Our morning began with a pair of train rides from Teddington to Kew Bridge. We had arranged to make a pair of presentations at Green Dragon Primary School. The first was to older students, and the second to the younger set. The pupils were enthusiastic, had been well prepared for our arrival, and asked great questions. My favourite was: “Where do you go to the bathroom?” Three train rides got us back to Teddington.
We caught a taxi from our hotel back to the the Royal Canoe Club, where we were met by Harry and a tandem kayak, bright yellow. We donned warmer paddling gear and life jackets, stowed our belongings in water-tight compartments, and waved Harry goodbye. He was to meet us later in the day.
Two locks were ahead of us. The first was Teddington, but when we arrived, rather than entering the lock and having the water drain to lower us to our next level, the lockkeeper told us to paddle to the side of the lock, get out, and use a system of rollers to bypass the lock. It seemed a bit rude of us to do this, as a swan was incubating eggs on a nest immediately beside the rollers. She watched us carefully as we passed.
Richmond lock is part-way along the tidal section of the River Thames. It maintains the level of the river between Teddington and Richmond, but is only needed at low tide. At high tide, boats sail straight over it. We missed the opportunity to paddle straight over by a few minutes, and so used another system of rollers to portage around the lock.
And so we had left the freshwater portion of the River Thames behind us, and were now in the Thames Estuary. With each stroke of our paddles, the water will become saltier. With locks done, the day of paddling was now about the great city of London and her bridges. Beautiful bridges with glorious histories intimately tied to the history of the city. To me, the names of the bridges spoke of that history – Hammersmith, Chiswick, Kew, Chelsea, Albert…
As we approached Battersea Bridge, we found that it was under restoration, and that some of the arches were not available for passage. I pulled our VHF radio out of my lifejacket pocket. As instructed, I depressed the button on the side and spoke.
“Batttersea Control Kilo Kayak. Over.” Battersea Control acknowledged that it had heard us.
“Battersea Control Kilo Kayak plantation wharf outward bound permission to proceed. Over.” Battersea Control told us that it wished us to proceed through arch number four.
“Battersea Control Kilo Kayak understood. Arch number four. Kilo Kayak out.” It felt kind of magical, and Krista said that my excitement at having correctly completed the transmission had made me paddle more quickly.
We met Harry at the side of the river, immediately after the Victoria Railway Bridge, across from the disused Battersea Power Station. With the help of his friend Olaf, we hauled the kayak up a set of crumbling stairs and across a very busy street to leave it in the yard of one of Harry’s friends in the district of Pimlico. We agreed to meet there the following morning at 11:00 to resume paddling.
Krista and I now set all of our belongings at the side of the busy street. It took about thirty minutes to hail a taxi, and the drive through the evening crush of traffic required a long time, but our patience was rewarded by the inspiring story of the driver. Bob explained that he had managed to shed one hundred pounds of body weight over the past year. He showed us a “before’ picture on his telephone; he was a new person. In order to celebrate his new life, Bob was planning on training to run the London Marathon in two year’s time. It was going to be a long journey for Bob. Something like Falling Down the Thames.