As my ghost writer took over for a flowing summary of the Loire, it's Nathan again for the serious stuff.
It's half 7 at night on what was meant to be a short day. The man living by the last lock has just shouted at us for getting to close to his flowers. We churn out another 5k to arrive at the lock of fleury sur Loire, of which we have been promised - by both our map and an earlier super friendly gatekeeper - to expect a great place to camp and moor Dora. We see nothing. Jokingly I tell Jzimmee that there's a party around the corner just waiting for us.
We round the corner.. And there it is.
Alright, they're not waiting for us and it's not exactly a party.
But, there is space to camp alongside the cruisers, a tap to refill the bottles, as well as some friends we made at an earlier lock to charge the phone. This is the second night we've moored with the boats that cruise the Canal. There's less French cyclists and more English holiday-makers, but these people are much more knowledgeable about the water and just as friendly.
Our first day on the canal was actually a bit of a false dawn. We made unbelievable ground, had hardly any locks, messed around on the world famous ponte du Briare and still had the time to drag the canoe from the canal to the river for do some camping. The day was topped off by a visit from an old friend of Jzimmie's bearing supplies from home. (By the way: the stove's a big help, the cake is unbelievable and I'm in love with Alice. Thank you.)
The second day brought us back down to earth. After a glass of wine to finish our first day on the canal, Jzimmie now started a frantic search to recover his wallet from the bar owner. So we started an hour later than normal. We then had to unpack the canoe, pick it up and carry it over the bridge and make a second journey for the gear; twice as many times as we encountered twice as many locks. We also learnt a bit more about how good the Loire had been to us. While the town of Charite sur Loire and its basillica were nice, we were made to work for them having trekked with the gear between canal and river. After finding a dodgy canal that prevented our return to camping on the Loire, we ended up in a pleasant enough spot on the canal with the other boats.
Today started with a similar downer although this time it wasn't us messing up. We woke to the patter of rain and then got the chance to test our waterproofs for the first hour on the water. The day then fell into a tiring rhythm. Constant paddling, then a lock. Generally broken up by intrigued lock men or friendly boaters. Finally at 8 we made the late finish that I exaggerated above.
All in all, the Canal is a lot safer than the Loire. It's also a lot more predictable and a lot easier to tell where you are. We paddle faster, make better ground and theres been a change of scenery from forest to farms and vineyards.
On the other hand, there are no breaks to tow and the water is grey and dirty. Locks are tiring and the nicer towns aren't always on the canal.
I'd compare paddling the Loire to climbing a mountain. Going on a canal is more like cycling on a turbo charger and then doing press ups every half hour: relentless, but we decide when the pain comes. For the moment, this cycling wins out.