Phoebe is pleased to report that on 10th October, 2019 she and her co-conspirator in adventure – Dr John Pike – successfully completed their Night Vision Challenge – a 300mile, nocturnal kayak around Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire to raise money and awareness for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance (for whom John is an emergency doctor).

The team arrived at the Waterfront at Benson, at the very apt what3words address: ///Elated.Exploring.Expanded © Phoebe Smith

They had set off 11 days earlier, on September 29th from Benson to take in the entire circumference that the Air Ambulance – which receives no Government or lottery funding – covers. The adventure was undertaken each day starting as the sun was going down and finishing in the early hours of the morning.

The most common view Phoebe saw from her and John’s specially designed Air Ambulance kayak © Phoebe Smith

“It was so very tough,” says Phoebe, now home, warm and dry. “Neither myself or John had time to do any training pre-adventure, so it was a proper case of show up and get the job done. Needless to say – it hurt a lot, but on the plus side my biceps are now strong enough to bend steel!”

Among the challenges was not only the daily long distances (often fighting headwind and currents), but more particularly, the locks of which there were more than 250, which the team had to pass via portaging (lifting and carrying) the fully laden kayak over.

One of the over 250 canal and river locks Phoebe and John had to negotiate on their Night Vision Challenge © Phoebe Smith

“By just day three we already had blisters on our heels and feet – not to mention our hands,” says Phoebe, “and John was struck down by a nasty cold, which I inevitable caught a few days later.”

But despite battling all the above and A LOT of rain – this adventure was unwittingly timed to coincide with the landfall of Hurricane Lorenzo – there were a great many more highs.

The nights became so cold on the Night Vision Challenge that mist sometimes made using head torches impossible © Phoebe Smith

“We ended on the last night with a kingfisher count of 19 and having seen 22 shooting stars,” said John, now back on the Isle of Wight, where he lives with his family, for a well-earned rest . “We had barn owls swooping over the kayak, found loads of frogs while stopping at the locks and navigated through two tunnels – over a mile long each – which were home to roosting endangered bats.”

Navigating through haunted tunnels – over a mile in length – which are full of beautiful bats was one of the team’s highlights © Phoebe Smith

“As well as the wonderful wildlife, we were in awe with some of the landscapes too,” adds Phoebe. “From woodlands filled with old growth forest on the night hike section of the trip, to the sheer volume of stars reflected in the water, and the overhanging trees and reeds which made it feel like we could be in Borneo or the Amazon – this was a proper home-grown adventure which felt very much like a proper expedition – and yet we were never more than a two hours drive from my house!”

One of the rare but blisteringly beautiful sunsets that made the challenge so memorable © Phoebe Smith

But while sunsets and nature definitely provided the wow factor on this very British expedition, the people they met along the way who donated cash or went online and the kindness shown by the stellar TVAA team – who brought them hot water bottles and hot drinks on some of the most bitterly cold nights – was what made it utterly unforgettable.

Many members of the TVAA team including paramedics, doctors, pilots and HQ staff came to meet John and Phoebe at the finale © TVAA

“It’s a fact that without the support we got from the TVAA team and the people who sent us lovely messages on social media and the strangers who offered to help us – we would never have finished,” says Phoebe. “And for that me and John thank you all.”

John and Phoebe headed for the finish line, joined by Ben (who took this photo) and Hannah from TVAA © Phoebe Smith

Along the way Phoebe also wrote a Haiku’s for each night of the adventure using words generated by what3words and was featured on Cerys Matthews’ BBC Radio 6 programme on October 6th. Keep an eye out here for the full length version – coming soon…

And you can still donate to this wonderful cause by clicking on the button below.

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