If you’re looking closely enough, adventure opportunities are everywhere.
I started by looking at islands to circumnavigate in my kayak; I thought circling round an island by kayak could be a fun and accessible mini adventure, one perhaps I could pack into a single weekend. As I scribbled down notes on various islands, I came across the Channel Islands – of course! As well as being so very close to the UK, I couldn’t help but notice how close they were to each other…What if instead of one mini island adventure, I could have three? An adventure triathlon of my very own making!
Although experienced in kayaking and cycling, open water long distance swimming was a totally new discipline for me and the 6 months leading up to the challenge were a steep learning curve. I had to learn efficient stroke technique, build up my cold water tolerance and experiment with different fueling strategies (eventually settling for baby food as it was easiest to digest!). Luckily for me, the inhabitants of the Channel Islands are an equally adventurous and friendly bunch, and I was quickly embraced by the local open water swimming community. This meant that was as well as my coach in London, Mark Kleanthous, I had my very own mentor in the form of open water swimming legend and Guernsey resident, Adrian Sarchet. It’s the people that make an adventure special and the Channel Islands Triathlon was certainly testament to that. On each of the islands, I was joined and supported by an enthusiastic group of locals – cheering me on through every tiring and terrific moment.
Emotions on the morning of the swim were high – a potent mix of nerves and excitement, with a notable sense of relief that we had near perfect weather.
Nerves subsided as I found my pace and the first 2 hours went by in a rhythmic daze. With Budgie from Adventure Sark loyally paddling next to me to keep me on track and keep me fed at regular intervals, the distance steadily crept by.
This peace was sadly not to last. After unintentionally ingesting way too much salt water, my nerves had been replaced with nausea and for the final hour keeping down food became a problem – the pace dramatically slowed as I began to dry heave every couple of swimming strokes. That final hour seemed to last forever. However, it was also during that final hour that the local support team/cheering squad really shone through – within frustratingly close sight of the finish line, represented in this case by some steps leading back up to the harbour, I was retching on a nearby rock whilst the team shouted encouragement. Flanked on either side by local swimming heroes Adrian and Mandy, we made our final push to land. I all but crawled up the stairs, but I’d made it. Phase 1, complete.
The next morning, I woke up to dismal skies but I comforted myself with the knowledge that I would at least be on top of the water and not face down in it for most of the day. Mindful of the weather warnings that seemed to be lurking, the kayak was assembled and launched in the water for 8am, ready to catch the favourable tides.
The air was thick with fog and once again, nerves were lingering. As with any adventure dependent on favourable weather, there is a delicate ratio of good planning and luck – as I set out, fog horn blaring and the wind causing choppy seas, I knew we were balanced right on the line.
Joined once more by hardy locals, Martin in a kayak next to me and Daniel in a support boat, we bumpily made our way round Guernsey.
Martin and I battled against the tumultuous conditions in a race against the ever increasing winds, knowing that our already small weather window was already dwindling.
It was exhausting and eventually we conceded defeat – racing Mother Nature obviously never works and by midday, we’d been forced to come off the water for safety reasons. As the wind steadily increased up to Force 5/6, I was back on shore – reluctantly packing up the kayak.
With 17 miles down and 14 left to go, I set off to finish the loop on foot. Although initially frustrated and disheartened, I soon began to appreciate the opportunity to see the island from a new angle.
It felt good to have firm ground under my feet – to not have to constantly brace against the wind and stabilize my kayak in a choppy sea. My mind drifted and simply soaked up the scenery – step by step, each one bringing me closer to the beach I set off from so many hours ago. The circumnavigation was finally completed at 7pm.
I began the final day with weary muscles but high spirits. Knowing that even in bad weather I’d be able to cycle Jersey was a relief. I’d also stashed a small packet of Percy Pigs into my handlebar bag for energy emergencies. A few weeks before, I’d put a call out for people to join me on this section. Once again, the locals didn’t disappoint and it was a wonderful surprise to find I had a gang of around 10 people all joining me for the ride.
This was just the boost I needed and as we merrily made our way up and around the island, chatting away, the miles easily rolled by. It was the perfect ending to the challenge – one that had been absolutely defined by the new friends I made along the way.
The Channel Islands are 1 hour from the UK and this whole weekend was about highlighting that sometimes the biggest adventures are right on your doorstep. What are you waiting for?
Laura Kennington is a British Adventure Athlete with a passion for the endurance capability of the human body. A strong believer in the positive impact that adventure and sport can have on children and adults alike, Laura uses her human powered journeys as a way of raising awareness of environmental issues and as a platform to inspire and encourage others to get outside.