What sort of 54 year old woman gets herself into this kind of predicament?

“Well, I’ve lived 15 years on the canals and never seen this before!”

The sun is shining on a beautiful spring day. As I float past him, standing on my paddle board, along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, Phil the narrow boat owner seems interested in my strange pursuit so I stop to chat.

I’m training for my “PaddleboardTheNorth” adventure in the summer. For this I will ‘stand up paddle board’ a total of 162 miles from Liverpool to Goole in Yorkshire along the Desmond Family Canoe Trail, fundraising and highlighting what we can all do to help tackle the problem of plastic pollution on our waterways.

I’m also keen to show how being by or on the water is wonderful for our mental and emotional wellbeing. Phil of course already understands the joy of the canals, having chosen to spend his life here. I’m tempted to accept his offer of a cup of tea, but I need to move on. This is my day off work, my chance to get some training in. I have a plan to keep to.

Everywhere I paddle along the canal I meet people to chat to. Hikers, cyclists, boat owners and lock keepers. Old and young, there’s a palpable sense of appreciation. With friends or alone, their lives are enriched by the canal experience.

“She’d be better off walking” I hear an older chap mutter as he passes me for the second time further down the canal. He’s not wrong. I’ve never professed to be the fastest or strongest paddle boarder and with five locks to navigate I’ve been going at a snail’s pace. It’s beautifully relaxing today but as I am aiming for 16 -18 miles in July, I’m going to need to get better at speeding up.

Narrow boats of course go through the locks. I, on the other hand, have to get back onto the bank, walk the paddle board round and get back in again. Sometimes from a stone landing spot and sometimes from the bank, this is where I am the most vulnerable to falling in. With one leg on the board and one on the side, I always focus myself to make the transition as carefully as possible. I’m grateful for yoga lessons and strong leg muscles. Too much weight in the wrong place and the board can either move from the bank or tip. Either way I would soon be in the canal.

“Oh, that looks an interesting manoeuvre!” says a lady as she watches me lower the board onto the canal a while later. “We’ll watch you get in!”

“Yes,” grins her companion. “And I have my phone here to record you if you fall in!” He chuckles to himself as I imagine how embarrassing my sons would find it if their mother’s paddle boarding mishaps went viral.

“Anyway, good luck on your adventure in the summer!” they shout as I wave goodbye (thankfully dry and in good order). “Keep picking up the litter”.

The importance of litter picking is one of the main purposes of my PaddleboardTheNorth adventure. I’m fundraising for two amazing causes. First, The Wave Project – a charity that helps young people gain confidence and self belief through proven surf therapy programmes. Second, the 2 Minute Beach Clean community, a not for profit organisation that encourages us to take two minutes each day to pick up litter, whether we are on the beach, on our way to work or indeed by a
canal. As well as fundraising, I will be doing my own 2 Minute Canal Clean each day.

Fundraising, litter picking, sharing the joy of the water – these are all part of my summer adventure. The timing is important too.

This autumn my youngest son will go to university and at 54, I will be starting a new chapter in my life. I’ll return home to our little cottage on the edge of the Dales after work and it will be quiet. Just me. No longer a school run Mum, I’ll be an empty nester.

After bumping into a friend who described herself as ‘bereft’ at this new chapter in her life, I’ve decided I want to embrace the change. I don’t underestimate how hard it will be, but I want to face it with excitement and new possibility as far as I can. I am keen as well to show my boys that I have a lot going on, that I’m busy with friends and projects. I want them to know I will be fine and they don’t need to worry about me.

The sun is gently going down behind the hills in the distance and I am returning back to Lock 31 where I started this morning. My picnic (a peanut butter sandwich in a beeswax wrap eaten on my paddleboard in the midday sunshine) was hours ago and I’m desperate for a cup of tea. One more lock and I’ll be there.

The bank is a little steeper so I carefully pick my way down. Popping my board on the water I suddenly find, without warning, the mud and grass breaking off and slipping into the canal. I am about to follow when I realise there are two pieces of wood sticking up vertically like a small fence in between.

I hop on and squat there perched like a tiny bird. I am not entirely sure what to do, other than be grateful that I am still dry!

What sort of 54 year old woman gets herself into this kind of predicament, I wonder? And how am I going to get out of it?
I start to laugh. Chuckling at how odd I must look.

And maybe that’s part of PaddleboardTheNorth too. Maybe it is not just my sons I need to convince I will be OK when they fly the nest towards their own adventures.

Maybe this is about allaying my own lingering doubts about my abilities. If I can navigate the canals, the locks, the things that go wrong, maybe I can navigate this new chapter in my life. I hope you’ll join me and see.

Jo Moseley is a midlife adventurer and will be blogging for Audrey about her “PaddleboardTheNorth” adventure in the summer. For more info go to: @Healthyhappy50

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