We owe an enormous amount of gratitude to everyone who has helped us on our marathon expedition so far. We have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity shown to us and we feel privileged to have met so many people whom we now call friends. When we were searching for SUP clubs in Bulgaria, we couldn’t find any but we received some great recommendations from SUP enthusiast Paddle Bulgaria and from two English adventurers, Andy Bartlett and Mark Hines, both of whom have paddled the entire length of the Danube. They put us in touch with Jordan Stavrev, a kayak designer/builder and the owner of Kayaking Vidin. Carlos was very impressed with Jordan’s beautiful wooden kayak and I imagine it won’t be long before Carlos is putting his craft skills to good use again, perhaps incorporating plastic bottles!
Jordan organised everything – the route, photographers, press interviews, he took us to the start point and brought our car back to the finish and even treated us to dinner, beers and gave us a type of homemade yoghurt only found in the region (which was delicious)! We were thoroughly spoilt and we hope we can repay the hospitality sometime in the future.
The Danube river is Europe’s second longest river (after the Volga) and flows for 2860 km through 10 countries from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea passing through or touching the border of Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine. We completed our 42 km in the Bulgarian section from Novo Selo to Vidin. Fortunately, there is a quite a strong current and we had high hopes for a record time.
We set off as the sun was rising above the still water of the Danube. We headed straight for the centre of the river where the current was strongest and made good time. After a few kilometres we realised that there were kilometre markings on the side of the river which was great encouragement, spurring us on for the new record. Our average speed up until now, had been about 4 km per hour, so when I calculated that we were going about 7km an hour I was pretty delighted and knew we had a real chance to beat the Dordogne record, especially given that we were much fitter by now!
The wind started to pick up after a couple of hours (fortunately in our backs) and by lunch time we grew a little anxious as the thunder and lightning started. Paddling with carbon fibre paddles is not ideal in a thunder storm and when we saw some serious lightning flashes on the river, we thought it probably best to take a short break! Timing could not have been more perfect; as we took our lunch break under a big tree next to km marker 308 (having already completed 25km), the skies emptied. We wrapped up warmly and prepared ourselves mentally to continue the final 17 km in the rain but just as we set off again the skies cleared and the rain stopped. It is in moments like this, that it feels as though the universe is on our side, helping us on our mission to bring attention to the issues of plastic waste – as if nature is asking for help. We were regularly reminded why we were paddling the marathon – the river was lined with plastic bottles and going by the rubbish left behind, our picnic spot had clearly been someone else’s picnic spot before!
We continued for another few kilometres before we saw the bridge that connects Bulgaria to Romania. We knew we were nearly at the finish line and our time was good. We had a short set back when we were marooned on a sand bank, and another when we could not get under the bridge as it was too shallow on the Bulgarian side. After the brief detour into Romanian waters, we had a very tempting offer of a beer from a friendly local fishermen, which we graciously refused, focused on our goal! In a magical 6 hours 35 mintues (10 minutes faster than France) we reached the finish line! Special credit must go to Carlos, who was on the plastic bottle board, for that final push at maximum effort to make it in time! Less than an hour later, the heavens opened and there was a torrential thunder storm and rain for the rest of the day!