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Is it a Bike?  Is it a Raft?  Is it Boat?  No, it’s Akwakat!

It’s early on a Friday morning; we wake up and anxiously check the weather.  Our planned outing on the canal will be so much better if the weather holds out. The forecast for the week was pretty bleak but today stood out as the brightest, driest day – unlike our first booking in April which we luckily were able to swap out for today.  But what are we up to? Akwakat!  When I spotted a deal online for a chance to cycle a floating bike ON the canal – how could I refuse?

We set the GPS for Calder Crescent.  The map did show that this was near the canal so we put our faith in Google Maps and headed out.  As we approached our ‘Final Destination’, we saw a group of guys digging away near a few shipping containers.  Were these allotments?  We drove around the bend to where we could see access to the canal.  A friendly local dog walker pointed us back to the shipping containers – yep – that’s Bridge 8!  We pulled in alongside the containers where there was parking for a few cars.

One of the guys put down his spade and bounded over to great us – this was Sean.  Bridge 8 is continuously expanding, getting new gear for different activities, so they had some volunteers in preparing the ground for the arrival of more shipping containers.  We were soon joined by another co-ordinator, Mark.  Mark and one of the workers opened up a container – well it was more like a T.A.R.D.I.S. , holding dozens of Akwakats, Kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and lifejackets.

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Even more containers held sea kayaks and bikes.  All these are available for the public to hire but the main goal of Bridge 8 hub, is to provide activities for schools and youth groups.  Bridge 8 is not just an outdoor activity business – they are actually a social enterprise.  They use the hire business to fund the youth activities both at Bridge 8 (the bridges along the Union are numbered and the centre is located near Bridge 8 – clever!) and abroad.  In fact, according the Sean, the Akwakat proceeds are reinvested into their youth sea kayaking expedition to British Columbia next year.  So not only were we getting a fun day out at the canal, but we were also helping others – win, win!!

Oh, but you still don’t know what an Akwakat is?

Akwakat is a bike.  No, it’s a boat.  Or is it a Raft?  Actually it’s all 3.  At the heart is a standard mountain bike, without wheels.  This is mounted to a frame using Velcro (yep – good ole Velcro) onto 2 inflated pontoons.  The pedals drive the underwater paddles/propeller that make you move and the handlebars steer you in the right direction (most of time).  Simple!

We curiously watched as the team assembled ours….

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Once the Akwakats were assembled we were suited up with lifejackets and given instructions.  I thought we would be on a led tour, but no, we had free use of the ‘bikes’ for 90 minutes!  We could go in any direction as long as we stayed clear of long reeds and made way for other canal users (or let them make way for us).  The vital info:

  • The rudder automatically flips up if it runs over something – like a branch, so to steer we would need to kick it back down.
  • Hardest part is getting on and off; luckily the Bridge 8 volunteers help make this safe and straightforward
  • Once on, the bike feels really stable. It’s hard to fall off, but if we did Mark said the canal was shallow enough to stand up in (and we were provided with life vests). My hubby even felt safe taking his good camera along – and this was an amazing photo opportunity: beautiful weather, blue sky, reflections of clouds, and loads of nature.
  • The bike has an adjustable seat and basic pedals – just wear normal trainers.
  • Before setting off, Mark said that we would probably get to bridge 11 or 12, depending on how fit we were. He also gave us his mobile number in case we got stuck and needing rescuing.

Getting on, with a little help, was tricky but I managed!  (no soggy trousers today :D)

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And we’re off!

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We passed bridge 8a, went over a motorway,

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We pedaled on, pausing to take pictures and occasionally clear reeds from our rudder. The Akwakats were pretty easy to manoeuvre and felt like riding a normal mountain bike. Although, the drag from the water created resistance equivalent to climbing a small hill – so we were really getting a great workout.  This also meant that we couldn’t go very fast (in fact, we were warned that pushing the gears too hard could strip them as they were plastic – to be waterproof).  If we picked up some loose reeds in the paddles or rudder we could instantly feel the resistance increase and our speed decrease.  Pedalling backwards for a few rotations easily cleared the debris and we would be back on our way.  Cyclists on the path zipped past us.  We did outpace the walkers, but if we stopped to take pictures, or to clear and debris from the paddles or rudder they would catch up.

We cruised along, enjoying the stares and surprised looks from passersby, feeling quite special cycling along above the water!

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We passed one canal boat coming towards us.  They kindly went to the side and slowed down to let us pass, waved with a bemused look on their faces .

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Bridges 9, 10, 11 came on after the other and before we knew it we were at bridge 12.  We still had more than half our time left so we thought let’s go for bridge 13!  The other bridges were quite close together but it was a long way to bridge 13.  Luckily we had great scenery and company.  We were escorted the whole way by a group of ducks – I think it was a boys day out.

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We passed bridge 13, still not quite 45 minutes into our ride, so plenty of time to head back.  We thought we’d keep going with our ducks as guides but, just after the bridge, we stopped.  The ducks stopped.  Right smack in the middle of the canal was a white object, staring at us.  Glaring at us. A big swan!

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We looked at each other wondering who would be brave enough to go first.  We looked at the swan.  We looked at the ducks, who had pulled over to the side. The ducks looked at the swan who glared back with such conviction that the ducks decided to take flight.  We looked at our watch and decided…..maybe it’s time to turn back.  Swan 1, Ducks 0, Akwakat 0.

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It was nice to have the extra few minutes on the return journey as my legs were getting a bit tired.  The constant, gentle resistance of the water gave us a great workout; I was even a bit sweaty on this cool but sunny morning.

The bridge numbers were now descending and soon we were back at Bridge 8, ready for the hardest part – getting off.

This was a great day out and we will definitely do it again!  In fact, if I lived closer to the canal, I would buy one!!  It was such a cool way to travel, see great scenery and get a workout.  Oh and I can’t forget – help out a social enterprise that does great work with the local community! You can even pack a picnic and chill out at the canal side tables after your ride.

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If you want to give Akwakats a try (do it! do it!) contact Bridge 8 to book.  Or find out more about their other activities; Bridge 8 have  are large fleet of canoes,  stand paddle boards and touring kayaking for rent from £7.50pp for a half day. I think Paddle Boarding is next on our list.

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