 2011) and the founder of the San Francisco HTML5 User Group—the world’s first and largest HTML5 user group with over 7,000 members. Peter now works as the Chrome Developer Relations Program Manager at Google.”

Peter also has a penchant for running.

Three-time winner of the Tahoe Super Triple (26.2M + 26.2M + 72M in 3 days), Peter also ran the entire 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) in one go, in 57h:54m and completed the River City Marathon in under three hours.

Peter, I understand you are a former Special Forces commando in the Royal Dutch Green Berets. That is quite extreme itself — were you a superhero before you were a special forces commando?

No, not at all. I was really only good at one thing: long distance walking. That skill served me pretty well and I owe it all to my dad, who took me out walking on weekends. We started with 5 and 10K walks (my mom would also come along for those walks) and then it became more serious (Mom would stay home for those walks). We would routinely hike 20 to 50K a weekend and by the time I was 14 we hiked all across the Netherlands (where I was born), Germany, and large parts of England and Scotland. I remember we hiked 1000K in a summer vacation when I turned 13 or 14.

In those days, joining the army was mandatory. One interesting anecdote about that was that to join the green berets you had to pass a physical and mental fitness test on the first day you arrived. They sent the requirements a few months ahead of time and one of the items was the ability to perform 8 pullups. I tried it and was horrified I could not even do one! A friend of mine welded an iron pullup bar together for me and every night I would practice before going to bed. It was only the night before I had to go to the base that I was able to so 8 pullups. I was super excited! I arrived at the base and passed all of the other tests and when I came to the pullup station I jumped up to the rail and started pulling myself up, knowing I would be able to do 8. Almost immediately, the drill instructor said “that one does not count, you jumped.” I managed 7 “correct ones” and then tried my best for an 8th, but it took too long and I was dismissed. It was a memorable moment — I was certain I had failed and would need to be stationed somewhere else, but they let it slide and the rest was history.

Authors and programmers aren’t normally associated with being elite athletes. Have you ever had to make a decision to choose between a passion for technology and for running?

I certainly don’t think of myself as an elite athlete. Also, lately I have not been running at nearly the pace I used to — having been super busy with the HTML5 work. In the ultra marathon world there are guys like Karl Meltzer, Scott Jurek, and Kilian Jornet who are the real elite athletes. One elite endurance runner who is a full time husband, father, and top-notch IT professional is Tim Twietmeyer, who held the Tahoe Rim Trail record until a few years ago. Tim has been a source of inspiration for me and many others for years.

What has been the best about the ultrarunning elites though is how non-elitist and generous they were with their advice and time. It is such a great community. For example, when I approached Tim about trying for a Tahoe Rim Trail speed record attempt, he literally gave me all the tips and tricks he had accumulated over the years, including his timing spreadsheets.

I’ve never had to pick between the tech and running, but it is exciting to combine them. For example, in the Pro HTML5 Programming book you will see some examples based on running. In general, there is not a lot of money in ultrarunning and I think that is a good thing: it has kept it very clean. That does make it hard for the elite athletes to make a living, though.

A friend of mine recently ran the London Marathon for the first time. Tell me about the first marathon you ever ran — or if, it is more interesting for you, another memorable race. Or both.

A colleague of mine suggested I should really try out the marathon, so I signed up for the 2004 Big Sur marathon and started training. I still remember driving to the full 26.2 miles to the start in an old school bus and thinking to myself “I have to run all of this?” I paced the run pretty well with a short walk break every mile. It was a beautiful course. Although it was hard between miles 20 and 23, I finished in just under 4 hours and was wondering “is that all there is too it?” It just did not feel like it was the “ultimate achievement” I had expected it to be.

As luck would have it, Les Wright, the race director of the Tahoe marathon and Tahoe Triple Marathon was at the finish line. I picked up a brochure, but as soon as I saw triple marathon, I was sold. Five months later I found myself at the infamous pre race Tahoe Triple Spaghetti dinner buffet, where Les was asking how many of us were running their 500th marathon.

