A Q&A with St Paul’s Juniors

A few weeks ago, we were incredibly lucky to receive a delivery of over thirty cards from students at St Paul’s Juniors, a school in London. They have been following our expedition in their Geography lessons while learning about values.

It was clear that the boys had put an amazing amount of thought and effort into the cards (see photo below). We wanted to make sure we did this justice, so have compiled all of the questions they asked in order to answer them. We can imagine that a lot of other people following probably have similar questions, so we hope this is informative to you all!

Boys: we can’t thank you enough for the utterly brilliant cards you made us. Reading them all was one of the best afternoons we have had on this trip! Knowing that you are following our adventures inspires us to keep going and to keep sharing our stories.

The route

  • How far have you gone so far?

We have done about 1,700km and still have just over 2,600km to go. When we reach the Danube we will be covering two or three times the distance we are currently doing, so the final 2,400km will hopefully take a lot less time.

  • Do you think you have made good progress?

We’ve had quite a few setbacks due to things going wrong, and that has slowed our progress which is frustrating. However, we are persevering and keeping a positive attitude even during the hard times. The scale of the trip can be daunting, but when we break it down into sections and days we do feel that we have made good progress.

  • Are you going to kayak past Lithuania, if so, when? (I will be there on the 13th-27th July and 10th-24th August)

Unfortunately, we do not go as far north as Lithuania - though we hope to visit one day.

  • What country are you going through before Romania?

We will follow the Danube River along the border between Bulgaria and Romania before the river goes fully into Romania.

  • What 13 countries are you going to?

England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.

  • Which countries did you take since France?

From France we went through Belgium, back into France for a few weeks and we are now in Germany. When you look at it on a map, it looks like we go in the wrong direction for a bit to go through Belgium, but this was the best route to take to make sure we followed rivers downstream as much as possible. Deciding the route was part of the thorough organisation and planning that we did before starting.

  • I heard you are in France but are you going into Germany next or will you double back on yourself to go to Luxembourg?

Our original route took us through Luxembourg, but in the end we did not go there. Instead, we went further south in France so we could join the Rhine River in Strasbourg. This meant we could follow it downstream (trying to paddle up it would have been incredibly hard as it is very fast).

  • Are you going to Serbia? (I will be there in July so I will look out for you)

We will go through Serbia for a short while, but this won’t be until August so unfortunately we will miss you!

  • Why did you pick Romania as your end country?

Romania borders the Black Sea, which seemed like a good end as it marks the edge of Eastern Europe so we will have kayaked across the European continent. It is also the end point of the Danube River, which makes up most of our journey.

  • Which route will you take next?

We are currently on the Main River in Germany. From here, we follow the Main-Donau Canal which takes us to the Danube River. We then kayak 2,400km on the Danube through ten countries and four capital cities until we reach the Black Sea where we finish.

  • What was your favourite place you’ve been to?

This is a tricky question as we never get to spend much time in a place - we are on the move almost every day… However, we ended up spending almost a week in Strasbourg after another set of wheels broke, and we really loved that city. We enjoyed some lovely meals out and walking around the streets in the sunshine like we were on holiday!

  • What was your favourite part of the your trip?

Starting our expedition in Central London in front of the Houses of Parliament at Westminster was absolutely incredible. We were very lucky with the weather and we had a lot of friends and family come to wave us off as we started. This is a day we will remember forever.

  • Why did you choose to kayak all the way there?

This was Kate’s idea. She has been a rower for almost ten years so loves spending time on rivers. However, going backwards the whole way in a rowing boat didn’t seem like the best idea, so Kate thought a kayak would be better - that way, we get to enjoy the view in front and see what is coming!

Physical

  • How long were you both ill for?

Thankfully, when we were ill it was only for a short time, one or two days.

  • How do you drink water?

We have very generously been given special water bottles from Pure Hydration that have a filter at the top. This filter cleans the water and removes anything that might make us ill. It’s so effective and reliable that we can fill our bottles up from the rivers and canals!

  • What do you do when it’s bad weather?

If it’s raining, we continue paddling! We are often getting wet anyway from the splashing of the paddles, so rain is not very noticeable. However, we need to be more careful if there is lightning as this is dangerous when you are on the water. If there is lightning then we have to wait on the bank by the river until it has passed. This means we have to be flexible with our plans.

  • How do you have so much food?

We are able to buy food every four or five days. It just takes a bit of planning ahead and looking at the map so we know where the shops are. The thought of running out of food is a nightmare to us!

  • Are there lots of mosquitoes?

