EPIC PAD­DLE DOWN DANUBE

This sum­mer, DAN CLARK-BAS­TEN, from Sip­son, and friend Ian West­more­land pad­dled down the Danube to raise funds for Har­ling­ton Hospice. Start­ing in south­ern Ger­many, their 1,600-mile route via Aus­tria, Slo­vakia, Hun­gary, Croa­tia, Ser­bia, Bul­garia and Ukrai

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P IREPARING to leave on Fri­day morn­ing at 5am. With the kayaks on the roof, we set off on the 13-hour drive from Sip­son to Ulm. Im­pressed with the Euro Tun­nel and my car; got 626 miles from one full tank! Ar­riv­ing in Ulm at 8pm-ish, we found some­where to eat – just a small burger place – then tents up and sleep. The fol­low­ing day we sorted out some last-minute ad­min and pre­pared to get on the river.

Cloud­less, 34.8 de­grees – as we had not ac­cli­ma­tised yet, it was a bit of a strug­gle. After five hours, we found a nice piece of river­bank and set up camp. After a rest­less night we were up at 4.30am to be on the river at 5.30am.

The rea­son was to beat the heat and en­able us to fin­ish early af­ter­noon, al­low­ing us some time to do ad­min be­fore dark. This pretty much stayed our rou­tine for the du­ra­tion of the trip.

Por­ridge, honey and M&Ms for break­fast, Tracker bars and fruit dur­ing the day, and ready-made pasta bolog­nese or car­bonara for din­ner our reg­u­lar meals. Any chance we got to stop at a town and have some­thing a lit­tle more sub­stan­tial, we did.

This first week took us through Ger­many into Aus­tria, with the view vary­ing from heavy wood­land to enor­mous rolling hills with grape vines run­ning down the sides.

The river was slow at the start be­cause of the locks; on av­er­age we had to ne­go­ti­ate five or six a day, which was hard work as we had to carry the kayaks round as there were no lock-keep­ers.

We started to get a rhythm go­ing and get some good mileage done. One of the sights we went through is a phe­nom­e­non called the Schlo­gen Loop, where the Danube turns through 180 de­grees.

Then dis­as­ter struck: four days into Aus­tria, in Krems, I woke at 4.15am in agony. I had been stricken with Repet­i­tive Strain In­jury and my left arm and hand had swollen – I could not even move my fin­gers. For­tu­nately we were only one day’s pad­dle from Vi­enna, so I strug­gled on. When we ar­rived, we headed straight for A&E.

A very nice doc­tor in­sisted I have two weeks off, and I left loaded up with painkillers and mus­cle re­lax­ants.

Ian and I headed back to the kayaks to for­mu­late a plan, while watch­ing the sun go down by the side of the river.

Ob­vi­ously two weeks off was never go­ing to hap­pen, so I com­pro­mised and agreed to two days off. Fate played a hand, as I had al­ready ar­ranged to stay with the par­ents of a work col­league in Hun­gary.

As we came through Slo­vakia, we no­ticed the river pick­ing up pace and as we ap­proached the cen­tre of Bratislava, I looked at the GPS, which was clock­ing us at 17.5kmh.

Stop­ping was a ma­jor is­sue, as the banks are quite well built up and de­fended against floods, mean­ing they are quite ‘unfriendly’ and in­ac­ces­si­ble to kayaks. But we man­aged to crash, un­der con­trol, up a con­crete gang­way; it was not a pretty sight. We had lunch and an hour’s kip be­fore press­ing on.

Week two be­gan with us pad­dling through to Bu­dapest, which took four days, then a fur­ther 63km into Dun­fold­var, where we had our two days off with the Ta­masi fam­ily. They took us round their beau­ti­ful vil­lage, which had cherry trees all the way down all the streets – re­ally quite a scene as they were all in fruit.

We had a meal out with the mother and the two grand­sons, who then showed us round the vil­lage cas­tle.

The sec­ond day al­lowed us to re­lax and let my ten­dons re­set. Then we were driven to the home of the head of the fam­ily, where we were guests of hon­our at an im­pres­sive fam­ily ban­quet. After leav­ing the Ta­ma­sis, we car­ried on into Croa­tia, where we were greeted by a storm – in two senses of the word.

Tak­ing refuge in the first vil­lage we came to, we bumped into three po­lice­men and asked if it was OK to have a cof­fee and wait out the rain. They agreed and showed us the café.

Forty-five min­utes later they were back, de­mand­ing we pay a 100 euro fine each for be­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally. When we told them we had no money, they in­sisted we ac­com­pany them to the po­lice sta­tion. After over an hour of cross-ex­am­i­na­tion, the chief came in and told us to sign the re­lease forms, and that if we ever wanted to go back to Croa­tia, we would have to pay the fine or be ar­rested – not re­ally a tough decision.

In the main we were very for­tu­nate with the weather. The tem­per­a­ture never dropped be­low 28 de­grees un­til night­fall, when the av­er­age was around 18 de­grees. We had three days of rain and two mas­sive storms, which were pretty scary.

Pad­dling alone on a river, where you ei­ther see a lot of peo­ple fish­ing or no­body for days, gives you time to re­flect.

We were now in a well-es­tab­lished rou­tine and life seemed good. OK, it was hard work to cover the 40-mile min­i­mum per day, but good. NEXT WEEK: A part­ing of the ways, pad­dling against the tide and a close en­counter with pigs.

Photo by Pete Smith

n IN TRAIN­ING: Dan Clark-Bas­ten prac­tises a roll

Con­trib­uted

n HOLD­ING STEADY: Dan’s trav­el­ling com­pan­ion, Ian West­more­land

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