Events happened on June 2nd, 2019. We paddled from Donauwörth to a town called Neuburg an der Donau. In Neuburg an der Donau, we wanted to camp at the canoe/rowing club in town. We paddled some 32 kilometers that day, which was a new record distance.
Two Nights in Donauwörth
We spent two nights in hotel Buena Vista in Donauwörth. Unfortunately, our room of hotel ‘Good View’ looked out on the wall of another building. No natural light entered our room which was wholly depressing. The internet also wasn’t very reliable. To be fair, we had tried to book three other places before last-resorting to this one. It was only for two nights.
Donauwörth itself is a really pretty town with quite a gruesome history; at the first Battle of Donauwörth, some 5.000 French troops drowned in the Danube because the river flows so fast here and they couldn’t swim. The river still flows very fast here, despite the many dams curbing the flow. Today, it’s a stopover city along the scenic route Romantische Straße or ‘Romantic Road’.
Its historic center on the Altstadtinsel Ried is full of restaurants and cafés and ice cream shops, most (if not all) of them Italian-owned. In between our working sessions, we’d head out of our dark lair to eat the German-Italian specialty Spaghetti Eis (spaghetti ice cream) and some evening pizza. Both days were very hot and sunny, and the forecast told us this weather pattern wouldn’t end for a while. We packed up most of our things the night before.
Leaving Donauwörth for Neuburg a/d Donau via the Wörnitz
What was undeniably great at hotel Buena Vista was the breakfast. We had a generous plate of cold cuts, veggies and ciabatta bread. We ate some of it and prepared the rest as road food. River food? Paddle food? Whatever. We ate it at 7:30 and only had to finalize packing to be at the river as early as possible. Sunscreen on our faces and arms, we were ready for another adventurous day en route to Neuburg an der Donau.
Just like when we arrived in Donauwörth from Dillingen an der Donau by paddling up the kind of stagnant Wörnitz river, we utilized the same spot to get back in. Again, there was a man occupying the stairs with his fishing equipment. We inflated our boat and prepared everything to go down the steep steps.
The man moved out of the way for us and pointed out where his fishing lines were for us to dodge. Fortunately, he’s the first fishing person we’ve seen who uses a bobber or floater to indicate where his fishline is at. He asked us a few questions about our trip and how we intended to get back – presumably to Donauwörth – which Jonas oddly answered with “By train”.
At 9:25, we were paddling towards Neuburg. That’s the earliest we’ve started. The Wörnitz gave way to the Danube and directly under the first bridge we entered some generous rapids. We were off to a good start.
The Conditions of the Day
We’d reasoned that we could do 32 kilometers in one day because there were only two hydroelectric dams for us to portage around. The intelligence we’ve gathered over the previous 10 days of paddling led us to the conclusion that one dam less equals 4 more kilometers to paddle. We’d done 28 kilometers with three dams, so 32 kilometers with two dams is feasible. A mitigating factor was that we’d be camping in Neuburg an der Donau, so we’d only have one night to recover before paddling 18 kilometers to Ingolstadt the next day with only one dam as an obstacle.
Fewer dams also mean less stagnant water; portaging around is a cumbersome and physically intense process, but paddling through a stagnant river against the wind for 4 kilometers while seeing the destination on the horizon like a mirage you can see but will never reach, is both physically intense and mentally so. It’s disheartening at best and cruel at worst. But the general trend is that the Danube in Germany will have less and less of these hydroelectric dams. But more boats.
I guess there’s always something. But we signed up for a challenge, not a walk in the park. As long as it also remains fun and enjoyable – besides a challenge – the balance is a net positive.
The Good Start
Within half an hour, we’d done more than 4 kilometers, with help from a few stretches of rapids. We had a mild but increasing headwind early in the day, and the installation of the kayak sail again seemed in vain. Our challenge to paddle 32 kilometers immediately put me in a mode of casual flow. As long as we kept paddling in a steady but doable pace, we’d arrive just fine in Neuburg. At the one-hour mark, I measured that we’d paddled 8.6 kilometers. That’s like… almost one-third of the way!
We counted our progress with the kilometer signs on the left shore. They have a 200-meter interval, and it’s counting down. We started our day at 2.510 kilometers, and then we passed the 2.500-kilometer sign. Depending on which total length of the Danube you take, this means we covered 360 kilometers by boat and some by train when paddling was forbidden.
