Kayak Trip Day 14: Vohburg to Kelheim and the Donaudurchbruch

This is a story about the events surrounding our canoe trip down the Danube between Vohburg and Kelheim. It happened on the 10th of June, 2019. We paddled about 30 kilometers between the two towns.

Our Stay in Vohburg

We stayed in the ’boutique hotel’ Zur Post for two nights. The first evening, we went to a supermarket to get a few goods to eat on a bench for dinner. In the hotel, we drank some wine while Jonas played video games and I worked on the map of our trip. I was quite on a roll when I hit a silly limitation in the Google My Maps program. I went to bed quite worried that my two-days worth of work had been in vain.

The next morning (9th of June), Jonas worked a bit before waking me for breakfast. The hotel’s breakfast buffet was in a different building than where we were staying. It was really crowded there, probably because of the Pentecost weekend. It’s only then that we realized that today wasn’t just a Sunday where everything is closed, but tomorrow is also a public holiday where yet again everything will be closed. I hate public holidays. To add insult to injury, the week in between the Pentecost weekend and the next one is also a school holiday in Bavaria, as Jonas found out.

We spent the Sunday mostly working on our projects and researching stuff about Kelheim and Regensburg. After discussing my map issue with Jonas, I got back to work on it and found an elegant way to reorganize the features without being hindered by the restrictions. After a few hours, I have this beautiful map with tons of information about the Danube for everyone to enjoy. I’m pretty content with the results.

Jonas tried to contact his uncle who lives in Regensburg, but we didn’t hear back from him. Jonas also started feeling pretty ill towards the afternoon and took a rare midday nap. Towards the evening he got worse. With a very reluctant appetite, we went to an Italian restaurant.

Leaving Vohburg for Kelheim

The next day, Jonas didn’t feel much better. But he was excited to paddle again. At breakfast, I asked him if he was sure. I told him I could probably single-hand the boat while he took a train to Kelheim. He said he just needed to take it slow, and that he definitely felt a little bit better than the night before.

But it’s raining. The forecast didn’t tell us it would rain. It’s not the strongest we’ve seen, but it’s also not something we can ignore. We waterproof everything already before we start our hike to the launch spot. Sometimes we only put our phones in the waterproof cover when we’re about to go, but we can’t do that now.

We arrived at our launch spot at 9:30. There were some people camping at the free-of-charge campsite with rafts. We were quite happy we didn’t camp at this spot, because in the time it took us to build it all up, mosquitoes and gnats attacked our every move. While we were preparing our rig, some other people with a red hard-shelled canoe arrived. Then finally some kids with pointy sticks arrived who were hanging out a little too close to my precious boat. I hurried up our departure and we were afloat at 9:55. That’s 25 minutes to build up our entire set. A new record!

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Paddling Past the Military Base

In our hurry, we forgot that today is the best day to try out the fin in our boat. We’ve never used the fin so far. Today would have been the best day to put it in because we have no obstacles like weirs or locks to portage around. None of them. That’s the first day on this trip that we can get in the boat and – barring nature’s call – just not get out until we’re at our destination in Kelheim. A missed opportunity, but we’re not going to change it. Also, according to the manual, it’s impossible to put the fin in when the boat is already inflated. We’d have to start from scratch.

The river has a very nice speed here and we’re too fast for the mosquitoes to land on the boat. The currents are a bit weird here, with sections where it goes to the side and then spins around in a wobbly mess before it rejoins the river. We don’t want to get in there. The rain slows down and eventually comes to a total stop. About ten minutes after departure, we see the red canoe coming up from behind. Jonas wanted to install his boat mirror in the CabinMAX, but the CabinMAX was upside down. They’re faster than us, but only marginally so.

The shoreline has many signs saying “◀20”. At the very beginning, there’s a sign explaining what it means, but it’s quite overgrown and we can’t get the full message. Something about sticking to the middle of the river for the next 3 kilometers. Okay. Then a sign tells us to be careful and announces that we’re entering the military zone named “Katzau” on my map. Unlike the military base on our trip from Ingolstadt to Vohburg, this one occupies both shores of the Danube for about 1.5 kilometers. We were told by the internet to watch out for ropes in the water, but that it’s otherwise passable by boat. I have a feeling that most of these warnings apply only to motorboats anyway.

