Events in this story happened on the 19th of June, 2019. We paddled our inflatable canoe named ‘Zucchini’ from a small village near Regensburg named Friesheim to the bigger town Straubing. It was a distance of 36 kilometers, which is a new record for us.
Leaving Friesheim for Straubing
As you might know from the previous post, Friesheim was a little bit of a struggle for us. The town is very small and we didn’t have food security on arrival. All those troubles disappeared with the help from our hosts and their vehicle and the local butcher’s shop, which also does vegetarian sandwiches. In the end, the stay there was quite nice and really cheap. I fixed my camera issues from the room so I could snap and shoot again with the little action cam instead of my phone camera. What a relieve.
We had paid for the accommodation the night before so we could leave as early as we’d like. I suggested we’d get up at 6:30. Jonas pushed for 7:00. In the end, I put my own alarm to 6:15 so I’d have a little more time to do me-specific tasks like braiding my hair and… just generally being a slow boat of a person. Unfortunately, Jonas is and always will be the earlier riser, so when my alarm went off and I made the first moves, he also got up and started getting ready. In the end, it was still me who slowed us down somehow.
We leave at 7:05 because we skipped drinking coffee and prepared a (now cold) mint tea the night before. Jonas loves coffee, as do I, but we both see how it’s a timewasting ritual. The last time we skipped coffee on a paddle day on day 12, at least one of us had a hard time switching to paddle mode. Today we knew we had about 35 kilometers ahead of us, which is more than our previous maximum of 33 kilometers. Leaving early is very important today because the protective clouds will disappear later in the day.
Mounting The Fin
There’s one task that we’ve been putting off since the very beginning: putting in the fin in the bottom of our canoe. So far, we’ve paddled 16 days without it. We had varying excuses for not putting the fin in. At first, we (righteously) thought that we would already scrape the bottom of the boat, so with a fin, we’d get stuck even earlier. Then when the river got deep enough not to worry about this, I argued that it would make it more difficult to portage the boat around a dam with the fin in, because I can barely lift the boat high enough so it doesn’t scrape the ground. Now that I’m strong enough to lift the boat higher and we need to portage less (or not at all to Kelheim), we use the excuse that “It’s not in our departure routine..” or “We just forgot…”
When we packed our boat on arrival in Friesheim, I stuck that red fin in between the layers of our folded boat. Hah. Now we can’t ignore it!
It’s mostly difficult because mounting the fin is step 1 of prepping our boat. Once you inflate the first (middle) chamber, you can’t get it in anymore. We haven’t tried that, but the manual says so. Last time we put the fin in, we were in the Netherlands and first unpacked that boat. It was incredibly difficult to mount the fin because the product was so new and inflexible. After much swearing and trying different approaches, we managed to put the fin in that day.
We rolled out our boat and found the fin. Coordinating with Jonas, we flipped the boat together to find the fin mount. There was a little dirt in one of them, so Jonas found me two sticks of different sizes to clean it. One side had always been easy to get in, but the other one is very tough. With the previously discovered technique of ‘widening’ the rubber gap with the skinny side of the fin, I managed to put it in on the second try.
Paddling to the Geisling Dam
At 7:40, we’re finally leaving for Straubing. Mounting that fin only added about 10 extra minutes to our rigging dance. And yes, we’ve never been on the water this early. We’re rewarded with a shimmering near-summer solstice sun and thin clouds that keep us cool. Even though the water here is already stagnant from the dam 10 kilometers away, we feel like this is already paying off. The condition of windlessness means and few ships that are far between means that we’re cutting through a mirror with our paddles.
The first time Jonas stops paddling while I continue, we directly notice the benefits of the fin; we continue to go straight instead of yawing out of control. It’s also supposed to help with stabilizing the boat from rolling, like when we’re paddling through the wake of a ship.
It takes me quite a while to warm up my left arm and get into the rhythm. We pass several yellow buoys of which we don’t know the meaning. If it means the water is shallow for a big ship, that means it’s deep enough for us.
We approach the big highway bridge that leads from Regensburg to Wörth an der Donau (not to be confused with Donauwörth). Soon after, the river bends and widens as it approaches the Geisling power plant (Kraftwerk). Veering towards the Schleuseninsel (lock island), we dodge the lock that’s for the huge boats and land on the island at the ramp, left of the power plant.
A Surprise While Portaging
The infrastructure has been very nice for a while now. Since the self-operated lock in Vohburg, all the weirs have had a Borstenpass kayak slide design. That’s probably why the TID starts in Ingolstadt. That’s why it surprised us that the kayak/canoe/rowboat lobby hasn’t managed to get one installed here in Geisling. And now we have to wean ourselves off this kind of luxury and comfort again.
