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Not only is this guy a writer, researcher, and consultant, but he is also a traveler, adventurer, and fellow admirer of the outdoors. He has been many places all over the world, and his photography shows his kind spirit and love for all things nature and humanity alike. Let him tell you about his adventure through the Gorges of Verdon, France. I leave the table open to you, Tim.
I have been blessed with a love of the outdoors from early childhood. I grew up in rural Ontario, Canada, and everything we did as kids were outdoor. The first months of my life were spent aboard a sailboat. From early on, we sailed, windsurfed, canoed, kayaked, water-skied, cycled, and invented activities like iceberg sailing and tractor toboggans. Long before mountain bikes, we were blending bike bits, racing down the forest trail, and hitting the jump to land in the swimming pool! Before three-wheelers (the precursor to quad bikes) we were removing the mowing deck from the tractor, driving the forest trails, and towing toboggans through the apple orchards, the rotten ‘grounders’ were slick and the slides impressive.
My father and I cut miles of trail through the forest and we enjoyed countless moonlit nights cross-country skiing. I built a 5-hole golf course on the property at the age of 11, complete with hand-dug sand traps.
Summer camp in Algonquin Park and a school curriculum heavily laden with outdoor adventure shaped the person I have become. Thanks to these formative experiences, I chose a different trail, spending the last 30 years living out of a backpack, panniers, and saddlebags. My journeys have taken me around the world and outdoor adventure is always the name of the game. The stories are endless.
Fast-forward to autumn 2019. ‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,’ or so goes the adage, and there is truth in that statement.
I was behind the wheel of my van, winding through rural southeastern France en route to the Parc Naturel Regional du Verdon. The Verdon River slices through this part of Alpes-de-Haute Provence on its descent to the Mediterranean carving an impressive series of canyons that run nearly 25km and, in places, 700m deep.
The rugged countryside is dotted with vineyards and olive groves, and narrow roads traced ancient routes leading to villages that spoke of centuries-old tradition. Away from the hustle and bustle of the overpriced and overrated “Cote d’Azur”, the soul of a simpler life surfaced. Folks relaxed in village squares, sipping wine and catching up on the day’s gossip, waving as they noted the foreign license plate.
The dog days of summer have yielded to autumn’s crisp nights and, although the sun remains warm in the sky, daytime temperatures are lower, the days are getting shorter.
Tourists have returned to work, school, and the routines that shape and define daily life, leaving me empty roads, empty village squares, empty parking lots, and a sense of freedom.
My first view of the lower section of the gorge came in the late afternoon from Pont du Galetas where you can peer into the mouth of the canyon. Rotating 180 degrees, Lac Sainte Croix with its turquoise waters and the promise of assembling my Feathercraft collapsible sea kayak to enjoy a day on the water beckoned.
Rising early next morning I put my kayak together and walked to the edge of the lake. Mallards patrolled in search of grasses, cormorants alternately fished and perched on rocks, their wings spread to dry, and blue herons stalked the shallows.
The mouth of the gorge is just upstream presenting an opportunity to paddle into the lower section offering a glimpse of the narrow canyon. I paddled as far as I could, admiring the steep walls framing views of mountains in the distance,
Lac Sainte Croix, the largest reservoir in France, is perfect for a day trip and if you paddle the shoreline you can squeeze out over 35km. The lake was completely empty save three fishermen bobbing in a bay in solo inflatables.
Happy to have spent a day on the water, I re-packed my kayak and crept along D952, a narrow road that skirts the rim of the Gorge where occasional pullouts offer a chance to walk to panoramic views of the canyons. In Castellane, an ancient town at the Roman crossroads of Via Salinaria, Via Ventiane, Via Aurelia and Via Domita, the 12th century Notre Dame du Roc Cathedral, perched nearly 200m above-town, dominates the view.
Refueled and restocked with food, I carried on to nearby Le Touron, on the shores of Lac Castillon. Lac Castillon is long and narrow, the water particularly clear having not been flushed through the gorge. I ventured up a narrow arm and rounded a corner to flush a flock of blue herons from a mudflat, watching as a couple dozen lifted off and circled toward the lake.
It could have been a scene from Anywhere, Canada. The waters, reminiscent of the Temagami of my youth, were a deep blue at depth lightened toward the shallows through the complete spectrum of blues.
I paddled as far as water levels allowed, almost reaching St.-Andre-les-Alpes, before sliding down the opposite side of the lake, past St. Julien and around the lower section. Being the only tourist in town, I parked at the water’s edge and watched the full moon rise over the mountains reflecting on my good fortune.
Driving back to Nice, I felt revitalized. I am not built for urban life but my daughter lives there with her Mom and I have a keen desire to walk her to school in the mornings and share precious moments as she grows. And I know there is plenty of opportunity to return to the natural beauty that lurks close behind the coast.