Two years ago, a spark of anticipation ignited over 300 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, culminating an expedition around Norway’s Lofoten archipelago in sea kayaks. Soon, we’ll return to relive that moment. Yet, the true genesis of this tale began much earlier.
In the waning days of winter 2016, my wife Lucie bestowed upon me a life-altering gift: a sea kayak. It was the final piece of my puzzle, though at the time, I had little inkling of what I sought. Then, I stumbled upon an article about the Inuit, who crafted the first kayaks 5,000 years ago for Arctic survival and hunting. They embodied the spirit of self-reliance, packing everything needed to endure the harshest conditions and traverse great expanses of ocean. Suddenly, it dawned on me - this vessel could take me virtually anywhere on Earth.
From that moment, the kayak became my haven, beckoning exploration. Initially, my aspirations were modest: mastering the Little Danube, which flows just a stone’s throw from our abode. Yet, even my inaugural venture, on a gravel pit near Bratislava’s airport, proved a humbling test. The kayak, seemingly invincible, surrendered to the waters within the first ten minutes, leaving me stranded in a March chill. Fear gripped me as I contemplated the daunting swim to shore. But as the initial shock wore off, I seized the kayak and my phone, abandoning the paddle. In less than five minutes, I reached the shore, cold and shaken. It was a harsh lesson in humility, but one that would shape my journey.
Enrolling in kayak school came next, a pursuit that met with skepticism. Many believed I was a lost cause, unable to grasp the art of kayaking. Years of sedentary life had taken their toll, rendering me out of shape and hesitant. To compound matters, I harbored a deep-seated fear of the Danube River.
Then, a turning point: a Canadian endurance athlete’s book on the simplicity of a vegan lifestyle and training. The shift was seismic. As a child, I dreamt of not contributing to the suffering of animals raised for meat. Now, I embraced it wholeheartedly. With each passing year, I shed over 40 kilograms, emerging as an endurance athlete.
Is my trepidation of the Danube still palpable? Hardly. In three years, I’ve conquered every inch of it. A testament to newfound courage and determination. From Ingolstadt, Germany to the Black Sea, spanning 10 states and over 2,500 kilometers. The Danube Delta, tributaries – all explored. The river granted me a sense of freedom that was truly liberating.
Before reaching the Black Sea, the Adriatic became my training ground. Initially, tourists unnerved me, but hidden treasures lay in more secluded areas. Amidst a pandemic, I was fortunate to paddle in a Croatia devoid of crowds. In 20 days, we navigated from Rijeka to Dubrovnik through the outer islands. The sea magnified the sense of liberty. Vast, uncharted territory. You grasp your own destiny, amid the chessboard of nature.
Yet, my education didn’t end there. I grasped that my path was mine alone to forge. The world, though smaller, remained vast and uncharted. So, I explored the tropics – Thailand and the Philippines. Nature’s splendor enraptured me, a symphony of life.
In the Philippines, my quest was twofold: isolation and coral reefs. I paddled among the most breathtaking reefs on Earth. While photos depict paradise, the reality was starkly different. Closer to the equator, day and night blur together, and the sun is an unforgiving force. Survival demanded more than endurance; it required an indomitable spirit.
A sea kayak, I learned, is well-suited to colder climes – not unlike my inaugural icy plunge. It revealed that kayaking knows no seasonal bounds. The first year was a test, inadequately clad in a wetsuit. The multi-day excursions were grueling, with cold exposure a constant threat. Then, I discovered the dry suit – a modern iteration of the Inuit’s innovation. It offered insulation and repelled both water and sweat. Immersion wasn’t an issue. In this environment, one couldn’t survive alone for long. It was a revelation.
Winter beckoned exploration in my homeland. The same places transformed, their magic amplified by the season. I returned, time and again, to the inland delta of the Danube. Here, herds of deer roamed, their presence a testament to nature’s resilience. Embracing winter paddling expanded my horizons northward, to Scandinavia. Finland and Sweden, nations that treasure their natural heritage. Here, a sea kayak is as ubiquitous as a bicycle.
But Norway – that’s a tale for another time. It’s there that the spark of our next great adventure was ignited.