Monday, 22 September 2014

Götakanal: Karlsborg to Sjötorp

Karlsborg campground
I really liked my stay in Sjötorp - and I liked the campsite more and more the longer I stayed. The receptionist turned out to be the owner and she gave me lots of invaluable information from Thai AYCE buffet to sources for used books in English. But the very best was the check out time which drawn me to the campsite in the first place: 3 pm! And because it was low season (and the owner liked me) she even allowed me to stay one or two hours longer. Therefore the next day turned into an almost full rest day. My personal campsite highlight was the TV room with its comfy leather couch. It even had electric heating! As everybody else on the campsite was in a campervan with their own TV I had to room all to myself - and fell asleep on the comfy couch at night. The Thai AYCE buffet was my personal Karlsborg highlight as I went there a second time the next day. I would have stayed another night but the weather was too good to be missed. I left at 5 pm in the evening, paddled one hour and then camped in the forest.
Tatorp rest area
The Götakanal is really beautiful on this stretch because you are mostly paddling on lakes. I spent the whole next day paddling Lake Viken where I had the lake almost all to myself. According to the weather forecast these would be the last days with T-shirt weather and I took ample advantage of it (and nearly got another sun burn). Another positive surprise of this Western part of the Götakanal were the rest areas which were total luxury for a weary paddler: Shelter, campfire site and grate and a dry toilet. So when I arrived at Tatorp and the first lock after a long lock-free day on the Viken I immediately decided to stay and sleep in the shelter next to the lock. For dinner I tried Swedish grill sausages. I was a bit skeptical as the package called them "Bratwurst" and they definitely did not have anything to do with German bratwurst. Also any meat product that keeps an entire months (as said the expiration date on the package) can't be too healthy. But after frying them on my stove they tasted not too bad and I went to bed with a full belly.

Unfortunately, next day meant a lot more locks and an unpleasant surprise: At Toreboda I had to go under a railway bridge and the bridge was so low that even I in a kayak did not fit underneath it. Plus it didn't help that a local was watching my manouvres from a little boat landing. I was awfully afraid of getting stuck underneath that bridge with a freight train thundering over me on the bridge. I had to take the boat out and portage around it. At least this was not a catastrophe as Norsholm: there was a pedestrian underpass nearby. But the canal bank was so steep here that I had to ask for help to get the kayak out. A man walking his beautifully coiffured dog gave me a hand and soon I was on the other side of the bridge. But before putting in again I still had to do a bit of shopping. The many locks and this unexpected portage (plus my late start....) made me running late now. I paddled almost until dusk before I arrived at another set of locks and another luxury rest area - even with a tacky "water" sculpture right in front of it!

Sculpture at rest area
This time there even was some fire wood in the shelter and I decided to have real barbecue. I lit a campfire and had chorizo grill sausage this time - equally disgustingly good as the Bratwurst last night. I went to bed as a happy paddler again and woke up to thick fog - a good excuse to sleep in. But the next day I wanted to venture into the infamous Lake Vänern and so I finally kicked myself out of bed. It wasn't really encouraging that the first local I met told me that October is already winter here in Sweden... The last stretch on the Götakanal was more Walking than paddling. The locks were so close together that it did not make sense to put the kayak in again. I portaged the boat 2,7 km until I arrived at the last lock in Sjötorp and the end of the Götakanal.

Lake Vänern
When I put in into the Vänern the weather even cleared and I paddled on water as smooth as glass in wonderful sunshine. Alas, this was not going to last according to the weather forecast. And the Vänern is to be taken seriously. It is Europe's third biggest lake and 11 times bigger than German Lake Constance. When planning this trip this lake was one of my biggest fear factors. Luckily there are many places were I can take out and just take public transport around the lake if necessary. The forecast predicted strong winds and lots of rain for Sunday and Monday which luckily coinceded with me being in Mariestad where there is a campsite open year round. (Campsite are easiest for me because I somehow have to take care of myself and my boat.) I camped in a nature reserve Close to Mariestad and paddled to last km into town the next morning.

Vänern clouding over
When I beached at Ekkuden camping the weather was overcast but still calm. Knowing what was to come I did not even set up my tent. First I got into an argument with the young receptionist. Most Scandinavian campgrounds require a "camping card" which of course costs extra money. So far this requirement had always been waived because of low season but here the guy insisted on one. It seemed a bit out of balance to pay 17 EUR just for camping and then an extra of 15 EUR just for a useless camping card but luckily I could convince the guy to call his supervisor who gave the ok to check me in without the card. When I asked for the location of the supermarkets I was pleasantly surprised to hear that there is a Lidl in town. I guess you know now where my first steps were taken to.....

Mariestad cathedral
Returning from Lidl with a backpack full of German chocolate the weather was still calm but half an hour the storm started. I just had time enough to get all my gear from my boat into the TV room and then it started bucketing down. The very worst was the wind - so strong that tree limbs came down. No way I was going to camp in that - I set up my tent on the covered veranda of one of the camping huts. Still, I had an almost sleepless night. The storm raged on and on and when the wind changed direction slightly my tent was nearly blown away on the veranda. I gave up and went back into the TV room. It was cold, windy and wet - maybe paddling Sweden in fall isn't such a great idea....

But the weather forecast was right again. Around noon the sky cleared and the sun came out although it remained windy. I went for lunch in another Thai AYCE restaurant (they seem to be really popular here in Sweden), found a second hand store where I bought 5 English paperbacks (I will have to wait out a lot of bad weather soon) and saved a lot of money by copying sea maps in the public library instead of buying them in a book store for 70 EUR.

Although the forecast looks good for tomorrow I am doubtful if I'll be able to paddle around the whole lake. Temperatures are rising again but wind seems to be a big problem. Three days of wind with 9 m/s are predicted and I definitely can't paddle in this. I'll either have to wait it out or pack the boat up and take the train around the lake. But hopefully the forecast c
hanges - so keep your fingers crossed for me.

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