Sarah Horton returns to the blog for the first time this year to continue her sea kayaking and meaning of life reflections.

Most of what’s here being, in fact, her second weekend out on the waters of Wales this year. Yes, dear reader, she sea kayaks in January. Because she loves the doing of it so much. As you’ll see when you read on…

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‘It was a great day.’

This is one of the things I most often say when I’ve had a day sea kayaking. And how important is it that I come off the water having had ‘a great day’? It’s very important to me. 

Kayaking involves a big commitment. Commitment in time, in kit, in travel, and in time away (depending where you kayak). As one of my coaches James said, you put in a lot, but you get a lot back, there’s big return. Whether that’s the thrill of landing at a beach that only kayakers can reach, or the pleasure of surfing, or catching the tide, or observing marine life, or simply being a small craft on the big open sea…. there are lots of things that delight me when I am sea kayaking. 

So for me kayaking has involved learning new skills – putting the hours in, and some frustrations like learning anything new, but lots of fun as well. If you kayak there will be times when you are cold and wet and maybe don’t feel so cheerful. But kayaking reveals to me things about myself that I didn’t know – it shows me I am resilient and I like that. 

It is also exciting because I spend time in nature and the great outdoors and on the sea and I like that enormously. 

Kayaking is off to a good start this year.

In January my coach Geth led a trip from Cemaes to Porth Trwyn, round Carmel Head – the last ‘corner’ of Anglesey that I’ve not been around, with new kayaking friends Amanda and Howard. The next day Geth, Howard, Richard and me explored the cave at Rhoscolyn and found Elephant’s Hide Sponge (Pachymatisma johnstonia), a real highlight!

This weekend just gone we launched on Friday at Red Wharf Bay on a big spring tide, and Geth, Howard and me paddled up to Moelfre in the rain. And despite the wind on Saturday, the next day, me and Howard had a day with newly met Dave and Kathy. We all made a trip from Menai Bridge and explored up the Cadnant estuary, on the spring tide, then up to Beaumaris and back again.

And both of these days mean another part of ‘my map’ has been filled in, and I felt a sense of achievement. My map being my personal circumnavigation of Anglesey, done bit by bit, rather than in a continuous single trip, and it only has a few gaps ‘not done’ in it now.

I was reminded this weekend about confidence, spending time with Kathy and talking about what kayaking means to me.

One of the interesting conversations I nearly always have with new kayaking friends is, ‘What made you start kayaking?’ Although I started kayaking in 2016, I think that actually this sense of adventure and my relationship with the outdoors was sparked over ten years ago. In 2008 I went on an ‘Odyssey’ trip, a ‘mystery’ outward-bound sort of course for adult cancer patients. Where we didn’t know what activities we would do each day, just that we’d be out in nature, some of which turned out to be on the water, up the west coast of Scotland. I was at that time 18 months on from my diagnosis of breast cancer. 

They say this about what they do:

Odyssey draws on the majesty of the outdoor environment and the stimulation of challenge, uncertainty and surprise to help adult cancer patients overcome the emotional and physical devastation caused by their illness.

Odyssey helps patients rebuild their confidence and self-esteem, engage with exercise, and take back control of their lives. 

Odyssey certainly challenged me. But it also gave me some skills that I still use all the time, and showed me that putting yourself out into the natural environment is thrilling, and also calming. It’s only as the years have passed that I do now realise how much it gave me – both then, and how much it continues to give me, to allow me to live life fully in the moment, regardless of what other ‘stuff’ I might have to deal with.

Kayaking continues to gives me that sense of self and fulfilment and happiness, and that’s why I keep doing it. 

And for me being in ‘the outdoor environment’ isn’t always as active as kayaking – a day spent observing nature is equally good for me. There are signs of spring everywhere, and I have been to both Treborth Botanic Gardens in Menai Bridge, and Bodnant Gardens near Conwy, on this last trip. 

So, several great days kayaking already this year, and days in nature too. Our days are so precious I think it’s important to treasure them all, and I definitely treasured all of these days.

I am grateful to my friend Debbie for sending me a poem which contains these lines: 

‘Your life is your life

know it while you have it’

(from The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski)

I know it. 

Sarah’s trips this year have been with Geth and Sea Kayaking Wales.

See all of Sarah’s posts here: Letters from Sarah.

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