Events chronicled in this story happened on the 8th of June, 2019. Jonas and I paddled our inflatable canoe from Ingolstadt to Vohburg, 16.5km away. It was our 13th paddle day on the river Danube. Ingolstadt is a special place because that’s where the TID (Tour International Danubien) starts. That’s the people who paddle the Danube as a tour group.
Five Nights in an Airbnb in Ingolstadt
We took a break. For five nights after our arrival from Neuburg an der Donau, we slept, cooked for ourselves, and worked at a very pleasant Airbnb in Ingolstadt’s suburbia. We’d booked a room in a house. It’s a very pleasant neighborhood, with many dog owners. Our Airbnb owners also owned a very friendly dog, that definitely made our stay even more enjoyable.
And yes, we could finally cook for ourselves again. That’s by far the biggest advantage of getting an Airbnb over a hotel. We got a lot of goodies from the local Edeka and prepared some really wholesome meals. To me, it’s about controlling what goes in there. I like having control over what I eat.
Jonas got a lot of work done in those days, and I did too. I had quite the backlog from blog posts – going all the way back to Munderkingen, still in Baden-Württemberg! – that I’d mostly written but not edited yet. I thought I had five missing blog posts, but there were actually six of them. The root cause of this were the days we went camping and paddling again the next day; I didn’t have an off-day to write it up in between, so I had to stack the days for writing. Camping has been enjoyable, but also kind of inconvenient and a struggle.
On Thursday the 6th of June we visited the center of Ingolstadt. It was very hot that day, reaching almost thirty degrees Celsius. We took a bus from our neighborhood to the central bus station on the north side of the river. We had a weird kind of day ticket bought online which allowed 5 people to travel all day by bus for €8.10.
Ingolstadt is quite nice. We ate ice cream – as one does when it’s hot outside – and strolled around some of the sights. There was still much of the tree fluff flying around, and I had to press my sunglasses into my face to avoid a collision with the poor membranes around my eyes. Some people in the pedestrian zone seemed confused by the hot weather, or they were high on drugs and clearly enjoying themselves.
We did some of the shopping in the center before returning home in our nice suburban neighborhood that’s the polar opposite of what goes on in the city center. Another day, we walked around our neighborhood to scout shortcuts to our launch spot and only encountered cyclists and dog owners and people gardening from behind their small yet deterring picket fences.
Departure Day: Ingolstadt to Vohburg
We say goodbye to our pleasant apartment and head downstairs. Surprisingly, our heavy ass kayak backpack is standing in the hallway. It was in the garage before and we expected to pick it up there. We open the door to put the backpack on outside and there is Bonnie the Doggo. She’s very happy to see us and has totally been expecting us. She’s still most interested in Jonas and licking his bare skin. Today it’s ankles. We get out the door, I put the backpack on, and we pet Bonnie goodbye a few more times. What a fucking dog.
It’s one kilometer to our entry point. We hike over the dike to the shoreline of the artificial lake. We walk past the mysterious factory that increases our hiking distance and wonder whether it could have been possible to shortcut over it. At least the tree fluff seems to have gone. I betted that it would take a few days to be gone, but I wasn’t sure about it when I made that statement.
Setting Up Our Boat
We arrive at our launch spot next to the weir at 9:25. Two ladies with two fluffy dogs chat with Jonas as we’re still busy preparing things. Because I’ve had such little interaction with local people in the last days, I totally forgot we’re in Germany. Jonas handled the interaction while I kept at it with prepping the boat for departure.
By 9:50 we’re almost ready to go, The boat isn’t overinflated and everything went very smoothly. Quite a good start. We have about 15 kilometers ahead of us before we arrive in Vohburg, based on our simplified table. There is one weir, about 1.5 kilometers before our exit point in Vohburg. According to Jonas’ research, it has a… “self-service lock”. I doubt that it exists and anticipate a portage, but Jonas trusts this information. We paddle out of Haunwöhr at 9:55, which is definitely a record in terms of setting up shop. This will be the first time we see Ingolstadt from the river.
