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Halfway through

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

Challenge 20 - Do 10 continuous long arm pull ups. I really wanted my row to be number 21 so on it's completion I could say I'm halfway done, but with postponing the South Downs Way ride I would be off, so I scoured the list and contemplated which one could possibly be squeezed in amongst the chaos. All the rowing, biking and swimming meant that my current strength to weight ratio is good, so capitalising on this advantage meant that I just ensured was consistently doing at least 10 pull ups a day, in any increments. Although I'd set a date for this one to be complete by mid July I achieved it on the last day of June! I would still like to be able to do 10 on my 42nd birthday... an extension but I got my tick.


TWENTY ONE! 100 miles - Two friends went to row... went to row the Cornish coast! This was the adventure that spawned the others, after my Resilience Weekend with Nicki Bass, and the subsequent podcasts she sent, I wondered about a way of travelling between my two favourite places and rowing just jumped to mind. The plan that I came up with on May 15th last year was different to the one we did, initially I contemplated rowing Lizzie (my mother's 14ft Yealm Regatta boat) from Noss Mayo to Penberth, both places within walking distances to Mum's house and to the cottage of my Mother-in-Law, Rosemary. I figured it might take 8-9 days, I wondered about wild camping and the logistics were a worry. She's a fairly heavy boat to get on and off trailers even with 3 people, and the speeds we could row her at were another concern. Knowing I'd need childcare for probably 2 weeks all said and done was a big ask. The safety of an estuary boat in potentially choppy coastal waters was the biggest issue but I thought with some extra buoyancy etc it could be done. My friend Laura just happened to be on line at the same time as I posted my idea, this in itself was serendipity as I was rarely on social media at this stage and neither was she, so within days I had an accomplice. I knew that to keep the idea alive I needed to keep talking about it like it was going to happen, but I needed advice. I bumped into a local boat builder Phil on the pontoon at the end of last summer, he said it was doable but a Carter boat would be better... he assumed that naturally we'd be going East (okay, now fixed) his wife Kairen regularly rows hers around the Mewstone. I did more thinking, mostly when doing laps of the pool as there's not much else to do, constantly asking myself how to make this challenge achievable but true to the initial idea, but still it was a long way off so I would drift into ideas about the other challenges I was doing. I got the Erg computer fixed in November, and then when that was working then realised the bungee was broken, another delay... I knew that fitness was massive requirement, but also still a minor part of the whole. On New Year's Eve I had a cup of tea with a local legend Mark; his knowledge of the seas (and his knowledge of me) made me do a big re-think. I could do it in a Regatta boat, but in seas above Sea State 3 I'd have to sit it out. A Mayflower would be plenty stable though, but to do it in that would be heavier and slower and even more logistics than Lizzie... I went for an early New Year's Day surf, it was dark when I left, my hangover hurt but the sea gave me new ideas, so if I wasn't going to do it in Lizzie I'd need a different boat, but sack off heavier... what if I could go lighter? A very quick internet search found me Bob, and ever since he has been integral to this adventure. Bob's rapid reply to my request to rent a skiff off him was positive but cautious, he'd think about it and get back to me within the week. Perhaps 2 days later he came back with a plan. He'd want to see us in singles and then a double and then he'd think about it more in the mean time he'd like an email outlining more about us, our current skill level and intentions would help him contemplate it. A date towards the end of March was planned and in the mean time I got busy on the erg. From 2nd Jan to 15th Feb I'd already accrued 220km on the machine, I was beginning to feel very strong and very positive. But then I took a massive concussion to my coccyx, probably fractured. An x-ray would be of no benefit as the treatment was the same regardless. The first 4 days of healing was not ideal, looking after my busy 2 year old and the 16 hour seated drive back from Austria was ridiculous, my upper body strength did allow me to manoeuvre fairly well and take much of my weight when the pain was acute. Would I be ready in time for our first date with Bob... I daren't tell him, I daren't think about it, I just wanted to heal and heal quickly. The 100 mile South Downs Way mountain bike in late April would need to be postponed, but hopefully not this, could I still recover in time? The date grew ever closer, it was going to be tight, I decided that I would go regardless and Laura would get a row, we'd get to meet in person and chat and plan the next one. Luckily for me several days before a storm blew in and Bob said we wouldn't be able to take the boats out. I confessed my predicament, a new date got scheduled, one I felt I'd be ready for. As the new date approached I was starting to feel nervous, had we bitten off more than we could chew?


