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the Loire by kayak

For nine days, covering just over 300 kilometres, Justine Andres and Thomas have navigated down the Loire, from Nevers to Tours. A project with sport at its core, along with environmental values, as they took a census of the waste in the river as part of the Plastic Origins project.

The Loire by kayak

"To do our part, Justine Andres and I suggested to the Surfrider Foundation that we take part in their participative sciences project called Plastic Origins, which aims to track pollution across Europe, to populate a cartography of European marine pollution. Originally, we were planning on going down the Dordogne river by kayak, armed with just two paddles, our good intentions, and the Plastic Origins app to record all of the waste we come across. To help us in our mission, Itiwit agreed to kit us out to facilitate our project, which is equal parts athletic and environmentally committed."

from Nevers to Tours

In Nevers, we immediately identified the main hazard for our adventure: passing through the bridges. Behind the Nevers bridge, there is a metal jetty that is hard to spot when you’re coming from the other side of the river. We decided to start behind this bridge.

The first few hours were particularly pleasant, as the Loire crosses areas that are left to nature and pretty silent. We immediately felt away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life! Unlike walking, cycling, roller blading or any other means of travelling on land which take several days before you feel disconnected from day-to-day life, when you’re on the water, it just takes a few minutes. Leaving our natural element – dry ground – to travel on the water creates an immediate break in routine.

Maybe it was because of the water levels which were higher than usual for the season, but we didn’t come across any boats on the first day. The river was calm. After 30 kilometres, the best part was setting up camp on a little island! With its many small islands and sand banks, the Loire is a river that you can navigate for several days in silence and sleep on a different beach each night. For those who dream of escaping the world on a desert island, the largest river in France may well be the solution. 
The next time, we spotted our first waste. With Plastic Origins, we had completed online training to familiarise ourselves with their project and their application, but this was our first time using it in the field. Pretty simple, you just need to select the riverbank (right or left), the travel method (kayaking or walking along the embankment) and the recording method (manual or video, in which case artificial intelligence identifies the waste in the video clip). Next, you indicate the type and quantity of the waste observed, and then you send off the data! The aim of the Plastic Origins project is to take a new census of the pollution in watercourses to present to public authorities, alert them to the growing concern of maritime pollution and to be able to act at the source. Their project stops, however, at the census taking, and we aim to collect all the waste spotted. We had a space on the kayaks planned specifically for bin bags.

We continued towards Orléans with the daily rhythm that can only be found on a kayaking adventure: we would paddle, unload our things onto a small island, sleep, and repeat!
At night, we had the soothing sound of the frogs and the birds and beavers moving around the tent. If there hadn't been any mosquitoes, it would have been perfect!

On our way, we’d make discoveries or meet new people that would brighten up our days. We found ourselves masters of a magical cabin for a few hours, shipmates on a traditional wooden boat, or explorers of a branch of the river lined with abundant, luxurious foliage after we went the wrong way.

Close to the dam which has been built opposite the Belleville-sur-Loire nuclear plant, Justine and I turned down the wrong branch of the river, and found ourselves in the midst of thick vegetation that we had to work to get through. Certain segments had so little water that we had to walk until we could float the kayak again. We owe our success to the water levels, which were higher than normal for the season, and without them we really would have struggled to get out of that spot. Once we’d made it out, we spotted the branch that we should have taken in the first place, saying to ourselves: “Well, we had fun! It’s a good job we made the mistake.”

Once arrived in Orléans, we stayed with a friend for a few days before heading back out onto the water. After Orléans, the Loire gets increasingly busy and the wild stretches get increasingly rare. At night, on the small islands, it wasn’t unusual to hear the sounds of people on the riverbanks. It was a strange feeling to fall asleep cut off from the world, in the middle of the water, but at the same time so close to others. Yet, evenings on the water’s edge didn’t lose their charm over it. 
After nine days on the water, and a little over 300 kilometres covered, we made it to Tours. Setting foot on dry land wasn’t unpleasant, because even though the days in the kayak were wonderful and full of marvels, they were tiring. We’re still convinced that kayaking is a means of travel that can break you out of your routine in record time. So, what are you waiting for? Head to the water!



 

equipment

Our equipment was provided by Itiwit. When the company asked us which kayak would be best-suited to our project, we answered straight away: the Touring 100 two-seater kayak. This inflatable kayak proved to be extremely resistant, even when we took on shallow water. Each time the kayak collided with a sand bank, I was worried we’d have a puncture, but the kayak didn’t let us down. To get us moving, the Itiwit x100 paddles are made from aluminium and weigh 1.1 kg. Holding them all day did require more strength than carbon paddles, but they’re really robust and offer firm resistance in the water. We transported our camp equipment, clothes, provisions and water in an Itiwit 30L waterproof bag, as well as in 10L and 40L bolster bags. They were perfect and were just what we needed.