Once upon a time, a group of young, reckless Belgian tourists decided to make a kayaking trip on the French Verdon river. This wild waterway traverses one of the largest and most beautiful canyons in Europe. Steep rock walls of several hundred meters high on either side, the only way out of there is right through it. An adventurous, testosteron fueled trip. Think “Deliverance” without the murderous hillbillies. But with something else, that had an equally lethal potential…
Back in the sixties, safety measures were not yet what they are today. So when the upstream power plant decided to open the dams to let the water rush through at full capacity, they did so without so much as a warning. And without any concern for the lads who were, at that very moment, making their way through the narrow canyon.
When the boys saw the water getting higher and wilder, they decided to abandon their kayaks and proceed on foot. Jumping from rock to rock, following the roaring beast of a river further along. But after a while, this became simply too dangerous.
After some debate, the leader of the group decided to try and make the steep climb up the rock walls, and go search for help. The others were left to spend an anxious evening and cold night perched on a rock just meters above the foaming hell. Cold, with nothing on but their swimming trunks (I’ve been told the minuscule Speedos fashionable at the time didn’t provide much warmth).
I wonder if they could still appreciate the beauty of their surroundings when faced with such real danger. Or if the adrenaline made them feel super alive. There are worse places to be stuck.
There’s a happy ending to this story. The pack leader made it all the way up. He alerted the French authorities, who rushed to the scene with appropriate grandeur and self importance. Fortunately, also with some experienced climbers. Our heroes were rescued from their precarious position and made it safely back to their home country.
One of them, a 28 year old dentist from Bruges, met the love of his life shortly after. He took her kayaking and camping. And then he married her. Their first daughter was a wild child with an ardent love for cold rivers. Now she makes paintings of colorful canyons.
To remind herself that it’s not that bad to be stuck from time to time.
To stop and feel life rushing through her. And then to climb back up, with renewed curiosity for what lies ahead.
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