At 11:20, the river Lech joined as a right-side tributary. We paddled under the bridge in Marxheim. The wind picked up and loosened some tree fluff full of pollen. It was really annoying, so I put on my sunglasses to try to make them dodge my eyeballs. Then it went from annoying to irritating. I also put on my dust mask from my cape hat to protect my nose and mouth from inhaling the fluff. I couldn’t get back into a paddle flow because somewhere, something itched within 20 strokes.
The river still flowed at a good speed, so we were still making some progress. Jonas seemed to be relatively unbothered by the tree fluff, which might be because he’s sitting in the back and isn’t the first line of defense against the tree fluff. Once neither of us was paddling, our boat went sideways. I turned our boat completely backward and enjoyed not having the tree fluff in my face for a moment.
Then I started paddling backward. I asked Jonas to put his boat mirror up so he could still see where we’re paddling to, but this way we could try to still paddle without me having to suffer the whole time. It’s funny how it feels so weird to move our arms in the other direction, and have the pressure of pushing the water on the other muscle. It’s a completely different motion.
The tree fluff is out of my face, so I’m happy. For a little while.
The First Hydroelectric Dam
Once the water stopped flowing, the backward paddling was too inefficient to continue. We were approaching the first hydroelectric dam (Wasserkraftwerk) in Bertoldsheim. We had to portage around on the right-hand side, but the satellite imagery told us there are some islands in the middle of the barrage lake and a rather large sandbank with low tide. Getting stuck in the mud would only add more to our problems.
The wind picked up as we paddled against it, facing forward. I had the idea to walk on the shore and pull the boat with Jonas in it, but that didn’t really work. I got back in, and we paddled against the wind towards the exit but steering clear off the islands and presumed sandbank. It was pretty brutal. I could feel the fluff coming through the dust mask and past my sunglasses. The word “antihistamine” popped into my head and I had a throwback to that time I actually went to the doctor’s to do an allergy test, which came back negative.
Finally, at 12:40, we’re at the dam. I need a fucking break.
We portaged around and sat in the shadow, reapplied sunscreen, change clothes, and did all the usual things we need to be on land for. I ask Jonas if my face looks swollen since my eyes feel puffy and bloated. He says they look like normal, but I don’t believe him.
We’re about to leave when two kayakers emerge via the stairs (which we never use). They each have their own bright-red kayak and seem very jolly. They’re having a break in the shadow as well and eat some stuff. They also started in Donauwörth today, and are also going to Neuburg an der Donau.
At 13:05, we’re floating again. Jonas said in German “See you at the next dam, at the lastest!” (to the guys, though we knew they’d probably overtake us very quickly. The current from the dam propels us forward enough to make it sandwich ‘o clock. We both eat our generously filled sandwiches while floating backward again to dodge the pollens. It’s delicious, wholesome, and very well-deserved, I think. We’re now over half-way distance-wise, with one dam left before Neuburg an der Donau.
Overtaken by the Guys
I’m a slow eater. I haven’t even finished my sandwich yet when I see the sun’s shimmer reflected near the dam. It’s the wet paddles from the guys. Even though we’ve floated about two kilometers away from the dam, we can still see it as the river is like a ruler. I swallow the last bit of sandwich when the guys are only 100 meters away. We start paddling face-forward towards the first river bend.
The guys pull up next to us in their kickass kayaks. They look very comfy and very familiar with the area. One guy exchanges a few words with Jonas when we pass the Friedberger Ach, which joins the Danube from the right-hand side. Something about that you can also bypass the Bertoldsheim dam via that channel. I look it up on my map, but can’t find where they’re supposed to touch before it rejoins here: this would include a portage somewhere before. Anyway, we’re paddling the Danube and not a tributary.
The guys overtake us casually and we paddle on calmly. They’re very fast and maneuverable, and the wind doesn’t affect them as much as it does our high-rimmed canoe. They have a rudder, feathered paddles, and very little (if any) luggage. But they probably need two cars – one in Neuburg, one in Donauwörth – to complete this operation with their hard-shelled kayaks. Different gear, different (dis)advantages.
The surroundings have actually changed since paddling past Donauwörth; the flatness made way for rolling hills again, like back when we started – but with sunshine. The shoreside was forested and quite steep. It looked like a very pleasant place to go for a hike.
