340 kilometres in an Itiwit inflatable kayak

Lika and Maxime decided to set off on their first two-man adventure in an inflatable kayak, by paddling 340 km down the Rhône river in France

Itiwit inflatable kayak rhone river

“Lika and I (Maxime) both love nature. We usually prefer the mountains, and especially Belledonne near to the town of Grenoble, where we live. One day, we found ourselves near to the Drome for a short trip down the river. I had memories of an adventurer who rowed from Paris to Moscow, and of one of my cousin’s seafaring expeditions. And the beautiful imagery of “The Sweet Escape” directed by Podalydes had already got me thinking. Where? How? We had never done it before. For our first trip, we chose the Rhône, with its intimidating weirs and dams. We also liked the idea of finishing our trip in the deep south, so we set off on our two-man adventure on the river.

The equipment for total self-sufficiency

The answer was clearly to check out the new products from Decathlon. Personally, I found it reassuring that we could find all our equipment in this shop. Decathlon and I already had a long story together in sport. And I have always been pleasantly surprised by their innovations and the way disciplines become more accessible every time this company takes an interest in them.

The obvious choice was an Itiwit3 inflatable kayak, because the ease of transport would be very helpful in our adventure. I contacted Itiwit on Facebook for some advice. They put me in touch with Claude, who had already crossed France on an Itiwit inflatable SUP last summer, taking in the Rhône river on his trip. He was very helpful and gave me some tips on how to make a success of our adventure, while enjoying ourselves at the same time.

Here is the list of the equipment we took with us:~- one ITIWIT3  inflatable kayak / two two-piece collapsible paddles / one 2.6L double-action hand pump.~- two 50N+ buoyancy vests.~- two Quechua hiking bags, protected by rubble bags. (would we regret not taking real watertight bags with us?)~- wet weather clothes, plus one spare set.~- one Arpenaz two-man tent, which never let us down under any circumstances and two Forclaz 10° sleeping bags and one Quechua 120 inflatable mattress.~- two headlights, two backup lights, one very practical Quechua cookset, plus a few kitchen utensils.~- one large picnic rug for the evenings and some supplies: tinned food, rice, pasta and plenty of chocolate and biscuits.~- one large painter’s tarpaulin to protect everything against the rain.

bivouac kayak rhone

The first three days, and the first weirs

We set  off from the Pasteur bridge in Lyon, which we chose completely at random. We crossed the weir near Pierre Bénite. Discovering the passages. We had obviously already reconnoitred. But the signs along the way were quite confusing. In some places there were lots of signs, but hardly any in others. This left us in doubt when getting back into the water. There were times when I would have preferred no signs at all. At least things are then quite clear.~A stop near Millery. A heavy storm during the night. The tarpaulin was just the trick. It was our only really wet episode. We got lucky. A day’s paddling. Progress is slow.

17 August : We pass through Vienne. The landscapes become more and more attractive. Crossing the weir at Ampuis. No more nice places to stopover from here on. Bivouac downstream of the weir near to a strange circuit for scale models. A friendly little snake. Waking up in the shade. The first comfort for every camper. A camp fire is essential.

18 August : Weir near Saint Pierre de Boeuf. We crossed the weirs in two steps. The equipment first, then the kayak. It takes time, but it works. We had thought about deflating the kayak every time. Not a good idea. Next time, we will remember to buy a transport trolley from Decathlon. It is designed for rigid kayaks, but I’m sure it can be used with inflatables too. This was our biggest mistake, and it cost us a lot of time. But we managed.~Crossing the Platière island reserve. A very beautiful place. Birds and beavers. It was the first time for me. I was delighted to actually see one at last. We ended up seeing quite a few. And we discovered a new word: Cecotrope. I’ll leave you to find out what it means.~Camp after the weir in the company of a goat. We kept a close eye on him, because he showed a keen interest in the boat.

trip kayak rhone france
trip kayak rhone france bivouac

We got into our rhythm over the next four days...

19 August : The spillway near Peyraud and the weir at Arras. We arrived late. We were caught out by nearly running out of water. It was to be the last time. A stop to take on water in Tournon. All along the trip, the people we met were extremely friendly, like the policemen who gave us a wave every time they passed by. And they were curious about our escapade. Some were very optimistic. “Oh, you’ll make it! You’re almost there”, while others were not so sure, but friendly all the same. Camp near Tournon on the Rhône. A mediocre spot. So we set off extra early. 

