"Why I'm Off The Pill": Day TWO: SURE, LET'S GO CANOEING. May 2010
I've got diherrea. The tiny little bathroom is shared with all of the people in the house. The walls are as thin as paper. I humiliate myself right off the bat before having to put on my canoe-clothes and head down to face all of those privy to my special morning accoustic session. I'm particularly afraid to see the guy who opened the door while I was in there.
We go to the breakfast room to have our complimentary brekkie. It's awful.
"Would you like Apple Juice or Yogourt?"
What the Hell kind of a choice is that? We're unimpressed and ready to get back on the road. I sneak outside to have a cigarette, something that makes Michael incredibly angry, especially when it comes the night after breathing troubles but mostly because he doesn't even think about cigarettes until late afternoon. Me, I'm dreaming about it from the moment I close my eyes. Because I haven't had much sleep, I really need this one. It's going to be a long day as it is.
We get in the car and realize we've really got to rush if we're going to make it to the Syndicat where we have to register our place at the Bivouac (special campsite for canoers on the Ardeche river). Without this piece of paper, we can't camp and if we're caught there's a huge fine. After that, we've still got to make it to the rental place. The guy has said we've got a 3-hour ride the first day. It sounds like nothing so we take our time. Let's have lunch.
The woman at the Syndicate isn't particularly friendly and Michael tells me that it's typical for people from the South. I can't believe the stereotype and I'm suddenly putting him in a new cadre of Parisian snobbery I hadn't seen before. I'm irritable and really hungry. I don't want another crappy gas station sandwich. I'm dying for a pizza. We are referred to a little bistro next door called "Clos de Papillon". It's brutally hot out. I'm in a tank top and mini shorts and boiling. We stupidly parked the car in the sunshine with our groceries inside. That cheese is sure going to taste good tonight. Ew.
Walking up to the restaurant, all I want to do is turn around and go in the other direction. We are the only clients. We sit down at a shady table (one of the only ones in the whole place) and the waitress asks us to move to a table for two. Unreal. Looking at the menu I want to die. Everything's either got a part of an animal I can't stomach or 'foie gras'. Everything. They have a strange version of a caesar salad but even it's got some kind of chicken parts. I try to be a sport and pick something even though I'm having flashbacks to my first Paris trip at 16 where, after only a couple of days I decide to become a vegetarian because I can't stand the thought of seeing one more bleeding, gooey thing on my plate.
The Clos Papillion caesar has got pulled chicken, pineapple, croutons, vinaigrette and crudite. Whatever. I really could have used something good before this canoe trip from Hell but I'll take it. The wine is amazing, thankfully and I'm done my two glasses before the plates arrive.
There are five little pieces of chicken scattered on a plate of greens and mounds of fatty lard that look like little tongues covering the rest of the plate. What the fuck? I try my best. The flavour's alright but I'm so grossed out by the goo that I have a hard time finishing. I know this is going to be my last meal until dinner time so I do my best, all the while wanting to hurt my travel-companion for having chosen yet another awful meal. I hate myself for not being a better sport but I feel what I feel and I'm having a hard time concealing it.
We head to the Canoe rental place after lunch. We've got twenty minutes until we leave for the Gorge by bus. In the Australian-looking shack, there are a couple men with long hair, blonde-streaks and all, giving us a verbal tour of the river, particularly the rapids, teaching us orally how to attack the rapids.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me."
He shows us a picture of what not to do and wishes us luck.
"If anything happens," he says "and you do fall in a rocky part, the best thing to do is just put your feet forward and float on your back. Try not to stop yourself on the rockface or you could get seriously hurt."
We arrive at the departure point with all our camping gear. We are reccommended to put our belongings in the plastic barrels provided. Michael thinks it's alright to leave the sleeping bag on the outside, seeming more than confident that we're not going to fall off. The people all around us seem to have one tenth of the stuff we do. I'm feeling like I've overdone it a bit. I realize I've got my blow dryer in my knapsack and I can probably shed a couple pounds. My duvet won't fit, so one sleeping bag will have to do. I put the rest of the stuff back in the car including the bag of Michael's stuff.
"You've got the food, right?" I ask him.
"Yes, of course."
I'm actually really excited. We talk a bit with the people inside the bus and they're only doing one hour. They're amazed at what we're about to do. I'm laughing but inside I'm terrified. What if this is WAY beyond our level of athleticism. Already, I am fairly certain that it's totally out of my league but Michael's pretty great at this kind of thing and with all the rock climbing lately, he's in super solid shape. We can do it.
