Thanh shares his thoughts on a memorable end to a memorable year

Blessed with summery weather, mesmerising scenery and memorable company, the Regents Alps trip of 2019 was the definite highlight of my first year kayaking with Regents Canoe Club.

Anticipation and preparation were the key themes running through the preceding weeks. From Lee Valley practice to last-minute kit shopping to the countless YouTube videos on Alpine runs. We had WhatsApp groups firing up, subdividing people into as many separate categories as possible. There were people discussing rivers whose names were mumbo jumbo to me at the time. I thought I was ready, only to be gobsmacked by the sheer beauty and geography of the French Alps. The drive was long, but never tedious. With Ralph at the wheel and Belle on the playlist, I knew I was in good hands (plus, both speak French!).

Our first paddle on Espace Eau Vive was good fun and an important warm-up for what’s to come. Necessary for me as I broke in the Axiom (in hindsight, mildly foolish but extremely rewarding). Once we reached Briancon, I could barely contain the excitement. The adrenaline alone must have shuffled all memories of the next six days into an ecstatic mess. So instead of trying to recount the day-by-day action, I’d like to reflect on the most memorable moments/feelings in the Alps.

  • Ed, Mark, Dave and Julie ran an incredibly well organised trip, despite the quintessential Regents faff. We got to run at least 2 rivers on most days. The leaders were helpful and patient with first-timers, instilling calmness and confidence. Even with the inevitable boat chases people just kept getting back up, cheered on by everyone else. I’d never appreciated so strongly that kayaking is as much a team sport as football or cricket, only that your life depends on others around you.
  • My favourite section is arguably the gorge on the Upper Guil, breath-taking landscape, gorgeous drops and technical eddies. Also memorable because I had my first boat chase on the Alps. After a certain someone, whom shall not be named, nailed the nice gorge-y bit, whooping as he boofed down the last drop, and capsized on an eddy line. I instinctively sprinted after the Burn, like an eager Labrador, only to realise Aisling’s voice in my head (oh shit!) as I kept chase down an unfamiliar class 3 rapid. I turned, and saw Dave right on my tail. Phew! Calamity averted. We got the boat to the side, Aisling joined us shortly after, and not-too-shortly after, Matt showed up with the paddle.
  • The piece de resistance: my first five-river day – Lower Claree, Middle Claree from the bridge, BTG, Briacon du Prelle, and the Upper Gyronde. The Upper Gyronde was on massive level – probably not the best idea for the very last run of the 5-river day on a 7-day river trip. We were focused, and I could feel the trust and concentration Dave and Adam had on me, and on one another should stuff (me) hit the fan (rock). It was the most rewarding paddle I’d had in my first year kayaking. All thanks to Andrew, Dave Calamity, Adam the Gnarl and Clarissa and Liza for shuttling.
  • On a less sentimental note, some other lessons learnt this trip:
    • Holes. Bad. Avoid.
    • So are weirs, unless you follow your leader straight into one (sorry, Ralph)
    • Aisling is Super Cool! #teamAsh