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The One-Hour Mark Challenge

As you might have derived from my previous posts, I’m really trying to collect some data on how much time it takes to cover some distance in certain conditions. It helps me in the short term project when we arrive at our destination, and in the long run, learn what’s a reasonable distance to do in one day and see if there’s a new limit to push or whether we should stick to the familiar. We’re absolutely not trying to paddle this river in the fastest time possible. Neither of us is a pro or wants to be one. We’re not doing this to get fit or something. Our reason for paddling weeks on end is that we think it’s something we enjoy.

Having said that, I do enjoy pushing for something on the short run in the canoe to see if we can break it. On this day, we had a current that helped us float downstream at a comfortable 6 kilometers per hour. We started at the river marker 2442.4 kilometers at 9:55. We’re now 35 minutes in our paddle day and we passed the 2436.4-kilometer mark. Our arrival marker should probably be 2412.2 once we dock in Kelheim. It seemed doable to paddle another 4 kilometers before the first hour passes. So I redirect my attention to paddle more.

Overtaken By the Red Canoe

The red canoe slowly overtakes us from the left. There are three people in there: one guy in the back, one older lady who isn’t paddling but definitely is living her best life, and one young woman in the front. The two paddles have one of these single-blade canoe paddles. That’s probably the type we’re also supposed to have with our inflatable canoe. We say “Servus!” back and forth and on they go. Jonas observes that the guy in the back uses his wooden paddle to course-correct like a rudder every four or five strokes. The technique of other paddlers is always intriguing.

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We’re approaching our one-hour mark and I see the numbers of the left shore slowly get smaller. It’s gonna be tight. I see a bridge up ahead, it’s near a town named Wöhr. It’s my focus point for the next kilometer or so where I try to maintain a nice rhythm and speed. The clock hits 10:55 and we’re next to marker 2432.8. We did 9.6 kilometers in this first hour. That’s almost one-third of the way. We physically added quite some speed to the river speed ourselves.

With a situation like this – strong current, nice weather, no dams – it’s suddenly understandable why the TID does Ingolstadt to Kelheim in one day. Even though Jonas doesn’t feel like he’s on his A-game, he knows we could easily do a lot more distance on a day like this than we thought imaginable.

Meanwhile, the red canoe stopped on the right-hand shore right after the bridge. They seem to have met some kind of vehicle there. Perhaps this is the distance they’re going today. We paddle past them and see that it’s some kind of campsite for campervans. This area is riddled with mosquitoes, as we find out the hard way by approaching the shore for a quick relief. The red canoe reenters the river and overtakes us again while we’re stalling and getting bitten. I grab my arsenal of anti-mosquito and post-bite stuff to aid Jonas and myself in these hard times.

The First Ferry and Camping Haderfleck

We’re approaching our first ever ferry crossing. We pass under some powerlines that buzz ominously above our heads and the landscape changes into the yellow shade of summer harvest. The ferry goes between a town called Hienheim (left) and Eining (right). We have no idea what to expect, but we’ve discussed what we will do: the boat goes first, no matter what. We aim for the back of the boat if it’s crossing. And we’re not pulling any stunts.

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As we approach it, something starts to move. I see two poles with a horizontal rope in between, and a rope leading down from that rope onto a little platform. It’s pulling it forward. The closer we get, the cuter it looks. It’s not a big motorized ferry. I’m not sure how it works, but it’s adorable and looks like a lot of fun. The Eining shore has a beer garden. It’s full of people this early on a public holiday (Whit Monday). The people on the ferry all seem to be foot passengers and cyclists. I think the ferry would fit one car and a brave driver, but if I’d be the ferry person I’d probably tell them to drive around it. We aim to go behind it and pass the cute ferry at 11:45. People on board seem to be genuinely happy to be on that wee ferry.

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After the ferry, Jonas tells me he’s tired and needs a break. I tell him to take one while I propel us forward. I ask him if using his paddle as a rudder to keep us going straight is too much, but he agrees to give it a try. For the next few kilometers, it’s just me paddling and Jonas steering calmly and in silence. It’s a meditative experience.


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After the next turn, we see the big hill that the landscape has announced for quite a while. It’s filled with a great variety of beautiful trees and looks like a fun place to be at. I’d love to go on a hike again. In the sharp right turn before the mountain, there’s a campsite on the left. Only Open Street Maps mentions it. And there’s a hint of its existence on German Wikipedia. I tried Googling it to see if it was a viable option to paddle there from Ingolstadt in one go and camp. It’s still a mystery.