Ingolstadt and the Military Base
We paddle calmly through Ingolstadt and under its advanced bridges. They all seem to have suspended cable cycling paths, with even a mid-bridge crossing between them. The views on the city are slightly less exciting than anticipated, I admit. Only the castle and the tower ‘Kavalier Dallwigk’ appear clearly on the left shore.
In the distance, we spot the two towers from the generic Ingolstadt powerplant (Kraftwerk). It’s funny that only now we’re getting close since these two red-white-striped towers were the first thing we saw from Ingolstadt when arriving there on paddle day 12. We saw those towers, which are easily 5 kilometers east of the city center, way before we spotted any sign of a town. And now we’re padding towards those guys.
But first, we pass by a military base that’s on the right-hand shore. Every time there’s a slipway, there’s an equal and opposite slipway on the other side of the river. The left-shore isn’t a military base. There are some warning signs, but nothing specific, and most of it comes too late and from the other side of the river. I have a feeling that most of these river road signs aren’t meant for us non-powered boats. Or that it’s only for professional or commercial sailing.
We’re about to approach the Ingolstadt powerplant when Jonas looks over his shoulder and spots a boat. He informs me and I’m not really sure what I’m looking at. It could be a motorboat, or it could be a muscle-powered boat. As they approach closer, we learn that it’s two rowing boats: one with two rowers and one coxswain (i.e. steering/yelling person), the other boat with three rowers and also one coxswain.
They casually overtake us on the left side while we admire the two towers. I ask Jonas what kind of powerplant it is, and he responds with “Usually when they don’t want to mention it, it’s coal”. Aha. Jonas does some more research on the last day of his pre-paid internet package and finds out that they used to burn fossil fuels like petrol here to power the city and the region. He quickly adds that the place has been out of order since 2015. Good.
We spot the rowers ducking under the bridge and fading away from our horizon. We’re really slow today, but that’s okay. There’s some wind from the back and we’re enjoying it. It’s predicted to pick up soon, so I’m hoping to finally get a chance to put the kayak sail to good use.
Sailing Our Canoe to Wasserkraftwerk Vohburg
After munching a sandwich, I decided that that little breeze from behind is good enough news to unfold the kayak sail. Yes, the wind is slowly picking up, but I was still a little too enthusiastic about the thought of successfully using that sail. I popped it open and… it fell down back on me. No wind. Not yet. But I didn’t want to give up just yet.
Meanwhile, the effects of the hydroelectric dam become noticeable already before the bridge that’s 5 kilometers away from the dam. Since we’re technically not in a hurry or wasting precious paddle time, I keep trying to get the sail up. Only after the bridge, it finally works.
The sail becomes convex as the air fills it. I set the sail and fasten it to my vest so I can still use my paddle. I see the sail didn’t unfold properly, so when the wind eventually dies down again, I grab it and look at the error. The plastic of the window in the sail stuck to itself, and I’m trying to unstick those layers by pulling it. It takes a couple of tries. Eventually, I manage to get it loose, but not without leaving a small hole in the plastic. Bummer. I can tape that up later.
Now that the sail has its full dimensions, we use it successfully for quite some time. The wind stabilized and we discovered that it’s best that Jonas doesn’t paddle to steer, but stick in his paddle behind him and use it as a rudder. Only then we maintain a very good direction toward the lock.
This is an absolute shitload of fun! Without help from paddling, we maintain a good speed of about 7 kilometers per hour on the almost stagnant water. We pass the dysfunctional power plant of Vohburg on the right-hand shore very easily. I hear the water split beneath our bow as we cut through the surface. Just for this experience, it was worth carrying around this thing that had been mostly useless so far.
A few hundred meters before our arrival at the Stufe Vohburg, I fold away the sail. I do it in one try, without thinking much of it as I’ve done it before a bunch of times. This day has been very cool so far.
