I've been paddling alone along the south coast for nine days. I'm getting careless and I'm getting lazy. Why careless? Because poor planning has just given me a generally hair-raising day. A little pre-thought and common sense might have helped me to avoid finding myself utterly exhausted in a chunky swell, with miles of grim cliffs between me and my intended destination. But hell, when has hindsight ever been any use? Why lazy? Because after surviving everything the South Devon coast can throw at me, there is no way I'm going to waste my valuable energy and motivation on something as minor as putting a tent up.
I see it while I'm dragging my over-laden sea kayak (I carried umpteen tins of beans for 400 miles and never opened one) up the beach. A 'mouse-hole' opening in the cliffs rimming the cove, above the high water mark with a flat sandy floor. Perfect, no fiddling around with wonky tent pegs tonight.
Whilst I cook up a nutritious dinner of dehydrated 'Beanfeast' Mexican Chilli, various people wander over and chat to me about my trip. They ask the usual tourist canoeist questions about how far I've come, is it safe and can you do that thing where you go over and come up again? The last visitor is particularly impressed by my apparent affinity with outdoor living. Not wishing to shatter this image, I manage to keep pretending that the alleged 'Chilli' is edible until he is a safe distance away. My word, that was foul. I throw the rest behind a rock for the seagulls (seems they really will eat anything) and dash up to the pub for a curry.
After dark, I make the usual call home ("no honestly love, this trip isn't just about enjoyment. I'm touring the south-west's beaches to discover myself..."). Leaving the phone-box, I see that the pub has emptied out onto the street. Everyone is admiring a spectacular free light-show which is performing across the horizon. Lightning is doing some fairly elaborate things, at least enough to muster the odd 'ooo' and 'ahh' from the crowd. Clearly some interesting weather is heading our way. What do I care? I have a nice sheltered cave to doze in.
Inflating my sleeping mat, a noxious whiff hits me. Déjà vu, I know that smell. If only I'd packed the washing up liquid separately. I barely need to rig my tiddly gas lamp up, the cave is almost constantly lit by the lightning. What a night! The rain arrives now; it persists it down with a vengeance. I sit up in my sleeping bag reading, wondering how long it'll be before this deluge moves on. Suddenly I'm soaking wet, where in hell is it coming from? I leap out of my bag and run to the very back of the cave. Water is hissing into the cave from a thousand cracks in the roof. At least there is a sheltered spot along the back of the cave. The thing is, it's rather less comfortable there. I'm lying on heaps of rocks, rotting seaweed and lager cans. It could be worse, I suppose...I turn out the light and try to get some sleep.
I wake up with a start. Something is crawling over my leg! Swearing, I fumble for my head-torch and unzip my bag. The inside seems to be moving. Moving the light nearer, I see hundreds of shrimp-like bugs slithering around. This is not good. I try sweeping them out, but it's like trying to plait fog. Come on, I've been through worse than this. I've slept in inches of water in the Tatra Alps, I've slept on a slalom kayak in Leeds city centre, I've even slept through Andy Pitcher's snoring. All the same, I contemplate escape. I could make a dash through the rain to my kayak, grab the tent...
A loud crash stops me in my steps. What on earth was that? It takes a while before I gather what is happening. The rain has waterlogged the cliffs, and now they are beginning to crumble. This is very bad indeed. It seems possible to get out of the cave without being hit by falling rocks and rubble, but I know for a fact that I used up my weekly luck allowance during the day's paddling. I'm stuck here for the night, with the rain, lightning, rotting seaweed, falling rocks and of course the slimy bugs. To add to this, my stomach is playing leapfrog...seems the 'Barf-feast' isn't done with me yet.
Stuck in my self-inflicted cell, I try counting sheep. I mentally paddling the entire length of Chesil Beach, in fog, once more. I recall 'Canoeist' magazine editorials on the minutiae of British Canoe Union policy, I even dig a copy of the BCU 'Coaching Directive' newsletter out of a dry bag and try to read it. No joy. It's going to be a very long night.