Ingrid Ulrich tells us his 600 km expedition in stand up paddle from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean via Toulouse, Bordeaux..
Participation in the 6th edition of the great contest “Tell your outdoor experience”. More information by clicking here.
Canal du midi
Presentation of the climb in Stand up paddle
Departure on June 24, 2016 – Arrival on July 3, 2016.
Me, my board and my paddle.
Departure from Port la Nouvelle (Mediterranean coast) Arrival at Royan (Atlantic side)
Where to sleep / bivouac
As usual, only from the bivouac at the edge of the water …
Where to eat
I left with freeze-dried, but I cracked a few times for guinguettes / restau crossed along the canal du midi.
At the locks (for the canal part) then in the village grocery stores along the rivers.
Departure by sea for 600 km by rowing on the channel of the south, the Garonne, the estuary of the Gironde to the ocean.
I row for the beauty of the landscapes , by refusal of the monotony and to feel free. I love to go alone, for the selfish pleasure of knowing that everything depends on me. I sometimes suffer, but the urge to get there is the strongest. It’s my way of feeling alive. And then this challenge is a symbol, that of linking the “two seas” to the strength of the arms …
Story of the rise in stand up paddle
If we spend our lives waiting for something to happen, the only thing that will happen will be more than likely life itself.
This adventure is mine, yours. That of an individual like so many others.
I’m ordinary, I do not have the talent to be a high-level athlete , not enough intelligence to be a great entrepreneur, but I like to row and go on an adventure.
I prefer the memories to the regrets, which is why I try hard to realize my dreams, to go to the end of my ideas.
I dedicate this journey to all those who would have liked, who might have, but that life to enchained…
Friday 24 June, first day in front of the wind
The start of the Mediterranean Sea in Stand up paddle
After a chaotic departure (due to a strong wind) of the beach of Port La Nouvelle, I am on the channel of the Roubine. The wind has not weakened and I take it in full face. I do not stop, I row all day, I even forget to lunch. It is really very hot, the sun is knocking. I feel that I was not moving as fast as I expected, my goal was to row at 6km / h, but the wind prevented me. I do not give up.
I think that the June days are long and I will row longer tomorrow to catch up. I also realize that I lose a lot of time and energy with each passage of locks and that I had not foreseen this in my timing…
Bivouac under the stars
Night is falling. I did not reach my goal. I only made 45km; But it does not matter, I would row more tomorrow.
I cross the Somail, a magnificent port almost idyllic, to spend a country night, as in the time of the channel of the Two Seas.
There are a lot of tourists, I decide to walk away. I’ve been paddling for over 10 hours. I arrive at the Aqueduct of Reppre. It is very beautiful with a magnificent view over the whole plain. This place is peaceful, almost out of time. I decide to bivouac. I sink into the little wood to hide myself there.
Exhausted, I throw my mattress and sleeping bag on the floor. Tonight I want to count the stars. In fact, I think I do not have the strength or the courage to climb my tent, so I find a good excuse …
A MEETING DURING MY BIVOUAC
Here I am in a half-sleep. Suddenly I hear the ferns moving. “It must be a rabbit?” Or a coon? “… Then it comes closer and there I say” Grid, move, open your eyes, maybe it is a human being, reacts !! ”
I put myself in a sitting position and I came face to face with a wild boar. Enlightened by the moon, my eyes are fixed on his thighs. “My God! He is huge ! “. It is planted in front of me, at the end of my toes, and I have my arms and legs stuck in my sleeping bag. I can not even run or get up, I’m like a sausage!
I look at him, he looks at me – He looks at me, I look at him – In short, nobody moves.
I giggle stupidly in my head. I think of the buddies who regularly send me selfies with various and varied animals and I think that if I make one with this wild boar, I win the palm of selfie!
But quickly the situation makes me resume the reason. I shout “Bouuuu !!!!” He scarcely drew back. I suddenly come out of my bag screaming, he ends up leaving as well as a dozen wild boar that was all around my camp … Wahouuu what a spectacle!
THE UNEXPECTED OF THE BIVOUAC
However, I am intrigued that they were not afraid of me. Being Ardennes, they had to take me for one of theirs. LOL.
