Events described happened on the 6th and 7th of May 2019. We paddled 9.7 kilometers on the Danube (Donau) river from Geisingen to Immendingen in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. This was the second day of our kayak/canoe trip. Click here if you’d rather read about the planning of kayaking the Danube, or read about Day 1.
The Off-Day at the Arena Gästehaus
On Monday the 6th we had an off-day. No paddling, just recovering from our muscle aches. It’s always difficult to start a very physical trip like this out of nowhere. Our tired arms felt awkward and our backs hurt a little bit too. My back probably hurt from my seat deflating. Jonas’ back maybe from bad lifting. But we recovered well.
During our no-paddle day, we used our time well to do some necessary things. Jonas did some client work and I wrote and edited a few blog posts. I spoke Spanish with the only other guest (I presume) at the guesthouse who’s from Guatemala City. We ate at a Vietnamese-Thai-Chinese restaurant and did some shopping for our dinner and breakfast We dried our kayak (to the best of our abilities). I fixed a few broken items with superglue. Jonas figured out how to stop the seats from deflating. Geisingen was a nice town with friendly people. We walked alongside an old arm of the Danube river (Donaualtarm) and discussed our experiences of the previous day.
Together we scrolled on Google Earth to scan for obstacles in the young Danube. Things we looked for were shallow bits and rapids, river islands and which way to go around them without getting out, and river dams at water level monitoring stations. Jonas confirmed the guesthouse in Immendingen, only 9.4 kilometers downstream. The forecast told us we’d experience sunny weather slightly above 10 degrees Celsius. An amazing day to be out on the river!
We ate frozen pizza for dinner prepared in the amazing hostel kitchen and a wholesome salad on the side. We wolfed down all those nutrients before finishing our packing and going to bed.
In the morning we got into our kayak gear, prepped our breakfast, finalized the packing and walked to our launch spot. It’s the same spot as our landing spot from two days ago, so we knew what the challenges were. I had to go back to the guesthouse/hostel to pick up one more dry bag of luggage; the advantage of staying only 300 meters from our launching spot made it easier to just walk back and forth. In the meantime, Jonas inflated the kayak.
When I returned, Jonas had inflated the kayak and measured the pressure. We were ready to pack it, but the kayak looked very asymmetrical… even more asymmetrical than on Kayak Trip Day 1. This worried us only slightly. I was so excited to get paddling that I just wanted to pack the kayak and go.
We installed the seats, the lightweight personal dry bags, and the hydration bladders. Jonas had some idea to put in the CabinMAX sideways, so he’d have more leg space than before. The heavy dry bags go in last, but only after the boat is already afloat. So we lifted it in the quick current under the train bridge and fastened the boat to a pole. I got my feet wet, which was more of a shock than anticipated. Jonas handed me the dry bags from shore, which I fastened with the big straps from inside the boat.
The boat now lay deeper, which made it touch something underneath. Jonas was ready to get in. Once he settled in, we were quite stuck on the rock and had to turn our boat into the current to go downstream. It was unprecise work, but we managed to get loose and paddle.
But the boat was threateningly unbalanced. The first rapids were only 300 meters away.
Rebalancing the Boat and Paddling to the Pegel
We paddled across the river to the right side and decided to directly make a stop there before the first rapids. My explanation besides the boat being terribly asymmetrical was that the laptop bag was on the wrong side. This one is slightly heavier than the camping bag. So we switched them around.
We continued paddling and noticed a slight improvement. We decided to reorganize the boat again at the water level monitoring station (Pegel). This was a good three kilometers.
There were many more rapids before the Pegel. Two even before the first bridge. We passed through them quite alright, making sure we’d go in at the deepest part and dodging protruding rocks. We scraped the ground significantly less than on the first day. But the boat was still leaning to the right side. We countered this by putting our legs to the left.
Close to the Pegel were some cable-layers doing their thing next to the railroad tracks. We greeted them and they greeted us back. Right after that interaction, a sign appeared above our heads. It read “Lebensgefahr! Bootsfahrer aussteigen →” while we were planning to get out on the left. The current became very strong and we crossed to the other side of the river to get out. But there wasn’t really a clear place where to get out. The sound of falling water became louder, and we couldn’t see what was beyond the event horizon.