Surprisingly, people got up and they kept jumping up at 750 and 1,000. I felt woefully out of my league all of a sudden. When asked how many people were running their first marathon, I was thinking, “well, that’s not me either,” but it might as well have been.

The next day we started the first marathon. One of the runners was the amazing Helen Klein, who was around 80 years old and going strong, going for another age group record in her long list of records. I kept a decent pace and was able to repeat almost identical times on day 2 and 3 (the last day it is run in parallel with the regular Tahoe Marathon. Finishing that was a great feeling, no matter what place you finished in.

I was instantly hooked and came back again in ’05 and stepped up to the Super Triple (26.2M + 26.2M + 72M in 3 days) in 2006. I trained harder and had a lot of help from my dear friends Chris and Rebecca who crewed for me. (CREW here stands for Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting). That very first Super Triple was one of my most memorable races. I was in second place overall and completely hit the wall with about 50 miles to go. It was a very long dark night, but I made it through and with the help from my super crew, I found that second wind and was able to start running again and actually won the race overall in the end.

It seems like a big leap to go from half marathons and marathons to Triple Marathons and 165 miles races. Did you always intend to do these ultra marathons, or did it come from wanting to always do bigger and better things?

When I ran my first 50K trail race on the Tahoe Rim Trail, I looked at the map and said, “one day, I want to just run the entire trail in one go.” That was the start of a 4 year training expedition in which I kept running longer and longer, but also really studied the trail and how other runners had tackled it. The 165 mile run all around the TRT was not an official race with other runners, but a solo record attempt. Lots of friends from the ultra community came help me and I had 4 crew members and 7 pacers who I can’t thank enough. That was the most memorable adventure I have ever experienced. when you run straight for 57 hours (2 x 12 minute sleep breaks) you go through a lot of highs and—unforgettable times!

Life to me is all about experiencing a series of “moments.” Sometimes doing something extreme can force you into the present moment and allow you to experience it more vividly, however, it is also simply being present in the more “mundane” moments of our lives that can be surprisingly powerful. It’s like the elusive runners’ high. You can’t really reproduce it at will, but you can create the circumstances to allow it to happen. We can add rich experiences like that to what I like to think of as an “imaginary backpack full of life experience.” I am glad to have put some great moments in my backpack along the way, but there is still space left ;-)

After I completed the 165-mile run and the sub-3 hour marathon, it was time for something a little different and that is when I started writing the book and that led to a lot of other great stuff. I am still running a little bit (currently training to run the 72-mile, 7-person Tahoe Relay with my kids and some of their friends in June). Something that I am planning for the future is a speed record attempt on the Pacific Crest Trail (2600+ miles). That is currently at around 60 days. It would play into my multi-day long walk strengths, but would require some serious time off. One day!

Speaking of big leaps — you tell me that you also skydive, and that it started with parachuting when you were in the military. What made you recently want to go back to jumping out of aircraft?

Yes, I love the thrill of skydiving and learnt how to do it in the army. My oldest son, Sean, recently turned 18 and wanted to go skydiving for his birthday (you have to be at least 18), so I was happy to get back into it. This time we jumped from a lot higher altitude (13,000 feet) than I was used to (in the army, you mainly learn how to dive from just above 1000 feet to lessen the chance you will get shot out of the sky), so we had a lot more time in freefall and that was a lot of fun. We already decided to go back for the full certification this summer. I can’t wait!

Aside from skydiving, you also bungee jump. Tell me about the attraction of bungee jumping for you?

Although many people think they are very similar, skydiving and bungee jumping are quite different. Bungee jumping is a lot more direct. Unlike Skydiving, when you are about to bungee jump, you see the ground below very clearly and close. The rush is incredible and very therapeutic. On a side note, every time I have made a bungee jump, I have somehow gotten very lucky. Once I even won a trip to Hawaii right afterwards!