I go back. A few hours later, it is a storm that will be right in my sleep.
I take myself a huge drake. I unsheathed my canvas tent and I throw it on me but the water comes from the ground, a stream goes on my mattress. I am soaked but so exhausted, I continue my night. We’ll see tomorrow morning …
Saturday 25 June, crossing the locks in paddle
6 hours. I am awakened by the cold and the humidity. I fold, all is soaked, so much the worse. There is only one thing to do to warm me up: Rowing.
The sun is still there, and the wind, too, unfortunately!
At the end of some bends, I take terrible bursts that I wonder even if I advance. The first light bulbs begin to appear.
THE CROSSING OF LOCKS IN PADDLE
And it left again for the locks !!! And I chain them, one by one, in the same ritual.
- Find the perfect place to get out of the water without branches, roots, nails or other sharp objects that could break through my stand up paddle.
- Throw abag, then the second, then the paddle, hang the leash to my handle, pull me out? Climb this pontoon made for mooring barges (often 1.5 meters above water level) and then get out my stand up paddle.
- Walking, carrying, and 300 yards away, all go down again on the water, in the same order – a real routine.
I thought the locks were a beautiful invention but from that day I hated them.
Lock on the canal du midi
It is particularly hot today and with this wind I feel like rowing in the desert. And on the sand, it does not make much progress!
End of the day, I cross a pretty village (Trèbes) with a nice little port, lively. I see a pizzeria, the call is too strong. I succumb. That does too much good.
The stomach fills, I’m off again in search of a comfortable place to sleep. I worry because I approach relatively close to Carcassonne and I tell myself that the closer I get to the cities and the more danger there is.
I perceive a little wood between pastures and the canal, with the buzz of the cars in the city. It is time for me to stop, before being too close to civilization. No access to the bank. Grrrrrrr! My first fall in the water, exhausted of this 12-hour day of oar, I slip on a root and find me for a forced bath and night falls!
Sunday 26th June to Castelnaudary in paddle
At the first light, it’s gone! I still have an obsession to catch up on those miles that wind and locks have prevented me from achieving.
I cross Carcassonne. It’s quite funny to walk past a station in Stand up paddle. And it left again for the locks !!! Go to the right place, throw a bag, then the second … In short, you now know the song …
There’s always wind. I am beginning to wonder about the possibility of finishing this challenge in the times I have set myself. I’ll continue, I’ll get there! Even if I have to row day and night.
I am at the port of Bram, charming village full of history. I see a nice marine restaurant “L’ile aux oiseaux”, I decide to stop there to eat. My best meal! The place was beautiful, very colorful and festive.
I remember it as if I were there. I order cuttlefish to the plancha. It smelled so good. I planted my fork in it and ate like an animal, without cutting it, crunching it in full teeth. Under the bewildered eye of the boss who said to me “But how long have you not eaten!” »…
An hour has passed. We have to go. The road is still long and the locks are numerous. I arrive at Castelnaudary – The city is not without attractions with its vast basin, the most important port of the canal where it will be good to daydream after a day of oar.
Canal du midi
Monday 27 June to Toulouse in paddle
I have a delay of 60 km on my forecast. It gives a blow to morale but I keep going. Not the head in the handlebar as they say, but the head in the paddle! My injuries are actually starting to hurt me. My hands are covered with blisters and I have burns on the legs (due to sunburns and other rubbing of my shorts) and it begins to become infected.
What a nice surprise ! At the end of the afternoon, I see a head that is not unknown!
“I was hoping you were here at this hour …” Stéphane (Leblond) said smiling.
I love Stéphane a lot. I had the chance to meet him during a race last spring. He is a simple man, full of good sense, happy in his life, it is the image I have of him. I’m glad to see him, he gives me a real boost. We row together about 10 kilometers. When I arrived at Castanet-Tolson, I continued my route alone.
Toulouse is getting closer. I worry again about being too close to the city to bivouac in peace. I see some shrubs, I decide to spend the night, beautiful again … to count the stars.
Bivouac before Toulouse
Tuesday 28 June
Here I am at Toulouse. 200 KM and more than 60 locks in the arms. I attack the second third.
