As we arrived in Chalons-en-Champagne we passed by the commercial barge Anti-Lope for the second time in 2015. Two months earlier had met Anti-Lope near the Mauvages Tunnel. Heavy with a load, she was moving very slowly. Anti-Lope’s crew stopped for the night at a quiet wooded spot just before the tunnel entrance. We chose to moor at a pontoon further back down the canal closer to town. When we rode our bikes up to check out the tunnel we met the crew.
“Bonjour,” I said.
“I don’t speak French,” came the reply back from the Dutch skipper.
It was an unusual response as even non-native French speakers in France usually exchange “bonjours” until they figure out which language is best. He must have known we were from the American-flagged Wanderlust.
Talking a bit, we learned that Anti-Lope was hauling a load of barley from Montargis France, where we had been earlier in the season, to the Königsbacher brewery in Koblenz Germany. Carrying a full load on the shallow Canal de la Marne au Rhin meant that Anti-Lope’s hull was close to the bottom of the canal. She had to push a lot of water out of the way. As a result she was moving very slowly.
It didn’t help that we were catching up. With the short pounds on the Marne-Rhine, filling a lock drops the water height in the pound above the lock about four centimeters. Though we didn’t know it at the time, when we locked through behind Anti-Lope into the same pound, we made it more difficult for them to move forward and slowed them down.
Two months later we saw Anti-Lope again. This time she was in Chalons-en-Champagne again taking on another load of grain. We waved, said hello, and had a brief chat as we slowly drifted past out of gear. The destination for this load of barley, we were told, was Leuven Belgium and the Stella Artois brewery.
Next time we take a sip of Königsbacher or a Stella Artois we will think back to where the barley comes from and the journey it makes on France’s waterways.