I flew from Nashville to Detroit to London on Thursday night and arrived at Heathrow at 7am after a night of no sleep… but I got to see three new movies! Customs line was enormous, the longest of my life, but only took an hour. As I imagined, one of the sweetest and hardest working women I know, Rhona Dempsey, was there, after waiting for two hours at the exit door from customs. Aaron was driving in circles waiting for us to come out and was there in 2 minutes after we popped out of the terminal.
They brought me to their house where Rhona fixed me her first of many meals, each one worthy of a king. My first English breakfast of the trip. 5 pieces of sausage (two different kinds) 5 pieces of toast, 2 pieces of british bacon, 2 eggs over easy, and 1 big helping of baked beans. I ate all but two sausages and decided it was worth offending her instead of dying from my stomach blowing up.
We headed to the Lee Valley Whitewater Park, otherwise known as the Olympic Course for the 2012 Olympic slalom races. We paddled with a group there, watched the British Junior Rafting Team that is about to head to Costa Rica for the World Championships, and Pringle, who won the 2011 World Freestyle Championships get interviewed by “Alive and Deadly” a TV Show. Aaron and I did some laps, and I got to paddle with Pringle and others and play around on this cool new venue. There is now whitewater in London!
The next day we woke early at 6am (midnight for me on the day after a no sleep day) and drove the 2+ hours to Nottingham. I hadn’t been to this place since 1995 for the World Slalom Championships, and my last day there I got sick that night after a few Guinness’s and couldn’t drink that beer for two years as it made me feel sick. (sorry got side tracked!) I also Spear Chucked a duck out of full flight while warming up and really upset quite a few of the ladies that were warming up at the moment at the top of the course (but I took the Duck to our hotel and the chef cooked it up for dinner, so I didn’t eat another animal that night…digressing again, sorry)
I now know why the British are so good at hole moves! The holes at Nottingham are perfect for both learning in, and getting technically proficient. They are quite a bit more controlled and better than just about any hole in the USA for repeating technique over and over to become habitual.
On Saturday the Youth Freestyle competition was held. over 70 kids from 12 to 18 competed in a day of freestyle where they did one ride on the top hole, one on the second hole, and then did an “impress EJ” competition, and there was a novice competition at the bottom hole. It was “brilliant” as the brits would say. The kids seemed to have a great time and some were incredibly good and many were just picking it up. One thing for sure is that England will not struggle to earn medals in international competition in the next 10 years!!!
That night we camped out at the “Campground”… imagine that. We had a BBQ where they circled the Mercedes Sprinter Vans, and the VW vans to “slow” down the hurricane force winds that plague the country 12 months/year. It takes more thought and fossil fuels to light a grill than I ever imagined possible here in England. We ate some great food, like Chicken wings with “Kick Ass Curry” , and had some awesome beer from about every corner of England while huddling over the hot coals and cooking the final leftovers to death for 4 hours. Almost a full moon, then rain, then moon, then big rain, then more moon, and with lots of wind, always. I slept well, my first sleep was late that night after 36 hours of no sleep, but not long.
The next day was another competition, where I could compete. Oh yea, I along with Claire O’hara, pringle, and others was coaching the kids on Sat, and then again on sunday. Sunday was the “league championships” which is equivalent of the National Championships for USA. Hmmm… I wish I was more trained up for this type of event. I competed and got 5th! I was cool with that, and was duly impressed by the moves the guys were throwing there!
We drove back to London where Aaron and Rhona live… but not in a city, they live inside the “beltway” but in the ‘old farmhouse” which is a 300 year old house that is so awesome! Rhona, Aaron, their two girls and son make this house a real home. Open house, with people coming and going, kids coming and going, each mostly grown up, but very much the children of Aaron and Rhona (they are Jackson Kayak’s british importer) I feel so much at home. Mirror images of the Jackson Ranch in so many ways. It was late and we got to bed.
