Events chronicled in this story happened on Monday the 3rd of June, 2019. We paddled our inflatable canoe from a village called Neuburg an der Donau to the big regional city Ingolstadt. It was a distance of about 18 kilometers.
Packing Up in Neuberg an der Donau
We both slept alright in our tent on the campground in Neuburg an der Donau. Getting up was very difficult though, because we woke up first at 6:00 and considered it too early, and then again at 7:15 when it got too hot in the tent. Edeka opened at 7:00, and we’d already discussed that Jonas would grab some breakfast from there in the morning while I did some packing and prepping the boat.
That’s what I did. I flipped the boat, put in everything that was ready, cleaned and filled the hydration bladders, and packed what I could. Jonas returned with a bag of goodies. We took down the tent and packed up the dry bag full of camping stuff. Then we ate a Bavarian baked good. Everything was standing in the strong morning sunshine for quite a while. The night before, we’d slightly deflated the boat to prevent issues of overinflation. Today, the boat looked wonky.
It wasn’t the usual right-side air chamber, as expected. No. This time, it was the bottom air chamber. It looked really strange. We checked the pressure, which said it was rather underinflated instead of overinflated. Jonas pushed with his hand against it to pop it back out, which didn’t work. He went to brush teeth while I continued packing. After that, it was my turn to brush teeth.
By the time I returned, Jonas had deflated the entire boat and reinflated it, in an attempt to fix the shape. It hadn’t worked, and he’d put out all the luggage I’d strapped in before. If anything, the shape was worse. Jonas grew frustrated and wanted to throw in the towel on today’s paddle day. I repacked the boat without his help when he took a rest in the shadow. I moved all the stuff in the shadow since the sun was already so strong. Putting the boat in the water would be the best way to really test the shape, I reckoned. The cool river water must cool the boat down, and our weight must pop the air chamber back into the right shape.
Jonas reluctantly collaborated.
Leaving Neuburg an der Donau for Ingolstadt
Only by 10:10 we left the campsite via the pier the same way we’d arrived. The river flow was still very good around Neuburg. Today, we had only one hydroelectric dam to portage around and one we’d feel the consequences of but didn’t need to pass.
We first discuss the interaction between us that had happened before. Without paddling but with more breakfast, we discussed what had occurred. Now we’re in the boat, everything seemed fine again. Perhaps it’s for the best to always keep the boat in the shadow when there is any.
The hose of Jonas’ hydration bladder pops out, and not at the good end. He tells me about half a liter of the two liters that were in there had spilled into the boat. He managed to fix the problem himself, but it was yet another defeat to today.
The pollens and tree fluff weren’t that strong in the morning, but there were a lot of gnats and tiny flies. The forecast had told us that the wind wouldn’t be as strong as the day before, so maybe my suffering of unidentified potential allergies would be OK, for now. I still had to use my sunglasses but could do without the dust mask for now.
About four kilometers from the first dam, we passed one tiny strange dam on the right-hand side of the river at the factory with the two towers. It appears to be an industrial area that also does glasswork with a company named Verallia. I could see how they’d have a want for cool river water for… industrial purposes. It could be that this is where the used beer bottles go to their recycling station to be cleaned and reused. In Germany, they know this as the Pfand (deposit) system, which means you pay a little more for every beverage and then you can get that money back at a shop when you recycle it. Good incentives.
The First (and Last) Wasserkraftwerk of the Day
We arrived at the first hydroelectric plant (Wasserkraftwerk) named Bergheim at 11:30. This one was tricky, because like one portage of the day before (the one in Bertoldsheim), we needed to carry our boat across a dam that also has a road. But this time, it was a major road. Loads of trucks drove over it at high and intimidating speeds. I’d hoped for a traffic light here for us, but Germany isn’t actually all that organized once you leave the urban centers. Here, it was anarchy. And we really needed to be a team now.
We managed to bring our boat to the edge of the road. We’d decided to wait until there was really no doubt from either of our sides whether we could make it across or not. It’s strange how unscary it is when a big truck drives by when you’re hitchhiking and potentially using those forms of transport; they’re an opportunity, not a threat. But now, as a person who’s not hitchhiking at the moment, they’re really scary. They can’t break for us on time. We both need to lift the boat at the same time and move across the road. The road is an inhospitable place for our advanced floatation device.
But we crossed with no real issues. As we’d discussed before, we’d wait. And we waited until the coast was really clear after a couple of minutes of standing by the road. After reapplying sunscreen and taking a break to catch our breath, we put the boat back in the water on the other side and paddled on at 11:55. We ate some more in the boat while floating backward like the day before, to prevent fluffy pollen to latch onto my sandwich.
