My alarm went off at 7am on Sunday. At any other time of year, getting up would have been a challenge. Thanks to the long days that the Dutch latitude (52 degrees) bestows us, it was palatable. In what's becoming a weekend routine, I strapped my lunch and dry clothes on the back of my bike and swung a sizable duffle bag of kayak gear over my shoulder. It always takes a bit of extra effort to get the bike moving when it's loaded down this way. But thanks to the lack of topographic variability, the 12 minute bike ride to the kayak club is easy once you're rolling. Some aspects of Dutch life just need reframing to see the bright side.
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)...
Every year my team at work (called Business Unit Water or BUWAT) has a late summer picnic involving some casual outdoor activities (walks, bikes, playgrounds for kiddos) followed by a dinner buffet of sorts. Last year the picnic was two days before my start date, making it a nice forum for meeting my new colleagues. Apparently all my attempts to get coworkers paddling over the past year have made an impression, because this year our team leader Renaat graciously offered me the chance to organize a kayaking trip as part of our "mandatory" annual team even. Now that's one way to get people in boats!
Fries from the sky, brewery by boat, Japanese gardens, and tunnels galore: Why the Hague, Netherlands, is a kayaking oasis.
How is it possible? How did I live in Delft for a year and never discover the wonderful kayaking oasis of The Hague? The horn you toot to request a kayak rental, free candy thrown at you by a friendly (?) passerby, fries that are lowered down to you by rope and pulley, gorgeous parks, a local brewery stop, and much more.
In October we're going to Vancouver! Henk, Sara, and I are headed there to do some sea kayaking around Bowen Island and in Deep Cove. We established our own prerequisite of getting up-to-snuff with kayak rescues before we arrive, since the water temperature will be in the low 50s (F, ~10C) and the weather unpredictable. Sara and I practiced some rescues when we paddled in WA, but it's been a couple years, so she's signed up for a rescue class in North Carolina. Since Henk is still pretty new to kayaking, I saw this as a perfect opportunity to get him a free lesson by brushing up on my teaching skillz.
Step 1: Watch a bunch of YouTube videos about kayak rescues. We spent an afternoon watching wet exists, T-rescues, bow rescues, hip snaps, sweep rolls, C-to-C rolls, and more from the comfort of my mosquito-netted bed (those bugs are everywhere in Belgium!). I attempted to demo a roll using the little rocking chair in the living room. Funnier than effective.
Step 2: Find someone who will rent us sea kayaks. (Read on!)
July 21st is Belgium National Day, when the Belgians celebrate gaining their independence from the Netherlands in 1831 (right around the time the Oregon Trail was picking up speed over in the US). Apparently the mostly-Catholic Belgians were not happy with the protestant-favoring rule of King William the 1st and decided to rebel. Luckily for modern-day residents of Belgium, this means we have a day off every July. This year it fell on a Thursday, resulting in a 4-day weekend opportunity for 4 Dutchies and 1 American to head to the Belgian Ardennes and partake in celebratory Belgian activities like beer drinking, card playing, chocolate eating, walking in fields with cows, and, most importantly, kayaking past castles.
Last weekend, five enthusiastic Antea Group employees embarked on a Sunday morning canoe trip in Lokeren. The company I work for, Antea Group, has an internal organization called Antea Group Sport that supports employees in organizing "sporting" events. Since I started a year ago, they've organized runs, triathlons, volleyball, soccer, mountain biking, cycling, and even badminton. I decided that some more watery events were necessary*, so I went about organizing a kayaking trip, destination: Lokeren. It's a convenient location for people living in Antwerp and Gent. First, I did a scouting trip to check out the conditions.
*Disclaimer: I was also motivated by a need to find/develop paddling buddies here in Belgium, and the awesome t-shirt you get the first time you participate in an Antea sporting event (see above). :)
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.
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!
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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