It was a challenge of epic proportions. Dr Martin Lee set off just over three months ago on a solo circumnavigation of the United Kingdom – in a kayak. Setting himself the target of completing the 2,600 mile journey in 100 days, he had to spend nearly every day at sea, finding beaches and coves to sleep in at night.
It has been attempted before, but this was the first solo attempt. Raising money for the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, we interviewed him just before he set off. You can read that interview here.
Back on dry land, and having successfully completed his journey ahead of schedule (in 97 days) we caught up with him to find out how he is feeling, how he coped with the solitude and what he has learnt…
GURU: Firstly Martin, a huge congratulations. It’s only been a few days since you completed the challenge, how are you feeling?
Martin: Pretty knackered. The last three months have caught up on me and I’m now feeling physically and mentally exhausted.
G: Having accomplished what you set out to do (and three days ahead of schedule), do you feel any different about the challenge and would you consider doing anything like this again?
M: My primary goal was to raise £100,000 for the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) and I have fallen well short of that target. I do feel a sense of disappointment about this, although I accept that the target was very ambitious (£26,000 raised at time of writing). I have however raised a great deal of awareness about NRAS and rheumatoid arthritis – which is very important to me.
In terms of personal achievement, I feel immensely proud to have kayaked solo around the entirety of the UK mainland. I would never consider undertaking the same circumnavigation again – but I do have a few other challenges in mind!G: A solo circumnavigation of the UK in a kayak is a hugely dangerous undertaking. Were there any times when you felt that your life was in danger?
M: Quite a few! The time i probably felt most unsafe was when i was crossing the Bristol Channel. In retrospect, I took many risks completing this crossing in order to arrive at a fundraising event in time. I launched from Lundy Island in the pitch black, in surf, and at 4am in the morning. I paddled continuously for almost 12 hours into strong headwinds and cross tides. There were times that I felt I couldn’t physically carry on but I somehow made it across.
In the 97 days I only capsized once when I was hit by huge waves (in excess of 5 metres) off the coast of North-East Scotland. I was washed up on rocks with my kayak although fortunately there was only minor damage to my body and my kayak. I did lose quite a lot of kit however.
G: What were the highs and lows? Did you think about giving up?
M: Theher played a huge part in the highs and lows. The high point was kayaking up the west coast of Scotland through the Inner Hebrides in fantastic sunshine and flat, calm waters. My biggest low was when it had been raining continuously for a week and it was freezing cold. I was stormbound on a rocky beach in Cumbria and had no dry clothes. My sleeping bag and ‘bivvy’ bag were both full of water and I was jumping up and down throughout the night to try and stay warm. At this point I kept thinking ‘what the hell am I doing?’!
G: How did you cope with the solitude? Was it difficult to keep yourself sane for three months of continuous kayaking?
M: Fortunately I have a beautiful singing voice, so I could entertain myself when paddling on my own all day! It was very emotionally draining paddling continuously on your own continuously for over 3 months – and I certainly experienced significant emotional highs and lows throughout my trip.
G: How many hours a day did you average?
M: I paddled for over 570 hours to get around the UK. When you take into account the days I was stormbound, I paddled for an average of 7 hours non-stop each day.G: Was eating and drinking enough difficult?
M: I found it tough to eat the 6,000kcal/day that was recommended as well as take on enough fluid. Pretty early on I decided not to stop each day for lunch as my body temperature dropped very quickly as soon as I stopped. I lost about a stone and a half during my trip.
In terms of injuries and illnesses, I was relatively fortunate. The only issues were blistered hands, an infected toe, a torn shoulder muscle and tendonitis in my hands and fingers.
G: Was keeping your personal belongings safe and finding safe places to camp difficult?
M: It was difficult to pick suitable places to sleep. Often I wanted to be close enough to a pub or cafe so that I could have something to eat and drink, restock on water and recharge the batteries on my communication devices. I also wanted to stay far away from people so not to bother anyone and attract undue attention! At times I didn’t get this balance right!
Well done Martin, we’re in awe!