Back in the early days of the Pandemic when, like World War 1, we thought it would all be over by Christmas, and when the weather was exceptionally kind to us, I was walking my dog on the hills around my house. From one spot in particular I have an excellent view down across the Thames Valley and Marlow.
I was thinking about how adversely affected many charities had been, and how much pressure they were under, and what, if anything, I could do; especially as, Master Elect of the Chartered Accountants Livery at the time.
I wondered if anyone had rowed the entire length of the Thames. Of course, as I thought about it, no could have done, as one cannot row on the Thames for quite a lot of the upper reaches.
So, not really a ‘light-bulb’ moment but more an idiotic brain dump. “Why don’t I do just that. Run and row from the Source to the City. What a wheeze. It should raise enough eyebrows as well as money for the charities. And thus, one might say, from little acorns…. But more accurately, from a great nut, an even greater process was born.
As I mentioned my wild idea to a few folk, it really started a snowball rolling down a huge mountain. It’s true, one cannot row from the source before a town called Lechlade. The first 13 odd miles are basic fields with, at best, the Thames, initially a few puddles, then a trickle, a brook and almost a stream. But from Cricklade, some 11 or so miles before Lechlade, one should be able to paddle a canoe or kayak. So, my big plan was run to Cricklade, paddle to Lechlade then row to the Tower.
Simple, yes? No!
There are locks in the way. There is the stretch post Richmond which is tidal. One needs permission from the Upper Thames Harbour Master, the Lower Thames Harbour Master, the Environment Agency and the PLA, to name a few. Plus, I do not own a kayak, nor do I own a scull. Moreover, I did not know how to row a scull.
But the snowball was still hurtling down the mountain, getting bigger all the time.
Fortunately, via a very good friend, I was aware that the Para Rowing Squad, based at Marlow Rowing Club, had to raise funds to make access to the boats and, more importantly, to the water for the squad members. I wanted to raise money for their charity as well as another four which I am close to. This was not only gratefully received but the Para squad coaches volunteered to coach me and to teach me to row. Additionally, as one of their number, Naomi Riches, who won a Bronze in Beijing and Gold in London 2012, had undertaken a non-stop row from Lechlade to Gravesend, she and her Coach, David Jackson, had some great data for me and my team to use.
Planning started. Some key information I got from Naomi and David’s data was the need for a small committee to look after the key areas of the event. These were a Chair of the Committee to act as the Event Director during the event, a Stream, Tide and Passage Planning director, training and support team, athletic welfare and a PR, media and fundraising team. Not a lot to ask.
Well, when I put out a cri de coeur for assisatnce, my kids came running. So Sam, a Feltmaker, filled the Chair and the PR/media slots were taken by my son and youngest daughter. Then my PT said he’d look after welfare and physical training, whilst David & Naomi took on rowing training. (By the way, did I explain that I had, in effect, never rowed before?).
This left several other slots, but one specialist one – the Stream, Tide and Passage planning.
Enter a Past Master Chartered Accountant. She ‘volunteered’ her son, who it transpires, is not only the cox of Gloriana and runs the family river boat business in Henley, but is also a trained logistics specialist.
We were set, so off we started. For me this meant training six days a week; three on the water and three in the gym. Which, even now, is only just paying dividends.
So we contacted the PLA and the Environment Agency (EA) who both responded in kindly, if bemused terms.
We planned. Run from the stone marking the Source to Cricklade and then enter the scull.
But wait! The EA had not cleared trees from the winter of 2019. But we could paddle in a canoe or kayak. Let’s go for the kayak. And let’s plan for June 10th start when the Lord Mayor is free to meet me at the Tower.
But wait! The Lord Mayor is now going to the Olympics so will not be back until the 12th. Next relevant tide sorted; we reschedule to start on the 14th. But wait! Covid is lasting much longer and we will not come out of second lockdown until June 21st. So, whilst I could row, no volunteers could assist fully. OK, we rearrange for August 22nd to August 25th. But wait! My “Master’s weekend, which was originally due in May in Gleneagles, was moved to August in the New Forest as the only dates available post June 21st. and the Sunday of this weekend is the 22nd. No problem. Plan for an overnight flit from the weekend hotel to the start of the Source, (with someone else driving). Done!
Surely nothing else will occur to need further changes, Whew! But wait!
The EA failed to shift the trees from winter 2019/20 and they had also done nothing about several more which have fallen since. In short, even the kayak cannot get through.
I do not think running over 25 miles on the morning of day one of this testing event, then rowing at least another 24 is a good idea, let alone even possible for me. So, change gear. I will cycle between Cricklade & Lechlade if possible. I proved it is possible, if very, very bumpy. Not a route for one to sit in one’s saddle.
Which makes me wonder, if an Iron Man race involves a 26+ mile run, a 112+ mile bike ride and a 2.4-mile swim (if not in that order) and on day one of my event I am due to attempt a half marathon run, then a 11+ mile ride and a 24-mile row, would this constitute a “Rusty Old Half Iron Man”? I ask because I feel sure that at the end of it, there will be a very rusty old half man.
If you feel pity for me, or for the five charities I am trying to support, you can find more details on www.Source2City.com.