The Self-Operated Lock of Vohburg
We arrive at Stufe Vohburg at 12:30. On my suggestion, we first paddle inside the lock expecting to find a big red button or something to self-operate that lock as was promised by our internet sources. We feel like fools when we’re in the thing and there’s absolutely nothing for that, so we paddle our boat back to see if we need to portage or just deeply misunderstood this machine. This lock just… feels different from the other locks. Not Like Other Locks. At all.
Jonas stares at a panel and I really need to pee. There’s not much privacy here, but currently no people around. So I go for it. Right after relieving myself I’m finishing up when I hear those sounds of a family on a day out. Shit. I hurry to put my leggings back over my bare butt but don’t manage in time. A few heads pop up above the grass and stop laughing when they recognize the presence of another human being in a compromised position. In my mind I’m preparing an excuse I hope I don’t need to use. Sorry dudes, I really needed to go.
I walk off awkwardly and take my trash. Straight to the panel. Jonas has been standing in front of it figuring it out like an NPC who’s ready to shout “Asshole!” at me. Of course, no such thing happens.
I look down the lock and shit that’s scary. It’s very fucking deep. Jonas starts talking about how he thinks it’s doable. He explains the steps to me and tells me he really wants to try it. It does seem like we need two people to operate the lock: one in the boat, one at the buttons. Jonas has been in a kayak in a lock before and is quite confident. I’m open to the new experience, but I’ve also released the straps of our luggage in anticipation of portaging around.
Filling the Lock
I analyze the machine. There’s the upper part where our boat is with a closed gate, the lock itself with an open gate and the lower part where we want to get at. The lock’s water is at the low level. This means we first have to shut the lower gate, fill up the water to high levels, then open the gate on our side. The water in the upper area before the lock is very clean, which means that the rowing people (of whom we haven’t seen shit for a while) must have gone through. Normally there’s a lot of stinky debris like floating branches and other organic material in there.
I say we give it a go. It isn’t so complicated, and Jonas can take a picture of the operative instructions to help me from inside the boat. Yeah, we decided that it’s him that goes down with the boat and I just press buttons. I’m on dry land with my paddle just waiting to get back in.
Jonas puts the handle into Bergfahrt (‘go up the mountain’) position and presses the button once. Nothing happens, so he decides to hold the button. Slowly the gate closes. It’s 12:40 and the water starts to fill, but it goes so slow that it’s hard to see anything is happening. We go over procedures once more while the thing fills up. I guess we’re doing this.
Meanwhile, the people who’ve interrupted my pipi are still standing around the lock. I recognize them by now as a mom-dad couple and a teenager couple enjoying their Saturday. Jonas found out that this week would be a Bavarian holiday of sorts, which means we’ve been expecting many people out and about on the sunnier days such as today. I’m not sure whether they’re aware that I’m the failed stealth public pisser or just erased that part of their memory in favor of fascination with the workings of the lock. I’m quite annoyed that we have an audience even though we haven’t yet committed to even using the lock.
By 13:00, the lock is filled up to what we assume to be the ‘mystery red line’ and Jonas paddles the boat in there after I opened the upper gate. Some other cyclists come by to glance at what we’re doing but leave soon after. The family also leaves after I make the call. For experience!
Pressing the Red Button and Descending Jonas
I put the lock in Talfahrt and press the red button. The upper gate closes while Jonas holds on to the top of a very long pole. After the gate closes and I release my hand from the big red button, the descent begins.
It is slow.
It’s excruciatingly slow.
At first, it’s still a bit exciting. But it takes forever for the concrete platform behind Jonas to appear again. And Jonas is in the sunshine almost the entire time. We’re chatting about it. He moves his ‘pole position’ once to get more ready to leave this thing, which is a little optimistic. When the water gets seriously low, I walk to the exit gate at the lower end of the river to compare water levels with my eyes. Every time I look, it seems like nothing really has changed. The amount of water disappearing also seems to diminish over time.