I ask if we can be the last to go in. The guy pulls away and wishes us luck and a nice night camping on the Bivouac. He makes a last comment about the sleeping bag and Michael says again that it will be fine. It won't fit anyway.
We load up the barrels into the canoe and I'm instantly uncomfortable. Imagine having a giant round plastic pain in your back pushing against your spine while you do your best to paddle despite your body's constant plea for you to stop. This is not going to be fun. I can just tell. We push the boat in, I'm in the front. I asked MIchael if he's got the map of the river (because knowing when there are rapids coming up seem to be the general and most important advice given at the check-in. We're supposed to stop, look at them, come up with a stratedy and know where the rocks under water are. If you hit one, you're done for and you're going to fall in and possibly seriously hurt yourself.) He says yes and I trust him.
Not two minutes into the river, I notice we are not only heading for the first rapids without warning from Michael but that there is a giant rock up ahead. He is in the steering position and the only thing I can do is paddle. I opt instead for screaming.
"We need to go around it, Michael. Turn the boat. We're going to hit the rock and go straight into this!"
Bang. The plastic canoe heads straight into the rock, we tip over and the sleeping bag gets soaked and our canoe (now completely upside down in the cold river) is heading down the waters. I've bashed up my knee on a rock, trying to put my feet into forward position, barely able to breathe from the shock of the cold water. I'm terrified. We are so not ready for this. I look up and notice a whole group of tourists watching us fall. I'm pissed. More than pissed. I'm livid. How on earth are we supposed to sleep without a sleeping bag tonight? At least my barrel's full of sweaters.
Getting back in the canoe, I'm trying to be as understanding as I can be. Often, this very desire in me brings about a very different effect. For any of you who have had the pleasure :) of being in a relationship with me you know exactly what I'm talking about. THE BITCH...and once someone has made even the slightest mistake in my presence an even nastier form of the bitch arises - the MARTYR BITCH. Oh no, Michael is done for.
We continue on down the river. There isn't much excitement for a long while. We're yelling back and forth: which is somewhat normal in a canoe though less normal when there are no external noises or voices competing with ours. I'm irritable and cold and my mini shorts and underpants are soaked. The canoe itself is soaked. Fortunately, it's a pretty hot day, so I haven't really got much cause for complaint but one more mistake and this guy's in trouble.
Pont d'Arc. For any of you who know the Ardeche region you'll know this is the big natural monument or phenomenon and the reason most tourists come here. We're getting closer and I remember from the map that this is the site of our next rapid adventure. I ask Michael to check the map. He can't. It's ruined from the fall. Who the fuck gives beginner canoers a paper map, anyway? I can't get mad, we've just got to do this.
I see rocks. A lot of them. My knee is killing me and it's getting angrier just looking at what's ahead. Worst of all, there are a million tourists and southerners perched out in bikinis or topless just watching us attack the rapids. There is a team of English adventurers ahead of us. They are in their early twenties. They are doing training sessions on the rapids. I remember another suggestion the man at the rental place gave us before this journey began: NEVER ATTACK THE RAPIDS CLOSE TO ANOTHER BOAT. WAIT. PULL OVER. LOOK AT IT. DECIDE TOGETHER HOW YOU'RE GOING TO GO ABOUT IT.
Michael is of a very different school of thought. THE NIKE-BRAND - JUST DO IT - school. He's in control of the boat and my measly paddling isn't really doing much but increasing the speed. In short, I have to do whatever it is he wants me to.
These rapids are about twice the size of the last ones. They're mean and I'm flying over waves and rocks and taking the grunt of the water. Yes, this was something the man at the rental shop neglected to tell us. On this type of ride, it's the person who rides up front who takes the water in the face. I'm soaked again, to the bone and I'm so angry.
We pull over on the beach with all of the people and I'm doing my best to be a nice girlfriend. "Yeah, that was fun." (under my breath, I can hear "you fucking asshole) emerging but I don't want to say it out loud). We've only canoed about a half hour by this point and I'm ready to stop and eat and I need a cigarette. Our lighter was in my pocket. It doesn't work.
Fortunately, the beach is laden with people. Families, mostly. Happy families. It's an awfully cute scene and I can't stay angry very long. Michael finds the cigarettes in the barrel and we laugh about the inital fall. Things are looking up. I know we make a good team when we put our minds to it and in the moment, I'm feeling sorry for being so angry. Maybe I'm over-reacting. I can't be sure just yet but I'm going to try to be a bit nicer and see how that goes.
