Friday, September 18, 2009

Canoeing le Gorge de l'Ardèche

Though online accounts conflict, consensus on the origin of the word canoe is that it is derived from the native peoples that Columbus encountered on his first voyage to the new world. The present spelling of the word comes from the French canoë. We drop the trema in English.

I was always impressed by the stories of the early American explorers canoeing down long uncharted waterways just to see where they lead. The French explorers in particular seem to have been adept at using this native form of transportation. This shouldn't come as a surprise given its many perfect rivers for canoeing.

There are at least three waterways within an hour of our house that provide a spectacular canoeing experience: le Gardon, passing below the Pont du Gard; the Cèze; and the Ardèche, cutting through a magnificent gorge and underneath l'Pont d'Arc. I finally had a chance to paddle the latter with my friends Mark and Darcie. Although the entire course offers an 8-hour adventure, we settled on the two hour teaser.

Dozens of outfitters manage canoe trips departing from the city of Vallon Pont d'Arc. It's impossible to know which offers the best deal because no prices are prominently posted. We settled for a company offering purple boats, signed the contract and hopped on a bus down to the launch site. Based on my extensive concrete canoeing experience, I declined the 30 seconds of paddling instructions. These proved to be less than comprehensive to Mark and Darcie who were making their first canoe trip since grade school.


Fortunately, the water level was at it's lowest point of the year, so the river ran slowly and the rapids were mild. Unfortunately, this meant that we constantly had to struggle to dislodge ourselves from the shallow rocks. I also had to learn how to keep my boat facing forward as the current through the rapids frequently turned me around. The solution: paddle like hell through the fast currents. Mark and Darcie also eventually figured out their steering problems. By the end of the short journey, it was smooth sailing.

We stopped to eat lunch within sight of the Pont d'Arc, a natural rock bridge spanning over the river. Hundreds of other people also stopped here to enjoy the sight, rest on the sandy beach and swim in the refreshing river.

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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.