Two guys on mountain bikes drop in but don’t linger longer than a minute or two. They seem to be aware that it’s taking fucking ages for this thing to complete a cycle. These guys never approach the operative panel and are totally OK people.
The Kraftwerk Vohburg only has a height of 6.07 meters, but it looks really deep from up here and down where Jonas is. I ask him to take pictures from down there so that I can see how scary it looked later. Next time I really want to be in there myself so we can share the burden of boredom. Jonas is really happy he hit the head before doing this. That would have been a major regret, especially with the numerous but various audiences coming by to see the lock… do its thing.
People Who Are Not OK
We’re alone with our lock for quite some time as well. I chat with Jonas in the hope he doesn’t get too bored. He asks me where the sunscreen is, but right now it’s not reachable for him from within the lock. He’s constantly between pulling his sleeves down to protect his arms against the sun, to pulling them up because it’s hot. Where I am, it’s quite windy and cool, but the wind doesn’t really reach deep into the shaft. He could move into the shadow, but then I can’t see him anymore and we’d have an even harder time communicating as the echo grows on the exposed bare walls of the lock.
When Jonas is ‘only’ two meters above exit height, two middle-aged men and a young girl in a bathing suit arrive at the lock. I assume they arrived by bike like everyone else. The mustachioed man realizes that the lock is operative, and decides that this is the perfect teaching moment for his precious pumpkin munchkin angel-face of a mistake. I think she’s about eight years old. Or five. I don’t know. Obviously, she doesn’t care about the damn lock and can’t even see in it because she’s short (I’ve been there). The other guy is clean-shaven and relatively unobtrusive.
We perform the usual small-talk via Jonas’ German skills. We’re still in the last meter or so of letting Jonas slowly and calmly descend to the level of exiting safely when this chevron mustache guy starts hanging around the panel with the red button. I walk back to the panel to claim my territory and show dominance, and move my enormous cock stand-in of a paddle and wave it around a few times before putting it down elsewhere. I hope this did the trick.
I walk off to the area where I can actually see how far we still have to go when mister Ron Jeremy mustache starts hanging around the red panel again. I walk back immediately and tell him in my deep-yet-feminine voice “Can you not touch the panel, please.” This isn’t really a question. That’s why I didn’t voice my concern as a question. That’s my partner in there, and I’m sure none of us know the consequences of pushing a button mid-operation. I’m not kidding.
Dr. Phil here nods like he understood what I said but also raises his eyebrows and hands while lowering his head in that disgusting way of a man who doesn’t take what you’re saying seriously. I’m not fucking around here. I spent enough time around this type of man to know that they agree to not continue a certain behavior, and then continue it anyway. It’s the type that intentionally ignores other people’s boundaries.
But again, this isn’t really about my boundaries. There’s a human I deeply care about down in the pits who can’t easily get out and depends on me taking certain actions at certain times to get out of that situation. I try to casually inform Jonas about the situation up here in verbal code while he’s down there getting a heatstroke. Jonas doesn’t respond much, doesn’t seem to be worried about me fighting off the dumb-whiskered lion up here, or doesn’t see the situation. I hope he’d use his man-voice coming from his cis-male body to put an end to this tomfoolery.
Five minutes later, I’m forced to give the water levels another check from the reference point. I walk away knowing that this man-child is very likely to go back to the big red buttons to test my resolve and possible homicidal intentions. If he does hurt my partner, I’ll go Catelyn Stark at the Red Wedding on his spawn. I feel under a lot of pressure to speed up this process, and I can’t do that without knowing how far we still have to go. So I walk off to the vantage point only to see that there’s probably still half a meter to go.