As my map tells me, the exit ramp in Geisling is also a good 400 meters away from the reentry point. That’s quite a distance for carrying our boat around. We put our backpacks on our backs like we’ve done more than 40 times before, and lift the boat. I first try at the front so that Jonas can lift the back side high enough off the ground for the fin, but we switch after the first thirty meters. When carrying at the back, I actually notice that I’m strong enough now to lift it high enough and still make quite a distance while walking before I need to stop again. It’s mostly tough on the hands.
We walk past a sign that says something like “Please bring your boat trolleys back to the station after using them.” Huh? What an odd sign. We continue walking after making a stop to smack some mosquito repellent on ourselves as the island is infested with them. Then after another 50 meters, we encounter a shed. And what a shed it is! It has two large-wheeled boat carts for canoes, kayaks, or rowboats. What a blessing from the gods! And the kayak/canoe/rowboat lobby!
We have absolutely zero experience with wheeling our boat around. I’d like to think we’re quite experienced as river paddlers by now, but we haven’t yet done such a basic thing as putting our boat on a cart for terrestrial use. With some wiggle work, we manage to lift the boat on the cart and roll it a few meters. Badly balanced. We move the boat a bit further on the cart until I feel it wants to flip neither forward nor backward when holding the cart straight. It’s good now.
Jonas holds the left side and I hold the right side and together we pull the cart to the reentry point. This is really cool and I wish more dams had something like this. Though I could see that people would vandalize or steal them in other places. This lock island isn’t easy to reach unless you have business here. Business like operating a lock or a hydroelectric power plant.
We pick the stairs to put our boat back in the water. Jonas rolls the trolley back to the shed like a good citizen, and I lift the luggage to the lowest steps before the reeds. We carry the boat downstairs together when Jonas returns and put everything back in the boat. I get in the boat first through the dense reeds and muddy parts, and then I turn the boat around by paddling so Jonas can get in fairly clean. If we’d rolled our boat 30 meters further there would have been a beautiful entry spot without mud, reeds, and angry amphibians.
Castles and River Bends
The current picks up a little after the dam. The blue-green hills towards the east announce the nearness to the Bohemian Forest and Czechia. It’s 10:25 and we’re alone on the river. No boat is coming or leaving the lock when we enter their turf again. We stick to the right-hand side of the river for now. We’re about one-third of the way, which feels very good. So we eat a sandwich while we float.
Soon some boats appear, which aren’t hard to dodge. There’s a sign that says it’s a one-way street for the big boats, so they have to wait on each other before approaching or departing from the lock. We pass a water level gauge Pegel and then I see a big white castle with orange roofs. I check my map and conclude it must be the Schloßberg of Wörth an der Donau. Very pretty.
We paddle on to Gmünd, where arrive at 12:00. There’s a restaurant close to the river that I marked before on my map. I suggest we could consume our missing coffee of the day there, but Jonas vetoes the idea. At the next river bend, we see the town of Niederachdorf. A few medieval-looking religious buildings dot the town’s skyline. As I’m getting drowsy, the thin layer of clouds lifts and we’re exposed to its heat. The river is still like a mirror.
We paddle through some river bends and switch sides when it makes sense. We can stick to the inside of a river bend, unlike the big boats. That’s where it’s too shallow for them. The added advantage is that we’re making slightly less distance that way, but I’m not sure if those advantages are mitigated by the fact that we have to put in much more effort to cross quickly in case a ship shows up out of nowhere.
One ship shows up out of nowhere after we crossed back to the right side in Pondorf. The mirror-like conditions last until the ship gets close enough to us to make the water wobble. First, before the ship even passes us, it’s a long, flat undulation that marginally distorts the town. Then, the water gets choppy from the water bouncing back and forth between shorelines. The wake wobbles us too, but there’s no need to turn our boat into the waves for stability.
A Break Under the Trees
There are a few more river bends after Pondorf, but there’s no real reason to switch sides again. The sun is now at full power and the exhaustion of paddling through a flowless river kicks in. I consider dipping my hat in the water to cool down more, but I’m reluctant to try it. Instead, we try paddling close to the shore to sometimes catch some of that shadow cast by the trees. There’s a form of instant relief when that happens. The same goes for when there’s a little bit of cool wind. It doesn’t matter that it’s a headwind.
Two rowboats appear in the last turn before a village called Obermotzing. One is a young guy and the other much older. They’re paddling upstream and we greet one another. A speedboat is coming also from the downstream area and we’re curious to see how their one person sit-on-top rowboats will handle the wake. They’re fine. They just move their upper bodies to counterbalance, but otherwise, don’t change a thing. After the wake, they decide to turn back and overtake us quite quickly.
We want to take a break somewhere, but the right-hand shore is a tough one. There are the riprap stones in the water and trees on the shore, but it’s so overgrown that it doesn’t look like we can get out easily. When we find a beachy spot with a clearing and prepare to land, a fisherman just decides to make that his spot. So we paddle on.
