2,600 KILOMETRES ON THE DANUBE IN AN X500 INFLATABLE TOURING KAYAK

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"I bought my first kayak a few years ago. I started practising in the Arcachon basin, and I immediately wanted to do more. I went down the Leyre, then a bit later on, the Garonne, the Cher and the Dordogne.

So I naturally started thinking about making some longer trips, and going down the Danube was the easiest trip to organise in order to take a great leap forwards. I was driven to Ulm, Germany, and I flew back from Bucharest, Romania.

I always make solo trips, because I appreciate the calm and the solitude. The goal is to travel as light as possible and to sleep outdoors on the riverside, in total harmony with nature. For me, the kayak is a new way to travel that combines sport, voyages and adventure. It’s a form of ecotourism, like hiking or cycling."

CHOOSING THE EQUIPMENT

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Before setting off, I contacted hundreds of makes and companies that might have been interested in a project that was both athletic and ecological. Itiwit was the only make that answered, by inviting me to make the trip in the X500 inflatable touring kayak, their very latest model that was not yet available in their stores. On my first visit to Hendaye I discovered and got started with the X500 kayak with Diego, the Product Manager. To make sure that this kayak was suitable for a trip on the Danube (before, I had only used rigid "sit-on-top" models, so I had to become accustomed to the instability when stationary due to the V-shaped hull) they proposed an X500 with two X500 carbon fibre separable and adjustable paddles (one would be my back-up paddle). After a few hours of tests in the summer on the lakes in Switzerland, I was totally won over and I decided on my first inflatable kayak to make my trip down the Danube.

PHYSICAL PREPARATION AND LOGISTICS

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I can turn my hand to anything and I do some form of indoor or outdoor sport every day.I have always loved nature since I was a little kid. For this kind of adventure, I think that mental preparation is more important than physical preparation. I set myself this kind of challenge to learn more about myself and to become more accomplished. I think you just have to ask the right questions before setting off.Before setting off, I had no idea whether I was capable of going all the way. I took a watertight container at the rear for my spare clothes, the tent, my hammock andmy photo and video cameras, two bags for my food rations and, at all times, two 2-litre bottles of water. I planned to pick up supplies in the villages along the Danube. I usually bought enough food and drink for a few days.I tried to go to the shops on a regular basis, because it was always a good opportunity for me to meet the local population and stretch my legs.When you spend 41 days in a kayak, without moving, your legs can quickly turn numb... After seven locks, which meant carrying the kayak seven times, on the first day, I realised that I was in for a long trip. But I soon got into the rhythmand the magnificent scenery and the calm on the water were my daily reward.

WHY SET OFF FROM ULM IN GERMANY?

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I never make many preparations for my trips. I prefer adventureand the unexpected. I knew that after Ulm, navigationwas totally free. It is possible to set off upstream from Ulm, but you need special authorisations every day and certain sections are totally out of bounds.I don’t want to start an argument here, but paying just 1 cent to go kayaking is contrary to my principles and my vision of life.These restrictions should be reviewed or even revised, in favour of initiatives that should be promoted.So, to avoid any misadventures right from the start, I decided to set off from Ulm. After that, I only had to stop once to go through some formalities at Tulcea, in Romania. It’s an individual choice, but if you want to avoid any problems when you cross a border, you just need to stop off in the river police offices that you can find all along the Danube.

THE FIRST DAYS ON THE DANUBE IN GERMANY AND AUSTRIA

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Ulm: Saturday 18 August 2018: At around 10:00am, I inflated and loaded my kayak and set off on the Danube, which is already quite wide at this point. On the first day, I covered just under  50 kilometres and I went through seven locks. The locks are manual, which is fine if you are part of a group or heavily loaded, but for me, it was easier and quicker to unload my kayak, carry it round the lock and then reload it.I spent the night in my hammock near Lauigen. In Germany andAustria, a lot has been done to make it easier to cross dams and locks.Rails and trolleys are often made available, and obstacles are frequently signposted as you approach them. Later on, there were fewer dams.The Iron Gates 2 dam in Romania is the last one.After that, it’s plain sailing as far as the Black Sea. In the days that followed, I started getting into my routine, waking up at 6am and setting off at 7am, after breakfasting and loading my kit onboard. In the evening, I stopped at about 6pm, slept on the banks of the Danube, usually in the tent, because I damaged my hammock early on in my trip. In Germany and Austria, the banksof the Danube are quite busy, especially with cyclists. But after Vienna, the river becomes much wilder. Sleeping on the banks of the Danube was not a problem.I pitched the tent or installed my hammock wherever I liked and lit a fire, which was not a problem in most places. After a few days on the river, and after my first blisters had healed, I really got into my routine, and the days passed by, with no two days ever being the same. I crossed the borders.The Danube gradually became wider, but I was not really aware of its size, and I only realised that I was almost home when I stopped to take on some supplies.When Istopped off in villages to do some shopping and looked down from the heights, I saw a Danube that looked totally different and was very impressive. Only then did I realise how much distance I had covered. And I could hardly complain about the weather.Apart from some rain and a few storms, the sun shone brightly almost every day. But from Serbia onwards, the wind picked up and it was sometimes difficult to make progress.One evening, when I arrived in Galati, the head wind was so strong that I had to stop a few hours early.