We decided that we could walk up the embankment where we got out, lighten the boat by taking out the dry bags and paddles, and portage it across. Jonas went up to scout a location for getting back in, and of course observing the actual danger involved here. He came back five minutes later with a “this is the best spot to get out, let’s carry it across.”
I handed him the paddles and the luggage and the bow of the boat, then I lifted the stern out of the water while Jonas pulled the bow further up and into the grass. I walked the steep embankment up through the stinging nettles with my leggings pulled down over my ankles. Up there were no nettles. The embankment led to a pleasant and sunny field this fine day. Jonas reckoned he could drag the boat in the fluffy and slightly moist grass without damaging it so I could carry only the luggage.
Portaging Across the Dam
At the Pegel, we put down our stuff to look at the drop. It wasn’t that high, but the height wouldn’t be the only danger; Jonas tells me the dropping water can create a suction area where it pulls boats or people back and under. Also, our boat is still quite shittily balanced. We continue our dragging walk.
It takes quite a while before we find another spot to go down the embankment. We’re almost at the train bridge. That bridge indicates that there are three more regular bridges before we’re getting out at Immendingen. We didn’t cover that much distance yet.
When the boat is again down at the water, we decide to eat lunch. We still had some readymade bacon and egg sandwiches from the supermarket. At 11.30 we repack the boat and prepare to paddle on. It’s not that far anymore.
Sunshine, Shallow Waters, and Our Sail
We’re very relaxed now that the last portage is done and the sun is shining. “It’s a total lie that it’s unpleasant to kayak when it’s under 25 degrees,” says Jonas, referring to his experiences that paddling is only something you can comfortably do at the height of summer. He’s even a bit warm and seeks to take off his jacket. With the life jacket over his winter jacket, that’s not going to happen today.
The waters are quite shallow and the sunshine lights up the tiny rocks we float over. It’s shallow, but deep enough to comfortably move towards our destination.
I’ve been wanting to try out our kayak sail. That’s the red round thing on the bow. The test here is: can I unfold it without it hitting my face and can I refold it at all? This kayak sail was the single most complicated item to fold when we unpacked it at my mom’s home in the Netherlands. We had to actually Google several videos to learn how it’s done.
Today is a windless day, which means it’s an excellent day to try it out without terrible consequences if I can’t manage to refold it. I have to lean quite forward in the boat and Jonas needs to counterbalance my actions. Unfolding it is just a matter of taking off the elastic strap. The sail pops up with a whipping sound. Unfortunately, I wrongly installed the kayak sail because the straps are all stuck and tangled with my other stuff.
Now I refold it making three tiny hoops out of the one big hoop. I manage in about four tries to tame the kayak sail and put back on the elastic strap. We’ve got proof of concept!
The Last Bridge and Fixing the Boat
We approach the last bridge. It’s a beautiful wooden bridge with a roof: a design I’ve only seen in video games like GTA V and Watchdogs. The geofence app I’m testing sets off an alarm on my phone to tell us we’re arriving at our destination: Immendingen.
We find our landing spot, which is right next to a water level measuring stick. The map says we’re right to get out here, but it’s hard to distinguish a path. I get out on the overgrown shore and check the time: 12:45. Great! I try to check out the path but am discouraged by the dense weeds and tall reeds: I can hear civilization, but I can’t see it.
Jonas gets out, dries his feet to put on real shoes, and goes to check it out by himself with the camping gear dry bag. He comes back with the news that he’s found a path and dropped the dry bag there. I’m also in proper shoes now and we carry our stuff one by one. First the kayak, then I come back to grab the blue dry bag and the paddles. We’re in a sunny field full of dandelions, next to a small path that will lead us to the center of Immendingen.
We put out all our things in the grass to let them dry with the power of the sun. We flipped the kayak to empty out the water inside and dry the bottom. It needed to be slightly deflated as it can overpressurize in the sunshine. Jonas and I sit down to attack our snack bag. We’ve got coconut snips, cereal bars, white chocolate, honey-glazed peanuts and cashews, and a bunch of other items with a hydration bladder full of water nearby. It’s good.
