Last weekend I went on my first overnight kayaking trip in Europe! Until now it's been too difficult to coordinate, since I don't have my own car/roof rack/boat. Just checked, and the last times were in 2013 and 2014 on Tomales Bay, California. So it's been a while...
Our destination was Friesland, a province on the northern edge of the Netherlands that's known for having it's own language (West Frisian) and a long distance ice skating race, the 200-km Elfstedentocht (Eleven cities tour) that takes place on the rare occasion that the canals freeze over. Instead of skating, we did part of the tour by kayak!
Dinant Evasion: What happens when you combine a log flume, bumper cars, 7000 kayakers, and a sinking kayak on the River Lesse in Belgium.
The magical town of Dinant, on the Lesse River in southern Belgium. The kayaking route does not take you past here, so make sure to include a visit to the city in your itinerary! Photo by Rob.
Before you read this post, I want you to know that Dinant and the surrounding areas are really lovely - I've visited twice and had some great biking and hiking experiences. But kayaking was a different flavor, and I feel it should be documented as a warning to any kayakers thinking about paddling here...
As we passed under the big welcome signs at Dinant Evasion, I couldn't help but feel like I was entering an amusement park. We obediently zigzagged through the queue lines to one of the (many) ticket offices. "Do you have your confirmation letter?" asked the ticket lady in broken Dutch (Dinant is in the French-speaking part of Belgium). I fumbled for my phone, hoping the confirmation email was still cached (I still use my US smartphone, so no cellular data for me). Phew, there it was. I've never arrived for a reserved kayak rental and been told that my last name was insufficient for accessing the reservation... Warning Sign #1. Okay, the super commercial website could also have tipped me off (Warning Sign #0)...
After starting out the weekend with a fantastic cabrewing tour of Lauwersmeer, it was rise-and-shine at 6am on Sunday for a truly Dutch adventure: WADLOPEN. Wad = mudflat, lopen = walking (in Dutch. In Flemish it means running, which would have been ridiculous). While I've done my fair share of mudflat walking as part of my job in California and the Netherlands, I've never attempted it in a recreational way. We put on our rainbow basketball shoes and trudged 16km across bare mudflat to get to Schiermonnikoog, the easternmost Frisian Island in the Netherlands.
Last weekend some Delft friends and I plopped ourselves into a couple canoes for a cabrewing adventure on Lauwersmeer - a lake adjacent to the Wadden Sea, about 45 minutes north of Groningen. It was my first time sleeping in a tent in almost a year (so sad), and my first time in a canoe since long before moving to Europe. Why don't I do this more often? It was fantastic.
I also did some Water Nerd research about Lauwersmeer, and it has quite an interesting/complicated history of floods, poldering, and damming. If you just want to read about that, you can skip to the Water Nerd section.
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.
[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.
As the ferry pitched over each wave, the ominous peaks of the Lofoten Islands loomed closer. Once again, I hadn't expected there to be snow: "They're islands! Being close to the water means we'll be warmer!" Wrong. The mountaintops were enshrouded in thick dark clouds. We had both snoozed through the nauseating 4 hour ride from Bodo. While we'd originally intended to stealth camp, we bee lined for the campsite next to the Moskenes ferry terminal. The price was right (160 NOK, ~$20), and the first of many squalls (super high winds and heavy rain for 10 minutes) was blowing outside reception. We'll take it! WiFi and a warm kitchen common space awaited us.
A short paddling trip through the city of Trondheim, Norway (spoiler alert: we did not see any Vikings but we did ear whale..).
Nena and Bailey kayak in possibly the most beautiful place on earth and almost get run over by a cruise ship.
This is a blog about exploring the outdoors (mostly by kayak), traveling, trip planning, and coastal engineering. It currently focuses on kayaking in the Netherlands and Belgium, but previous posts cover Upstate New York, California, and much more. See the Complete List of Blog Posts for a history of the site. Looking for something specific? Search the site here.
In addition to the blog, check out the Water Nerd section, where I write about coastal engineering and hydrology.
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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.