Inner workings

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Another post in Sarah’s sea kayaking adventure. In which she explores her ‘worry mind’ but gets out on the sea in Liverpool Bay and around Anglesey anyway. She says, “It’s a lesson in life, as an evolving human. And I am immensely grateful for that.”

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It’s been two months since my last report of my kayaking activities – with James in Anglesey in the Menai Straits and up to North Stack. However, this doesn’t mean I’ve not been getting out on the water. In April I had a trip up to Anglesey, with a group from the Liverpool Canoe Club, and we did the classic north coast trip to the brickworks at Porth Wen.

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April 2017, Liverpool Canoe Club at Port Wen.

This was one of the first sea trips I did, that was last May on my beginners course – my post here.

Now, my lovely yellow boat and I are getting to really know each other.

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North coast of Anglesey and my boat.

But I have also been having regular weekly sessions with my new coach, Mark Mason. Mark runs Venture-7 with his partner Helen Mason – they are both passionate sea kayakers and coaches. This has been a great find for me, as they are local and I am able to have regular sessions, closer to home.

As a novice/improver kayaker, the things that I most need are time on the water, and guidance, so that I can build up my confidence. The weekly sessions with Mark are brilliant, as in pretty much most weather conditions we can use New Brighton Marine Lake as a training ground. I also book my session with Mark on a Monday or Tuesday, around my work commitments, and I always feel a tinge of excitement as I go and get my kayak on a ‘work day’! We’ve done eight sessions together now, and have also been to the Liverpool Docks, and this week we went in the sea at The Gunsite, over on the Wirral, near Leasowe.

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Mark prepares really interesting coaching sessions, which have been building my skills. I also know that I have to get some more experience in ‘conditions’, with more complicated sea states and wind, as I still get quite anxious about that. So we’ve been developing my skills – braces and sweeps, edging and leaning, plotting courses, and I’ve finally managed to crack draw strokes and sculling (well, I am improving).

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When we arrive at The Gunsite Mark says he’d hoped for ‘about a knot more wind’. It’s around force two, so pretty calm. The bay here is separated by an artificially created ‘island’ of rocks, and that creates two bays.

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We carry our boats down to the water. It is a sandy beach covered in broken white shells.

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And pretty calm.

We explore around the rocks, getting used to the place. We talk about how to assess a gap between rocks, whether it is safe to pass through, and how to do this safely. Mark gets through the gap, and then I do, but my timing is out, and a wave comes and carries me faster and I am then perched on a rock. It is not a nice feeling. I am definitely out of my comfort zone…. but in a safe environment, with Mark. I am learning to notice my reactions, to try not respond to my anxiety. It’s a difficult learning, and one I have struggled with since a car accident nearly two years ago. The panic response is easily triggered.

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We head out into ‘open seas’, well not quite, but it feels very expansive out here. We use the shipping markers as targets. I am comfortable here. I like the feeling of open-ness. In open spaces like this – which I love – I always think of the expression ‘The beyondness of things’, the title of a John Barry album.

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Mark giving me a few paddle tips.

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We have plenty of time to talk about how I am doing, how I am reacting to a new environment, and Mark is endlessly patient with me.

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And then we head over to the beach to practise surfing!

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Although there is little in the way of waves, we practise the technique for surfing so when we return with more surf, I’ll know what to do. I like it. I also learn how to get myself back into the water if I end up ‘beached’, a sandy beach can grip the boat and make it hard to get back into the surf.

And to finish?

Well Mark has a surprise finale for me today. Standing up in the kayak – whilst at sea. Really. Well, in fact I don’t quite manage it, I get to sitting on the back of the boat with my feet on the seat. But I will stand next time. (Mark will read this and remind me I am sure).

And that’s not quite the end. I didn’t fall out of my boat trying to stand up in it, so it seems like I’m going in the water anyway. Mark goes first and then demonstrates how to get back into the kayak unassisted.

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With his usual cheery demeanour.

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Don’t worry, it’s my turn next. And I do get back into the kayak, from the back of the boat, and that’s a big step for me, something I tried last year in Cornwall and couldn’t do. I then paddle back to shore, in my kayak which is half full of water, another new experience. I am well chuffed.

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And then it’s time to finish for today, knowing we will be back.

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I recognise this place now. Many years ago I used to run along here, the ‘Up The Shore’ weekly 5K race, which I regularly did in 17 minutes – nearly three decades ago. Although time has passed, in some ways, I still feel I am the same person who ran like that, that I can challenge and push myself, that I can find resources in myself to rise to the challenges. In those three decades life happened – as it does to all of us, and that’s how humans evolve, with the good stuff and the bad stuff. I’m just a human. I feel that today, that I have felt the essence of me.

I have been musing about the anxiety I sometimes feel whilst sea kayaking. The inner workings of me. Why do I do this? Do I do it to push myself out of my comfort zone? No, but I do get pushed out of the zone – a lot. I also find myself completely immersed in the activity when I am kayaking – nothing else has space in my brain or my senses. I like that feeling. A lot.

Returning to the feelings of anxiety, my inner workings, perhaps this is a natural setting for me? My ‘default’ setting  – I remember as a child I would worry about everything – for example, ‘If mum and dad die, who will feed the cat?’ or ‘What if the earth crashes into the sun?’ I am learning to recognise that I still have this same ‘worry mind’ – or ‘wired for worry’ as Mark describes it – that it exists for a reason – to keep me safe; but also to know that I am learning to not worry, so that I can continue to take joy in sea kayaking. So ‘learning not to worry’ is a letting go for me. And this ‘journey’ – as Mark describes it – is so much more about the skills and simply being ‘on the water’. It’s a lesson in life, as an evolving human. And I am immensely grateful for that.Gunsite_16

Thanks Mark. We’ll be back.

See all of Sarah’s sea kayaking posts here.

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