Around this time I had had another thought, that a way of involving our families would be to create curriculum matching our charities that our sons could do whilst we would be rowing. Great idea but then it dawned on me not only would I have to convince the schools to let us but the teaching material would need to be high enough quality and be standalone, ie so self explanatory that they can exist on their own without accompanying instructions. This is a lofty idea but slightly bonkers as I was also working 4 days a week, training, working on other challenges and general life stuff. And I have never taught KS1... so more learning and advice was required.


The day for our first training session drew closer, and then a day before Bob called with bad news, the weather was not good enough. I pleaded and begged and then said can we come anyway and just chat, luckily when we got there he agreed that we could go out a little bit. We explained that we would be going out in all weather; less dangerous seas luckily the launch was adequate and he capitulated and let us row. Our first session was 2 hours in the pouring horizontal rain and hail. We both loved it, and practically grinned non-stop. Laura managed to get from almost beginner to a safe bet in rather tricky conditions. We went and had coffee and curry in the cafe, Bob said he liked the plan, that night he let us know that he would procure a new double, the one we could use for the challenge, it was beginning to get real. Our first go in the double was on 27th May, the new boat had arrived the day before our second session. I think in total we had 5 sessions with Bob in Studland Bay before we embarked on the big little row, 2 in the singles and 3 in the double. In all I managed to complete 750km of training distance before we set off, along with swimming and mountain biking to increase my strength. What made it all seem feasible in my mind was having an excellent plan B. We couldn't sit and wait for the right conditions, we had a small window of childcare and that was it. So I figured that we needed a safe but challenging alternative if the weather wouldn't allow launching. Raising money for the RNLI was one of our goals, I couldn't fathom us needing rescuing (and therefore costing the RNLI money) so I thought that taking our mountain bikes and doing the most coasterly route (approx 35 miles a day) with 2/3 stops and a sea swim and litter pick at each would be sufficiently equitable to rowing (approx 25 miles). This gave us so much confidence that whatever happened we would travel the whole distance in a suitable fashion. That and the vast amount of planning, the coord instructions, the route card, the volume of research... the constant evaluation of all the details.


The ToughGirl Podcast has a closed FaceBook group and from within in I was able to contact Guin Batten who a quick internet search will highlight her amazing credentials, anyway she was happy to advise me, but on the critical issues. Guin was rigorous about tides, overfalls, tidal gates etc. She made me up my game another notch, I am so grateful to her, I had not been ignoring it but I had been giving it quite the focus it deserved.


Aside from lifejackets, flares, capsize drills, overfall training etc one of our safety systems was using the RYA SafeTX app, when I registered the boat and my PLB etc I had the boat down as unnamed, which looked too sad. I autonomously and unofficially named her Basha. Bob didn't mind, I think he even likes it and so let me use my letter stickers on her prow. She will always be Basha, and one day she might be mine... Laura and I were Basha buddies at Sandhurst, (the word comes from the Assamese and is a hut or temporary shelter). Another thing we did was phone Falmouth Coastguard every morning to outline our intentions, on day 3 as I called though the chap on the other end said 'ah, good Morning Dani, a fine day for it, enjoy your row', this cheered us up immensely. There are so many boats out there, but really in the grand scheme of things there aren't that many adventures like ours. There are those higher profile and bigger scope ones like Lewis Pugh’s swim, Ross Edgely’s swim, Laura Try’s row, Guin's Foot of Britain rowing team, a SUPer or kayaker or two… but our big little row fits in somewhere. A gig has circumnavigated Cornwall (including the Tamar and dragging it on a trailer for the 8ish mile bit that stops Kernow being an island!)


This is such a brief run down of how we went from the idea about 14 months prior, to the start line. We agreed that even beginning on day 1 was the success. We followed our friend (and Atlantic rower) Dave's advice that 1, stay safe, 2, stay friends and 3, get the job done. We did the first 2 to the letter; safety was paramount, not one argument was had and as for completing... read on!