We don’t make a stop here in the hamlet of Haderfleck, but I acknowledge its existence. I try to spot the signs of a campsite but can’t really find any but a small, unreadable sign on a tree. I will never know.

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Weltenburg – the Last Stop Before Kelheim

After the next sharp turn, the villages of Stausacker and Weltenburg appear. There’s another ferry here, and it seems to be another little one like before. Jonas tells me it’s not using any electricity and is just the work of the rudder person and the strong current that pushes the floating pontoon across. I’m not sure if I understand the mechanism he’s saying or if it’s true, but we don’t really have time to discuss things; everything is very hectic.

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As peaceful as the river bend was before getting to Kelheim, the more abrupt and shocking it is now that it’s under the influence of human impact. It’s chaotic and disruptive. Where did all these people come from? We’d spotted a few people and small groups on bicycles next to the river before we got here, but if only cyclists were responsible the math wouldn’t add up.

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It started with a few people on the left shore at a floating pier with many wooden canoes. Then there’s the ferry with many people anticipating a crossing. Jonas alerts me to the “Austrian flag” boat sign on the right shore which means we can’t go through there. And finally, there’s the monastery of Weltenburg. There’s a sediment beach around it and first I think it would be fun to land there and check it out since there are only 10 people and two canoes, including an inflatable one that looks familiar from online shopping. Then we turn the corner and suddenly see… hundreds of people on that beach. And they’re dangerous.

First, we spot a young man skipping a pebble found on the beach onto the water. It goes very far and sinks in an area we were about to paddle to. So we make a wider turn around the tight river bend. Then we see this guy’s friend do the same. I realize they’re all standing on a beach of smooth pebbles excellent for stone skipping to the endless sound of their ricochets. Soon, I see a whole army of these dickbags pulling the same move. And no, we weren’t too close to the shore at all.

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The monastery is quite old. It’s probably the second oldest continuously beer-brewing location in the world. I’d loved to have a beer there as a break at the beer garden, but today was not the day. And there was more danger and discomfort coming up.

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The Donaudurchbruch

The strong current pulls us through the bend. This is where another ferry should be, but we don’t see a rope above the river nor any ferry-like object. But there are tons of flat-bottomed motorboats that fit about 12 people. They’re making the crossing quite often and seem to have privatized the business of what obviously should be public transport. These guys look like the aggressive taxi drivers of the rivers.

Then there are two floating docks on the right-hand side of the river. This is where rather large river cruise ships that come from Kelheim (or perhaps even Regensburg?) come to moor. We don’t see any of them right now.

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We paddle on to pass through the Donaudurchbruch (Danube breach). That’s where the river apparently perforated the tall and hard rocks to form a gorge. Beautiful cliffs. Strong and tricky currents. Then, the loud sound of a ship’s horn rushes through the channel and echoes on the walls. The visuals follow and a very large white ship appears between the two walls of another tight turn. At least it announced its presence.

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I’m trying to strike a nice balance between recording this stunning beauty and relentless intimidation and contributing my share of speed, stability, and direction in our boat. Jonas is very much back in the game and alert as heck. We dock our boat onto a shallow protruding rock on the right-hand side waiting for that boat to pass. First, one of these little motorboats passes and causes many sharp and choppy waves. The boat passes and we’re paddling away again when a kayaker paddles around our corner upstream. It’s so fucking busy.

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Paddling on to Kelheim

Jonas doesn’t like I’m recording so much of this. We argue about this and I assure him I’m still paying more attention to possible dangers and that I can act accordingly any second. I’m intimidated by all the novelty, but I’m not afraid we’ll lose control. We pass by the big wall with the super strong currents that features many big rings hewn into the stone. As I understood Jonas’ translation of the Wikipedia page, the rings are for boat people from the medieval times to pull their boats up against the current with the help of these rings. I think walking or horsecart might be more efficient, even in those days.

We paddle through some rapids and make some decisions on what to dodge. Another one of those cruise ships comes up and we find another place to hide again as the ship makes the widest turn possible and disappears completely from sight. This is confusing.