Next to us, an overweight man in a speedo picks up his newborn baby and dunks him underwater. The baby is screaming and the family is laughing. Little girls in only bottoms splash their big brothers. There is an old man smoking a cigar on a rock just taking in the sun. Everyone seems so relaxed. I envy them. They don't have another two and a half hours of this. After a short break, Michael reminds me that it's time to go.
It's not long before we're crossing another rapid. A combination of pride and excitement has made Michael determined to give each one his all. I know that he's worried that I can't trust him because of the first fall (which could have happened to anybody who hasn't done this type of adventure travel before!) and the rough waters give him 'envie'. Instead of following the instructions (which were too wet to make out), he wants to dart between rocks because he's sure we can do it. I'm not his biggest fan.
Every one we approach makes me angry. If I thought I could make it to the campsite with my own force, I might very well slap him off the boat and take the easy route around the rocks, avoiding the rapids all-together. I know I can't. I know that this trip is for us. I need to be a better sport.
Each one and I'm soaked through. Michael is laughing in the back. The sleeping bag is done for. We're doing fairly well, though and a second fall hasn't occurred. My arms are getting tired, my back hurts from the bulging barrel and just moving my leg makes me want to cry out with pain. I'm starving. I can't wait for dinner. It must have been three hours by now.
At our break, we managed to find the second emergency map I requested at the rental site. Former Girl Guides are often over-prepared. I'm SO looking forward to the potatoes I picked up at the supermarket - the ones Michael looked at, displeased when I suggested them. They were already peeled and steamed so I knew they'd be perfect on the small fire we'd soon have to prepare once we got to the campsite. We pulled over for an outdoor pee and studied the map. Before the campsite, there were two more rapids - the most difficult of the bunch according to the man at the rental station. We'd have to be fast and work better together. The sun was no longer shining like before and I had the chills looking down at my already goosebumped legs, anticipating our next fall. I smoked a Marlboro and before I knew it we were back in the canoe.
We were given a few options at the onset for taking on the 'BLACK TOOTH' rapid. Either, we could go around it to the left, or, if we were feeling adventurous, we could burst through two close rocks and hope for the best. I knew which one I wanted. Michael, unfortunately for me, was eager for the challenge.
We made it through both and I bit my lip trying to contain my inner-bitch. It wasn't easy. It wasn't pleasant, either. The thought of spending a night in a tent with this man was looking more and more like a form of torture than pleasure.
We were meant to cross a first campsit before we'd hit ours. GAUD. That was the name. We saw a sign a short while after the last rapid telling us that Gaud was another half hour away. It's not possible. How can this be possible. We paddled and paddled. It was starting to get dark and I'm getting frantic. What if we don't arrive? What if we don't find it at all? We left our two-man tent in the car because we purchased a space in a group tent at the site. We'd have to sleep outside.
"Et alors?" So what, Michael said. We're just not in the same calibur, he and I, I am thinking to myself while we keep looking for Gaud.
We turn yet another corner and see a couple on the side of a rockface, romantically enjoying eachother's company. I envy them. I want to park the canoe and give up. I wanted to make love under the stars and eat fancy cheese. I did not want a soaker and a wedgie. I can tell Michael isn't looking at me with much romantic interest. Partly because of my hat head and partly because he is so tired of hearing me complain.
Another hour goes by and we still haven't seen Gaud. It's really dark now and I'm starting to get 'insupportable'. All of the sudden, we come around a corner and see a sign. No, not a sign from God but a sign telling us that we'd finally arrived at our campsite! Gaud was closed for the season, we'd later be told, so there is no evidence of it from the river yet. I am so happy, I could scream. A hot shower. A change of clothes. I didn't bring anything but the wet running shoes on my feet but Hell, at least now we can build a fire and try to dry them out. I love camping.
We pull the canoes up from the water and follow the signs to the 'acceuil' which is 'check in' in French. I'm a whole new woman. The smile that's stretched across my face in anticipation of dinner, wine and fire is hard to contain. Wait a minute, the check in can't possibly be UP that hill. You've got to be fucking kidding me. There's no way. Fuck you. There's no way we have to carry our plastic barrels full of shit up this hill. After all that. Seriously? Could things be more complicated in France?!
