Sunday, 14th November 2021
Tees Weekend – Scott’s brain dump :)
Written by Scott Barber
Grab your self a coffee and a pack of biscuits, and settle yourself for this epic tale...
For me, and some others, there’s been a progressive path to the Tees weekend, starting with the white-water intros/improvers sessions. During these sessions there was plenty of riverbed inspections and spray deck practice, and plenty of perseverance. They started off well for me, even taking George down Matlock in a duo. Then came the day I put my dry suit on at Nene and all the confidence I had gained, left me. It filled me with dread.
After several swims my Obi-Wan Kenobi (name revealed later) appeared with similar advice to “use the force”. He said to me, “George stroke not Scott stroke”. With that advice we headed off to the Dee. I had two swims and every now and then my Obi-Wan would chant his mantra, and things would turn good.
Which brings us to the main event… the Tees Weekend. Day One – Barnard Castle to Winston Bridge (12k, Grade 2 (3), River Low 0.75) It started Friday with me trying to leave the house with everything I needed. After several trips back home to check I’d locked my door and to get my glasses strap, I finally left to pick up Anneka and start the drive up to the Tees. After a good old natter, a bit of traffic, a Google song quiz and some 90’s car karaoke we arrived at The Hub. We unloaded the food shop, sorted the rooms, and nominated the designated snoring room. Shaun, our Faithfull leader arrived, and we headed out for a chippy-tea, served to us by the happiest person any us had ever seen - like ever!! We got back to the digs greeted by everyone else. Some then went to the pub, the sensible ones stayed for a quiet peaceful night playing pool - until the karaoke videos started arriving - I’m sure there might be more on that by someone else! The night came to an end and we all went to bed eager for the day of paddling ahead.
We woke up early for breakfast and to help get everything out for the days packed lunches. Slowly everyone started to appear, some looked a bit like the walking dead, which was mainly due to the weekend snoring champion, Elliot. Breakfasts made and lunches packed, we headed of for the days paddling, amazingly there was seemingly very little faff. Leaders picked and paddlers put into 4 groups of 6 (with 2 floaters Nathan H and Niamh), and the cars quickly shuttled out to strategic spots along the route. Mine was left at Abbey Rapids (halfway) - a rapid I walked around in 2019 - and at that point I vowed not to see my car until the very end of the days paddling.
Back to the start point, and my boat had magically made its way down to the get on. After another quick brief with my group leaders who were Anneka, Anton, and Robert, we got on the water. I was quite anxious at first, remembering my last time on this stretch of water when I wasn’t ready, which was spent mainly ‘in’ the water hanging onto the back of someone’s boat getting towed, or on the end of a throw line getting dragged. We warmed up and off we went paddling into the sun to start our journey. With each feature we came through I was feeling better and better, every now and then my Obi-Wan voice would sound in my head “use the George Stroke” or “the force is strong in the Scott stroke” as we arrived at the first big event of the day, Abbey Rapids, we got out to scout. At this point I was in two minds whether to run it - I was feeling great in myself and wanted to avoid a swim. After a pep talk from Anneka and then Anton we watched I few go down. Nathan H, Niamh and Rob making it look effortless, we walked back to our boats.
The plan was for me to ferry across with Anton to the eddy on the far side, then to break out and follow Anton’s line down. I got in my boat, deck on, paddle in hand, and slipped into the water. At this point Anton went “Just go”, telling me there is enough people down there and I know the line, I just need to get it done. Before my head knew what was happening, my body was paddling and I ferried across and turned with the flow when a moment of dread hit me. Have I gone far enough over, or have I gone too far over?? then Obi-Wans voice spoke to me again “George stroke”, I settled in, relaxed a little and paddled, as I got closer I could see That I was on the right line, I was pushed towards the left but then Obi-Wan sounded again “not Scott stroke” and I corrected myself “George stroke” before I knew it a noise came out my mouth, it was excitement I had made it.. Well I hadn’t because then I heard another voice, this time is was Nathan H telling me to “Keep paddling!!” Bugger, need to get in the eddy, paused my celebration and paddled into the back of the eddy.
