Up the Rhine, down the DanubeEndurance racer and Ripcord Ambassador Mark Hines has just wrapped up an epic stand-up paddle and bicycle ride across Europe, from London to the eastern shores of Bulgaria. With a paddle board that folds up into a trailer behind his bicycle, Mark made his way across the English Channel, across France, up the Rhine River and down the Danube and into the Black Sea. Somewhere out in the Channel, he said, “It was in the best interests of progress that I avoided the surf and the higher waves that came with the shallows. The direction of the tide was confused around the headlands, slowing or speeding up progress in a way I could not necessarily predict from maps and tide tables. Each day, before getting onto the water in the morning, and shortly after leaving it at night, I telephoned the coastguard as a courtesy to give updates on my location. It seemed correct that they should know about the paddleboarder on their stretch of water, and that all was well.” Unlike on the English shipping lanes, the French do not allow sport craft through the commercial route, and he had to be transported by boat toward the shore: “The French coast to Calais was great fun, as big waves and surf twice dumped me into the water as I attempted to descend into a more stable, kneeling position. An overloaded boat of young French men, each armed with fishing rods, came out to chat with me that afternoon, and wished me well on my journey. From Calais I joined the thin canals through the countryside of northern France, and it was serene and sweet and beautiful. At one of the many locks I was forbidden from getting back into the water, and a tense evening followed, before I was ultimately rescued by a friend from Watertrek, who confirmed with the lock operator that no regulation existed to block my progress and I was free to continue. Time had been lost but I had made friends with two local French girls, who visited me the next morning and brought me coffee and breakfast.” After a long cycle across France and paddle up the Rhine, Hines powered closer to his Eastern European destination. “I passed Kilheim, at the confluence of the Main and Danube rivers, and continued on to Passau, where I was able to post the bike back and get the board onto the river. The improvised trailer now became improvised board wheels to portage the many locks I had ahead. Three rivers meet in Passau, and the combined flow whisked me out of Germany and into Austria. The Austrian section was the most stunning of the whole Danube, with a comparatively narrow river hemmed-in by the steep sides of tree-covered gorges. It was only powerful headwinds that stymied my progress, but progress was always made here nonetheless. I spent a night in Bratislava, as I felt a need to wander this city I had never seen before, and because the welcomes I received as I paddled close to the riverbank were so warm and encouraging. Indeed, friends were made that evening, as I sat up by the fortress overlooking the Danube and waiting for the sun to set. “I was welcomed into Hungary by a mean-minded, angry policeman, who forced me off the river and told me SUP was against regulations. This necessitated a 50-km hike to the southern end of Budapest, from where I had been informed the river police were far more SUP-friendly, and, indeed, more friendly in general. Before leaving Hungary for Serbia, I made friends with a couple of young paddlers, and we camped together, sharing a liqueur I might have easily mistaken to be window cleaner, and standing by a fire that raged massively before us… A threatening storm showed itself on my last night in Serbia, where brothers Darko and Sladije welcomed me onto their patch of beach and gave me a beer. In the morning, it was a breakfast of coffee and rakia, before I headed off into Bulgaria… The warm welcomes, the easy-going, friendly atmosphere, and the sweet generosity of strangers, now friends, were what defined so much of this journey… Read more about Mark’s incredible trip.
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