Kayaking tends to be a logistically-intensive sport, requiring expensive equipment, a vehicle, and a lot of time. Since moving to Europe almost 2 years ago, I've tried not to let being car-less and boat-less stop me from taking part in my all-time favorite activity. It hasn't been easy! There's nothing I miss more than throwing Big Purple on the roof of my car and going for a spontaneous weeknight sunset paddle or exploring a remote stretch of coast.
Last December I made an inventory of all the kayak rental shops in Belgium (excluding whitewater, of which there are quite a few in the south). So far, I've visited two shops that are difficult to reach by public transit and don't offer more than a linear out-and-back trip along a river.
Yesterday we visited an outfitter in Lokeren. I can't say I've found a complete solution yet, but I have finally found a shop just a short train ride away that offers quite a range of paddling routes. And it might just be the most convenient kayak rental ever... exciting, huh? ;) Read on!
Giethoorn is an adorable and quaint town way up north in the Netherlands - almost in Friesland. As you can see in the photo above, it's a dense network of channels, footbridges (180!), and thatch-roofed houses that can often only be reached by boat or on foot. The locals (about 3000 of them) travel over their personal bridges and on punters (boats you push along with a stick, like in Venice). I'd visited this town a few times before (it's a 15 minute bike ride from HJ's parents' house) but never floated along its canals. Until now!
It's been a while since the Water Nerd (and the Naked Kayaker, for that matter) has made an appearance on this blog. But have no fear - a quick analysis of the blog data shows that there's always a huge spike in posting frequency starting in May, continuing through August. Let's hope that's the case again this year - we have some new kayaking destinations coming up soon!
This weekend the Water Nerd and her partner-in-crime, HJ, took a long-weekend trip to the UK (thanks Belgian Catholic holidays!). They visited the Thames Barrier in London (huge moveable flood barrier) and hiked the gorgeous Seven Sisters cliffs of Sussex...
Today we have a guest post from Peter Jones, a fellow reader and kayaking tour guide in Maine, who explains what longer (multi-day) paddling trips offer over shorter day trips. I completely agree, and wish there were more multi-day paddling trip opportunities here in Belgium! Enjoy! - Nena
Hi, I’m Peter Jones, and when I recently came across Nena’s blog, it immediately struck me what a cool picture she paints of the variety of kayaking locations she’s paddled - not just here in the US but on the rivers and coastline of Europe too. After reading her account of kayak trips in New England, I thought it would be a nice addition to her post of Mount Desert Island (MDI) to have something on her blog about kayak camping in an area just south of MDI – the island archipelago off Stonington and Deer Isle, which is where you can find me guiding overnight kayaking trips through the summer.
Most of the islands in the region - and there are more than fifty of them - are small, uninhabited and within a day’s paddle of Stonington - remnants of mountain peaks from before the last Ice Age and before the oceans rose to where they are today. The real treat is that ~20 islands on the Maine Island Trail have low-impact overnight camping sites. If you’re kayak-camping on one of the small islands around Deer Isle, then for one or two nights the island ‘belongs’ to you. Kayakers and other small-boaters may show up during the day for a snack or a lunch break, but it’s been my experience that the majority of small boaters using the Maine Island Trail abide by this honors system and limit their visit to a short one once they see that someone has pitched a tent.
My guess is that the vast majority of kayakers on the water at any one time are paddling for a few hours – a day at most. But some lucky paddlers are out for longer - sometimes much longer - than that. We all have competing demands on our time - work, family, other fun activities, and to commit to a multi-day paddle is just that, a real commitment. Anyone who ventures out on a multi-day trip needs to do some significant gear planning first. Everything from the right boat, the right paddling gear, and the right camping gear for a night or more under the stars has to be borrowed / rented / purchased. And to be blunt, this often requires a significant financial investment above and beyond what’s needed for a day trip. Then there’s trip planning (and here begins the fun part), with questions to answer such as: what’s my route?... where do I camp overnight?…who do I paddle with?... guided tour or self-guided?... what are the tide/current conditions? And above all, do I have the right training to handle the conditions which may change over the course of a couple of days or more? Other questions - what food do I take, how do I pack it all into my kayak, etc. are fairly easy to deal with. These are the hurdles to get over, and anyone embarking on an overnight trip who plans to come home safely will have done the legwork and to figure them all out.
I’ve found over and over that on a half-day or a full-day trip, clients are often so busy with the doing-of-it, that time simply whizzes by for them. After some practice with the boats at the put-in, the morning seems to barely have begun before it’s time for lunch. A discussion of the afternoon’s route is followed rapidly by an hour or so of paddling, and then it is time to think about heading home. How can that be? Time literally flies when you’re having fun. Einstein was right - time is relative.
In this world there are two times.
The upside of embarking on an overnight kayak-camping trip can be huge. At the very least, it’s a fun time where you’ll get a good work-out for a couple of days, hone your camping skills, enjoy the outdoors, and get to know some like-minded people who enjoy paddling. At best, it can truly be a life-changing experience, particularly when you think about the interpersonal dynamics that can develop between paddling buddies - parent-son/daughter, spouses, partners, friends, siblings, etc. On a multi-day trip, regardless of weather and sea conditions, you’ll probably experience a certain ‘discomfort level’, hopefully minor, that can be both physical and psychological. And when things work out, which is usually the case, getting over this barrier with friends/family might just be one of the coolest things you’ll ever do in the great outdoors.