THE CROSSING OF TOULOUSE
The crossing of Toulouse is not simple. I am right in the center of town, to get out of a lock to go down to another.It’s very dirty, between the pieces of glass and the syringes, I decide to cross the city on foot. I pull my stand up paddle on the pedestrian crossings, between the lights and the cars, I zigzag between the pedestrians. What a stress! So many cars, people, suffocating odors and noise! I do not feel myself in my place, despite the fact that it makes me smile to see people watching me strangely cross their city.
Passage to downtown Toulouse with paddle
A car horns at me. It’s Jean-Paul Averty !! He is the one who initiated this project. Very busy, he told me he could not come to meet me, but he is there! I resume an energy of madness when I see him. We are discussing a few minutes.It helps me get back into the water.
I know that Jean-Paul doubts my ability to achieve this challenge in the time I have given myself. I know he finds me too ambitious. And seeing it there, smiling all told me “You’ve already done a hell of a long way, you’re going to get there ..” gives me the nieque, something crazy!
DIRECTION THE GARONNE
The exit from Toulouse is quite sad, I mean morally. All these people, those families who live under the bridges, makes us think. One last lock before joining the Garonne. Two little Romanians, coming out of one of these bridges, come to me with strong hands. One speaks French, the other does not. Their mom keeps calling them. After a few exchanges I understand that their situation is illegal. I exchange a piece of their sandwich for a few energy bars. The smallest man asks me many questions, he is very intrigued on my journey and by my floating vehicle …
This summer I went back to Toulouse, but I did not see them. I often think of them, we took a picture, I often look at it …
Sometimes, in hindsight, I told myself that I should have stopped, take more time for them, help them, I might have, I do not know.
A little further on, I would meet Damien Guilhot from the local club “BOCAStand up paddle”. He will lead me to the Garonne and will accompany me for a few kilometers of oar. Another beautiful encounter!
Here I am alone, far from everything, paddling on the Garonne, helped by a slight current.
There I am happy, there is nothing but me, nothing but me and a few cunnies.
Night rises, my evening house will be a small muddy beach shaded by a few trees. I climb my tent, I offer myself the luxury of a lyophilized royal cuckoo. I do a little laundry by the river. I sing. I make a few ricochets, I am amused to find some fish under the stones, I am in Paradise.
At the edge of the canal during the ascent in stand up paddle
Wednesday, June 29, the lateral canal of the Garonne and its dam
I open my eyes. First idea: “you have to go rowing”. It’s like a reflex, I think only of that. It is like an automatism. I always have in mind to catch up on those kilometers.
This morning I have fun, I row from one department to another. Indeed, if I stay to the left of the bed, I am in Lot et Garonne, but if I row to the right of the river, I am in the Tarn and Garonne … I travel very fast. LOL.
At Moissac, the Garonne stretches like an immense lake. There are white signs everywhere. It is very early, a slight mist rises. Everything is silent. It’s beautiful, it’s pure and relaxing. It is here that the River Tarn commits suicide in the Garonne.
Rahhhh! An electric barrier prevented me from continuing on the Garonne. I have to row again in a canal. Fortunately just a few meters separate this river, from the lateral canal of the Garonne.
THE LATERAL CANAL OF THE GARONNE
I left for about twenty kilometers and these damn locks. Actually, I do not like the canal because there are too many people, too much traffic, too much noise. The canals are often surrounded by greenways , invaded by hikers,cyclists or other sportsmen , not to mention the barges that circulate there …
I must now join the Garonne, for that I must throw myself in a stream, which passes under the canal (the brook of mejannebasse).
There is no way to go down there. Everything is invaded by brambles and foliage. Cyclists advise me to continue on the canal to Castets-en-Dorthe (about 150 kms away). But I’m just making my head, I take out my knife and one by one I cut these brambles, which could break through my Stand up paddle and spend an hour to make a way for me.
This stream is only a few meters wide but passes in the middle of a verdant forest. I slalom between rocks, rapids, waterfalls, I pass under trees … I feel like Indiana Johns, it’s just magic! And hop ! Here I am again in La Garonne!
