Five go mad in France!
It was a ‘do or die’ trip for me. I was either going to love it or absolutely hate it and never paddle again.
We met outside Jacho’s just before 4 am on a Tuesday morning – Jacho, Mike, Dave W, Paul & me – and headed off in two cars to the Eurotunnel. We were off to the Ardeche for a week’s paddling.
After a gruelling long day of travel & driving, we reached our campsite to be met by Chris Tingley & Lynn Willard, ex ACC members who now live in France, and their mad dog – Pannau.
As Chris had organised the itinerary for our trip, he promised the first day on Tingley Tours would apparently be a nice & slow introduction to moving water. Five minutes into the paddle, I beached myself on top of a huge boulder in the middle of the river – he had to pull me off backwards.
Five minutes after that I hurtled towards an island in the middle of the river and, instead of going left and down the rapids, I crashed into the island and held on to a tree! Paul then smashed into me and capsized as I was blocking the route down the river. The force of that then made me capsize! So within the first ten minutes, I had created total carnage in France with rescues going on all over the place. Fantastic! Not quite the slow introduction I had imagined.
The second day out was going to be the main event and the longest paddle of the week along the Ardeche river, full of boulders and rapids – some much bigger than others. It was a great day, the scenery was stunning, we had a picnic riverside and all went extraordinarily well. I was very impressed with myself – no capsizing and only one turbulent moment from going down a rapid and getting whipped into an eddy a bit swift, which made me wobble a bit.
Paul and I opted out of the third day’s paddle which was a leisurely afternoon one for the others. We decided instead to check out the nearby ‘caves’ and see what the local wine was like. We managed to come away from two caves with a dozen bottles, having got caught up at the second venue in a random classic car rally of some description.
On the fourth day, we started at the tourist spot, Pont d’Arc, which is an amazing sight on the Ardeche and had another short paddle with some rapids and boulders. At one point, I found myself hurtling down a rapid and straight into a ‘V’ crevice in the rock formation – it fitted the nose of my boat beautifully and made a fantastic crashing noise when I hit it! Feeling I had no choice other than to paddle out backwards, the inevitable happened and I capsized.
Our last paddling day through the Ardeche had come. We went out for the best part of the day again and did lunch riverside. The first part of the paddle included concrete water chutes – 6 in total – a new experience for me! The first one went well as I managed to grab hold of Dave’s boat as I whizzed off at the bottom. The second did not go according to plan and I launched off the bottom and went over. All the others were fine. We then had a fantastic scenery ridden flat paddle to the Pont d’Arc. The rock formations at the sides of the river were messing with us, as at one point it seemed we were paddling uphill and at another point, it seemed we were going downhill but no faster. Weird!
So the final stretch of our last trip was through boulders, over rapids through some eddys and over some rapids again. Job Done, 3 capsizes, no injuries, lots of laughter and 56km paddled!
As a bonus, the next day we moved up the country to St Pierre de Beouf for some brave souls to traverse the manmade whitewater slalom course. Not for me I’m afraid – coffee & cake that day and a spot of people watching, dog sitting and photo taking. Paul and I kept riverside whilst the others all gave it go. Looked great fun but I had thoroughly enjoyed my holiday, exceeding my personal expectations, and didn’t want to spoil it by something silly happening and getting hurt.
After a group evening dinner and a stopover in a Formula 1 Hotel, the long 13-hour door to door drive home, with the depressing thought of work the next day.
To sum up: stunning scenery, a fantastic group of people to paddle with, too much French bread & cheese, but would definitely do it all again.
By Michelle Marshall