I could feel the smile on my face, Nathan was laughing at my premature celebration and Robert gave me a hug. Anneka came in right after me, a bit confused as to why I had left Anton, unaware of our quick chat. I sat in the eddy for a while and watched as the rest of the group came down. Out of 26 of us there was only a handful of swimmers, one which was Clive who fell out up the top and swam the entire way down. With boats emptied and bums back in seats we spilt back into our groups and paddled off paddled through a few wave trains, all my nervous energy had left me, and I was loving it.
We stopped for a bit of lunch before paddling further down to another big feature. The Whorlton Lido is a rock shelf going right to left and then down for a few hundred yards. The plan was to ferry across to river left, run down the long-left hand side and drop off at the bottom (avoiding the drop to the right with the long tow back). I made the decision to portage this feature. I was tired and I wanted to save some energy and not run the risk of being pushed by the waves into the middle of the drop if I burnt out. Portage done, I paddled down to meet up with my group.
We paddled through a few more wave trains and so forth until we came to the next feature. (I made a call here in 2019 to walk and meet the van as I was 6-7 swims in and was holding up the group - that walk broke me a little and my confidence was destroyed, but I told myself next time I will smash it, and this time I had). We dropped down the slide and through the wave which had me out last time and hit the eddy nicely behind it, my confidence was high, and I was watching my group play on the fluffy wave. I was going to give it a go myself, it would be the biggest wave I’d surfed. Then up walked Bee. Without a boat. We found out she’d just got stuck in the ‘fluffy wave’, fell over and bashed her head, the news drained all confidence out of me. Anton helped her swim down to her boat and her group and we paddled on. My mind still on Bee bashing her head, I ended up a bit far to the left while crashing through some big waves, Obi’s voice replaced by the Incredible Hulk’s getting me to power through the waves as I got swamped. I made it out the other side and relaxed. It was then that I realised I’d cocked up as I hit a rock, which had me over, I went to brace on my left, the paddle sliced into the water and I prepared for my first swim of the day.
Luckily, my paddle hit the bottom and I managed to stay upright, I had a giggle and carried on. At this point I’m tired. We’ve paddled a long way; my adrenalin had worn, and tiredness is creeping in.
We met up with the group in front and we joined up for the last bit. I’m slowly pottering through the shallow water, bouncing of rocks until I hit one at the wrong angle and it instantly flipped me, my face bashing the rocks underwater. I was being dragged back and my boat was being pulled forwards. I tried reaching for my deck, but I couldn’t get it. A blue boat appeared next to me and I reached for it to try and roll myself back up. Unfortunately for the blue boat, it was not the bow I was grabbing, but the cockpit rim so I pulled my knees up and managed to pop my deck off and roll out.
The bashes to my head shook me a bit, although they didn’t hurt, and I’ve had the same before in shallow water at Matlock. I needed to get out the water but still, the swim. I was dragged across the bottom for a bit until the flow eased off as the water got deeper, and I relaxed a little as I could lift my head out. It was then I saw a drop down - I was about to get clobbered by a wave - feet back up then in front of me as I headed into the wave. Eventually, I manged to get to the side with everyone and climb out. I went and let out some steam a couple of feet away before returning to apologise to Anneka for about having her out (still feeling guilty), got back in my boat, paddled a little more and finished off the day with a little walk out to the rest of our big group at Winston Bridge.
After a quick spot of collecting cars and packing boats, we headed back to the digs for showers. Everyone’s spirts were high, all talking of our escapades of the day and giving out pats on the backs and the normal banter after a day on the water. Obi-Wan Kenobi arrives as we all start to get ready for our meal. We met at the pub where I do my best sober dad-dancing. Everyone is still in high spirits as we head of for a great curry, a few more in the pub then back to the digs for some pool. Day Two – Dog Leg and Low Force waterfall (Play spot, Grade 3, River Low 0.55) After waking up early again and walking into the lounge/dinner area to be greeted by Del and Derek, both refugees on the sofas escaping the snorers, the morning is the much the same as the last – breakfast, make coffee ×4, then its strip beds and prepare for the day ahead. This was just a short, fun (apparently) day spent at Low Force waterfall. Some opted not to paddle, and I was questioning my choice to paddle when I saw both Dean and Derek both in normal clothes with their buoyancy-aids on with assorted throw lines etc in hand.
