Readers’ letter: Kayaking through River Danube for 41 days
Francis did something amazing: he took off 41 days to kayak through River Danube from Ulm, Germany to Sulina, Romania. With 2600 kilometres behind his back, he feels accomplished and happy to have had this experience with himself. Below, you can read his travel diary 🙂
I bought my first kayak a few years ago now. I started to practice on the Arcachon basin and I immediately wanted to extend the pleasure. I descended the Leyre, sometime later, then, I chained with the Garonne, the Cher and the Dordogne.
So I naturally thought of making long runs and the Danube was the easiest adventure to set up to pass a course. I was dropped off by car in Ulm, Germany and returned by plane from Bucharest, Romania.
I always make my descent alone, because I like calmness and solitude.
The goal is to try to travel in a minimalist way, to sleep outside, along the rivers, in total harmony with nature. For me, kayaking is a new way of traveling combining sport, travel and adventure. It’s ecotourism, just like hiking or cycling.
For this kind of adventure, I think mental preparation is more important than physical preparation. I am embarking on this kind of challenge to learn about myself and accomplish more.
To refuel, I stop in the villages along the Danube. In general, I take food for a few days. I try to shop regularly; it’s an opportunity for me to meet the people and stretch my legs: 41 days in a kayak, without moving, it can quickly numb the legs …
I prepare very little for my descents, privileging adventure and the unexpected.
I just knew that from Ulm, navigation was totally free. It is quite possible to go upstream from Ulm but daily authorisations are necessary and some sections are totally forbidden.
Ulm: Saturday, August 18, 2018:
Around 10 am is the time to inflate my kayak, load it, and I start on the Danube, already wide.
This first day, I travel a little less than 50 kilometres and I pass 7 locks. These are manual locks, very useful if you are very busy, but for me, it was easier and faster to unload my kayak and carry it to re-embark downstream. I spend the night in a hammock near Lauigen.
Many things are done in Germany and Austria to cross dams and locks; slides, transport trolleys are also regularly proposed and markings are common when approaching obstacles. Then you have fewer and fewer dams. The Iron Gate 2 dam in Romania is the last. Then the way is free up to the Black Sea.
Thursday, September 27, 2018:
Arrival in Sulina at the gates of the Black Sea after 41 days on the water.
I will return, two days later, first by boat until Tulcea, then take a bus to Bucharest and a plane to Paris.
The Danube is an easy river to navigate without difficulty to negotiate. It is feasible even with the family.
I consider, precisely, that its main difficulty is that it is very flat, that one must constantly paddle. You can rarely let yourself drift to observe the landscape. From Serbia, the Danube is more like a succession of immense lakes, with endless straight lines, allowing the wind, always present, to form waves which turn it into a small sea; add rain and the days can be painful.
The adventure remains, all the same, for me, totally positive.
If I had to do it again, I think it would be more pleasant to start it in June or July to enjoy the longer days and to take more time to enjoy the trip. Although I did not have a deadline to arrive, the days were shorter and the weather more and more capricious.
I did not feel a particular moment stronger or weaker in emotions. Even when I arrived in Sulina, I did not explode with joy. During 41 days on the water, I savoured every kilometre. It’s difficult every day: for example, when I start my day with my wet clothes the day before, it rains, the storm rumbled with a headwind, I could ask myself what idea I had to go down the Danube.
But it’s offset by the feeling of freedom that invades me when I’m alone on the water: just grit your teeth from time to time.
I still had moral drops but I think this difficulty, too, I’m looking for. That’s why I’m doing this kind of challenge.
From Croatia, the countries crossed by the Danube were unknown to me. So to discover Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania by taking the Danube was a revelation for me.
From Serbia, I have been invited many times to share a meal or have a drink with local people, posed along the river with family or friends. I could not stop every time. In the same way, almost everyone says hello or waved your hand. Even when you have your head elsewhere, you are hissed to greet you.
All these meetings and the hospitality brands made me want to come back as soon as possible and stay longer on the spot to discover these countries in more depth.
I’m already thinking of going on a kayak. I do not try to do more kilometres or to go further. I’m just looking for the feeling of freedom when I’m on the water.
Featured image: www.facebook.com/François WorldTour
Source: François WorldTour