Long week on the Rhone Au Rhin Canal

Another week with lots of
canal paddling and fantastic distances covered. The locks, of course,
played a huge role and I could write and essay on them, but since its a
rather repetitive topic I'll try not to talk about them too much. Though it is sort of where I start!

After the last blog, in which we lost time in Besançon waiting for a charger
that didn't arrive, we awoke on a misty hillside overlooking the Doubs.
This thick early morning mist and a carpet of slugs has become each days' standard start now that we're away from the constant heat we experienced in July. We set about another day on the Doubs, an incredibly scenic river with awkward locks. Where before the challenge of locks was getting from the
low water level up the banks to the higher water level, here the locks
worked more as a divide between the canal and river. This meant we
struggled up the banks from the canal, but instead of a high water level on the other side the locks are designed to account for varying river levels throughout the year, from low summer, to rainy, high floods winter. Alas, we scrambled up high banks before each lock only to find The far side presented exactly the same slope, if not worse.

Yet Phillippe was to cheer us up. Filling up water at a mooring point we found a text on our phone which read "Hi, it's Phillippe. I have your package, I am coming to find you." No matter how far we had paddled the day before, the smooth cycleways that follow the river and canal allowed Phillippe and his speedy road bike to catch us by lunchtime where he gifted us our solar charger and lightened our moods. After he had already kindly given us a meal and bed in Besancon we now had him to thank (along with the people of Mobile Solar Chargers) for the return of some electricity.

Before long, the pleasant river Doubs was left behind for constant canal and and after yet another long day with early start, late finish, and the minimum of breaks, we were back on track and had made up our lost time from Besancon covering considerable miles. In the town of Isle Sur Doubs we bumped into a boat we recognised from days earlier and, having chatting with the friendly Swiss man, moored our canoe alongside him while we headed to the campsite. Since he left early the next morning we were obliged to also have a 6:30 wake up and we met him to unlock our boat and enjoy some of his freshly made coffee. We sat onboard the deck and had a swiss breakfast of croissants, ham and cheese, patting his dog and saying thank you as we took more croissants, more ham and more cheese.

The day was another successful one despite us both sporting bad nettle rashes by the end of it and myself upsetting a wasps nest and losing said fight against nature. For another night we camped on these banks where it has been easy to find good camping spaces which are discrete and ideal. And then it was the last two days of the week. Nathan almost got lost in thick, dark forest on an early morning run, then we packed up and began to paddle. Here the canal began descending again in a rapid fashion. In 40km we faced 47 locks and it takes no mathematician to work out that that is a bad ratio. It was two days of pain, lifting, walking and telling ourselves the section would be over soon. We had a run in with the VNF which is (genuinely) very accurately summed up by Nathan in the Alternative Blog, but otherwise we began to pass through the locks and suddenly we were almost at the end.

By the seventh day of paddling with the last few locks remaining the signs of fatigue were definitely showing. Getting the canoe out at a lock it pushed against me as I slid into the canal for a short but painful 'nettle bath' (1 part nettles, 2 parts canal water), our pace became a little sluggish, Nathan began to unpack the entire canoe at lunchtime despite not being at a lock and I finished the day by getting out of the canoe where we would camp and trying to pull the entire thing out of the water unaware it was still fully loaded. But we were conscious of these danger signs as well as our ailing sense of balance and took care and concentrated as we finished the canal with just 4km to go to Mulhouse.

For this final stretch we took the small river Largue marked on our new (German!) map as 'generally navigable'. This summed it up. There were rippling rocky sections where we dragged the canoe, fast bubbling waters which we flew over and narrow jungly sections where the trees leaned into the water. It was a totally different way to end the week and a new river to add to our list. It took us to the foot of our campsite where we washed clothes and set up the tent.

And here we are, in Mulhouse. The tent and the campsite were, in fact, left alone last night as we were hosted in town by a friendly couple. We had a fantastic dinner, a comfy bed and excellent company. We chatted with Alexei about his work and the run down house he and his girlfriend have bought and are fixing, we drank old wine they had found there and we retold the tale of the grumpy VNF man. After a solid night we find the stuff still safe in the campsite and a rest day we welcome with open arms.

A satisfying week to look back on, with hard days and a route that headed directly east for once. We finished the long week with a couple of exhausted and grumpy days as the distances got the better of us. But canoeing the continent continues on target and as successful as ever.