My five take aways from paddling the length of Wales
In May 2018 Erin Bastian and I led a group of women to paddle the length of Wales to pick up plastic out of our waterways. Erin, the kayak lead and my role to manage the conservation efforts. As I know it takes over 25 years for a head of lettuce to decompose in landfill I was determined to do what I could to avoid it. See my top tips on what to do with your river rubbish.
Paddle cleanup expeditions have become so much more than just rubbish treasure hunting in canal juice pong so here are my top five take aways from paddling the length of Wales.
#1 Our British waterways are beautiful!
Take a moment to immerse yourself in the wonders of the natural environment around you. The patterns the water makes as it falls off the paddle and the drip drip splash sound it makes. The smells of spring flowers springing up around you and the birds in dancing around in the sky. I even noticed that the birds sometimes work together to protect their babies from soaring prey. Oh and the oh so adorable duckings, and damsel flies dancing about on the water sparkling blue in the spring sun. Sounds pretty idyllic? It truly was. Ok there is the odd bit of manky human detritus to pick up here and there but that is just a reminder of why we are here doing what we are doing. Grab a kayak, paddle board, join a club, go for a walk, our waterways are beautiful.
#2 Teamwork is everything
There’s a phrase that I can’t remember where it came from…. ‘there is no one of us that is better than all of us’. It is so true that together we bring our own qualities to make a whole that is amazing. This was no exception and the team were great. There were laughs and jokes and songs about sandwiches and innuendo that you really had to be there for!
There are challenges on an expedition like this but with everyone chipping in to help others get in and out of kayaks and canoes and helping with the portaging around the locks the challenges become enjoyable. We were soon singing river songs and cracking inappropriate jokes to pass the time in between locks and litter picking.
#3 Kindness of strangers
Our camp spots varied from wild camps next to the canal, to pub campsites, a falconry centre and sports field. Huge appreciation to those who put us up for the night. Erin and I do have a favourite from this trip though and that’s Nigel. We came upon his house on our wet and muddy reccie back on a cold January afternoon. Only to be greeted with a warm smile, a cup of hot tea and stories about four wheel drive adventures looking for war memorabelia with his son. A true character and a bit of a legend. Nigel let us camp by the water at the end of his lane and told us all about his party days of rock and roll. We are extremely grateful and heartened by Nigel and hope that others take the time to wonder down his lane and hear his stories over a cuppa.
#4 Staying social on expedition is hard and sometimes counter-productive
Connecting with nature is an essential part of our DNA. It has now been proven in many studies that nature connection not only benefits your physical health but also your mental wellbeing. In a world where we are becoming more and more dependent upon technology, these opportunitites are scarcer.
My mental health has improved dramatically since I shifted my life to enable me to spend more time outside doing things I love doing. And I think this would be one of the top take aways from paddling the length of Wales. On that trip I truely noticed that by living in the moment and connecting with my natural surroundings I feel so much more clarity. The run up to that expedition was super stressful for reasons I wont go into. As soon as the paddle started, all the woes and worries, the tears and anxt drifted away on the water and seemed insignificant compared to the moments of being there, present, appreciating our beautiful countryside.
It is challenging enough to paddle all day, then sort plastic and if I was to write a blog daily or be an uber social media whizz then I would miss something. I am not sure how others do it but hats off to them.
#5 Being clear on your why gets you through the tough bits
It is tough to constantly be excited about stinky rubbish especially when you are hungry and exhausted. This relates to every day waste challenges too, sometimes it is hard to keep going when you see other people completely disregarding their plastic footprint or chucking litter on the floor.
In all these occassions I find it useful to remind myself why I am doing it. I think of the plastic I see on dives and the creatures I have seen suffering and I soon find a re-ignition. Even if you havent seen it first hand, by now most people have seen the turtle with a straw up its nose, the tortoise trapped in a ring pull, the whale eating a plastic bucket on Blue Planet or the albatross with a gut full of plastic pieces. If you havent, its easy to find these on Google!
I also keep in mind a quote by Howard Zinn ‘small changes made by millions of people can change the world’. If we can reduce plastic bag consuption by 86% with a 5p charge then just imaging what else is possible!