This evening, I planned to meet a friend in Agen (Nathalie de Canal Friends). But a sizeable obstacle stands before me. Obstacle I did not know existed. I am facing the Beauregard dam. Located approximately 4 km upstream of the canal bridge of Agen, this dam stretches over a length of 160m. Abandoned for years, the dam is today in a sad state. All that remains is the basement, remnants of masonry and scrap metal, the whole is very dangerous.
FACING THE DAM
The current begins to carry me away, I row with all my strength to rejoin the nearest bank. I would like to get around it but going through the forest is impossible because of the mud. I watch, I analyze, I think. I’m going to sit there, half an hour, to ask a whole series of questions. There are walls on each side, so impassable. Only a few meters from the dam dam passes La Garonne, I let you imagine the power and flow at this place. It moves in all directions.
OK, no other solution. We have to go. I take out my lifejacket. I reinforce the straps that hold my bags to the board. I hang my leash on top of my arm and I train several times to snatch it. I frankly fear, it must be said.
I kneel and cling to the handles on each side. Honestly I do not even know if I kept my eyes open, but anyway I shouted, bin yes, like a girl more! LOL.
Yihaaa! I passed, without falling, I can not get over it. I dance and I sing in my head “I succeeded, I succeeded, too strong, yes! Yes! Yes! I’m still alive! “Yes, there, I can say” I assured serious “.
But I’m stuffing it serious, Nathalie waiting for me and I have no way to contact her.
I arrive at Agen around 22h. It is getting dark. I rowed more than 85 km today. I’ve caught up! Nathalie is in front of the famous canal bridge of the city, relieved to see me. We will share a good picnic and spend my night in front of this magnificent setting.
In the early morning, seen on the canal bridge of Agen
Thursday 30 June, direction Couthure
Departure to the first rays of sun. I fill up with water because on the Garonne I am not sure to find. Over the water I cross a few villages. The flow is really irregular, sometimes I feel like being on a lake, but this wild and desert side of every human being is pure happiness. It is funny because all the winter I waited to make the ascent of the peak of Aneto in Spain. This is where La Garonne is born and today I row on for hours.
In the late afternoon, I arrive in Marmande where the Garorock music festival takes place. The banks are invaded by the revelers. I continue my journey as far as Couthure / Garonne where a friend, Julien (Rhodes), is waiting for me, we will share a good and hearty meal.
Friday 1 July Port of Begles
At Castet in Dorthe, I begin to feel the effect of the tide.
For miles, I contemplate these houses on stilts, and all his huts of sinners of all kinds. I love these places, between mid-river and mid-river.
Fisherman’s cabin in La Garonne
I watch my watch, I know that the tide will rock and start to rise. But I play the watch. As long as I can move forward, I move forward. I do not know how the tide is in a river. Bim! I no longer advance, I even backward! Well now I know what it looks like! It’s powerful!
For a few kilometers, I walk along the banks to have less current, but I risk dying my inflatable Stand up paddle on a dead tree. I could join the inhabited and lively shore on the other side, but I do not want to leave the water. I clung my leash to a dead trunk and I wait on the water as the tide goes down. I make a good meal, I could have done a manicure and a break of varnish, but I have not taken! Pity 😉
A few hours later, I set off again with the falling tide. I continue my sailing to the port of Begles where I was advised to plant my tent. To return to this port, you must take the Garonne against the current. It’s sport! I just arrive at nightfall and it’s raining. I decide to settle in the outer square of a boat to be safe. The closer I get to the ocean, the cooler the nights.
Saturday 2nd July the Estuary during the ascent in stand up paddle
Departure around 6am, fresh, to be in harmony with the falling tide. I am a little worried because today I attack the estuary of the Gironde. It seems that this is dangerous, between the tide, the currents, and the large steamships. It’s going to be impressive.
I cross Bordeaux with wonder, it is beautiful seen from this side. I walk along the docks, I feel really tiny next to all these cargo ships. Whenever I approach one, I pray that he may see me. It would be stupid to have rowed so much to finish under a big motor boat!
Crossing of Bordeaux
The wind picks up. When it blows here, it blows! I arrive at the Bec d’Ambés, it is here that the Dordogne joins La Garonne to form the estuary of the Gironde, the largest in France.