THE IRON GATES IN SERBIA. THE LAST DAM BEFORE THE BLACK SEA.

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The Iron Gates 1 and 2are the last two dams on the Danube. Just before them, I passed in front of a portrait of King Decebalus, a mythical figure in Romania, sculpted in an immense rock. Quite impressive!

I did not experience any problems during my adventure, except when I crossed the first one of these two dams on the Serbian side. I will never know why, but I intended to cross this dam through the lock.As I approached the lock, a first guard arrived and ordered me to make an about turn, which was quite impossible.I tried to explain what I was doing.By the time I had got my kayak out of the water, a Serbian policeman had arrived and he explained that it was forbidden to cross to the Serbian side, as this would be a case of illegal entry. After at least 10 minutes of discussions in a mixture of several dialects, we eventually came to an agreement and I managed to return to the Danube on the other side.But I was not allowed through the lock.I had to carry all my equipmentto a point outside the heavily protected zone around the dam.

Once in Romania, the police patrols became much more frequent, but usually consisted of a simple identity check, and conversations that were more friendly than professional.

ARRIVAL IN SULINA AT THE ENTRY TO THE BLACK SEA, AFTER 41 DAYS ON THE RIVER

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Thursday 27 September 2018:Arrival in Sulina at the entry to the Black Sea, after 41 days on the river.

Two days later, I took a boat to Tulcea, then a bus to Bucharest, before flying back to Paris.I was very grateful that the kayak fitted inside a large backpack. It’s so easy to carry!

CONCLUSION
The Danube is a river that is easy to navigate, without any difficult rapids. You couldeven do itwith all the family. In fact, the main difficulty is that it is very flat, so you have to paddle all the time.You can rarely drift and admire the scenery.From Serbia onwards, the Danube resembles a succession of huge lakes, made up of endless straight lines that allow the wind to pick up, forming waves, like on a small sea. If you add some rain, then things can become quite unpleasant.

But, for me, the adventure was totally positive. If I could do it all again, I think it would be better to start in June or July to benefit from the longer days and to take more time to enjoy the trip. Even if I did not have a deadline for my arrival, the days became shorter and the weather took a turn for the worse.

I cannot remember any particularly emotional or dull moments.Even when I arrived in Sulina, I did not feel an onrush of joy.For 41 days, I savoured every kilometre on the river. There were some difficulties every day.For example, when I started my day in clothes that were still wet from the day before, when it rained, when storms growled with a head wind, I sometimes thought that it was a mad idea to paddle down the Danube.But the feeling of freedom when I was alone on the river more than made up for that.Sometimes, you just have to hang on in there...There were times when I felt down, but I think that I sometimes look for difficulties myself. That’s the reason why I take up this kind of challenge.

After Croatia, I was unfamiliar with the countries that the Danube crosses. For me, discovering Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania from the Danube was a genuine revelation. From Serbia onwards, I was often invited for a meal or a drink by the locals, who spend their time on the banks of the river, with their family or friends. But I couldn’t stop every time.And almost everyone said hello or gave me a wave. And when your head is in the clouds, people whistle to say hello.

All these encounters and signs of hospitality have made me want to return as soon as possible, and to spend more time discovering these countries.

I am already thinking about going back there by kayak. I am not necessarily looking to go any further.I just want to rediscover thatsense of freedom when I am on the river.

DISCOVER MORE EXPERIENCES WITH THE ITIWIT X500 KAYAK

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2,600 KILOMETRES ON THE DANUBE IN AN X500 INFLATABLE KAYAK

François went 2,600 kilometres down the Danube from Ulm in Germany to Sulina in Romania on the Black Sea in an inflatable X500 kayak. Hear the story and watch the film.

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THE FIRST TRIP ALONG THE ENTIRE DORDOGNE IN AN X500 INFLATABLE KAYAK

Nicolas started canoeing-kayaking when he was just 10, but when ITIWIT invited him to paddle along the Dordogne River from end to end, he knew he was in for a real challenge. The first official outing of the brand new Itiwit X500 inflatable touring kayak.

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SLALOMING IN RAPIDS IN AN X500 KAYAK

Dominique from the Decathlon store in Pau tested the Itiwit X500 inflatable touring kayak in the artificial rapids in Pau. He describes this experience, in which he took the kayak well beyond its possibilities.

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THE FIRST "KAYAK CROSS" COMPETITION WITH THE X500 INFLATABLE KAYAK

Experience the kayak cross competition in the X500 inflatable kayak in the rapids in Pau at the 2018 White Water Circus.

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