The week that almost went to plan

This past week of paddling got off to an exceptionally good start. We were treated to four days of beautiful weather and every aspect of each day went smoothly. We’re making our way through idyllic, gently rolling countryside and farmland, the river winding its way between fields of crops and cows. We even cracked the locks conundrum at the start of the week meaning it now takes a total of ten minutes to get through a lock!

Our current company on the water is solely pleasure boats and there are an increasing number of familiar faces as we keep on bumping into the same people. Our daily interactions with these new friends have come to be a highlight and have resulted in several amusing situations.

At the beginning of the week we found ourselves in a lock with two such boats. As the lock was quite small we had to ask to hold onto the railings of one of the boats, a request which was immediately accepted. The couple onboard even tied a rope alongside their boat so we had something easier to hold onto, and as we waited for the lock to fill we chatted away with the elderly pair. Upon hearing what we were doing, they got very excited and hurried inside to find some money to contribute to our fundraising efforts. They then called over to the other boat in the lock and translated what we’d just told them. This prompted a highly entertaining response: the gentleman routed around for some coins which he dropped into a plastic sandwich bag. He then blew some air into it so it was inflated, tied a knot in it like a balloon and tossed the now-floating bag of coins to where we bobbed around in the lock, chuckling all the while.

This was not the only display of generosity we experienced; the following day we stopped to explore a town, the beauty of which had caught our attention from the river as we paddled past. It was a quintessential French town complete with a neatly presented square, grand Hôtel de Ville and even a Benedictine abbey. After wandering around the quiet streets and exploring the impressive church, we paused to sit in the sunshine by the river before continuing on with our day. A couple on a nearby boat spotted us and Benji in the water next to us and promptly appeared with two large slices of cake and a chilled soft drink, all very gratefully received!

Another act of kindness was directed at us one evening after we had started to set up camp for the night. We were sitting on Benji cooking dinner in the last of the evening light when a car came bouncing down the potholed track between our patch of river bank and the fenced-off forest behind us. Expecting the man to jump out and tell us to move on, we were taken aback when he instead offered a clearing in the woods, which it transpired he owned. He went on to explain that bad weather was forecast during the night and we would have much better shelter if we would like to put our tents up there. As a kayaker back in his 20s, he appreciated the adventure we were on and wanted to help.

We’ve been incredibly lucky with where we’ve been able to camp this week. For the first four nights we managed to find perfect places to pitch our tents by the river and even had a few nature showers: we have a large bag for water with a tube and built in filter hanging off the bottom. We’ve discovered that if hung from a branch of a tree, it makes a fantastic shower when wild camping and away from civilisation! Being able to wash off the sweat, sun lotion and dirty river water after a hot day of paddling is a huge relief and morale booster.

With everything going to plan as it did over those first four days, we were starting to think we wouldn’t have the usual dramatic episode of the week to include in this update. Within a matter of hours of making this observation, things took a spectacular turn for the worse.

We had enjoyed another serene evening by the river: our makeshift shower had come out, dinner had been wolfed down in the late evening sunlight, and all felt right with the world. A few hours after bidding each other goodnight, we were rudely pulled from our sleep by the most terrifying and intense electric storm which was unleashing all its wrath in the very field we were trying to sleep in. The storm was so close you could feel and hear the electricity of the lightning and every crash of thunder made our bones shake. As the onslaught of torrential rain pounded down on us we grew increasingly concerned that the river would burst its banks and we would be washed away. This storm was in a league of its own compared to the storms of the previous week and we both felt a sickening fear at the potential consequences.

Despite a very uneasy and sleep-deprived night, we survived until the morning, only to discover that it was Anna’s turn to be struck down by whatever it was that made Kate unwell last week. With more storms on their way which we most definitely did not want to experience from our tents, we had no choice but to paddle to the nearest town. Once there, Anna slept off her temperature and we were back on the river the following day, albeit paddling at a slightly more gentle pace.

Having overcome yet another set of challenges, we put our heads down and focused on salvaging the next three days until we could take a day off in the comfort of the next city. We’ve now rested up, replenished our food (read: chocolate) supplies and even taken a desperately-needed trip to a laundrette (apologies for the smell to those we’ve encountered recently). Back in fighting form, we are ready to take on whatever the next week may throw at us, armed in clean clothes!