Other than running and jumping, and generally being an authority on HTML5, do you have any other passions?

I love spending time with my wife Vicky and my sons Sean and Rocky.
Most recently I have also become really excited about the power of Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) education.

The HTML5 Game Programming course we recently launched with Udacity has more than 65K students enrolled now—an incredible number, but somehow it seems like it is still just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot of untapped potential in that area.

Also… did I mention HTML5? ;-)

To read more about Peter’s running, check out his blog:
http://runlaketahoe.blogspot.com/ and you can join the San Francisco HTML5 User Group here: http://www.meetup.com/sfhtml5/

Guest blog post from Anna Shields: The London Marathon for Mind

Anna, triumphant after her first London Marathon

Today’s blog post comes from the very talented and inspirational Anna Shields. Anna is co-founder and musical director of Starling Arts. This month, Anna ran the London Marathon for the first time. This is her story.

Anna, triumphant after her first London MarathonThis time two years ago I had just started therapy for my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). There are so many misconceptions about OCD and what it is, and I won’t delve into mine too much. However, I will say that the term OCD is thrown around incorrectly by a lot of people when they’re talking about being organised or a bit ‘anal’ about things – this is not OCD. OCD is actually ‘a serious anxiety-related condition where a person experiences frequent intrusive and unwelcome obsessional thoughts, often followed by repetitive compulsions, impulses or urges’. Many describe it as ‘the hidden illness’ and I think that’s a good description.

My treatment took the form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in which I would wean myself off the ‘compulsions’ I carried out as a result of my obsessive thoughts. It was a tough and gruelling process, but ultimately helped me understand my condition and, thankfully, get a hold of it.

But alongside my OCD, I had a bit of a meltdown. I didn’t ‘do’ sadness up ‘til then, so I hated the fact that I was suddenly miserable and in tears all the time as result of having OCD. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and this thunderous smog taught me to understand the mind. One of my best friend’s, Amy, has suffered from depression and agoraphobia for several years, and once I got to grips with my own mental health problems, I realised I suddenly got to grips with hers too. For years I’d thought, ‘I don’t know why she can’t just beat this?’, but I then realised that the mind doesn’t always work that way. However, with the right help we can make it work that way, and my CBT, along with the incredible support of my family and friends, helped me beat my demons.

In taking stock of my life, it dawned on me that my favourite thing in the world, singing, was now my profession and that I had no other hobby with which to escape. Having been a good middle-distance runner at school, I decided I would re-try my hand at running. It was a struggle at first, but ultimately it worked.

A few months later, I went to Canada to visit one of my best friends. She’s a ‘fitness guru’ and set me on the path to really enjoying the sport. She kitted me out with some decent trainers, inspired me to pursue races and I was away.

I entered the Silverstone Half Marathon in March 2012, followed by a 10k race and another half later in the year, then one cold November afternoon, I got a call from Mind offering me a place on their London Marathon 2013 team. I’d entered the public ballot for the marathon earlier in the year, but was unsuccessful and had rather written off dreams of the race this time round. However, I’d forgotten I’d also submitted a charity entry to Mind so, following a quick call to my folks and my best girls to reassure me I could do this challenge, I had myself a place to run the London Marathon 2013. Gulp!

Mind is ‘the mental health charity’ with the brilliant tagline, ‘for better mental health.’ As I have often said, we all have mental health – it peaks and troughs throughout our lives, but it’s always there, whether good or bad. What frustrates me is that so many people feel scared to talk about something everyone on this planet has! People are scared of what they can’t see, so my ambition in completing the marathon, aside from running 26.2 miles (!), was to raise awareness of mental health problems and encourage people to talk openly about them.

Training through the longest, coldest winter we’ve had for years was a struggle, but having a charitable goal at the end of it all helped me plough through and I loved ticking off longer and longer runs as the weeks went by, conquering great distances and having a good excuse to eat copious amounts of pasta and even more Mars bars than usual.