Eventually, we just choose to lie in the shadow of a few trees between 14:40 and 15:15. We eat something, drink something. I reapply a thick layer of sunscreen for the third time that day. I crawl onto the land to pee in the tall grass next to a levee that also functions as a bike path. Make it quick. I get back in the boat and we turn the boat around so Jonas can do the same. Under the tree, it seems like a good spot to catch a tick or two. Once Jonas gets back, we paddle on for the last stretch to the dam in Straubing.
It’s not that far anymore to Straubing, but it’s still too far. My arms are tired and only Jonas puts in a good effort. Some church towers that must be in Straubing motivate me to try and do more. The headwind picks up but doesn’t cool anymore. Some tiny motorized plane approaches the airport of Straubing preparing to land, while a glider plane sometimes lets its presence be known by reflecting the sunshine, before returning to stealth mode.
The dam appears and I want to veer more towards the middle of the river instead of the right. Jonas doesn’t agree until the last 500 meters or so, because there are quite some boats moored on the right-hand side and you never really know when one is leaving. He urges me to stop taking pictures until we arrive at the dam.
Kraftwerk Straubing also has a lock island. To the left is the lock, then the island, then the Borstenpass-type kayak slide, then the hydroelectric power plant all the way on the right. There’s a sign that says paddle boats stick to the right of the island. There’s a very nice landing spot before the kayak slide, where we arrive at 16:35. As is our habit, I get out and scout the slide to see if everything looks good. I take some photos and get back into our boat. This one looked a bit longer than our usual kayak slides.
This time I want to take a video with my action cam. I set it up and we’re ready to go. This is the first time we’re going down a Borstenpass kayak slide with the fin in. As the brushes or bristles are vertical, this shouldn’t be a problem.
We enter the whitewater zone and slide it down the easiest we’ve ever done it; we don’t get stuck at all. This slide seems to have plenty of water in it and it’s a lot of fun. I sometimes use my right hand to push us off the wall so we keep a little more straight. Jonas can’t help with that because he’s not wearing gloves. We’re down the slide by 16:45 and we’re very happy. It’s like the last dopamine boost before arrival.
Arriving in Straubing
The lock island didn’t just split the traffic between motorized and human-powered boats for the dam; it also split the traffic around a river island. The ships go via the ‘Old Danube’ (Alte Donau), and we go via the proper Danube. The island is called Gstütt and is fully integrated with the city of Straubing, as it has houses, restaurants, supermarkets, and also a campground we’d briefly considered staying at.
The current really picked up after the dam. More church and defense towers pop up behind the trees and we see many people enjoying the river by swimming, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard (SUP). The canoe club of Straubing pops up on the right-hand side. They also advertise they have a campsite, something we didn’t know but probably makes more sense than the one on the river island. That’s probably where the TID will sleep at.
We were planning to land somewhere after or under the bridge in Straubing. Depending on if our Airbnb host would be willing to pick us up from the city center at 19:00, we would stay here or paddle on to get a little closer to the house. Before the bridge, we see a nice gap on the right side of the river with a twirly back current. There’s a ramp nearby. A speedboat is coming from the front, so we spontaneously decide to dock in that little protected part. We turn our boat around and into the back current, then paddle on until we arrive at the ramp.
A lady with a young child lets her dog bathe at that ramp. We land the boat and the pug looks at us as if they’ve seen beyond the grave. The sound the nose makes as it touches the stones scares the dog, and the owner tries to move her pug to the other side of the ramp. Tough luck, because I’m landing our boat sideways so Jonas can also get out. She and her spawn and furbaby leave. It’s 17:05 and the sun finally started to hang lower in the sky.
Our Airbnb in Straubing
Jonas makes the call before we empty the boat. There’s a big eagle statue that provides a good shadow. Our host confirms he can still pick us up, and they discuss a time of 18:45. After a short break, we decide that Jonas goes to Aldi to get some basic cooking supplies while I pack all our stuff and dry the boat. Today is Wednesday, but tomorrow is yet another public holiday known as Fronleichnam (Corpus Christi), which means the shops will be closed.
He returns 25 minutes before pick-up time with two cold coke zero and a bag full of delicious food to prepare at home. We pack up the boat to walk the 300 meters to the meet. It’s very heavy to carry the kayak backpack, the (mostly empty) hydration bladders, and some generic stuff, and also the heavy Aldi bag. We switch over the Aldi bag just before we arrive at the parking spot.
There, a man dressed in summer business casual greets us. We put all our stuff in the trunk and drive to his home. We park our boat backpack in the garage and take the rest upstairs to our room. It’s a fabulous room with a couch-bed, nice table, fridge, tableware, private bathroom, and a mezzanine with a single bed. The best part of this fabulous Airbnb is the speed-of-light internet we’ve been craaaving for so long. We directly decide to extend our three-day stay with another day.
We cook our food in the shared kitchen and enjoy our successful day of paddling so damn far. I’m feeling a bit wobbly from the sun and definitely need a few days to rest. The next few stretches will also be good 30-something kilometer trips.
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