Lost in deep thoughts on the Demer

It stinks. The water has a dark brown color and from time to time some waste drifts on it. High and almost vertical river banks are created artificially to protect the agricultural fields and the villages against regular floods and prevent you to get out of the river easily. It’s not for the aspect nature one wants to packraft the river Demer in built-up Flanders. I made one lonely run of the Demer in my packraft in may 2010 and afterwards I wrote on my blog “probably never again.” The only reason why this river is still a bit of interest here is the presence of a few wave trains in the village of Testelt and a gentle rapid on its passage through the city of Aarschot. Except from the Maas, I don’t know of any other river in Flanders which shows a few gentle rapids of such a length and because water levels are usually too low during the summer for packrafting on the more interesting rocky rivers of the Ardennes in Southern Belgium, we don’t have much options too choose from this time of the year. No wonder Willem now also wanted to try the Demer. Despite the fact I didn’t like this river last time, I didn’t hesitate to join him once again.

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Preparing our packrafts downstream of the dam “De Grote Beer” in Diest.

Just downstream of the deadly river dam “De Grote Beer” in the city of Diest we put in. While preparing our packrafts a few people are curiously approaching and watching our first strokes on the river. Two runs through the fast current downstream of the dam and off we go. For me the river becomes rapidly boring and Willem compares it with hiking over a vast mountain plateau were the views are staying much the same after each hectometer so that ones thoughts wander off to other things.

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Ready to enter the Demer river.

Our paddle rhythm becomes interrupted in Testelt where we encouter the two wave trains after the bridge. I was quite impressed by the second one the first time which showed waves with a height up to half a meter. Now the rapid looks less provocative. The river discharge is almost doubled compared to last time and the rapid remains more flattened now. Willem seems a bit dissapointed after all I told him before about this rapid.

After these two wave trains the river rapidly slows down and starts to meander again between its artificial river banks with its typical welling currents in the outer bends. On our way to Aarschot, two rainshowers make us decide to seek shelter under a bridge which we luckily encounter by chance each time at the beginning of each shower.

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Willem has just stretched his legs at the stairs of Zichem. This is the only place were you can leave the river between Diest and Aarschot.

In Aarschot the river gradually starts to accelerate. A bit further the river splits up in two arms. The left one goes to the water mill, a dangerous place for a packrafter. We keep on the right one and rapidly find the first open lock gate in the city where behind a wave train follows. Soon we pass through the second open lock gate and float down the relatively long (to Flanders standards of course) accelerated flow down to the short wave train where the two river arms join again (unfortunately my camera ran out of power in Aarschot). The river remains flowing at a rather fast speed and at the first stairs before the bridge, one of the two exit sites in Aarschot, we don’t succeed in properly fixing our packrafts against the stairs. The current is just too fast. We have no other possibility to let go and go for the last take out which follows on the right side under the second bridge. The river keeps running relatively fast here but a bit less than at the first take out. Fortunately we succeed to step out of our packrafts and to carry them upstairs. We pack our packrafts next to the bridge while we get a lot of attention from the passing cars.

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Seeking shelter for a rainshower and waiting under the bridge of Aarschot.

Now I think this was really my last time on the Demer.

I made a quick movie of our passage through the small wave trains in Testelt.

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