We paddle through the night, guessing our direction from Orion reclining on the artificial canyon walls. Beyond the last portage in early morning, the water was salt, mussels clung to the rocks and seagulls took to the air at our approach. Beyond the breakwater, the sea pulses with the minute swell of diminishing energies. At this time of the year, titanic storms batter the coastline with 20-foot waves and driving snow. As we turn our tiny canoe north, the Black Sea extends to the horizon in glassy calm before melding with the clear, cold December sky. Fortune smiles.
Leaving Belgrade, we charged downstream on the Danube as the Serbian national police had given us seven days to leave the country or face imprisonment. We had made it past the gate, literally: As we crossed into Romania, we were emerging from the Iron Gates, the Portile de Fier, a gorge that stops and starts for over 100 kilometers, and in places shows 3,000-foot granite faces soaring from the water’s edge.
I’ve been in Mexico 13 days and haven’t been tired, hungover, sore, or nervous on the way to the river. Today I am all of those things as our driver, Israel, nonchalantly guides our rented SUV through the clogged main artery of the bustling Veracruz capital of Jalapa. Finally, it feels like a kayaking trip. I find the words in Spanish to ask Israel to stop for a lechero at the edge of the big city, a last-chance caffeine break before we enter the sparsely populated countryside where the Rio Alseseca and its narrow bedrock slides await.
Alexander Martin, 25, completed the first modern-day canoe expedition across America last year. This fall, Martin has been reporting from the field on his latest continent crossing — a two-man, 4,000-km journey across Europe. Martin sent in this correspondence from Belgrade, on the Danube River in central Serbia, at Kilometer 2,800.
National Geographic just released its annual Adventurer of the Year nominees. It was no surprise that two of paddling’s hardest, and most ambitious expeditions from the last year accounted for two of the 10 nominated adventures. Cast your vote for Jon Turk and Erik Boomer’s bold, 104-day, 1,495-statute-mile circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island, or Sanu Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa’s tandem paragliding flight off Mount Everest and ensuing paddle down the Ganges River to the Indian Ocean.