The Alpine Dream: 3 Weeks, 1 Wedding and Whole Bunch of Smelly Paddlers

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Our adventure begins in Dublin Airport at 5am, Guinness in one hand, Burger King bag in the other, giving Ireland the send-off it deserved. There we were, 20 or so overly-excited kayakers on a plane looking down over the expansive Alpine mountains that we soon hoped to conquer.

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(Photo Courtesy of Jessie Langridge)

We arrived in Italy at around 10am and the vibes of the two weeks to come started to settle around us as we pulled out our bright blue wife-beaters and five ukuleles and lay ourselves in the sun. Eventually, the oh-so-familiar UL Wolves Sprinter and Minibus came rolling around the corner with kayaks in-tow and suddenly the butterflies set in and the adventure was all too real.

We set up camp in the tiny village of Kobarid in Slovenia and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for what was to be some of the most incredible, beautiful, exhausting yet hilarious few weeks of our lives.

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(Photo Courtesy of Daragh Heffernan)

The first few days were spent along various sections of Slovenia’s 138km Soča river to give our advanced lads a chance to relax and us beginners a chance to settle into our new kayaking routine. We ran Prijon Factory and became quickly acquainted with Slovenia’s incredible crystal blue, yet freezing, water and breathtaking scenery. Next was Serp 1 and Serp 2 which boosted our confidence plenty and was a nice little step up. We ran a section of the Soča called Mini Gorge which ended up as my favourite day of paddling and honestly one of the most fun days of my whole life (it was really gorge-ous!!). Having a great day on the river leaves you with an amazing buzz and drive to live life as fully as possible.

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(Photo Courtesy of Eoin Howard)

But with the good times come the bad, and as we traveled to spend our final week France we met a rocky start. The water was faster, pushier and definitely took some adjusting. In this week we were pushed to our limits, and I saw such improvements in all the paddlers who had come on the trip. Us girls stuck together for encouragement and motivation and by the time the Slalom Racecourse came around everyone was back in great form. Racing your friends down a quick, bouncy, 150m stretch of water is seriously fun. I ran that section of river at least six times and competed in every category I could (Duo champs, WOO!).

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(Photo Courtesy of Luize Smith)

We also had a great final day following some of our own paddlers down a grade 4/5 level river hopping out of the Sprinter every five minutes to act as ULKC’s very own paparazzi and cheerleading squad. We were left very proud by what our own boys could do, and followed up their run of Middle Guil with a good aul girls’ day on Sunshine Run which was the perfect round off to an amazing trip (shoutout to Derv for being a class river leader!).

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(Photo Courtesy of Aisling McCarthy)

On the way to catch our ferry home to Ireland, we even got some sightseeing done in Paris and Mont-Saint Michel in Normandy (trust me, you have never seen such a rough-looking, smelly bunch of people in such a pretty, picturesque setting). All in all, this kayaking trip brought me so much more confidence in my paddling skills and brought me even closer to the people I already considered my second family. It was organised incredibly well, there’s no better team for it. Can’t wait for next year, lads. ULKC for life!!

By Aisling McCarthy

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