The race was an assault on the mind.. yes, not merely a test. I don’t have any blisters, thanks to a fantastic tip, to pile on lots of vaseline through out the night; or too much body ache or joints out of place. But I did have my own spanner thrown into the works. As many of you know by now, I started to feel unwell from midnight. I had nausea & indigestion, the latter a very common problem for marathon paddling the medics told me, because our bodies cannot digest food properly when we are seated for hours upon hours.

So I had panadeine & mylanta which helped a lot, except by 4 am when the drugs was doing its job, I felt quite restless from not being able to sleep. A lot of delusional & morbid thoughts crossed my mind (than usual.. hahaha). Our helmsman, Paul, was fantastic & he did say that I could rest & not paddle if I wanted to, but I continued to paddle, not wanting to disappoint my team and myself. My team-mates were funny & kind & there was no love lost even having spent more than 14 hours together.

The race started with vigour & excitement in the well-lit evening at 6 pm. As it was cloudy & the thunder storm passed us in the late afternoon, it was a mild evening as we passed lovely homes along the waterfront. We were chatty on the boat for the first 3 hours and even played word games when the batteries of the speakers died (the ipod continued too faintly for us to sing along). Sackville was our first stop. After Sackville, we felt refreshed & found new motivation and overtook a lot of kayaks & canoes on the way. However the night got darker & light sprinkle of rain teasingly showered us. There were fewer boats around & it started to get difficult to see the banks of the river. We passed more kayaks & you could hear other paddlers sounding grateful to see anyone pass just to say hello & bonds started to weaken between paddlers on other boats. Couples were debating & we passed one boat where the lady said that her partner was no longer speaking to her & she wanted to join us. Hilarious! By the time we arrived at our second stop, the rain was coming down relentlessly. I was grateful for that 1 am stop, so that I could go to first aid & get some warm food & put on more dry & warm clothes. That was my one thing of certainty.. the planned stop.

With the assurance from the medics, & selfish pride that I could take on the challenge of another 6 hours of paddling, we set off again, knowing that the next time we see our land crew will be at the finished line. Believe me, I was questioning my own sanity now & quietly teary as we left the warmth and noises of humanity behind and headed into the pitch darkness of the unknown. Now only the occasional chirping of night insects greeted us. The river was a quiet & lonely place. Being in seat 5 of the boat, I could occasionally heard the faint giggles & banter of my fellow crew members in front of me but could not share in their jokes. The rain came and at its worst, was pelting down hard against our faces. The wind was mean and cold. In the darkness, we could only look forward to on-coming check-points. There were houses and boats with fairy lights with well meaning owners who hoped that they could cheer us on but I didn’t get any comfort, knowing that we had to leave them behind. Checkpoint by checkpoint we passed, each dark turn of the river we took, farewelling lonely kayaks lining the banks like fireflies, sometimes in clusters other times a lonely soft light. The reprieve from the rain led to the moon shyly creeping out from behind the clouds. We cheered for all the little things now like seeing the moon, and appreciated the light that danced on the surface of the water around us. Around 5 am, I was feeling my worst with resurgence of illness back to haunt me. The most miraculous thing was the low-pit stop where scones & tea were awaiting & served by cheerful souls. It was my chance to just catch some sleep while my crew took in some nourishment, but it was too cold to sleep. I remembered a warning that one must not sleep in a hypothermia state.

After tea break, the morning light started to creep out all too slowly. The light rejuvenated us with the hope that the finish would not be too far away. The Spencer check-point was a sign that we only had about 30-40 km left, but as soon as we turned the corner, the wind worked against us. Each 10 km, which we would normally take 1 hour to complete at training, was a long stretch of water without an end. It felt like for every kilometer we paddled, the wind held our boat in place. My new point of reference was to be each house we passed. We pushed on and I prayed hard that with each channel of water we would face a different wind direction. It got harder before we felt the boat glided and the last check-point “S” was finally in sight. After S, we turned the corner for the last four and a half kilometers to the finished line. There was nothing more uplifting than the faint cheers from the wharf & fade commentary on our accomplishment. The finish line in sight!

Each year, I put myself through a challenge, so that I have an accomplishment to remember the year by. This was one big challenge! Would I do it again? I’ll tell you after therapy. Thank you once again for your wonderful support!