When the boat is dry – in no time! – we deflate the starboard-side problem air chamber and zip open the side pockets. Jonas reaches in with his arm at the front of the boat, and I do the same at the back. We’re trying to turn the inner air chamber inside the fabric outer layer. Our boat suffered long enough from being in breech. We notice that there’s velcro inside that keeps the air chamber attached to the same position inside the fabric layer. I deflate the air chamber further so we have more room to turn it. Eventually, we decide we did all we could and reinflate the boat to see how it looks. Much better!
Checking in to the Panda Guesthouse, Immendingen
We have a reservation at Pension Panda in Immendingen between 15:00 and 16:00. That’s still some time from now. We repack the boat and all our stuff. It’s an 800-meter walk from here to our accommodation, and we need to get up a bridge that crosses the train tracks. The kayak goes into the shitty duffle bag, which Jonas carries on his back. I carry the two heavy dry bags and a small bag and Jonas still has the black CabinMAX. He’s overloaded, so I also take the CabinMAX. We make one stop at some benches at the train station. I feel very strong.
We check into our room at the Panda guesthouse at 15:30. An old lady gives us the key and handles the transaction with Jonas. The internet seems to work and be quite fast, to our delight. Staying here for two nights becomes more attractive.
Immendingen is a town where something called the Donauversickerung (‘Danube seepage’) or Donauversinkung (‘Danube sinking’) starts. Our intelligence sources tell us that we can’t paddle here, because the water of the Danube will go underground or be too low to paddle. We’re still feeling quite energetic after such a short day of paddling, so we go on a hike inside Immendingen town and see what this Donauversickerung is all about.
Nina’s Ess-Art and the Donauversickerung
The great thing about kayaking is that at the end of the day, only our arms are tired. Our legs are still good for a long hike. We’re headed to the dam (Wehr) in Immendingen and then to a restaurant called Nina’s Ess-Art. The Wehr is quite dangerous here, but we’re not paddling from Immendingen anyway – we think. The dam has fish stairs so the fish can travel upstream. While the infrastructure for fish is arguably great, there is no kayak slide or an easy way to exit the river for paddlers.
We hike on to Nina’s, where you can eat every dish as its meaty, vegetarian, or vegan version. I’m looking forward to some lesser-harm food, and Jonas is just plain hungry. Unfortunately, the spot is popular with parents with young kids. There is always some toddler falling over and screaming, gobbling up a crayon, crying out of nowhere, scratching another kid, or interrupting the adults with their intense obnoxiousness. I’m enjoying my vegetarian tzatziki burger with a large beer, but when it’s gone I’m quickly ready to leave again.
The Donauversinkung isn’t far away from here. We follow a trail that leads us up and down to various points of interests. It’s well-signed. We can see water flowing in the wrong direction. We learn that the water is gone for 155 days out of the year. A brochure tells us where the water goes when it disappears underground.
But the biggest thing we learn is that there’s enough water in the whole river we’ve seen here to paddle on. 155 days out of 365 still means that most days the river is navigable. And the sign told us the highest water levels are in spring. That’s right now!
We make a round trip out of our beautiful hike via the stepping stones. The stepping stones are placed in an arc. Their dry surfaces stick out high above the water. We’ve decided that we’re staying two nights in Immendingen. Tomorrow it will rain a lot, which means we’ll have an even higher water level to paddle. The day after (the 9th of May) we’ll paddle on to Möhringen, Tuttlingen, or even Mühlheim 20.1 kilometers downstream.
We walk to Lidl in Zimmern to get some wine and snacks for the night. Tuesdays are when we can watch the new episode of Game of Thrones. In total, we’ve walked more kilometers today than kayaked (12.8 versus 9.7 kilometers). We do some more trip planning and research for the next stretch and then relax with the new episode. Tomorrow we’ll work on our laptops from the guesthouse.
Click here to read about Day 3: Immendingen to Mühlheim via the Donauversickerung.