Thursday, 3 May 2007

Vallon Pont D'Arc (Ardeche, France) Day 2

30th April
Vallon Pont D'Arc - Day 2

(Not many pics for this entry as they are on a disposable camera)

I'd set the alarm on my phone for 7.30am, although I was awake at 6 (must have been all the anticipation!). I got up and had some breakfast. I'd prepared a packed lunch last night so that I didn't have to rush this morning. I organised my rucksack with food, water and disposable camera and was ready to go, but when I tried to open the van door to get out, it wouldn't open. I knew straight away what the problem was. I have two extra security locks on the outside of the door and they rotate over the door so that it can't open, or rotate away from the door, so that the door can swing open. Some joker must have swung them round last night. Very funny, but not if there'd been a fire or other emergency that needed me to get out of the van in a hurry. In such an event, somebody could have been up on a manslaughter charge! I'll need to remember to lock them in the open position in future.

I headed down the road to the canoe hire place and got sorted out with a life vest and a large plastic drum with a sealing lid to put all of my gear in. There was only myself and a couple doing the full 32km and we headed down to the launching area in a van with our gear. The rental guy sorted us out with boats and paddles and then I needed to drag the canoe down the hill to the water's edge.

I launched the canoe and soon realised that it was going to be a swim shorts and bare feet day! I started to paddle down the river, which was quite low in parts and needed to watch where I was going or I'd need to get out and push the canoe off the pebbles.

The first rapids came up quite quickly and in no time I was in the middle of the white water. Woohoo! It was really fun. The current just drags you where it wants to take you and I had to learn the technique of how to use the paddle as a brake in order to spin the boat around so that it was facing the right way. The scenery was amazing, as the river runs througha very deep gorge carved out of the soft stone. It must have been easily 400 feet high in places. Birds were swooping around and screeching. At times, the river just flowed along and I had to paddle to keep the momentum going, but then I could see more rapids approaching and I was on the fairground ride again......

I pulled in at a beach just past le Pont D'Arc, which is an enormous natural arch spanning the river and took some photos. There were already some canoeists there and taking the opportunity for a cooling swim.

By around the half way point, my arms and shoulders were beginning to hurt. I could also feel a couple of blisters developing on my right hand from the paddle. I stopped and had some lunch and gave my poor body some time to recover. As I ate, lots of canoes passed, lots with couples in them, some of whom couldn't seem to master the art of keeping the canoe going straight. You could feel that tensions were getting strained and that there was going to be a few falling outs before the day ended. "What time is it?" asked some.... "How far to go?" asked others.....

I resumed my journey and came into some rapids just beyond a large rock called 'Le Catedral' and managed to be swept sideways by the swirling current and into a large rock which capsized my canoe and I ended up underneath it. Somehow, I'd managed to keep a hold of the canoe in one hand and the paddle in the other. I felt like Huckleberry Finn, up to all sorts of nonsense on the river, but where was Tom Sawyer when you needed a hand out? I managed to right the canoe and swam with it over to some rocks and quickly climbed back in. I was soaked obviously, but just as well that all I had on was shorts and a life vest. I was surprised that the experience didn't shake me up more than it had. I remember being under the canoe and just thinking ""Don't panic".

I stopped off later at a small beach and took some time out for swimming as I was way ahead of schedule to be picked up by minibus at the end of the route. There were lots of tiny beaches and places on the rocks to stop and sunbathe.

Finally, at 2.30pm, I arrived at Sauze and hauled the canoe out of the water. I was tired in a good way and sunburned in a bad way! I chatted to a couple who had arrived just before me. Vincent is from the Netherlands and Audrey from France. We deciided to head up to the nearby campsite and get some drinks to kill time. I've taken Vincent's number and hope to maybe get a chance to meet up when I travel to the Netherlands later in the trip.

A minibus took us back to Vallon Pont D'arc and just as I was walking back to the Aire, the rain started pelting down and there was a huge thunderstorm. I ended up saoked through (again!). The last time I saw rain like this was on my last mini-tour of Europe, in Italy, with Colette. It hammered down. The street was like a river.

The Rain in Vallon Pont D'Arc from inside the van!

So, I'm back in the van now and dried off and am making dinner of chilli con carne and using up the spuds I have left over before they start growing inside the van. It's been a great day. Best fun I've had in a long time in the great outdoors and now I have another thing to try again sometime.

Tomorrow I'll start heading in the direction of Italy where I meet up with Bruce next Monday night.

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