The river is high, fast and cold with the glacial melt of the French Alps running into it and a surplus of spring rain. The white limestone cliffs that line the gorge are showing orange where the seasons freeze and thaw has caused the rock falls that we often hear while paddling the river. The nights are cold and, when the sun is shining, the days are hot. The banks of the river are lined with spring’s fresh greenery above which towers the magnificent white limestone cliffs that form the Ardeche gorge.
We spent six days on the River. Nearly a week of breaking into eddies, eating waves and bailing out my raft. N that we’re taking a break I can’t get the motion of the water out of body. This morning I had to paddle out of my sleep and every time I turned over in my sleep I tried to do cross bow cut (paddle stroke) to keep myself in bed. When I poured to much instant coffee into my cup I imagined bailing it out as if it were a boat.
The day after I arrived in the Ardeche we started water training. After a morning paddling in flat, windy water we moved onto paddling rapids. On day two we continued paddling moving water by dropping through the first four rapids below camp, stopping to familiarize ourselves with each. The third day we backed extra gear into all our boats and did 17km down river, stopping to play in the fun rapids along the way and camping out in a beautiful site overnight. Day four we paddled another 14km down the rest of the gorge stopping to play in some of the fastest water on the river then were driven back to camp. On days five and six we started over and paddled the whole river again this time while play acting as children to practice our river safety techniques.
During the week we saw two Bonelli Eagles: two of the four nesting pairs (eight birds) on the Ardeche River and of the twenty-nine left in the world. We saw half a dozen red kites soaring lazily on the updraft. My eyes tried to follow swifts as the wheeled and darted, once attacking a kite as it approached their nesting area. There were dozens of grey wagtails bobbing over the water, three white herons flew low over the water. One night, in flocks of two and three, blue herons passed us on their commute down the river to their heronry. The same night a flock of forty large ducks flew back up river towards town. Beaver stripped sticks bobbed in the water over the heads of carp and trout. Fishing under rocks we found fish eggs, mayfly larva and dragonfly pupae. Lizards skittered out of our way on the shore. All along the river the bright green of spring is accentuated by popping blossoms in white and purple.
This week we will begin our land based training. Hopefully this will give the blisters on my hands, feet and knees a chance to heal before I have to get into another boat. Also, hopefully the world will stop rocking like the water on a river.