It was very dark at the start.
A stong squall blew through with a lot of hail, I couldn't even see the mussel crates that had been on the slipway as I launched. The wind was cold and the hail stung as it hit your exposed skin.
Once the squall had passed and John was back from parking the car and on the water, I set off. After about 15 minutes, as we approached Y Felinheli, John suddenly appeared 20-30 metres to my right (he always gets a better line on this thing) singing "Happy Birthday to you!". Clearly he wasn't putting as much effort in as he usually would, or the man has phenomenal reserves of lung capacity. I'm not sure which it is? It was still pretty dark.
A little later, I passed Plas Newydd I was rewarded with a really breathtaking view of the low winter sun slowly rising over the Britannia Bridge. The picture below really doesn't do it justice, as it was taken on my phone through a waterproof case, but hopefully you'll get the idea.
Despite having got up so early and having had a busy week (so being completely knackered after a weekend of Storm Gathering) and busting a gut trying to paddle as quickly as I could to improve on my time, I realised as I was alone on the water. John was a good eight or nine hundred metres ahead by now. I had this little moment to contemplate what life's really all about as I sat in my boat watching the world go by and witnessing the dawn of another day. It put things into perspective for me a little. Work is just that, work, but life, well that's for living and you really should make the most of every moment. There are things that happen everyday, but amongst those things are the opportunities to experience little miracles and moments that you will treasure for ever. The last time I'd felt a sense of awe & wonder like this in the outdoors was 11 years earlier, on Mt. Meru, again knackered. However, watching the sunrise over Kilimanjaro and the African plain was breathtaking, but then I'd been able to share the experience with my wife (who was suffering with the altitude, bless her, as she shared in one of my ambitions). I took my phone out and snapped it, after all there was no-one else in the world experiencing exactly what I was at that time and from my perspective and I felt I wanted to share it. It was a special moment, but it also made me think about the fact that after 6 months hard graft getting the shop up & running, I've missed a lot of special moments with my wife, my kids (who are growing up so quickly and those special moments will NEVER be repeated) and time that should be spent with friends (you never now how long you have to spend with the people that really matter in your life). There's more to life than work!
That sunrise brought my tired and clapped out body a little splash of invigoration and I decided that I really needed to dig a little deeper if I was going to beat my previous personal best, I tucked the phone away and dug in.
I checked my time at Britannia Bridge, I was about the same as my previous effort, I kept paddling hard through the Swellies and reached Menai Bridge, a quick glance at the clock showed me that I had the edge on my previous best and could beat it if I could keep going at that pace.
As I passed Bangor Pier, I was blowing hard and working really hard, pressing hard on my footpegs with every paddle stroke, rotating to increase the power in the catch phase of each paddle stroke and noticing the restriction caused by my PFD* gripping my "rounded abdomen**". As the sea was so glassy, I made a conscious decision to lose a few seconds removing my PFD to improve my ability to breathe and rotate. I stowed it under the deck elastics so it was within easy reach should I capsize, but began padling as hard as I could, I was going to beat my time, the question was by how much?
Considering the late night I'd had the night before helping a diesel-less damsel in distress on the A55 (didn't get to bed until 01:00) and the foul weather immediately before starting (I was sitting in my boat as a strong squall of hail blew through, I couldn't see the front of my boat at one point) and the fact that I had now reached the ripe old age of 43, I was pretty pleased with my performance and shaved 2:40 off my previous personal best. I went for a light breakfast with John (I'd only had a StarBar and a muesli bar for fuel prior to paddling), just a bacon roll and a coffee. Then we headed back to complete the shuttle and went our seperate ways, I was returning home to spend the day with my family (my Mum was up visiting), the kids were on half-term and we were going to have a proper birthday tea with Jelly & Ice Cream.
*PFD - Personal Flotation Device (also known as a Bouyancy Aid or Lifejacket, although the latter is slightly different in construction & performance)
**Rounded Abdomen - a more polite way of saying "fat gut", but more Menai Challenge times should see this reduced.