What do we do when the kids leave? The same things we do when they’re here – just cooler. As soon as they left last Friday we started playing on our own. Despite iffy weather six of the staff took canoes up river to the Chassezac, a tributary of the Ardeche. It was one of the best days of paddling that I’ve had all year.
As we were driving to the launch a few flashes of lightening in the distance were cause for worry but we set off in the rain anyway. Starting out into a few sets of rapids were we could warm up and play. The river was a combination of the familiar limestone cliffs and pillars we find near camp and bucolic flat waters surrounded by idealic farms and forests. Dozens of grey and purple herons fly near us as our paddling disturbed their solitary vigils.
Later in the day we left the placed waters of the Chassezac and entered the turbulent Ardeche whose waters were still swollen with the recent deluge. Once on our home river we alternated between a breakneck pace and flat-water drudgery as the water alternatingly rushed and pooled in front and behind the five weirs that we had to cross.
The weather started to get weird as we portaged around the weirs. Periodically the sky would open up and try to drown us. Then the sun would swoop in and sprinkle a few rainbows.
Coming off the third weir Falcor and I paused, finally noticing a familiar landmark in the distance: one of the two derelict castles used to control the valley sit around our camp. The river wound down around a corner towards the more majestic of the two ruins. Behind the castle the white limestone of the gorge stood out in bright contrast to the black rain clouds behind it and the layers of greenery reaching into the foreground. All around us the roar and smell of smashing water coming off the weir filled our senses. Just as we were about to set of again a rainbow became visible reaching over the castle.
Another rainbow appeared as we were coming around the final bends in the river to camp. It’s base was obscured by the greenery but a paddler could tell that the pot of gold was exactly where our camp is located.
We finished our day of paddling exhausted and luckily, the next day was sheeting with rain so I felt no obligation to exercise. In the span of about 24 hours we received over three inches of rain. The river responded almost immediately and that evening, during a respite from the deluge over dinner we watched the meadow below our campsite flood as around four additional feet of water came down the river.
The rain was gone as suddenly as it came and on Sunday we found ourselves with a beautiful day to exhaust. Westie got a group of six people excited for climbing and we set out to explore a huge limestone crag within walking distance from camp. We spent the day climbing above the treeline to some amazing views of the countryside. Westie even managed to climb some 35 meter routes with a 60 meter rope (which means he was 10 meters short on his way back down).
A lazy day. Sunny and hot – finally. I took a run (literally) into town in the morning then fixed all my broken gear with the supplies I brought back. Then we set up camp around the petanque pitch (it’s French bocce ball) by dragging out a couch and chairs before whiling away the afternoon in the sun. That evening we went into town for a leisurely pizza and watched movies when we got home.
Half the staff went off site for the week on Monday so by Tuesday the rest of us had settled into our own little routine. 9AM breakfast followed by a stretching session. Then I went for a run. 12:30PM lunch followed by a long, exploratory hike in the forest preserve behind our site, returning at 6. Dinner at 7PM into desert and the evening movie.
Went for a 5 mile run through the trails behind site. In the afternoon I took a mountain bike out to scout the more majestic of the ruined castles, finding that it is open to the public (an idea made controversial by the houses surrounding it’s base) and that it has the best views of anywhere I’ve been in the area, to wit: you can see the beginning of the gorge, our camp, the other castle, our flag hike lookout, the towns of Vallon Pont D’Arc and Salavas; the bridge we use to cross the river into town and every other major point of interest in our lives here.
After exploring the castle I cycled into town and met the others for a beer then cycled back up to the castle with a couple of people (to show it off). Then we took some experimental downhill trails (probably not meant for bikes) back to the road and camp.
After breakfast Coral, Twig and I took out some canoes on the river. Twig had never solo paddled one of our boats before so Coral and I spent the morning training her while the wind and high water flow battered us. My paddling is strong enough that I enjoyed the often ridiculous challenge but Twig was still to green to make it back up the river so Coral and I used some super river leader tricks to get her boat back home. Just remember kids, knowledge is power!
In the afternoon I took a mountain bike out to further explore the trails we discovered on Monday.
If Fridays shenanigans hadn’t been enough on Saturday we went paint-balling with the full staff. It’s so terribly satisfying to shoot you co-workers, especially when only an inch of their fuzzy head rises over the top of a bunker and you manage to clip it from thirty feet away.
Back to work. The new group of kids arrives tomorrow and this morning has been spent preparing. I took time to organize and catalog all the new books in our library, as well as to plan lessons; stock and sort helmets; brand compasses and maps; and find some new climbing games for the rock climbing session that I’m to help lead this week.
A week off here seems like two and now I’m ready to go back to work.