And that’s where things get complicated. The wind, the more the arrival of the Dordogne, it shakes and it moves. The waves pass over my stand up paddle. I row with all my strength, I really struggle to move forward. I hardly surf a few waves. I decide to cross the Dordogne at its base and to follow the banks to the right of the Estuary.
THE DIFFICULTIES OF THIS CLIMB IN STAND UP PADDLE
I’m sorry, the wind is strong. I draw my energy from the fact that I can not stop in the middle of the tide. I arrive painfully at Blaye. Exhausted, I stop there for lunch, and moreover I have to taste a good wine! This is the first time I would have a nap in the middle of the afternoon.
Sieste in Blaye on floating dock, Estuary of the Gironde
17H, the tide will tip. We must go back. I am worried, the wind has not weakened. A sailor from the corner tells me not to leave, that the wind will strengthen. I can see it, but I still want to win a few kilometers.
That evening will be a real hassle. The swell was formed, I had sea sickness, my midday meal fed the fish. Even the nuclear power plant at Blayais had pity on me and let me touch my shore while I had to stick 300 meters off. The night came, the water came down with the tide, it was impossible to get into one of these small harbors, all that remained was mud and mud.
I am in the middle of the estuary, it is getting dark and I can no longer dock. And when the tide goes up, how am I going to do it?
“Stop asking yourself questions, as long as it descends, rowing, you will see afterwards! That is what I say to myself when I leave my frontal.
And suddenly, I see a floating pontoon, I am saved, at last my night especially! It is not wide enough this pontoon, just enough to put my Stand up paddle there and lie down. I have no interest in driving, if not Plouf! There is always wind, I slip all the clothes that drag in my bag, it quails.
Sunday July 03rd arrival at the beach e Royan
Departure at 7am with the tide. The night was short and fresh. I still have about fifty kilometers to reach the ocean and the beaches of Royan. I crossed some boats and big ferries. The rating is very beautiful. There are troglodyte houses in the cliffs. That’s wonderful. I am trying to row fast, I do not want to be caught by the tide, otherwise I will have to wait this evening to arrive …
And then suddenly I see the beach of Royan. It’s over, it’s Sunday, July 3rd, it’s a little over noon. The Med / Ocean Challenge ends at the exit of the Estuary. 600km in just under 10 days. I only have a few meters to go to reach this beach. I stood a little stupidly there, arms dangling, not daring to row, not daring to imagine that tomorrow I will have to row, only to return to Montpellier.
I smiled with a little restraint, as if I did not realize that the journey would stop there. The true traveler has no desire to arrive, nor to return home. What if I went on?
I need a few minutes to pick up the reason …
I will have to get used to normal life, that of everyday life, to find the right words and gestures of a mother – another kind of challenge – certainly the hardest for me – waiting for the next one, to which I already think …
Arrival Royan, atlantic coast
Conclusion of the climb in S tand up paddle
On these rivers, these 10 days have been a prism of life, a concentrate of emotions. I lived: fear, pain, disappointment, despair, joy, euphoria and rage … and happiness with an overdrive intensity.
I saw everything I wanted to see, experienced everything I wanted to live, learned to handle disappointment and mistakes as inevitable elements of any trajectory, sharpened my sense of priorities. Every day I learned something. I returned another, a little happier to live with myself and with others.
I can now answer, when asked why I do what I do: Because, for me, pushing one’s limits is the only way to know each other better and to progress humanely.
Today, I came back to my house, but it was in myself that I made the longest journey. After these 10 days, all these efforts, all this suffering, I only want to say one thing “I’m happy to be alive”.
THE SENTENCE TO REMEMBER OF THIS JOURNEY IN STAND UP PADDLE
My friend Gilles Lelievre (former world champion of Kayak and winner of Raid Gauloise) had a few days ahead of me on the Canal du Midi during his tour of France in Kayak. One evening he called me and said, “You’ll see under a bridge after Carcassonne, there’s a message for you …”
That’s what I read:
“ONLY THE DEAD FISH FOLLOW THE CURRENT …”