Two days ago I sent a message to the Never Dry club WhatsApp group to ask if anyone wanted to go paddling this weekend. The guilt of not using my new boat yet was building up (busy weekends!), and there was no rain in the forecast. But with temperatures hovering right around freezing, I was secretly hoping no one would respond, so I'd have an excuse to stay in my cozy warm apartment.
Back in May (how did that happen?) I went on one of my favorite Dutch paddling trips so far: the Maas River in my new city of Rotterdam, with Iede, Marianne, Erik, and Adrian. The great thing about it is that you can get there from the club if you're willing to go through a small lock and carry your boat across a giant intersection in downtown Rotterdam... :D
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)...
My friends are real troopers. The forecast warned of intense rain, and that's exactly what we got. But we persevered! From downtown Utrecht to a pancake house about 6.5 km southeast of the city, Sander, Bonnie, and I paddled through almost continuous rain. But the "pancakes," if you can even call them that, were worth the soaking.
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). :)
A short paddling trip through the city of Trondheim, Norway (spoiler alert: we did not see any Vikings but we did ear whale..).
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.