The events in this article happened on Thursday the 11th of July, 2019. We paddled our dear boat Zucchini from Linz – the capital of Upper Austria – to a village named Au an der Donau. This is a distance of 27.6 kilometers.
Our Stay in Linz
We stayed in Linz for six days in an Airbnb. We got a lot of important things done, like laundry and me giving Jonas a haircut. While the Airbnb was very, very nice, our initial experience of the city didn’t change. I really tried to like it, but I just didn’t. And I wasn’t alone; Jonas felt the same way about Linz. The infrastructure was very pedestrian-unfriendly, the city was very crowded, and it was quite dodgy.
One time, a guy walked too close to Jonas while staring at his generous pant pockets that can hold phones, wallets, whatnot. Whether we dodged left or right to let him pass, he followed. I snatched Jonas out of his path and to the side and gave the man the death stare to let him know he chose the wrong target. And we’ve never been in a similar situation in Cabo Verde, Tunisia, or Colombia.
It turned out our fluvial encounter with a man taking a piss from his rowboat was only the harbinger of more unnecessary exposure to penis in public. On our last supermarket trip before leaving Linz, we happily walked out of the Penny when a plausibly homeless man facing the street instead of a wall just pissed on the sidewalk and on himself right then and there while receiving a C- for attempting to cover his crusty dick. The heat of the day made the vapors spread rapidly and I audibly gagged.
The only places in Linz that we loved was the botanical garden, our Airbnb, and the inside of said Penny supermarket. Oh, and we liked the guy who runs a store called ‘Needful Things’, to which we ordered a new kayak sail to replace the broken one and a box that boosts WiFi signals.
Leaving Linz for Au an der Donau
We’d scouted a better entry point a few days prior to departure. Our entry spot was a set of stairs leading into the water in front of the Brucknerhaus conference/festival building. It wasn’t much, but it was the shortest distance we could walk from our Airbnb back to the river – a distance of 1.4 kilometers.
We could do a self-checkout of our Airbnb, which is always very nice. The hike to the shore was pretty brutal, but we managed to do it in one go without stops. At 8:50 we arrived at the site. Next to the Brucknerhaus is a city park that was in use for the buildup of some music festival. Some ducks looked at us curiously as we showed interest into the stairs and shallow waters they were occupying.
Some curious onlookers watched us as we inflated our boat after six days of not paddling. We were a bit out of shape with this, but couldn’t wait to get back into the river. I attach the neon green kayak sail to the front of the boat. Jonas asks me if the colors don’t clash since the boat is dark green and the kayak sail neon green. I respond that it doesn’t matter.
Of course, there was glass on the ground. This is kind of common whenever we inflate our boat at a riverside spot in a big town or city.
By 9:15 we’d put Zucchini in the water and loaded them up with our luggage. Time to paddle!
Paddling Past the Ports of Linz
Once the coast is clear, we directly cross the river from right to left. There will soon be a sharp turn to the right, but there will also be a bunch of ports for big ships. We don’t want to get caught in the middle between two huge ships negotiating their right of way.
A police boat zooms past us as we approach the big bridge. Then a two-person rowing boat travels upstream and kind of close to us. This bridge is either being expanded or replaced, as there are more columns under construction parallel to the existing bridge.
We’re paddling through the bend the long way and encounter our first big ship in motion at 9:35. It’s a cruise ship that approached us from the upstream and overtook us, then turned around to enter the winter port. The ship created a lot of annoying currents that threw us off-course. We were a little bit worried they’d back up too close to us and not see us anymore, so we focused our efforts on paddling the hell out of there.
Our late start made us hungry earlier than usual. We could see another train and highway bridge in the distance, and we aimed to not attack our food stash until we passed those bridges. We arrive there at 10:30 and see a dredging boat with an excavator digging into the water. I open the sandwich bag and share the loot with Jonas. We made a glorious stack of sandwiches the day before.
The flow is still kind of good here and we enjoy our food while floating down the river slowly. The left-hand shore has the Donauradweg (Danube bike path), which rejoined us already 4 kilometers before the bridge. It’s pleasantly green and calm there. By contrast, the right-hand shore has a massive industrial terrain and something that looks like a mine on the promontory between the Danube and Traun rivers. It smells like we shouldn’t be inhaling the air for safety reasons.
I joke that after that bridge, we finally left the city limits of Linz, so things should improve now. Then some cyclists on the Donauradweg wave at us. We nod back. Some more friendly cyclists pass us by and also wave, nod, or shout a greeting. They’re in a terribly good mood today. Perhaps I made a good point when I said that things should get better outside of Linz.
We take a 10-minute break on the shore at 11:00.
