Let me start off with a conclusion, if you plan a camping trip for the first time, were you will be sleeping a couple of times in the ‘wild’, try to at least camp 1 or 2 times before you start with your big adventure. Naturally, we did not do that. So, our very first night under the stars felt good as we slept quite good. So far the good news.
I had a defcon 5 bivi tent but no sleeping bag, thinking that a thin sleeping bag liner was enough, keeping the boat a bit lighter. Despite day temperatures of +30°C, in the early morning it dropped as low as 10°C, so I used a towel to try and keep myself moderately warm. My kayak buddy sleeping only with a sleeping bag and no tent, had a good night sleep. But as we were slow grinding our fresh coffee beans in the morning, the sun was there to warm our hearts and limbs.
After a hearty breakfast we repacked all our stuff but it still proved to be a bit of a challenge, although I had scoured the internet for months before this trip, checking out ways to pack gear into a kayak. We needed a bit of practice, but in the end, we got everything in the boats. During the portaging we thought it quite possible that the boats would break, but they made it in one piece.
It felt great to be on our way again, the sun in our back paddling on the Rupel, seeing the sights, rejoicing when we saw landmarks we recognized from our youth. Being both born and raised in the Rupel area before we relocated to the Kempen we had a nostalgic vibe going on. It took us longer then expected getting to the bridge of Boom, were our family had gathered to cheer us on.
Meanwhile the tide has turned, so we embarked again. The rupel is only a short river so in no time at all we were paddling on the Schelde. What the tide lacked in strength the north wind more than made up for it, unfortunately it was a head wind. So after a brutal paddle to Antwerp and a bit beyond, the only thing we had to do was get out of the water. This proved to be one of the worst decisions of our trip. Because of the low tide we could not get out of the kayak on the mud banks. Our feed, ankles and lower legs completely got sucked down, this was route was to dangerous, so we decided to get out on a rock wall. On top of this wall we sought higher ground thus more solid. Also completely overgrown with high reeds and weeds. After a grueling climb, a lot of scratched limbs and what later proved to be a tick bite we reached the camp site.
Here I got a sleeping bag delivered by my lovely sister and her son, after this delightful intermezzo, we had to content ourselves with a lot of noise from the petrochemical plant across the river also they never turn of the lights apparently. At two o’clock in the morning an Antwerp police patrol came to check on us. They must have concluded it was to much of a hassle to get our asses out of there as it is not legal camping in the ‘wild’ in Belgium. Recently the law has changed about bivaking meaning staying somewhere for just 12 hours, a sleepover kinda. Strictly speaking only at places were a bivaksign is posted, but these prove slow to produce. If you clean your campsite, have respect for nature and don’t use an open fire many people turn a blind eye about it.
So we had a good night sleep, sweet, warm dreams and contrary to the weather report two days of beautiful sunshine. Although that was about to change. See you tomorrow.
Finally, the day of our departure has arrived! After months of dreaming and weeks of preparation, the days of wondering how we will overcome the real and possibly a few imagined dangers and what will happen after debarking on this mighty journey are over. Over the next few days we are gonna find out if we are mice or men
We embark at the Wamp, our boats light as a feather because we only have water and food for the first day with us. Our camping gear will be brought to us at the first camp site by our lovely support team. Immediately after we push of we are badgered by a swarm of pesky horseflys. Luckely once we are in the open on the small Nete the swarm loses its focus and the few straglers are quickly taken care of. We try to start at a modest pace, we keep reminding ourselves that we are going to navigate this river like we did a few times before, but this time we aren't going to stop before we are at the Northsea. It looks like an impossible feat.
After the barge at Herentals we are confronted with the lowest water level we ever saw on this river. After more then a month of dry weather, there have been a few thunderstorms and rainy days. But the waterlevel is dangerously low, sometimes we have to navigate around old bikes or strange indefinable objects which probably have been stuck in the mud for decades. We are happy that there have been a few rainy days otherwise the whole project would have to be cancelled. Ironically it looks like there will be a lot of rain in the coming days. Whereas we don't have any bad weather gear in our packing list, because it's high summer... And to top it all of, we have zero camping experience. An interesting cocktail for sure.
We stop at the watermill in Grobbendonk to have a spot of lunch, there is a small table and a peculiar chicken. With a full belly we get a little help from the river but the amount of it isn't like we imagened. Getting out of the water at the underpassage of the Albert Channel would have been an unsurmountable task without man/monkey MTTWIM. A strong headwind is whipping up the waves in the channel, combined with the low waterlevel it makes dis - and embarking a wonderful new experience. We cross safely to the other side where we meet our first 'supporter' on a bridge. The man ask us where we are going, normally the answer should be Lier or something like that, I don't think he believed us when we said: 'The Northsea'.
It is hard to believe that we had to stop a few km's before we reached our camping site. The upflowing tide proved to strong to paddle against. We managed, but rather then draining ourselves, we decided to wait until the strongest current passed. While waiting, we rested a bit while our supportteam brought all our gear. So after a relaxing rest and some frantic last minute decisions what to take and what to leave behind, we started with the heaviest laden boats we ever paddled. After hauling them twice out of the water and carrying them to our camp site we could enjoy a first night under the stars. Looking back on our succesfull first day we decided that the portaging is the worst at the start of a camping trip as all that fresh bottled water is very heavy. The quote of day 1 is either: 'Ik moet niet onder water hangen om te broebelen' or 'I am here for stating the obvious.' Goodnight!