The Long Stretch and Some Danger
We didn’t feel much in a hurry since the distance was ‘only’ less than 20 kilometers. We focused on staying in the shadows to stay cool and not risk sunburn. Some trees hung into the water, which meant we had to do a lot of steering to stay close to the shore and in the shadows. That’s quite a lot of work, but also very worth it on a day of more than 25°C.
We paddled on calmly close to the shoreline when suddenly we hear cracking sounds. I can’t identify what it is and whether it’s human or animal. We pass through the shadows of some trees on the right-hand shore. A little sidearm of the old Danube (Alte Donau) joins us there. On the shore of that confluence, we see and hear the awesome sound of a tree breaking apart and falling down. The crown of the tree rips apart and along with the top branches, it slides down past the other branches and lands on a trail beneath with awesome force and sound. The silence afterward as if nothing happened leaves us witnesses only with commentary.
“What the fuck!” I shout like a reflex. Jonas agrees with my assessment. While it happened nowhere near the water, this did make us rethink paddling close to the shore in the shadow of those trees. Maybe we should be extra-vigilant to the trees now we know what a falling tree sounds like. I’m sure there’s an “if a tree falls in a forest” pun to be made here, but I’m not willing to do the work.
We spot the first signs of a big settlement in the distance. This must be Ingolstadt, our destination for the day. Ingolstadt is where the TID starts. The TID is the non-profit that organizes a tour over the Danube every year. They paddle from Ingolstadt all the way to the Black Sea over the course of 2.5 months. They start in mid or late June, I think. We’d shortly considered joining them, but chose not to because a) I don’t like tour groups and b) they do it all so quickly that there won’t really be any time to see anything and c) they don’t start at the origin in Donaueschingen. They’ll probably overtake us somewhere in the next month.
Arriving in Ingolstadt
Left and right of us appear some long islands, like they’re the old embankment that got flooded. A singular tree stands gracefully in the water. The current has stopped and there’s no shadow to paddle in here. Soon, we’ll arrive at the lake-like widening of the river before the Laufwasserkraftwerk Ingolstadt – the dam. In that widening, there’s an island. On the map, it’s called Uferbatterie F (shore battery F), labelled as “historical ruins”. Besides probably being part of the old defense line of Ingolstadt, it’s a tiny mystery in itself. It probably got submerged and became an island when they created this barrage.
My plan was to land there and eat lunch before paddling the last 200 meters to our exit spot on the embankment of the stagnant river. I wasn’t sure whether this would be possible. The outline of the hydroelectric dam and the suburban neighborhood became more defined as we slowly approached. The little island looked wild. I couldn’t spot any remains of human presence from afar, so we decided to approach.
The closer we got, the more birds we spotted. Definitely a bunch of herons, perhaps some storks, and a few swans and geese. Upon close examination, the birds decided to fly off their peaceful island. It seemed like there was no place here for humans to eat lunch (sandwiches, not the birds).
We paddled a few more strokes and arrived at our stairs. It really wasn’t far from the little island. The birds returned to their home as we got further and further away. I got out of the boat, helped Jonas get out, then we got our stuff out and lifted the boat onto the land.
The embankment here was a steep dike with a cycling path on top. There wasn’t much space for us and our stuff. We had to park our stuff parallel to the path to keep it open for the many cyclists on such a warm day. Next to the dike on the lower part behind it was yet another bike path with some stairs leading down. We put the boat on the ramp and I stuck the paddles out as a warning for cyclists on top of the dike.
There wasn’t really a place for us to sit and there was much tree fluff in the air. The trees that provided some shadow on the lower bike path seemed to be the culprit of that malicious tree fluff. There was so much of it next to the bike path. Every time a fast cyclist came by, their speed would kick up some of the fluff. I was… not happy.
We took a break, ate the last food, and waited for the boat to dry. Then we packed it all up. A man with a tiny dachshund dogs (the one that’s close to the floor) walked by when we got ready to hike. The adorable old dog had some troubles keeping up with his old man, and got distracted by sniffing our legs and gear. We hiked the last 400 meters to our Airbnb in the Haunwöhr suburb of Ingolstadt. A friendly lady and her excited and fluffy dog greeted and welcomed us into their home. This neighborhood seems to be dog country. I’m extra looking forward to this stay.
We’ll be staying here in Ingolstadt for a few nights to work and rest before continuing our canoe journey down the Danube.