Off The Beach

Broad Haven – 11th Aug

But we still have to get off the beach.

I stand there, on the sand. It is the end of just another paddling day. Except of course, it isn’t just.
The mind works slowly, it has to adjust from one world to another. It takes a time to dawn, but when Team Manger conjures up the bottle of bubbly, it occurs, slightly, oh so slightly, that the end has been reached.

I'm a little over-dressed, standing here amongst the naturally-insulated kids, the should-know-better speedo-clad gents, and sundry sunbathing types, some wobblier than others. Somehow we are quietly inconspicuous amongst the friendly atmosphere. But swigging from the bottle and the indulgent bubbly spray draws a little attention. The word spreads and soon hands are being shaken and questions answered. The old favourites are there: What was the worst bit? How far did you row each day? What are you doing next?

Next? We're not even off the beach yet, give me a second eh...?

But it is pleasant, very pleasant and enjoyable to chat. For once there is no need to dash – none at all.
 I'm surprised how many people are interested, genuinely interested. It’s only canoeing. I share the bubbly with a young lad, while I reply to Dad’s questions. Dad doesn't want to spoil the party, turning a blind eye. Kiddo makes the most of his chance.

There is a slightly strange moment when a lady comes over to, rather loudly, tell everyone how far her sit-on-top paddling husband paddles when he goes out to fish. She isn't unpleasant, just proud of Mummy’s Little Soldier. One of those moments where there is nothing else to be said.

I don’t really want to leave the beach. Standing on the water’s edge is somehow the last link with the whole affair, it feels as if the memories might fade when I walk away. But the daily routine kicks in, unbidden, and I find myself emptying hatches, clearing the deck and sorting dry-bags. Can’t break the habit.

As we start to carry the boat across the soft sand, people come over, to insistently take an end. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but somehow this is my job, the day isn’t finished yet. It is part of the routine.

 And Taran has looked after me so well, through so much; the least I can do is carry her safely off the beach.

Two minutes later the sand is slippy soft, the hill steep and I am blowing out of my arse, regretting the sentimentality.

At the top we take a breather, in front of the little shop, amongst the car-park crowds. More questions and hand-shakes follow, it’s nice. A lady has followed up the beach and politely introduces herself and asks if I can spare time to answer the question – why?
Why? Hmm not an easy one that...

I find it a little curious that people are so interested and, well, just so damned nice.

Then we have the short trolley along the road to the campsite, 83 days since the boat was wheeled along this same stretch.

TM has bagged a good spot on the field,  and now it is time to sit down and take a moment.

Old habits are hard to break though and I find myself hanging kit to dry in the sunshine, sorting and fussing things. It’s my last chance for a good old faff.

I do know that once I sit down nothing else is going to get done today, so the boat is unpacked now and the kit laid out. Things are tidied and put away, with the luxury of slow-time though. It’s just such a deeply ingrained habit to look after the kit.

Eventually all is done and it is time to relax at last – Done and Dusted!

The jungle drums are beating and news is even rippling around the campsite, people ‘pop in’ as they wander past, on their way to the toilets. Aah the glamour. I find myself self-consciously signing an autograph, on a road atlas, for a couple of youngsters. Bet that’s worth a fortune now...

A sit-on –top-man comes over to chat, he saw me land and thought it was a little over the top to be spraying bubbly after a trip around the bay. Now he has heard a little more he wants to add his congratulations too. It’s a nice chat, I'm starting to feel a bit of a prat now though.

The campsite owner comes over too. On the evening before Day 1, the Lundy Crossing, back then we walked down to the headland together and gazed towards the island, out in the distance. It’s good to see his smiling face and shake his hand. It sort of joins the circle somehow. I'm not sure of his background, he’s done something in his past, but he keeps it to himself.

Geoff and Joy are on their way. The ‘We are at Broad Haven, where are you?’ phone call gives it away. There is a little confusion - it’s not a big place, you can’t miss us, you know big van, pink boats and all that stuff. It turns out there is a 20 mile confusion between Broad haven - the place and Broad Haven -the beach, aah... my mistake, apologies.

But eventually all is well, tales are told, more bubbly is drunk, dodgy directions are forgiven and final relaxation lurks.

All too soon Geoff and Joy bid farewell and head back to deepest Ceredigion.

But for us there is no rush tonight, we have our lives back. We walk under the stars and watch twinkling lights far away across the Bristol Channel. I've heard people paddle that.

No planning, no tides, no charts, no maps to fold, no breakfast to prep, no rushed diary to write, no smelly paddle kit to lay out, no stressing to do.

No alarm clock.

No sodding, effing, bastard annoying, depressing, irritating, 4 o’clock wet-kit alarm clock. Oh no siree...

A lie in tomorrow, whatever the weather...