Another Bucket List Trip

I’ve never thought about paddling in Europe before but one of these days I might just have to. I need to have a really long life if I’m going to hike and paddle all of the places I want to.  The trouble is whenever I paddle somewhere else I compare it to the Boundary Waters and then wish I was there instead. That’s why I always tell people to paddle and camp everywhere they want to before they come to the BWCA because once they paddle the BWCA they won’t want to go anywhere else.

Photo: Courtesy Canoeing The Continent

Canoeing A Continent

  • Paddling pair finishes European crossing after 146 days

 

After more than five months on the water, expedition team Canoeing The Continent reached its goal of Istanbul on day 146 of their journey, after traversing almost 5,000 kilometers.

The two British paddlers, James Warner Smith and Nathan Wilkins, began their ambitious voyage in Nantes, on the Atlantic coast of France, with the goal of reaching Istanbul by connecting waterways and without portaging.

Up until the last three weeks of their voyage, accomplishing this mission seemed promising—“On our entire crossing of Europe, our longest portage between waterways was 25 meters, from one side of a campsite to the other!” reported Warner Smith in early November.

However, upon reaching the Black Sea the twosome was at the mercy of November gales, contending with terrible weather, massive waves and rocky headlands.

Concerned for their safety, they abandoned their canoe and took to the remaining 370 kilometers on foot, paddles in hand. “We were very sad to leave the canoe behind,” says Warner Smith. “We had dreamed of canoeing through the Bosphorus into Istanbul, however, we felt there was a certain inevitability to our decision, given the forecast and the conditions.”

With neither paddler possessing hiking boots and with only extra large dry-bags for backpacks, walking didn’t always seem like the easier option.  Nevertheless, 10 days later the pair limped through Istanbul’s city walls.

“The first thing we did in Istanbul was have a kebab—in fact, we had four,” says Warner Smith. “After a 57-kilometer day of walking, we were still hungry after.”

The 146-day journey took Warner Smith and Wilkins through a variety of landscapes, including untouched rivers, historic canals, busy shipping rivers and one tumultuous Black Sea. The two spent more than 2,000 kilometers on the Danube River alone, following its course through Austria, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.

“Each section of the route presented new challenges, as well as numerous language barriers since we both speak decent French but nothing of the other nine countries,” says Warner Smith.

The two students, who met through running, were awarded a grant for the trip through the University of Warwick. Both agree that their athletic backgrounds allowed them to weather the physical demands of the trip relatively unscathed.

“I originally got the idea for the trip after I canoed the Yukon River in 2010. I spent two weeks there in the wilderness and had the most fantastic canoeing experience. After that I was keen to do another big canoe trip but wanted something large-scale and original,” says Warner Smith. He hatched the plan and Wilkins, who’d never put a paddle in the water before, was game.

Black home now in England, Wilkins will soon be back in school finishing a law degree, while Warner Smith turns the expedition’s blog into a resource for other paddlers looking to make their way across Europe by water.

“It’s only looking back, we’ve realized how incredible some of things we did were,” adds Warner Smith. “At the time it was just a part of everyday life and seemed quite commonplace.”

Follow their journey at www.canoeingthecontinent.com.

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