20 August : Weir at La Roche sur Glun. Crossing Valence. Taking on supplies of comfort produce. Sandwiches. Shocking I know, but they did us a world of good. Every evening,we remembered to slightly deflate the kayak. You must take Decathlon’s advice seriously. If you leave your kayak in the sun, even for just one hour, then you could damage it. Camp at km 113

21 August : The weirs at La Grange and Le Pouzin. Two more obstacles to cross. We are making better progress. I have found my rhythm, and it feels like I do not have to work the paddles so hard and that I have become more efficient. Camp at Saulce. Lentil stew. A word about our inflatable mattress. Lika and I have often been camping in the mountains. We usually sleep on floor mats. This touch of luxury is much appreciated. 

22 August: Rochemaure weir, near Donzère.  Two more weirs today. There were plenty of places to pitch the tent. But we were infested with mosquitos from a marsh upstream of the weir all evening. And the kayak was full of ants the next morning. This was the only time we were bothered by insects. We were lucky in that way too. ~We got into the habit of  emptying the kayak every time we crossed a ramp. The water did not come from the rapids, but was accumulated drip by drip as we paddled. Inevitable. One day we were feeling tired and we forgot. But the weight of the boat provided a quick reminder.

Some tricky rapids, birds and the Avignon bridge...

23 August : Arrival at Pont Saint Esprit. A lot of water in the kayak. The rapids before Pont Saint Esprit were a bit more difficult than the others. But there was a nice beach just afterwards where we emptied the kayak. No weir.

24 August : We took a rest near Pont Saint Esprit. A lovely site to camp and plentiful supplies. We rest, read and sleep. I have a go at fishing. I was quite good when I was younger. But now, I have to admit that I’m hopeless.  That’s all about fishing...

25 August : Laudun-l'Ardoise weir. Camp by Montfaucon. Lots of little bird-watching huts, some of which have seen better days. A word about the birds. They are everywhere. Herons, grey birds, white birds, ducks, lots of cormorants and fish-eating birds. Our favourite is the metallic blue kingfisher.

26 August: A very windy awakening. We thought twice before setting off again. Rowing into the wind is really unpleasant, but we make progress nevertheless. The weir near Sorgues. Crossing Avignon. Taking on supplies. I had to look hard for a drinking fountain. Most unpleasant. The skipper gave me a tip. It’s a secret, so I can’t tell you about it. We break a fin by pushing the kayak onto a ramp too fast. The first damage, and it was our fault. Bivouac after Avignon, a full moon. A lovely spot between the old Rhône and the canal.

27 August: The weir near Comps. One of the most difficult and longest. A final word about the weirs. We often lost time looking for sites to get back into the water. Here again, some passages were signposted perfectly. Where, how many km, do we have to cross the river or not. And then, nothing at all. This resulted in a lot of wasted time.~We arrive in Beaucaire at night. We camp on the sand. A delight for the feet, but Lika didn’t like it.~ 

rapids rhone kayak trip
inflatable kayak trip itiwit

The home straight to the sea...

28 August: The Beaucaire spillway. No more obstacles now. A source of great satisfaction. Crossing Arles. From here on, it was almost impossible to take on supplies. We hope to make it. We’re almost there. Camp in Le Vigneret marshes reserve. Fatigue is playing some tricks on me. When we arrived at the bivouac site, I noticed some horse droppings and didn’t think twice about it. I wondered how the horse riders had made it to this spot. Then we heard a noise and about ten very surprised horses rushed out from behind the trees. But of course. We were in the middle of La Camargue. Which explains why.

29 August: Crossing Port Saint Louis du Rhône. We were worried that the landscapes would be dull. In actual fact, it’s a very nice place. With lots of little holiday houses, fishermen and birds. But once at sea, if you approach Marseilles from the East, then it’s not a pretty sight at all. We continued along the beach to a campervan site, where my wonderful mother was waiting to welcome us in her house in Méounes for a well-deserved reset. WE HAD MADE IT!


CONCLUSION
Regarding the equipment, our overall conclusion is very positive. The only thing that was really missing was the trolley. Claude, who went down the Rhône on a SUP had warned us. So it’s our fault really. The kayak was fantastic. It takes a little time to position the floor properly in relation to the tubes to be well balanced. Follow the instructions carefully. Inflate the floor, then inflate the tubes to 50%, and then inflate fully. You soon get used to it. Inflatable kayaks are not the most hydrodynamic of boats, but they get you there. They can be inflated very quickly, as promised. The kayak can be emptied easily, but it’s even better if you deflate it a little. Otherwise, the water does not flow easily to the outlet.

Now, we are seriously thinking about paddling down the Loire.

Lika and Maxime.