Nobody really enjoys running the shuttle, but for river paddlers it is a necessary evil to enable our one way, downriver travel. But how about making it part of the adventure?
Seeing the canal frozen earlier this week I found myself reminiscing on a self conceived ‘Adventure Duathlon’ I had in a freezing cold South Wales a few winters ago. I wanted to test the Pyranha Speeder on some whitewater but was alone in the Brecon Beacons training for the Great Glen Paddle and had no support. I hatched a plan to park at the river get out at Llangynidr, and paddle the ‘shuttle run’ on the Monmouth and Brecon Canal to the aqueduct where it crosses the River Usk. There I would carry the boat down to the river and paddle back to Llangynidr via the Usk’s grade 2-3 whitewater rapids. It would be a long day but achievable.
Alas, when I parked up at Llangynidr the next morning there was a substantial problem; the canal was frozen! A quick test showed the ice was too thick to break easily and the constant effort of ice breaking with the bow would therefore be exhausting. I needed a new plan…
I decided to take a few risks with equipment and found a discreet place to lock my mountain bike before driving to Brecon. With my ‘shuttle’ prepared I stashed a stripped down biking pack in the Speeder‘s cavernous hatch, made some dressing compromises between the requirements to bike and boat, taking into account the freezing weather, and got underway.
Following a straightforward 2 mile ‘not frozen’ canal paddle I reached the aqueduct and carried the loaded Speeder down to the river’s edge where the real adventure began, a 9 mile whitewater river paddle.
I had not paddled the Usk from Brecon to Talybont so this section was not only the first time on moving water in the Speeder, it was the first time running this part of the river. That said, the Usk is a fairly benign G2 at this stage and only one horizon line posed enough menace to warrant inspection and this was run with ease by the surprisingly capable boat.
The next section kicks up to G3 water, but I was familiar with the river from Talybont to Llangynidr and knew the challenges I would face. However, although the Speeder was handling well but it is still a long, narrow boat and I was alone on a very cold winters day; an unexpected swim could very quickly develop into a serious situation. It was with this in mind that I peeled out of the eddy above Mill Falls and concentrated on making the line. Mill Falls was the most serious rapid I would encounter and I came out unscathed, even having the confidence to try out a few ferry glides at the bottom of the rapids.
Soon after the river paddle was complete and I carried my boat and kit up the bank, stowed everything as discreetly as possible and prepared for running the shuttle by MTB. Taking the risk of leaving my deck, buoyancy aid, dry suit and paddles with the boat, I was off and away on the bike.
This final stage was an 11 mile cycle on the canal towpath back to Brecon. With most of the risk behind me I was able to relax and enjoy this stage, although I didn’t want to hang around too much knowing a lot of expensive kit was stashed by a riverside! So, back in ‘The Dub‘ I quickly set about recovering my boat and kit before heading to a wild ‘vamping’ spot to reflect on a day well spent and plan my next adventure.
Since this time I’ve regularly replaced a vehicle shuttle with a trail run, MTB or road ride and occasionally a canal paddle, such as this exciting day on the River Wye. I’ve spent several days in both the French Alps and Slovenia river paddling with just the van, running all the shuttles by foot or bike. I always try and stash my boat and gear discreetly and have not had any issues with stolen kit. I’d thoroughly recommend it as a cheap, easy, environmentally friendly and adventurous way of sorting the shuttle…