The Second Hydroelectric Dam
After a turn, we spotted the Bittenbrunn Wasserkraftwerk in the distance. I once again saw the shimmer of a wet kayak paddle reflecting the sunlight. They were already at the stairs. We still had two kilometers of headwind to paddle against. Just a little more, and we’d arrive in Neuburg an der Donau.
We land at 14:55. There’s a floating beer garden next to the stairs that are closed right now. Soon we can drink a beer to celebrate 32 kilometers. Just one more time, we lift the boat out of the water and into the next spot. We’ve been drinking quite some water now non-stop, to prevent dehydration and for me to deal with an itchy throat. My face still feels very swollen, and I use some of that Fresh and Clean Danube water to cool it down. It doesn’t help.
At 15:10, we paddle into the current and pick up speed for the final kilometers. If only I could keep the pace now. It feels like Jonas has been doing most of it. That makes me feel even worse.
Arriving in Neuburg an der Donau
We paddle through a few more bends and pass the Freibad (open-air swimming pool). There’s obviously lots of screaming and activity on such a warm day. I almost didn’t spot him, but a kayaker in a faded-red kayak gently paddles on the right-hand shore against the current and close to the Freibad. We exchange energy-efficient pleasantries, as to not bother the man too much. The current is very, very strong here, and we’re bracing ourselves to slow down to land soon.
The city of Neuburg appears. It has a castle or palace similar to the one in Sigmaringen: too large for the size of the surrounding town. It’s all very pretty though. We go around the Leopoldininsel on the right-hand side and duck under the main car bridge. Jonas spots the floating pier before me. We’re not used to this level of infrastructure, so we have to quickly find agreement on where and how to approach the pier at such a high speed. Eventually, we choose to land at the upstream part and get sideways to it. The current pushes us against it, but we’re not at risk of losing control and floating on.
I get out first, then I help Jonas get out. It’s 15:40. We lift the boat onto the shallow pier and Jonas goes to find the campsite office. It takes quite a while before he returns. There’s another kayak at our pier. It’s… a whole new level of a kayak. There’s a proper mast for sailing, leeboards on the side for stability, and a fucking bilge pump. The brand name is Feathercraft, looks potentially foldable, and it fits two people who are currently not here. I expect to find them or their tent on the campgrounds later.
There are flip flops next to that boat, so I think they belong to one of the persons owning that boat. I was wrong. The man who paddled against the current returns while I’m still waiting for Jonas to return from checking us in. He casually lands his boat on the speedy side of the pier, puts his paddle down, and climbs out of the sit-in kayak. It’s no biggie. He lifts up his paddle with one hand and his boat out of the water with the other, then puts on those flip flops and walks away into the sunset. I’m still here waiting for Jonas while cooling my feet with the cool Danube water through my neoprene socks.
Pitching Our Tent at the Neuburg Canoe Club
Jonas finally returns with bad news. He couldn’t find anybody who could help him register and pay for our stay. But staying we will. After lifting our stuff off the pier and into the shadow, he points out that he didn’t even find out where the tent area is. I ask what he means by that, and he responds with that there are no tents around here nowhere. Only campervans and caravans. I ask again what he means… where are the people from that moored kayak? They must surely have a tent pitched here somewhere?
But they didn’t. We were the first tent people to have arrived today, it seems. I walk around the campsite trying to find out where the tent area should be. I also can’t find it, but Jonas apparently found some more information on the campsite’s website. It was next to the toilet building near the caravans and campervans. After discussing, we decided to pitch it in the proper place near the toilets instead of the ‘spillover’ place next to the pier where we were standing.
We pitched our tent, moved our stuff in, and finally went out to enjoy that beer. We first tried at the Bootshaus, where we did get a beer and managed to pay the €18 for our campsite, but no food; their menu consisted of like five items, and two of them were sold out. In the bathroom, I did see that my eyes were kind of swollen. There was this distinct fold on my right cheek below my eyesocket that presumably wasn’t there before. It’s probably from swollen sinuses.
We decided to go to Central, which is a beer garden more in the city. That’s where we got another beer, a giant Käsespatzle for me and a Schweinebraten mit Knödel for Jonas. It felt very deserved. Afterward, we returned to our tent and relaxed in preparation for tomorrow. In Ingolstadt, we’d finally again have an Airbnb waiting for us for five whole days. But we still have to paddle the 18 kilometers towards there.
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