On Friday 12th July last day of term I was granted permission to leave early as I had no lessons and my tutor group were year 11 and had long since left. My van was pre-packed, i got home in the lady bug jumped into Snail and met Laura at our usual RV, the Crown and Cushion, after a quick chat Laura jumped ship from the Landy and we we were off and headed West to meet Bob at Bere Regis to get Basha. A diversion on route took us past her parents house so a rapid coffee was inevitable, and it felt perfect to have got the chance to pow-wow with her folks. Once in Devon we were able to move Basha from Snail to Big Blue Willy... and relax with a curry. Saturday was a gentle start with a surf at Mothecombe, but with no real waves we sea swam instead. We met Liz another adventurous soul and swapped podcast recommendations as you do... (me - ToughGirl, her - Don't tell me the score) between bobbing and swooshing the tiny breakers. Then it was final kit check and off to Houses Farm for our first night, obviously we had to show Laura what a Jelberts is and look at Helen Glover's Gold Postbox and admire her oar! A diversion through Mousehole and a quick recce of Lamorna to calm our nerves, and then the obligatory carbo loading at the Logan Rock... any excuse!


So on finally on Sunday 14th July we set off to coastal row 100 miles along the Cornish coast on our very own adventure. We launched at Lamorna Cove straight into a strong headwind, 100 miles of this was not going to be easy and silent swearing at the enormity of the challenge achieved nothing, butt pain was intense but not worsening so got dismissed as discomfort, but little by little we realised we were making the necessary progress and crossed Mounts Bay in an arc south of St Michael's Mount to Porthleven. A pit stop always can improve things and we then tracked down the Lizard. We managed to round the Lizard Point tidal gates perfectly to plan and chicaned through the rocks with ease; all the Almanac study and overfall training worked beautifully, I totally cried with joy. Despite head winds nearly all day we made excellent progress and chose to push on to Cadgwith rather than land at Polpeor. The buildings at the Lizard were amazing, especially the big black fog horns. The new RNLI station with the curved roof and funicular railway down made me very excited. Dropping a plastic bag that covered my map made me very sad, we did 3 circles to try and get it back on board, just as we felt that capsizing was not worth saving the bag we managed to get it. Once Basha was back on the van we took a quick visit down to see Lizard Point from land, It was hard not to tell random strangers what we had just done. We spent the night at Henry's, possibly the most magical campsite I've ever been to. Laura's magnificent veg curry, some map planning and yoga rounded out a huge day. The day that made us realise how good the plan was, how capable we are and our confidence in Basha soared. I think we slept well!


Day two was Cadgewith to Caerhays, with brief but exhilarating surf landings and launches at Porthkerris and Towan beaches, no matter what we did a set of waves seemed to always accompany these manoeuvres! One morning beach clean at Cadgwith, and after chatting to local fishermen who wished us luck in such 'dirty water' we were off again, and started the day full of confidence. After a tricky rounding of Black Cap and just past Gorran Haven we stopped to watch a family of seals, and realised the tide had probably pushed us 1/2 click backwards whilst we had been admiring the sealife. We also passed the mouth of the Helford and the Fal, it was our longest passage but we knew once we'd finished day 2 we'd done more than half the distance. 9 hours on the boat in lumpy seas and very heavy chop on headlands, but ended with two very happy rowers! .


On day three we went from Caerhays to Millendreath with our planned pasty stop at Readymoney Cove (the cafe have recycled cups you use and return, no single use plastics at this beach!). The first stretch was extremely long against both tide and wind, it just didn't seem to end but we battled on and on, finally the pit stop emerged just as I had been questioning my planning it was not a mirage and the reverse oasis came into view, thank god... and it was magic. The second stage was with the tide and hundreds of self-named giant 'ghost pearl moon' jellyfish along gorgeous coastline and a cheeky stop at St George's Isle to 'tinker' with the gate. On arrival at our landing zone we found out the source of the missing seagull and Laura's inability to row a full stroke (she had stoically suffered in silence!). One of the tracks that allow the seat to slide had gradually moved bow-ward, each judder backwards must have emitted the squawking like noise that I kept asking Laura to point out to me. Wonderful Rachel met us at the beach and then camped with us. She'd cycled from North of Tavistock to a full days work in Plymouth and then from work to us; legend.