Everyone seems to be doing something sponsored these days, and in a tough economic climate it can be hard to sponsor everyone. To that end, I thought a bit outside the box when it came to fundraising and, with my housemate Cat, devised a plan to combine my old and new hobby, singing and running, and produce a concert in just 26.2 hours. With an hour of rehearsal for every mile in the marathon and a handful of talented friends and family, The Marathon Show was born.

This concert raised just under £1,000 of my £1,700 target for Mind. Just as importantly, it provided a platform for me to talk publicly about my OCD and mental health to an audience of around 80 people and, having heard their feedback, inspired many of them to confront mental health issues in their own lives, whether personal to them or their friends, family and colleagues. I couldn’t have asked for a better response.

On April 21st, I completed the London Marathon in 4hrs 19 mins. It was undoubtedly one of the proudest moments of my life and I sobbed with glee on crossing the finish line.

I ran the race with a card on my back which read:

‘I’m doing it for…
My mind
Amy’s mind
Your mind’

While running has saved my mind, given me a focus aside from singing, and helped me to complete one of the greatest sporting achievements in the world, it has also given me the opportunity to contribute towards your mental well-being in running in aid of Mind.

To date, I have raised over £2,700 for Mind, far-exceeding all expectations when I took on this challenge. It is overwhelming, wonderful, and something I am so thankful to all my supporters for contributing to.

Adversity is bitch, but beating it is the greatest thrill in the world. We all have the right to better mental health, so let’s have it.

Chasing the Dragons

Image credit: photo by Andy Wilkes
Source: http://ow.ly/cQyf3

The Year of the Dragon is off to a strong start, with two training sessions now attended (and, most importantly, completed).

I was slightly disappointed that after my first training meeting with the illustrious Thames Dragons I then had to miss the next two dates.  Work commitments first meant that I would miss Tuesday night’s training, and then a wedding reception in Essex was to keep me away from Sunday morning.  I was disappointed and reluctant to miss them, and even tried to work out if it was possible to do all three.

If I missed dinner with my colleagues, could I go to training, finish by 9, then hot-foot it back to central London in time for the after-dinner drinks?  If I went to a wedding reception on Saturday night, could I get up extra-early on Sunday morning, just to drive back to north-east London for training?  It may have been physically possible to do these things, but it wasn’t practical: there would be plenty more opportunities to come.

Last night was the next opportunity to attend.  There was a temptation not to go when I was invited out for a drink by my colleagues, but I have committed on paper — or, at least, online — to the Year of the Dragon and I’m determined to see it through. If I start not bothering this early on, then the adventure is as good as over already.

Instead of a warm, sunny Sunday morning when I’d worn shorts and applied sunblock, last night although still warm was threatening rain from the start and I knew that evenings on the river would need insect repellent before it would need sun protection.  I arrived on the train in plenty of time and enjoyed the downhill walk to the river, and was glad to see that many dragon boaters were already there — including members of the Typhoon Dragon Boat Club in their team uniform — but also some reassuring members of my own club.

There were a few people that were clearly regular dragons that I hadn’t met before, along with a man who was returning for his own second session like me, and then a couple of completely new people.  You can tell a newbie when they come along, slightly hesitant, and ask “Is this dragon boat racing?” and then questions about how we would be racing, and if you fall in the water.  There is no actual racing, this is training. Later it was asked if anyone goes to races — I don’t know if the question meant did my team member personally race, did the team race, or if anyone actually races.

I can see clearly the areas I need to focus on for improvement.  While my first session was focused on keeping time with my other team members rather than paying attention to the shouted instructions or speed, this time I felt I should at least start considering myself part of the team and acting accordingly.  There are times when we start from what is called a standing start — you start with the paddles are buried in the water, then set off at a break-neck pace. Much like you would in a race.  The only trouble with this is being able to keep up — and if you can’t keep up with the speed, you can’t keep in time.  And the timing is the single most important thing.  The other things I need to improve include not taking the paddle past my hip (I think the key is reaching much farther forward) and the occasional tendency to splash half the boat with water.  I have no idea what goes wrong there.

