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!
Marianne from Never Dry organized this 3-night paddling trip, and she was joined by Erik, Ed, Iede, and myself. We met at the club on Thursday evening and after the required coffee, we started the drive north. I unfortunately had one of my lovely headaches, so I was lousy company in Iede's car while attempting to snooze. We stopped for dinner at Hajé, a popular local restaurant chain that sells local and organic food. We arrived around 10pm at Watersport Camping Heeg, which was relatively quiet and uncrowded - counter to most of my experiences so far in Dutch campgrounds...
The next morning I woke refreshed from a surprisingly restful night's sleep. The previous week hadn't been great for sleeping, thanks to stress at work and warm muggy evenings. There's nothing like sleeping in a cool, cozy, and dry tent while it's raining at night! We unloaded the cars and began packing our boats. I'd opted for a slightly larger boat than usual, since I'm out of practice and hadn't had a chance to test my boat packing skills. Much to my delight, everything fit easily, though I abandoned the bottle of wine to minimize headache potential. I put everything for camping in the back hatch and food/cooking supplies in the front hatch.
After breakfast and coffee, we dragged our laden vessels up the levee to the docks on the other side. This was the first of many high docks that tested our backs and stability. Most of the docks are built for large sailboats, which seem to be the most popular means of travel. We headed east through the town of Heeg before continuing along some canals to Slotermeer, the first of many lakes we would cross. There was a strong west wind, making this the most tiring crossing of the trip. Marianne planned our route well. The wind would continue for the next three days, but the rest of the time we were either in sheltered canals or had it at our backs.
We paused for coffee (i.e. Nena's first lunch) at the south west corner of the lake. We watched curiously as a cameraman filmed a man swimming laps in the canal. Later, Marianne inquired and found out it was Maarten van der Weijden, who had just swum across the English Channel and back. It looks like they were filming some clips for his announcement a couple days later that he is planning to swim the Elfstedentocht.
We continued on for a couple more hours, most of which was along a loooonnng straight channel called de Luts, before arriving at Vakantiepark De Kuilart, where we set up camp on a little grassy patch for tent campers. I made friends with a couple kittens from a nearby sailboat - so cute! We all cooked dinner and hung out until the clouds darkened and the thunderstorms started.
The next day we paddled to Koudum, where we had coffees at Eetcafe Spoorzicht ("Cafe with view of train tracks" - no tracks to be seen) and bought groceries for dinner. Reminder: there is no "wilderness" camping in the Netherlands - a grocery store is always close at hand! The bags of water I brought were completely unnecessary... Then began the real excitement of the trip - paddling the length of Fluessen Lake, with the wind at our backs. Iede tried to sail by attaching a tarp to his paddle and boat - see video below. We tried to surf, but the waves weren't so great for it. There were many sailboats on the lake, so we avoided the main channels and paddled straight down the middle of the lake. That was all well and good, except when the dark clouds behind us started catching up to us. I began getting nervous about lightning when the wind gusts increased, rain drops began to fall, and realized we were more than a kilometer from any shore. We picked up the pace and headed towards a small island, where we had lunch and waited for the storm to blow over. A number of sailors were also taking shelter, and they watched us curiously from their dry cabins as we huddled on the beach in ponchos eating soggy sandwiches.
We cooked and early dinner of thai red curry, finishing just in time for the next rainstorm. When the storm passed we came out of our tents again to a rainbow and clouds of mosquitos in the air.
The next morning, we followed our usual routine and paddled for another 3 hours, stopping at Oudega for a snack along the way. It was a relaxed paddle to round off our weekend and route through southwest Friesland.
Duration: 3 days! 2 days of ~5 hours of paddling and one day of ~3 hrs paddling
Distance: ~24 km, ~22 km, ~13 km
Weather: 20C during the day, 14C at night. Alternating between sunny/cloudy/rainy, with thunderstorms at night. Windy: 4 bft every day!