Day four and final rowing day was Millendreath to Noss Mayo with a Rame Head pitstop and a loop round the Mewstone. It was a sublime and serene morning with mirror seas and no wind, our rowing was synchronised, slow and smooth but so speedy that we got to East Gear (neck of the Dragon) way ahead of schedule and had to stop for a long lazy lunch and beach clean. The last stretch to Noss Mayo was choppy across the sound and we enjoyed weaving between the Naval ships manouvering. It was nice and challenging around the sea facing tip of the Mewstone, fun after the serene morning waters. Outlaw was hidden behind the Mewstone so it was a wonderful surprise to see her with family and great friends aboard, she accompanied us in to the estuary to moor up, and we boosted onwards to find that we were so early into the creek that we had to stop for a shandy at the Swan Inn. This unplanned pause was a real joy and we pinched ourselves while waiting so that the tide rose enough for us to clear the Voss and row the final 25 metres to Noss Hard and our end point. Naturally the done thing was to have another shandy at The Ship. Once the boat admin was done and Basha was safely loaded onto Snail we had time for some much re-gifted Lanson in the hot tub and then supper at the Dolphin completed an unexpected extra result... a complete Newton and Noss pub crawl!


A whole blog could be dedicated to Lizzie, my indomitable intrepid mother whose can-do approach and bucketloads of initiative meant the land affairs were well taken care of. Dropping us at our launch beach, checking comms, collapsing camp, moving to mid-point rendez-vous, checking in to new campsites, meeting us at our landing beach, helping us load up, and last but not least heating up supper (we pre-cooked) and making incredible (and thankfully edible- brie, cranberry, peanut butter and cheddar!) sandwich combinations. We re-paid her with vast amounts of gratitude and daily tea in bed.


On day 5 we had always planned to surf at Mothecombe beach, but as we had not used our bikes all week due to the incredible weather window, we decided to ride them to Mothecombe estuary and then swam across to the Wannell side and back. We also did a quick litter pick, and met lovely Marja. Handing Basha back was surprisingly difficult, what an awesome beautiful boat. Returning Laura safely to her family was equally interesting; she had chosen to do this yet I felt a huge responsibility for ensuring her safety. This blog is but the the barest of bones of an incredible adventure.


The challenge was itself, but it grew amazing arms and lovely legs. The goal became to raise awareness on a number of related topics and associated charities via funds raised, stories shared, beaches swept and lessons told. We proved to ourselves that we can continue to do challenges as working mothers, and that it is so vital to our mental and physical health. Both of us have had hip surgery and some postnatal conditions, so to show that recovery and even improvement is achievable is highly empowering. By viewing this venture more holistically we developed a trip that we are proud to have done, one that educates and inspires our children on themes that we are passionate about. The introductions and follow up presentations to the schools were a challenge in their own right. This is one of the best things I have ever done. Memories of the sea linger, long after the blisters have healed!


The charities (we've raised nearly 5k) and lessons:

Day 1 - Plastic Pollution in the Sea - Surfers Against Sewage - a marine conservation and campaigning charity.

Day 2 - Safety at Sea - RNLI - who keep our British coastal waters safe & Refugee Rescue in the Med

Day 3 - Opportunity and Privilege - Tushinde Children's Trust - an organisation enabling vulnerable families in Nairobi to thrive.

Day 4 - Tidal Rhythms and Ocean Life to help understand aspects of our trip better

If you'd like the pdfs leave your email in the comments section.


We are so grateful to everyone who made this possible and the biggest thank yous to mum Lizzie, husbands Rupert and Keith, mother-in-laws Rosemary and Sue, au pair Julia, childminder Eryn and to finally to brilliant Bob Cottell of http://www.coastalrowing.co.uk for his positivity, calmness, training, advice and use of the boat, oars and extra kit. You have helped change this challenge from dream to reality.


Finally, I got interviewed about this:

http://traffic.libsyn.com/toughgirlchallenges/02_Dani_French_and_Hannah_Dayan.mp3


I'll add the pictures after I have made the sauerkraut I've also been procrastinating over!


My current challenge I am on is 6 months buying NO new stuff (less food), so far so good one month in and it's going brilliantly, but then again I haven't been tested by big birthdays and Christmas yet...

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