The ships here are actually incredibly slow – especially when they’re going upstream. The waves they make are quite big, but they undulate quite calmly and don’t seem to make a splash on the bow. This is still all very new though, and we’re learning very quickly and absorbing all the knowledge that we can about what we’re dealing with here. It’s a brave new world.

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The last 1.5 kilometers aren’t that exciting anymore, but still very pretty. We spot the Befreiungshalle – Kelheim’s most famous building – on the Michelsberg, indicating the end of our trip. Next, we see the Einsiedelei Klösterl on the left-hand side of the river as we pass by on the right. There’s a distinctive red canoe beached in front of the beer garden and monastery there. I guess the older lady and her squad also arrived here in between Weltenburg and Kelheim. It’s apparently also where the canoe club of Kelheim is located.

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Arriving in Kelheim

The river widens, the current slows a little down, and the claustrophobia-inducing cliffs disappear. One more boat travels upstream. It must be busy at those two docks. Around the corner, we see the town of Kelheim. We see spot one place to get out, then another. After some discussion, we’re going for the one that looks like a tiny harbor away from the river’s current.

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We look behind us, we look in front of us, and there are no big ships coming toward us. The umpteenth pair in a canoe paddles towards us upstream. Almost none of them have been wearing life vests and I’m not sure what the heck is going on with that.

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I put the camera down and we start our journey from the right side of the river to the left. It really is wider here. The current drags us down quite far and we’re putting in all our efforts to cross as quickly and controlled as possible. Many people on the left embankment are watching us as we paddle at full power across. We let go of our paddling as we approach the opposite shore and course-correct to end up in the twirly dead zone. There are single stairs and a slipway, and we’re going for the slipway. There’s even a sign saying it’s an official exit spot for canoes and kayaks. Finally, we’ve arrived in Kelheim. It’s 13:25 and we’ve never arrived this early, let alone after completing 30 kilometers. One of those big cruise ships passes by us on its return from Weltenburg.

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Our landing spot has no shadow, so I look around for a place where we can carry our boat to so that it’s in the shadow. I convince Jonas that this final bit of physical strain is necessary to keep our boat safe and ourselves too. The sun is so powerful. I carry the boat by the front and Jonas does the back. We walk up the embankment and see that we’d need to cross a canal to get to the trees I’d spotted earlier. But more inland, I see some tree next to an ice cream salon. That’s a good choice.

The Naming Ceremony

We arrive through a forest of slow-moving strollers at the ice cream salon on the western outskirts of Kelheim. Some Polish-speaking group is about to leave as we park our boat next to their couch in the shadow. We take their freshly-vacated seats and order a beer (me) and a pistachio milkshake (Jonas). Jonas doesn’t feel so good.

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We take down most of the interior of the boat, flip it, drain its water, then deflate it a little to let it dry in the semi-shadow. We have our drinks and now we chill. Jonas’ milkshake has a glass straw – a commendable choice for the humble business whose name I haven’t found anywhere on the building.

Sometime later, it’s time to do the naming ceremony of our boat. By German law, our boat needs to have a name now that the river is a proper waterway. We have chosen…

Zucchini

Though those first sharpie-strokes felt like I was vandalizing our precious canoe, my skill of writing hitchhiking signs comes in handy as I outline the name on the bow with my South American sharpies. The letters need to be at least 10 centimeters high, clearly visible, and on both sides of the boat. It’s hot now that the boat is in the sun and I’m trying not to do a lousy job. I only finish the port-side lettering on the front and not the starboard-side outline on the back. Both are readable, so it’s good for now. My sharpies are running dry and protesting this treatment.

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If you’re just left wondering why we named our boat Zucchini. Just look at it:

Zucchini the vegetable, not the kitten or the boatamazon sevylor adventure plus canoe zucchini

Image of the ‘Sevylor Adventure Plus’ boat from Amazon.com

But in all seriousness. I was hanging out in a kitten Facebook group and came across a kitten named Zucchini in there. I hadn’t even met my boat yet but knew it was a great fit. The night before, we did shortly reconsider Zucchini for Chirimoya or Kiwi but eventually settled for the familiar and healthy summer squash.

Zucchini the kitten, not the boat

We packed up our things and checked ourselves into Gasthof/Café am Donautor in the old town of Kelheim. Jonas started to feel really ill and we went to bed quite early. We’re staying in Kelheim a few nights, depending on Jonas’ health and the availability of accommodation in Regensburg.

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