We agree to leave them at the bottom and to go check in and find out if there's some other way up. There isn't. The man at the front desk is quite nice. He sees our wet sleeping bag and laughs, goes into the stock room without a word and pulls out two dry ones and hands them to us. My eyes light up. When Michael asks how we get the barrels up and the guy says "you carry them," I like him a little less. The site is practically empty. Not too many French people are keen on doing rapids in this cold. We do however have a big tarp to ourselves with wooden beams and a barbeque. We're all set. I want to leave the barrels and join the family in the other tent. They look so comfortable. They've arrived early. They're having a nice dinner and relaxing. The guy tells us where we can find the wooden coals for a fire and we're all set. He explains to us that if we lay our life jackets across our two paddles it'll make it easier to get the barrels up the hill.
We assemble. I'm in front. Canoe paddles here are double-sided, meaning one person must have a plastic or jamming into his or her side whilst walking. That person is me. I'm already struggling to walk with the knee and this pain in my side is pissing me off. I complain that I'm uncomfortable. Michael suggests I go up the hill and that he'll carry the barrels himself in a tone that can only be considered 'violent'. I am pissed. It's not that I don't want to help or that I can't do it, it's just we need to readjust. He's just tired of hearing me whine. That makes me angrier. I drop the paddle and let him do it alone.
I arrive at the tent and unpack a little. Mostly, I'm looking for the cigarettes and the wine but I'd like very much to put on a dry pair of socks too. I see Michael sweating carrying the buckets and though a normal reaction would be to feel guilty, just the sight of him makes me irritable. I leave the site and make my way to a little corner picnic table in the woods and cry while I listen to Shelter From The Storm. Michael comes over to console me and apologize, it's insincere but I'd like to have a pleasant night so I accept and suggest I work on the fire while he takes a shower.
There are showers. There are lots of showers. But they do not contain hot water. It's too fucking cold for a cold fucking shower. Michael comes back dry and I realize that this is about as clean as we're going to get for the evening. He fetches the coals and leaves me to build a fire. Now, I know how to make a fire and I'm a big fan of the tee-pee. I've never used wooden coals before and we haven't brought any paper with us. It's going to be tough because all the twigs are wet and the branches too. I'm not sure how to go about it. I spread it all around and use the packaging from the food I can find in my barrel. I've got a little fire but it's not lasting. I'm running out of fluid in my lighter and I can feel another tantrum coming on. I don't know what's with me but I can sense nothing is going to make me happier.
I ask Michael if he's seen the potatoes or the peanuts. He looks and says we must have left them in the car. I'm convinced that he's done it on purpose and I hate him for it. We take our cheese and somewhat stale bread and sit on a picnic bench in the sunniest spot we can find in the campsite to have an apero: wine from the bottle and cheese cut with a swiss army knife. It tastes magnificent. The only thing that could have made it better was the peanuts. I'll deal but not before shooting a couple angry glances in his direction. Motherfucker. You knew how important those potatoes were to me.
Still no fire. Michael assembles a bunch of wet leaves and makes the proper makings for a professional fire while I nag him and tell him that there's no way it's going to work. When it does, I'm half glad but mostly ressentful. I feel impotent. We cook our steaks and eat cold beets and green beans from the can. There isn't much in the way of conversation. He's exhausted (mostly of me, I think) and wants to go to bed. I can't blame him so we do. I lay out our sleeping bags on top of our wetsuits (which we didn't wear once) for extra padding on the wood floor. When I come into the tent I notice Michael has repositionned them against the grain for better comfort. I liked my technique and I am convinced that we will sleep better if we lie on the length of the boards rather than across them. Why do we never bring a blow up mattress when we do these types of things? Oh well, I'm going to shut my mouth and try to be a better companion. My knee hurts, I have a headache and I'm physically done-for. But I need to suck it up. I hate being this kind of woman. It's not my style to complain all the time.
We take a quick trip in the pitch black to the loo before lights out. Of course our final oversight was to bring new batteries for the flashlights...good thing I brought a pillow, though. In the common room, beside the toilets, there is an exhibition of all the wildlife on the island - bugs, snakes, wild boar, ect. I wonder if I'll be able to get that vision out of my head long enough to drift off. I'm remembering episodes of Lost and imagining what I'd do if faced with a wild boar looking to run me down. I doubt I'm going to be able to think on anything else. Our tent doesn't completely close and I hear Michael start to snore while my eyes fixed on the gap between the wooden floor and the tarp. It's just big enough to let EVERYTHING inside. I hear a noise and assume it must be a snake beneath the boards I'm wearing three sweaters, two pairs of tights and jogging pants and a wollen hat. It's going to be a long night but tomorrow's another day, right?
Posted by Julie Jolicoeur at 9:42 AM