Portaging Around Abwinden
We paddle on. The river Traun joins the Danube but doesn’t add much speed. We see that the mine on the shore is actually more like a storage space for Wertstoffen (valuable materials). It looks like they’re storing the building materials like… sand (?) for the big bridge projects in Linz and its surroundings. And those materials arrived here by boat.
The breeze picks up and we notice its… tailwind! The green kayak sail arrived by mail just a few days earlier in Linz, and it would be great if we could already use it on its first day. But the wind isn’t very stable or strong yet, and the locks and dam of Abwinden are coming up very soon. For now, we just enjoy the wind in our backs while continuing on to the dam.
Parallel to the Danube on our left is a little river called the Sammelgerinne. At one point, the distance between the Danube and the Samelgerinne on land is just 50 meters. The flyer of the dam management in Austria tells us we shouldn’t portage our boat around there, but much later, where it’s a 600-meter walk. We wonder why this is the case, but don’t disobey the orders to find out if it’s better to portage our boat around earlier.
Also to Budapest
We arrive at the official slipway at 12:05. A lot of waterfowl needs to move so we can land our boat on the shat-on slipway. Jonas picks up a boat wagon and I take our luggage out. Another kayak appears. It’s a father-son duo in a wooden kayak with an Austrian and a Hungarian flag on the bow. The son looks about 14 or 17 years old, so definitely old enough to be useful on a boat. Let’s call the dad Florian and the son Simon. They land their boat next to ours, then change their minds and land it behind ours. I watch as they grab their boat wagon and still need to mount the wheels on it. They’re a bit clumsy, but they get it done.
I’m very curious, so I initiate the conversation by asking where they started.
“Linz.” Florian said, “Today.”
“And where are you going?” I ask.
“We’re also going to Budapest. And where are you going today?”
“To Au an der Donau”
“Us too,” I say.
“And after that?” He asks.
“To Grein,” I answer.
I’ve always assumed that every paddler on this river knows better what they’re doing than us. Especially if they’re in a hard-shelled kayak or canoe. Especially if they carry their own wheels; it just looks so much more serious than our setup. It never occurred to me that we are now quite experienced paddlers on this river and that we will look like we know what we’re doing. (We know what we’re doing).
Jonas returns with the boat cart. We put our boat on top so we can quickly move out of the way for them, but they’re ready slightly earlier and start walking up the portage point. After about 10 meters they stop to rethink their boat wagon setting, so we overtake them. They follow closely behind us for a while until they decide to make a picnic stop at the Umsetzanlage sign where the boat carts are stored. We encounter a father-son duo who are fishing at our ramp and they move so we can continue paddling. I’m expecting Florian and Simon to overtake us rather soon.
The New Kayak Sail
At the slipway to get into the bypass of the Danube through the Semelgerinne, we can see why portaging at the skinnier point would have been a bad idea: there are rapids. Rapids were all fun and games in our boat when the Danube was still young and shallow, but passing through them isn’t really an option anymore since we always mount the fin.
We start paddling in the kind of stagnant dead arm at 12:30. The water is much greener here due to a (harmless) algal bloom. The wind picks up from the back and after some careful deliberation, I deploy the kayak sail. The sheet becomes convex and we receive a little push. Then it dies down a bit and the sail falls on my head. It takes a bit before it looks like we can keep the sail up. Then I drop it in the water via the front of the boat and we have to lift it out by turning the boat around. Now it’s very wet.
The old kayak sail mysteriously broke unprovoked while Jonas went through the self-operated lock in Vohburg. We’d only used that red kayak sail successfully one day. I tried fixing it with tape and stacked shisha mouthpieces, but I couldn’t do it. So in Linz, I ordered a new one with Jonas’ order of the WiFi box. I just really wanted to give it another try. This time I would not unfold and refold it unnecessarily as I did with the last one for practice.
We leave the Altarm and reenter the Danube. We stick to the left while still trying very hard to make the kayak sail work. Sometimes, it works so well I can attach it to my life jacket and paddle at the same time as we sail. At other times, it’s just in the way and it would probably be best to fold it away.
Jonas startles me when he says I have to look left immediately. I’m thinking a motorboat is really nearby suddenly or we’re about to get stuck in some fishing lines, but no. It’s a young deer in the bushes! Bambi! The fawn looks at us like it made a fatal mistake, then runs off into the bushes. That was our first deer sighting on this trip.
Upper Austria, Lower Austria
Around the left bend, a big cargo ship appears out of nowhere from the right bend up ahead. The kayak sail definitely decreases our vision, so I often have to put it down to get a clear view. It’s suddenly really busy on the river when a double-hulled monstrosity of a cruise ship travels upstream. We often say that big ships come in twos because it’s true; two is usually the minimum number of boats a lock fits.
