Living near the ocean in northern Germany we are used to waves, tides and wind. Whitewater is totally unfamiliar to us, so who would have thought paddling class 3-4 whitewater rapids with a composite Sea Kayak would be a bad idea?
Suddenly, my world turns upside down: The kayak flips over to one side, no time to react nor to brace with the paddle. With my head submerged, I see big stones on the ground shooting past me. The buoyancy of the PFD brings me up to the surface for a second, I glimpse over to Nico and Eike, who are standing several meters down the river. The rapid sucked me in. In the last bar-rel, when I thought I made it through. The noise of the water around me is frightening. Finally the sprayskirt opens up and I am released from the boat. I hold on to my kayak and drift down the river. With perfect timing, the throw bag is flying over my head and I grab hold to one end of the rope, while holding tight to the boat.
I am pulled to the bank, to safety, breathing heavily. I’m sobered and relieved at the same time when I realize that I got away with just a small scratch on my nose. Without a helmet, being in this kind of water things could have ended worse. But this was not the last river bend, nor the last rapid. So this is what grade 3-4 whitewater looks like… It was just the beginning of our tour, the second day to be more precise, and we’d just had our first experienced of the conditions we’d only heard about, but could not imagine before this.
We are doing this journey using three sea kayaks made out of GPR, with narrow and sleek lines, built for long distance paddling on the ocean. I think at this point you have come to realize that we have very little knowledge of whitewater kayaking, not to mention the proper boats and equipment for these conditions. But what should we do in this situation? Give up and end the journey just after two days? Or take on this adventure, adapt to the challenge, and continue following the river…
Quitting was not an option for us. We were stubborn and dedicated to paddling the longest piece of water in Scandinavia, the Klarälven, from its source near Lake Femund, in the middle of the Norwegian wilderness, to Gothenburg where it spills into the ocean. Our plan was to follow the water on this journey from source to sea, witnessing how it is changing over time.
This capricious river evolves over 600km from a turbulent whitewater river to a mellow flowing companion, just to enter the big Lake Vännern and finally becoming part of the Baltic Sea. After the first 100km we managed the worst parts of whitewater, the countless crashes and hits with the partly submerged stones and rocks.
These crashes and contacts with the rocks took their toll: Two big cracks in the area where the hull joint connects to the deck are nearly separating the two parts of my kayak, and several holes at the lower side of the hull cause constant leakage. When we observed the damages we were not sure if we can do the repairs and continue paddling. It was already late when we decide to go into action and start the work. In the light of our headlamps we started mixing the epoxy and hardener and laminate the damaged areas. Even though the temperature at night was dropping, it seemed that the magic did its work and the repairs looked promising the next morning.
We decided to continue on our long journey south. These difficulties were not the last, and over the next days we had to deal with broken kayaks, extremely low water levels and long periods of towing the kayaks behind us (exceeding 20km on some days).
Due to the fact that we didn’t ́make good progress in the beginning, we now had to power on and stretch our arms paddling. The next days were filled with paddling 8 or more hours, biting off 40 - 60km per day to reach the sea. After our troubles in the beginning, we finally got into our groove and a kind of normality set in. In the morning, cereal with milk for breakfast, taking down the tents, packing all the stuff into the kayaks, and start paddling again. In the afternoon we make our only break for the day and fill up our empty stomachs with impressing amounts of food. Just before the sun goes down we search for a nice spot to camp near the river. On such a trip the simple things in life become the focus, and you realize how little you need to live.
On day 16 we are paddling the last stretch of 40km against a hard blowing wind and are relived to reach our final destination of Gothenburg. We are tired but proud to have made our way here, despite the adversities which were thrown at us.
What do we take home from this trip? On the one side we witnessed the power of whitewater and underestimated this factor in our preparations. On the other side we adapted to the new situations and challenges and there-fore have grown mentally and physically. What would have happened if we would have planned every detail and avoided every surprise? Would we have ever started it? Maybe. Would we have experienced an adventure? Probably not!
What would have happened if we had planned every detail; would we have ever started? Maybe. Would we have experienced an adventure? Probably not!