There were a lot at the start of the trip in France and Belgium, particularly when we were camping in or close to woods. There are less now, though occasionally there are evenings where we have to hide in our tents as there are so many mosquitoes outside.

Fundraising

  • How much money have you raised?

So far we have raised over £43,000 which is absolutely fantastic! We are hoping to raise £50,000 overall.

Kayaking

  • How long are your oars?

Our paddles are 215cm long and weigh only 817 grams, so we have to hold onto them extra tightly in the wind.

  • Are you enjoying kayaking?

We are loving it! It is very rare to see other people kayaking, especially in the cities that we pass through, so we get a lot of looks and attention. This is always quite exciting for us, and so many people are interested in hearing what we are doing. We’ve met so many kind people this way.

  • How long did it take to learn all those amazing skills on the kayak?

We spent six months working hard and preparing for this trip, and part of that was making sure we had the kayaking skills we needed. We did need to be brave sometimes, for example when we were practising how to release ourselves from under the kayak if we capsized.

  • How long do you kayak every day?

We usually kayak for about eight or nine hours each day, with a few short snack breaks and a longer break for lunch.

  • I’m wondering how it feels to kayak?

The best way to know how kayaking feels is to try it yourself. There’s nothing quite like being on the water.

  • How many locks have you been through?

We think it is now around 200 but there have been so many we’ve lost count!

  • Have you got new wheels for Benji?

We do, thankfully. In fact, we have two sets on us now, just in case either of them break.

  • Is this your first time kayaking?

We have both kayaked on-and-off for most of our lives but never with such a focus or for such a long time.

  • Why is your kayak called Benji?

Originally, Benji was actually called Bernie… But then Kate accidentally called him Benji, and we realised that the name was perfect for him. We wish there was a more exciting story behind his name, but we feel Benji suits his personality and character.

  • How do you even survive one day of kayaking?

A lot of the time we are passing through beautiful scenery and towns so it is easy to enjoy what we are doing. However, often we need perseverance and great teamwork - it does get quite repetitive sometimes, but we have such a good friendship now that our humour can make even the difficult or boring sections entertaining.

  • Do you think you should use Benji again?

Benji was donated to us by a very kind gentleman, on the condition that when we finish our expedition we should either donate him to a charity, or sell him and donate the money to Pancreatic Cancer Action, the charity we are fundraising for. So that means we won’t be able to use him again after this trip (much to our dismay)!

  • Did one of you fall off Benji?

Not yet! And hopefully we will not for the rest of the trip (unless it’s on purpose to cool down on a hot day).

  • Did you really carry Benji up a ladder?

We did - we had to empty all of our bags first, then managed to pull him up. We have to be flexible sometimes as it isn’t always straightforward getting Benji out of the water.

Challenges and joys

  • I would like to know your biggest challenge so far and what is the biggest challenge coming up?

The biggest challenge so far was the early stages of the Rhine, where we unexpectedly faced rapids, whirlpools and very strong currents. However, we remained brave and our positive attitude saw us through it - and we even enjoyed it by the end! Coming up, we expect our biggest challenge to be staying out of the way of the huge cruise ships that travel up and down the Danube. They create a very large wash as well, so we will have to be careful not to capsize in the waves behind them.

  • How many more storms do you think there will be?

Hopefully not too many, but there seems to be a theme at the moment: every spell of really hot weather is followed by a storm. Fingers crossed this calms down over our last two months and we don’t have too many weather-related disruptions.

  • Who has had the best time so far?

Benji! He hadn’t been used for a year and a half before he was given to us, so this has been the adventure of a lifetime for him.

  • I find the prettiest view was in the forest in France, what was yours?

We’ve just passed through a really beautiful section in Germany. We were constantly surrounded by high, forested mountains and every time we went around a bend in the river, Anna insisted on stopping to take a photograph as it just kept getting prettier!

  • I wonder what your favourite bit has been?

We’ve enjoyed so much of our journey so far, the good and bad, so it is impossible for us to choose which bit has been our favourite.

  • What are you going to do when you’ve finished? Well before you fly home.

We will celebrate with a few friends and family who will be joining us at the Black Sea. Our hard work will hopefully have paid off and we will be able to enjoy knowing that our self-belief defied the odds and got us to the end. We’ve still got two months to go though, so there is a lot to do before we can think about finishing.

  • So far do you regret this?

Not at all. Through this expedition we have found a great friendship that has inspired courage in ourselves. Neither of us would change this for anything.

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This expedition is raising vital awareness and funds for Pancreatic Cancer Action. To sponsor us and help us reach our goal of £50,000, please click here.