The Balfour Beatty Warrior Challenge took place during June 2017 and raised Over £52,000 for the ABF Soldiers Charity with a little help from Canoe Trail.

It involved cycling over 400 miles around the resting places for soldiers lost in the Afghan conflict and a 128 mile kayak from Devizes in Wiltshire to Tower Bridge, London. It was the brainchild of ABF ambassador Corporal Andy Reid, triple amputee and former soldier of the year and serving soldier Sergeant Major Glenn Hughes.

Andy and Glenn’s comrades were fatally injured when their warrior vehicle hit an IED in Afghan. The team supported by Balfour Beatty visited each of the graves of the soldiers paying their respects as well as connecting with towns and cities around Armed Forces Day to help raise funds for the ABF (Army Benevolent Fund) Soldiers Charity. The challenge included Andy North, long term fundraiser for the ABF who ran over 12 marathons in 12 days. For Glenn it was a different challenge as he has been coping with a hidden injury PTSD.

Canoe Trail joined the team at Devizes with Rob Campbell and Rich Harpham supporting Andy, Andy and Glenn. It was an incredible team effort with the Royal Marines providing two valley Aleut 2’s for the paddlers. The route followed the infamous DW route which includes 75 portages and 125 miles of paddling. Rob and Rich are no strangers to the race with Rob having completed it 10 times winning the C1 class on 3 occasions. Rich has raced twice over the last two years, once in the K2 (kayak) class and once in the C2 (canoe) class.

 The journey from Devizes started well with the first 13 miles without any portages. The first locks meant a tough challenge for Andy as he needed to attach his legs to go around the lock. After the portage he then detached his legs and we carried on paddling. This challenge is tough for anyone and historically on the race Olympians, adventurers and other racers have failed to complete the course. We carried on reaching portage after portage with a steady and tough routine. The kayaks were fast but made from a heavy glass construction were incredibly heavy.

Andy demonstrated his steely resolve with no complaints as he dealt with portage after portage and paddling in between. Andy’s prosthetic arm presented its own problems with sweat collecting on his arm from the silicon cup and also the difficulty of the constant friction rubbing on the stump. Glenn and Andy North also powered on as we made our way along the Kennet Avon Canal. This initial stretch of the canal is stunning with the mounds and rolling hills of the Ridgeway trail. It also means the infamous tunnel and the 1.5 mile Croton Locks which was our toughest portage. Shortly after that was perhaps the funniest moment of the challenge.

Andy Reid was using his hand bike to complete the portages on the longer sections which in theory was a great plan. Many of the banks were very high at 2ft and 3ft which made getting in and out the boat tiring and tricky. Once out on the longer stretches Andy found the hand bike much faster. Off he went a man on mission. We noted the very uneven bank and the local fishermen assisted with keeping the three wheels on terra firmer. At the next section an oak tree roots provided another obstacle so Glenn hopped out of the kayak to assist again. You can guess where this story is heading. On the third obstacle Andy confidently informed us he was fine to traverse the bank and accelerated like a racing driver heading for the gap. In slow motion we watched the right hand wheel lift off the ground and then slowly him get catapulted into the canal. All we could hear from the reeds from Mr Reid was roars of laughter. We managed to retrieve the chair from the canal and Glenn headed back to the bank to get his paddle. The hand bike then took off with a mind of its own (and a little electric short from its immersion) and accelerated along the bank and back into the canal. Our laughter was now near hysteria.

The days rolled into each other with more portages, feed stops and support from the Balfour Beatty Support vehicles and the team from ABF including Colonel Phil Naylor MBE Rtd , Jim Duffy and Charlotte Bell, the team rehab specialist. In addition were Terry ‘ the tea’ and Sean from Balfour who provided food stops and shuttles for the team. There are so many iconic places on the route with Reading town centre, Windsor (and its castle), Henley(which was preparing for the Regatta and meant we saw the Royal Barge passing. This was a real treat and highlight of the day. 

Onwards to Central London and the London Sights by kayak. The team passed the Boat Race course at Putney before passing so many landmarks including Battersea Power Station, Houses of Parliament, London Eye, HMS Belfast and then Tower Bridge. Our emotions were running high docking at HMS President and being hosted by friends at the Royal Navy. The team of Glenn Hughes, Andy Reid and Andy North had completed a mammoth challenge cycling and kayaking over 500 miles. For Andy Reid it demonstrated his strong character, fantastic humour and selfless attitude. The team raised over £52,000 for the ABF Soldiers Charity with corporate donations…