I kept my kit on and the fun started quite early, as on the walk down to the river we had to cross a tiny bridge. The sign on which instructs to cross one at a time. Which is fine, but what are they counting at one person?? at 130kg, add on my kayak, plus my gear, I could be the weight of 3 people… so I take my first tentative steps onto the bridge and make it to the other side, hoping I hadn’t weakened the structure for the next one to cross!
We walked up to the waterfall, placed our boats down and stared down the drop… as Anton takes a different approach and throws himself off the ledge, pencilling down 18ft into the water. We all gather round as big Nathan (who’s voice sounds familiar to my Obi-Wan Kenobi) gives us the briefing for the day. Some could stay and drop of the waterfall, or, we could walk up to the Dog Leg section, have a play and paddle down to Low Force. So, after the ten-hour trek carrying the Titanic on my shoulder, we arrived at the section of water we planned to do.
The Dog Leg rapid comes to a slight horizon line, sliding to the left, then turns to the right, drops down quite steep as you go over a pour-over into a pool, and slot yourself through a narrow gap on the left of a rock, another pour over then it’s a straight line either side of a rock to the end.
I stood watching everyone come down, making it look effortless. I wanted to do it, I wanted to test myself, but I also didn’t want to bang my head if I came out (a personal issue I’m dealing with). Then Steve Bonham came down, not a care in the world, floating down over the pour-over, and boom he was flipped straight towards the rocks. Things slowed for me as I watched, my breath went, and I turned around and walked away. As I went to sort myself out on my own (with a hug from Shaun and Kyle en route), I got angry at myself. Angry I was letting ‘ifs and buts’ stop me doing what I wanted to do, so I marched straight back to my boat, got it on the edge and asked Anneka to show me over the horizon line.
We waited for our turn and off we went. As I was getting caught on the rocks, Anneka just dropped over the horizon line and caught the eddy on the left as planned. I aimed to the right of her, shuffled across the rocks and slowly the water started to take me. I could now see my line and big Nathan standing further down. I was tense but Obi-Wans voice was in my head. I came round to the right and now I could see both Nathan and Shaun. As I came down, I put in a left stroke just before the pour-over but perhaps a bit too soon, I hit the water and it spat me straight at the wall. I quickly paddled backwards as Nathan came to help push me off. I was back in the water facing the pour-over as Obi’s voice came, shouting loud and clear this time“Scott stroke, Scott stroke!” but I wasn’t moving. I leant forward, got my blade in, paddled, and slotted through the gap - I had done the hard part and I was still in my boat!
Now to finish off, only I gazed at the rock in the middle of the run-out a little too long. I snapped out of it but ended up going too far to the left, hit the side, and flipped. I pulled my deck, heard Niamh and Matt both telling me to look at Derek who then tossed me a line. He pulled me to the side and Beth gave me her hand and helped me out. I tried to walk up the bank, but my legs gave way and Beth and Derek told me to sit down. I had survived without banging my head. Before we left Dog Leg, Nathan got me to run the last section again. He gave me very little choice, he knew I needed to do it.
Paddling downstream I felt great. Little Nath helped me off another rock, then we came to the last drop before Low Force get-out. I got in the eddy behind little Nath with big Nathan below the drop, his parting words to me were “aim straight for Nathan”. I paddled out the eddy with Niamh behind me, I saw Nathan followed by the all-familiar call, loud-and-clear from below… “Scott stroke!!”. I went over the small drop, hit the boil and paddled through to the end.
My day was done, after getting a squeeze off Kyle. Summary This weekend, I went feeling anxious with memories of a horrible day in 2019 when I wasn’t ready, and I left with confidence from two great days on the water, with great people. When the white-water intros come up again, I fully recommend you speaking to one of the leaders about them. Not only is paddling moving water good fun, you do it with amazing people and you never know, you might end up with your own Obi-Wan Kenobi voice!!!