Turning my head, I look over to the panel and see that the guy has his fucking hand on the red button. “I said don’t touch the button!” I shout while walking back to the panel. He looks at me like he’s been caught masturbating – then his face changes to smugness. I shoo the man away in the same manner one would try to deter a cheeky seagull from stealing your cheeseburger. And I’ve been nothing but polite and patient with this son of a bitch.
He mumbles some “I wasn’t going to press the button…” and sulks in patriarchy, but doesn’t leave the scene with the people he’s setting a bad example for. I retort “There’s a person in there” and “I’m in charge of operating the lock” and the unbelievable “This is not a toy.” I can’t believe I have to manage the feelings of this grown-ass man and end up in a fucking negotiation.
I redirect my attention to Jonas. We wait for another couple of minutes and see that the kayak sail – which is folded up and attached to the front of the boat – is slipping out from its fastening in a weird way. I am not abandoning my post now, so I’m solely going by the information Jonas gives me about his slow descent. The slippery pole he has reluctantly held for some 5 meters is completely dry above him. I hear that asshat loudly complain to his shithead audience that it’s time to open the gate. Jonas says that he thinks the water has stopped moving. I ask if he’s sure and I tell him I can’t walk off and check the exit water. He says I should do it.
I press the button. It makes a very long buzzing sound as usual, but nothing happens with the gate. The gate stays shut for a good whole minute while I keep pressing it. I can’t really communicate with Jonas over the sound. At some point, I stop pressing the button and talk to Jonas. He says the water has been going down more quickly. I press and hold again, and the gate finally opens. Once it opens, I flip the switch back in neutral and hurry to the vantage point to see Jonas leave. Then I run downstairs to meet Jonas at the stairs that lead into the water. We’re done here. It only took us… 65 minutes, or easily four portages, to finally get through the self-service lock of Vohburg.
Arrival in Vohburg
Jonas is barely through the gate by 13:45, when in an act of “disappointed, but not surprised” the gate closes immediately behind him. Those fuckers needed to dick around with the lock, didn’t they? After I get in the boat, see the kayak sail has broken, and I go off to Jonas about that experience I just had dealing with this man. We just float the last 1.5km to Vohburg while I vent. I’m Big Mad still by the time we arrive at the bridge. The current here is quite strong, so we need to make some decisions on where to get out soon. Preferably, we’d get out under the bridge, but there’s no low embankment without nettles.
Right after the bridge, we spot the Pegel (water level monitoring station) of Vohburg, which has some stairs. We take the option to get out there instead of the slipway at the free campsite 100 meters downstream. We turn the boat, paddle upstream, and land our boat at the muddy stairs. It’s 14:00. The bicycle people who’d interrupted me taking a piss and then hung around the lock before we filled it had chosen these stairs to have a break. We say hi and continue to get out. They offer their help, but then decide that the best they can help us is by leaving the spot.
Jonas puts the luggage uphill while I keep the boat from floating off. Once we have everything on dry land, I walk up the stairs to see that there’s an Italian ice cream/pizza place named San Marco with public benches nearby and a big tree for shadow. This is a nice surprise!
We turn the vents of the boat a bit open so it can deflate itself slowly while it’s drying in the sun. Jonas and I drink a beer on the terrace and further discuss the events of the day. We’re only 170 meters away from our hotel for the next two nights. I first check out the slipway next to the free campsite of Vohburg to see if it’s a better launch spot.
A smiling clean-shaven guy in a light blue shirt walks to the slipway filming something vertically with his phone. He greets me politely and goes on with whatever business is making him jolly. Right after I see why he’s filming in that direction, a red inflatable canoe pops around the corner with a mustachioed guy and a useless girl child in the front. I don’t recognize them immediately, but my gut feeling says “Yikes!” and I make myself scarce.
This means they could push the button another two times to get their lightweight watercraft through the lock, yet felt the need to infringe on my personal space to try to push it a third time. All to entertain their shitling at the expense of our (and their own) safety.
I don’t think Jonas and I are ever doing this lock thing again.