A Boy, his Bike, and his Boat

He is blooded to the open and the sky,

He is taken in a snare that shall not fail

Rudyard Kipling

I’ve never been one for New Years resolutions. Maybe this is because I could never get past the arbitrary demarcation of a “new year”, or perhaps I subconsciously believe I don’t need improvement (more likely, I’m privately afraid to fail).

Keeping with such anti-resolution tradition, the goal I’m about to describe is decidedly not a New Years resolution. Nevertheless, it is nearly 2013 and I have a goal.

I am going to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea using only human powered amphibious travel

Specifically, I am going to follow the inland waterways along the rivers Rhine, Main, and Danube across Europe, and because I apparently harbor some (not-so) latent masochistic tendencies I’ll be doing this during winter, that is, starting tomorrow.

I’ll be journeying by bicycle and packraft. A packraft is an inflatable dinghy-style craft that is quite light and paddled like a kayak. I packrafted for the first time on Christmas Day this year after buying my floating blue transport (pictured below).

There’s something about human-powered travel I find indelibly attractive. Applying a bit of sweat and wit to traverse long distances is my little rebellion against this machine dominated world of automation and instant gratification.

Now, self-supported amphibious human-powered transport, hah! What a notion! Water and land. Suddenly those blue squiggles on a map aren’t an annoying obstruction.

Surly Long-Haul Trucker Deluxe folded atop an Alpacha Explorer 42 packraft in the water

Bicycle and gear strapped to my packraft. They call this bikerafting

The Plan & Difficulties

The plan is quite simple: follow the skinny water east until I arrive at the big water.

I’m not one for elaborate preparation, in fact, all I’ve really done to prepare for this journey is buy the packraft and relevant water gear (paddle, drysuit, etc), and some extra cold weather clothes. Traveling with a full camping kit has become standard practice for me.

This is my first European winter, so we’ll see how I fair. I will certainly encounter snow in Germany, and I can’t imagine the paths along the River are high priority for the snow plows.

Wikipedia informed me that the Rhine flows from Switzerland towards the Atlantic, which means I’ll be peddling along shore upstream until I hit the Danube. From the Danube I’ll blow up the raft and paddle onwards. I’ll buy river maps in each country as I go.

Excessive planning destroys the adventure.

Having a contingency plan for every possible hurdle is antithetical to my idea of adventure. Now, this is Europe after all, a highly populated area. I expect my most arduous challenges will be finding rural camping spots (I hope to eat these words).

Here’s an interactive map of the route I’ll be following along the rivers:

Interesting Statistics

Distance:
  • River Rhine: 503km / 312mi
  • River Main: 384km / 239mi
  • Rhine-Main-Danube Canal: 171km / 106mi
  • River Danube: 2412km / 1499mi

Total Distance: 3,470km / 2,156mi

Packraft:
  • Alpacka Explorer 42, Blue
  • Weight: 3.1kg / 6.8 lbs
  • Length: 2.65m / 8.7 ft
Bike:
  • Surly LHT Deluxe w/ Tubus racks
  • Weight: 12 kg / 27 lbs
Gear:
  • All kinds of crap: about 18 kg / 40 lbs
  • Andras

    Good luck! Some words about the Danube part:

    – in winter you might expect ice on it, especially around end of January-February. Although it should be navigable most of the time, be prepared for the ice.

    – Serbia is not part of the European Union, so you need to go through a border post (don’t know how this is handled on water)

    – same problem at the Serbian/Romanian part, I’m not sure how this is handled, but you probably can’t go from one side to another

    – Bulgaria and Romania is part fo the EU, but not part of the Schengen zone, so there is also border/passport check there. The rules should be more relaxed though.

    – in south Romania snow-storms can happen, or if the weather warms up too much, flooding (from the Danube itself) is possible

    – depending when you arrive at the Danube Delta, you might again expect ice and only one navigable channel. If you arrive already in spring, it will be beatuiful, just don’t get lost in that maze. 🙂 Officially you need to buy a pass to enter the delta.

    • Super! Thanks for the advice Andras. Definitely going to hit the Delta, everyone has told me that it’s amazing.

  • Andras

    PS: Go though the Delta, not through the Danube-Black Sea channel or you will miss one of the most interesting parts.

  • Madlen

    your “bikeraft” indeed looks super cool, much better than the last time when I saw it in Leipzig 😉 Warm hugs (winter is coming to Germany! – slowly) 😉

    • Thanks Madlen 🙂 My gosh it’s so cold here in Köln! Snow and everything. Winter is totally here.