Friday, September 12, 2014

Götakanal: Mem to Motala


I was very nervous in the morning. This was my first day on the canal  and I had no clue how to get out and back into the kayak at the locks. Also I had no experience with the boat cart which is essential for portaging the boat around the locks. Keep in mind that I am not the most athletic or agile person either. To say that I am clumsy is still somewhat of an euphemism....or as my former hiking partners used to say: Grace and Elegance are not my middle names... To make things worse my first portage would be in Söderköping where I would have plenty of audience for my acrobatics.

I finally embarked onto the little river that parallels the canal and it was a real pleasure. But the river banks were steep... if it stayed that way I had no chance of getting myself and my kayak out of the water. But when I entered Söderköping I immediately saw my fall back plan: a real boat slip at a wharf which had the only drawback that it was 1,5 km away from where I wanted to get out. I paddled on and saw to my great relief that the river banks were grassy and much less steep. In a rather ungraceful acrobatic act I  threw myself on the grass (picture yourself a sack of potatoes rolling around) and pulled my boat ashore. Once I managed to shove it onto the boat cart which is much more complicated than it sounds for one person) the actual portage was easy. Now I still had to do some shopping before I could start paddling again.

Rabbits next to my kayak
I was very nervous to leave the kayak and all my gear unattended but being alone I had no choice. One homeless person looked rather suspicious and I hurried to the supermarket and back - only to find my boat just as I had left it and the presumed homeless person sitting in a café drinking coffee that I could not have afforded....I put my kayak into the Götakanal at a funny statue of rabbits. I remembered that I had taken a picture of the exact same rabbits over a year ago when I had been cycling along the Götakanal on my first Skandinavian bike tour - and where the idea to paddle it had developped.

Lots of camping space at locks
It was just a short paddle to the next locks - an entire flight of six. As soon as I had gracefully gotten out to my big surprise a ship appeared - and minutes later a Götakanal staff member in a car. The locks are only permanently staffed until end of August. After that you have to prebook lockage which is costly. I am proud to say that I beat the ship in the six locks despite the fact that I had to wait out a rain shower. I still waited for the ship to pass me at the uppermost lock because I didn't want any audience for my acrobatics....

In order to minimize getting in and out of the water I decided to camp directly at a lock which is also totally legal according to the Götakanal staff. But when I arrived at the lock I saw an inhabited house right next to it - and as the family was working in the garden I politely asked for permission to camp. Good choice! Not only was I allowed to camp but they also opened the lock keeper's toilet for me. The little lock keeper houses also have a little veranda which came in handy as a rain shelter for cooking. A nice ending for a successful first day in the canal.

Railway crossing
Day two was a lesson in Swedish helpfulness. I arrived at the lock in Norsholm and didn't think much about how to portage around it. Alas, it wasn't business as usual. The lock was closed despite the fact that the water level was equal on both sides. Directly after the lock was a railway bridge. And there the problem started. I couldn't get the kayak in after the lock because the water level was too low - a drop of over one meter. But I couldn't portage across the railway line either: the pedestrian crossing was so fenced of that a person could zigzag through - but not with a 5 metre long kayak in tow. And once across the railway line things didn't look bright either: there still was a one metre drop between the quai wall and the water. An electrical board announced a bridge opening in over an hour - but was this a current display?

Sunset at Roxen
I walked back and forth and couldn't find a good  solution. In desperation I asked the lady in the little
supermarket if there really was going to be a bridge opening. The very pragmatic lady immediately recruited one of her customers to help me. The guy who at once told me about his military training in the Swedish army wanted to help me lift my kayak over the railway fence. But how would I get the boat into the water? No problem! Just go to my friend Ake's house, say greetings from me and he'll let you use the boat ramp on his property. We lifted the boat over the fence and I was now looking for Ake's house. I asked a lady walking her dog if she knew where Ake lived. No, she didn't, but pointed out another nice put-in place - on private property. When she saw my doubts about trespassing she immediately volunteered to inform the neighbour - and when no one answered her call she gave me her name and told me to just refer anyone to her... When my kayak was finally in the water I was so exhausted that I didn't paddle much further on Lake Roxen after seeing a beautiful deserted beach. I even took a swim before going to bed!

Rest area along Götakanal
Day three was very long but had few locks - and every muscle in my arms and shoulders were hurting. I should really take some paddling lessons to improve my forward stroke. I camped at an official rest area which meant that there was a toilet, benches and a swimming area in the nearby lake. Heavenly - and I had the whole place to myself. I did not know what to do with the kayak overnight. Leave it in the water? (Not place to tie it to and it could get stolen) Take it out? (lots of work) I took it out and but I probably should not have worried. No one passed the rest area at night and there are no boaters because the locks are closed. I woke up to thick fog - a good excuse to turn around and continue sleeping, especially since my arms were still hurting. But eventually the sun came through and again I was paddling in a T, shirt only.

At Borensberg the canal screwed me again: no decent put-in place after the lock. I ended up putting in in a reed wilderness, supported by some German campers for whom my kayak acrobatics probably provided a good substitute for the lack of German TV.

Despite my aching arms and shoulders I made it across Lake Boren to the lock stairs at Motala where I am camped right now. To my great delight there are open public toilets nearby which provided almost hotel luxury for me: electrical outlet to recharge my phone, warm water and a hand dryer to wash my hair and soap for a general clean up.

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