Monday, AM- time to do some work, and then go see a really cool dealer in London, the “Whitewater Canoe Center” where I haven’t been since 2004. Pete was there, whom I met in 2004 there, but looked a bit older (grown up). He will be at the Sickline race in Austria in a couple of weeks as well. We talked about business, kayaking, boats, etc. and met some customers, signed some DVDs and shirts for kids, etc. and then came back to Aaron’s house for an incredible “Roast Lamb Dinner”. I won’t bother to describe it other than awesome! There was a little girl there, Eva, who was having her 2nd birthday party there, and was so cute. She could say her “ABC’s” etc., while KC can growl and calls his mom, “Bob”. (not complaining, but whoa, what a contrast in verbal skills! this girl is going to be dangerous from talking so much)
We jumped on the trampoline until dark after dinner and I got to bed but couldn’t sleep right away. I was invited to do a flatwater sprint race that is 1 hour long on the local canal by Ron a neighbor. I accepted and he told the guy “ian” who was to be my K2 partner that I was coming.
Today I worked with Aaron all day and then showed up to the canal at 5pm and did a warm up with Ian in a K2 sprint boat. Wing blades, narrow tippy boat, and a whitewater paddler and a flatwater racer. Luckily for me, and him, I am a student of kayaking and knew how to use wing blades properly and was able to paddle with him fine. AFter our warm up we realized that it was going to be another hour before the race started . Rhona left to make dinner and Aaron and I, and Adam Knight went into a pub to get warm (yes, windy and cold for me) and I got myself a pint of Fuller’s Ale, a local beer. I figured a 1 hour race might require some carbs and I was thirsty.
Finally at 7;10 pm we were lined up next to our competitors. Our plan was to go slow for the first 30 minutes of the 60 minute race since I hadn’t raced that long for a very long time and then go hard on the second 1/2. Our plan was to go behind the other top guys and follow them, maybe draft or ride their wake. We talked about it, etc., but then the starter said, 3,2,1 GO! and I was lined up with others trying to get into the lead and I was in the back seat of the K2. I couldn’t help myself and yelled out to Ian in the bow, “go for it!” and started sprinting to get the lead. We got it by the time we went under the first bridge but a South African dude was on our wake and we couldn’t shake him. I told Ian “go right” since he had the rudder and we were coming up on a boat in the canal and I wanted to swipe this guy off of our right side wake. (I didn’t realize that in flatwater racing that isn’t considered cool… oooops) Well Ian didn’t listen and the South African guy just rode our wake to the first portage. We had nobody else next to us. At the last second he sprinted ahead and jumped out at the best exit for the portage and then proceeeded to hobble along the tow path barefoot and was blocking us who were trying to run fast. We both got in fast and he was, again, on our wake… “oh, I see.. that is a good strategy, I thought”. I taunted him and made jokes as we raced side by side, all in good humor, of course and he was participating. We told him we would run him over at the next portage if he wasn’t faster, and sure enough we bumped him out of the way . We made it to the turn around spot and the slower classes were already coming back at us and it was getting busier. It was fun for me to stroke along trying to make each stroke a good one with the wing blades. Luckily I didn’t have the rudder or need to steer, so i could watch anything I wanted. It was a beautiful canal with incredible houses along it with nice little flower gardens over the water, big old trees overhanging the canal, and a string of classic canal boats. People were running and biking along the tow path as well. We picked up our speed even more at the turn around and ran around the SA guy and got in and got ahead so he couldn’t get on our wake.
We went hard to the finish and I was happy to do this workout with these guys. We hit the pub up while we were late for a big dinner at Rhona’s house for the awards. We were asked if we wanted to sponsor the club and agreed, both Square Rock and Jackson Kayak- 50 quid each. We missed awards but were told that Ian and I missed the record time for this race by 40 seconds. Cool.
Dinner just ended here, with a table for 8 and 12 people having homemade pasta, and some incredible cheese for desert. We cleaned up from dinner at 11:30pm and now it is time for bed…
tomorrow I am gong to the olympic course where I do some racing for fun with pete in preparation for Sickline. We’ll do some interviews, etc. as well. On Saturday AM we head to Kanumesse in Germany for a big trade show…