I had the website. I knew where it was. I confidently drove the hour to the little town of Remoulins and was totally flummoxed. Where the heck was this bike and boat company? I had found it on Google maps and we were by the river. It had to be close. Sue and Peter were with me while John travelled with Nev and Cathy.
Peter decided to do a little reconnaissance and found a sign. Of course, it was in French but fortunately there were associated pictures. Nah!!! It didn’t help. Eventually I worked up the courage and made the call.
“Excusez moi madame. Je suis australien. Non parle francais. Palex-vous anglaise?”
Of course she did. I winced when I detected her smirk but still she was very polite and understanding and gave clear directions to the new location of their business. It was as described on the poster just a few hundred metres away, located under the trees by the river in two large shipping containers. They were in the process of gathering the bikes and returning them to this the starting point and would be thirty minutes or so- in time for us to walk back to the village and get some supplies – water, fruit and a sandwich or two.
We had decided we wanted eBikes. There were six – four mountain bikes and two town bikes- perfect. Neither Cathy nor Sue were super confident and the step through bikes were very reassuring. There was general agreement that we should do the easy nine or ten-kilometre trail allowing an hour for the ride along the banks of the Gard River followed by the two-hour paddle downstream. Piece of cake! We set off. I arrogantly took the map and was happy to lead. Hard to blame others when you do this. Of course, we got lost.
In fact, confusion set in immediately with each couple somehow managing to separately take a different route through and around the adjacent small village just a couple of hundred metres away, until eventually we traversed the busy traffic bridge and gathered on the bike track shaded by an avenue of iconic Mediterranean plane trees. By this time, less than ten minutes into our ride, Sue had had a minor fall, Peter discovered how heavy an ebike is, especially if you have to carry it up or down stairs, Cathy had over-balanced and nearly cleaned up Nev and I discovered that the Mistral can blow you off a bridge if you are not very, very careful. So….the sexagenarians continued on their adventure.
First sight of the Pont du Gard was exhilarating- An absolute treasure, fabulously restored – it was easy to imagine Roman chariots rambling across the bridge with the arched aqueduct overhead. Of course our ridiculousness continued and at one stage, Cathy could be heard careering through a group of older, awe-struck ladies, calling “Pardones-moi, bicyclette coming though!!!” Through pidgin French and pidgeon English it was established that no, she didn’t need a push across the pont and that yes the bike was electric. Amongst the amusement and laughter there was a call for a demonstration of how it worked.
Eventually, after many dead ends, wrong turns, mis-directions and misunderstood directions we arrived not one but two hours and quite a few kilometres later at the canoe station.
Stage two began with sustenance from our resident fruit bat. The apricots were delicious and the nectarines just what we needed. We were off. Two hours of paddling! Umm this could be interesting. John and I don’t do cooperation well in this sort of circumstance. Both of us are a little bit stubbon and a tad individualistic. So…..
Apparently, the river level was good, so the rapids should be easily negotiated. Yeah right, they didn’t know how useless I can be with a paddle in hand. We were given clear directions as to how to negotiate various parts of the river and particularly the bend in the river immediately after the bridge.
It was surreal drifting sublimely under the ancient structure that had withstood the ravages of time and continued to enchant and engage us in the human capacity for collaboration and creative problem solving.
Well that moment did not last!!!
Moments after we glided under the bridge, attempting to head away from the rapids, the Mistral grabbed John and I and slapped us against the rocks, into the rapids and seriously challenged our capacity to navigate and our relationship. We were wedged. We were going nowhere. Much to the amusement of the older man on the bank who seemed to have positioned himself deliberately in this location to watch the antics of the novice navigators throw a tirade of abuse and blame at each other. We stumbled and wallowed as we struggled to right the canoe and get back on track. Nev, our travelling environmentalist, was on his way back to rescue us but was distracted by three little frogs which gave us enough time to escape and avoid total humiliation.
Hours and hours later, or so it seemed, we spotted the pontoon that was our finishing point. What? A pontoon? Where’s the sandy bank? And how exactly should I extricate my tired, old, exhausted body out of a water-level kayak onto a pontoon a metre above the water -maybe not quite a metre but thirty centimetres can seem like a metre when you go heaving old bodies against a natural gravitational pull. I pretended I was cool and watched. Sue was first and managed a most ungraceful roll out of the boat and floundered on the surface of the pontoon. Ahh that’s how it’s done. I followed suit and proved that I could be even less elegant and agile. The whale has landed!
We were all safe. We had survived!!! We had riden over and paddled under one of the most amazing structures on the planet. We were all pretty chuffed!