We’re dealing with their wake when we approach the cliffs of Mauthausen. The river Gusen joins us from the left and we see the spot where the two ferries cross from Mauthausen to Enghagen/Tabor or from Mauthausen to Pyburg across the confluence of the Danube with the river Enns. Here is also the harbor of Enns, so it’s quite a busy place to paddle past. We stick to the left to limit the number of encounters.
Where the river Enns joins the Danube is also where the border between the states of Upper Austria and Lower Austria start. The left-hand shore remains Upper Austria for quite some time, while the right-hand shore becomes Lower-Austria. This is the fourth state we’re paddling through!
We’re pretty close now to our target destination Au an der Donau. We pass under one last big bridge and then have a fairly straight stretch ahead of us all the way to our campground in Au. We’re only stopping here for one night.
That last stretch is still accompanied by some unexpected weirdness; a completely rotten and rusted into place ship attached to the shore. Birds circle above it. When doing some later research, I learn that it’s perhaps an old boat of the concrete (Beton) factory right behind it. Or perhaps they still use it as a loading dock for functional ships. Anyway, it looked pretty cool.
Arriving in Au an der Donau
The sail is now fully operational. The wind comes from the back and it’s actually helping us quite a bit. In the distance, the Unterwasserkanal adds to the Danube on the right with a backdrop of beautiful mountains. This tributary is quickly followed by the river Aist on the left. I make a prediction that there will be people fishing on the confluence of the Aist and the Danube. And yes, there are about 10 people and many more lines hanging in the water at in that location. The Aist is much darker than our current waters.
We’re about to arrive at our campsite in Au an der Donau. There’s a nice pebbly beach next to the river, which is our intended landing spot. I hear the screeching sounds of children in the distance. A father encourages his son as the son throws pebbles and rocks into the river as far as he can. The son doesn’t stop when we appear in front of them, and the dad doesn’t really stop the kid. I look at the father with my most disapproving face while he dumbly smiles like we’re supposed to find this entertaining.
We land the boat on the beach a safe distance behind these people. Jonas goes to the reception while I take down the boat. I don’t fold the kayak sail because I’m afraid I’ll break it. While Jonas gets us the code to the gate, I witness that father and his demon spawn continue to violently throw rocks around. The boy has no aim.
You know that feeling sometimes when you look at a somebody and think “that’s a bully”…? That’s the feeling I got when I looked at this child. He had bright blonde hair, was a little hefty for his age, had a slightly red face and a wild look in his eyes of entitlement and endangerment. You just know he’ll use the human form he’s been given in this life to oppress women and minorities later on. And it’s his dad that teaches him that it’s OK to take up so much space you’re infringing on other people’s space. That it’s OK to make other people feel unsafe for your own entertainment and comfort.
There’s no hope for him.
Just throw the whole child away.
Camping Au an der Donau
Jonas returns and the bully and his teacher leave the riverside. The boy hurls one last rock from up the dam in direction of the water. It lands about three meters away from me just barely in the water. The father again dumbly smiles in my direction while I reprise my facial expression of condemnation.
We get ready to move into the campsite. But Jonas comes bearing bad news: there are so. many. children. on the campsite. I’m grateful for the warning.
We carry the boat inflated through the gate to our little ‘wooden tent’. We decided to try a cabin on a campsite for one night to see if we like it better than pitching our tent. The excellent news is that there’s rain in the forecast for tonight, so this should pay off.
Once we’ve settled in, we go to the restaurant area at the reception to drink our arrival beer. We then take a nap in our cabin. Jonas grossly overestimated the number of children on our campsite, thank goodness! It’s an invigorating nap. I keep the kayak sail unfolded in the cabin because I’m too scared to break it. On my way to the bathroom building, I see a familiar picnic plaid: it’s the father-son duo from the dam – Florian and Simon. I ask Florian where he stored his kayak and he says “At the river”. Bold move, I think.
In the evening, we go for a walk through Au an der Donau. It’s very cute. Tomorrow we’ll paddle from Au an der Donau to Grein. Au’s bakery opens up at – for the employees – an indescribably cruel 5:30, so we can go there to get some food for the road and a hot coffee in the morning.
Back at our campsite, we use our camping stove to grill what’s left of our sandwich stack. Those cheese sandwiches are so much better when they’re grilled. We enjoy one more beer around sunset at the reception and then go to the faraway bathroom building to prepare for bedtime.
Tomorrow we’ll have another long day ahead to paddle from Au an der Donau to Grein.