Very soon, I am going to take out formal membership. And before long I am going to have to face that The Year of the Dragon is a very real adventure, and a challenge, even if it is entirely different from my previous adventures — and this means I am going to have to stop thinking of it as something I do for fun a couple of times a week, and actually start training for it.  There might not be a dog sled and a frozen Arctic tundra up ahead, but if I am going to compete within the year, I need to take it seriously and train.

The year of the dragon: a new adventure starts here

London's medal-winning "Thames Dragons" dragon boating team
Source: http://bit.ly/MelXrG
Photo by Rosanna Lau

It seems that maybe a new adventure sometimes comes along when you’re not looking for one.

Since before I even went to deepest, darkest Norway on my Arctic Adventure, I was thinking about what would be next.  The idea of a desert motorcycle race came up, and I did some research into the Paris – Dakar Rally, but while not yet being able to ride a motorcycle would have added an extra element to the challenge, the whole thing was impractical.

After the Arctic, a coast to coast trek in Cuba was considered — it would be another fundraising expedition for Macmillan Cancer Support, but the total being a much more modest £4,500 (rather than the £6k I raised this year) and I considered it would be possible to raise the entire total solely with full-day collections in railway stations or outside supermarkets.

This idea, too, was regrettably dismissed — I don’t want my adventures to be defined by charity fundraising, and I didn’t want friends and family to feel they had to support me financially.

I wasn’t even thinking about a new adventure when I got an email asking if I wanted to go to a Dragon Boat racing event.  I’d heard about dragon boats and dragon boat festivals before, but never seen one — though it had sounded interesting.  So I gladly signed up for this one, once I’d established I could actually join in and race.

One event does not an adventure make.

It was a good day, a fun day of racing in a dragon boat against other teams.  My team came second out of four taking part, which was a good result.  We were tired and sore but happy at the end of the day. But I think what might separate me from others on the day is that I went straight home and looked up London’s teams.

I found several teams, found the team nearest to me (although the 2012 Olympic Games in London have meant they have been evicted temporarily from their home in the docks) and contacted them to ask if I could come along to train with them.

Their answer was enthusiastic, explained to me what days they train, and that I would be welcome.

You know when you’re onto something special when it requires forsaking a Sunday morning lie-in and cooked breakfast, followed by a lazy morning listening to the radio.  Instead, I was out of bed shortly after 7am and pushing through Olympic crowds to catch a train out to Hackney and the River Lea to join the Thames Dragons for their Sunday morning training.

The team this morning were reportedly a little light on numbers — but if that made the paddling harder, it didn’t worry me.

Training with a dragon boat team is obviously different to a corporate fun day. Where last week was a few short races, with breaks in between while other teams competed, today was serious training for a serious sport.  It wasn’t altogether unlike Run Dem Crew — whom I regretfully left for a variety of reasons, but the most serious being the pain in my knees — something tough, but also enjoyable.

It was less social than Run Dem Crew, there you got good conversation while you ran, but in my dragon boat you couldn’t even really enjoy the scenery while paddling as you had to be watching the front people to make sure you kept time.  Occasional distractions on river banks or other boats would be quickly met with stern shouts to keep our eyes in the boat.  It stands to reason: this isn’t just a fun day on the river and conversation would be hard while concentrating on strokes — even though there was plenty of good humour in the quieter moments.

It being my first time with a dragon boat team, there was lots I didn’t understand — but wasn’t expected to.  I was warned of it in advance, that there would be terms used and directions shouted, but the most important thing for me was to just keep the pace — otherwise you end up being an anchor to the rest of the team.

That tired, sore but happy feeling is back — though this time I also have blisters on one hand, and can barely left my right arm above my head.  And let this blog post be a record: a new adventure starts here.

I am joining the Thames Dragons, and by the end of the summer of 2013, I want to have taken part in at least one competition. This is the year of the dragon.