On an overnight trip, you may connect with with the your minimalist side. You help your kayaking buddy carry his/her kayak over that slippery bank of seaweed to find that perfect spot of sand above the high tide mark at the end of the day. You both eye the small clearing beyond the beach where you will pitch your tent on the island before the sun goes down. You’ve paddled hard all day. You’ve faultlessly navigated your way to the spot you’ve been talking about all afternoon. Now, if you can just get out of those damp kayaking duds, put on some comfortable camping clothes, pitch your tent, and open up that bottle of Malbec while your gourmet specialty dish bubbles away on that amazing little WhisperLight stove… then you might suddenly get it. You don’t have to be anywhere right now except here. Tonight and tomorrow seem to stretch endlessly before you, and you find that, yes, you really are living in the moment. I’ve come to believe that kayak-camping can take you into a whole new dimension of experiencing the outdoors, largely because of a shift in your perception of time, which can translate to a much deeper level of experience.
On a multi-day trip, in the late afternoon during that ‘arsenic-hour’ of the day, you’re unwinding and getting ready for a long, delicious evening of relaxed dining (camp-style of course), of watching the sun go down, of anticipating the ascent of the moon and stars before you drift off to sleep to the sound of the waves lapping on the beach. Yes, time really has slowed down. The day has seemed sooo…. long. And tomorrow you can wake up in your tent to the sounds of the waves on the beach… and do it all over again. So if you’ve never overnighted on a kayak trip, and you get the chance to do it, take it, you’ll be amazed how that thing called ‘time,’ which we all live by, has a way of bending when you’re really living in the moment.
Peter is the owner of Driftwood Kayak
He is an occasional guest-blogger for Naked Kayaker.
I recently went through the exercise of contacting a bunch of kayak rental places in Belgium (and nearby) to see if they rent kayaks in winter. Here's what I found, in case you're also having a wintery kayak craving. If I've missed any rental shops, I would love to hear from you! You can contact me here.
I received a funny range of answers when I contacted the various shops, spanning from "of course we do!" to "of course we don't!". I understand both of these responses, as a renter unfamiliar with cold weather paddling can be quite a safety hazard, but kayaking is awesome so we should still do it in the winter.
I've mapped the shops below, with symbols representing whether or not they provide rentals in the winter! Click on an icon to see the name, address, and website of the shop.
Green = Open for rentals in winter
Yellow = Limited winter rentals (group size minimum or limited days)
Red = No winter rentals (most closed November - March)
White = Unknown (contacted, no response yet)
Disclaimer: This summary is based on email conversations that I had with various kayak rental companies in early December, 2015. Please contact a company or check their website to confirm the details if you are planning to rent. Also, if you're planning to paddle in winter, make sure you're dressed for immersion and always wearing a PFD. Paddle safe!
Map of kayak rental shops in and around Belgium - click the icons!
Les Calanques is a 20-km stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis on the Mediterranean coast of France. The coastline features steep white limestone cliffs interspersed by narrow inlets backed by secluded cobble beaches (only accessible by boat). In July, Emily, Alice, and I went for an afternoon kayaking trip to check out the calanques of Port Miou, Port-Pin, En-Vau, and L'Oule. Click to read more!
Utrecht is a big city located in the middle of the Netherlands. It's rich in culture - apparently second only to Amsterdam - and a central point for transportation. With a student population of 30,000, it's definitely a lively college town. As we paddled through the city, we saw many bikes dangling perilously over the canal, held only in place by their locks...
Emilia and I went on a kayaking trip near home (my new home near Antwerp, Belgium!) in celebration of her Confirmation a month ago. Emilia is my 11-year-old cousin and goddaughter. The closest kayak rental shop that I could find, Kano & Kayak Center, is located in Wachtebeke, close to the border with the Netherlands. It's possible to paddle a 38 km route, but we just did an out-and-back trip for a few hours. We kayaked, ate good food, and kayaked back. Emilia wrote a short guest post - click Read More to read that and see some photos!
[It's been a while since the last guest post - here Bailey describes our final adventure in Norway's Lofoten Islands - Nena's comments in brackets]
I've been convinced it will stop raining for 5 days now. Every opportunity I use wifi to check the weather and still come to the same conclusion that NOW, soon, the rain will stop. In spite of my unfounded optimism, the weather is relentless. Each moment of clearing skies is followed by another squall of cold rain accompanied by heavy winds. In the past few days I've heard myself express joy over even incremental improvements "well I'm really glad it's not raining up anymore", "ah, it's so nice this pair of socks isn't wet yet", "look, I think I can see where the sun is".
Yesterday we went on a ferry-serviced overnight trip on a remote fjord [Reinefjord]. Despite taking shelter in a rickety post office shed on a dock [in the abandoned town of Kirkefjord], pretty much all of our belongings are completely wet and reek of rotting cod.
After a long morning back in town of avoiding weather by eating countless pastries and caffeinated beverages, we decided to finally motivate for an adventure. Convinced the wind has died down and the rain, for real this time, may stop soon, we meander over to the kayak rental company [Reineadventure]. A long haired woolen clad dudebrah (who possibly smells more like dead cod than we do) happily greets us.
... to the Naked Kayaker! In addition to the blog, check out the Water Nerd section and Destination summary pages to get a better overview of the site. See the Complete List of Blog Posts for a full history of the site. Happy Paddling!
Email updates on new blog posts, about once per month.
Stay Tuned For...
- Backpacking in Switzerland
- The best trip budgeting sheet
- My packing list
Click the "Read More" link at the bottom of each summary for more photos, to see an interactive map of the route, and to read about the adventure.
Maps in each blog post: Click the icons to learn more about the launch site (amenities) and destinations. Click the square in the bottom-left corner to see an aerial photo behind the route.