Fallen Soldiers

There comes a time for all of us, a sad and woeful time, when we must say goodbye to those we love. On the banks of rivers and the shores of the sea it has been no different for our famous canoeing duo. Our boys, now trekking through clouded peaks and harsh terrain, have had to face the most distressing of losses. They have had bonds broken, friendships crushed, heart strings torn apart, all in the name of adventure.

First we had sunglasses, pair after pair. On the untamed river Loire our lads donned eye protection in the fierce sunlight. But the partnership of face and glasses was not to last long. James lost white rimmed beauties to a soft patch of grass on the river bank and, having borrowed Nathan's lesser spectacles, they too were left in an anonymous part of Loire-side scenery. Thus, with eyes tortured by glimmering sunrises, new spectacles were purchased and carried with care. It was not until a seventh country was entered that these glasses met their match. The dark shades that had protected James's eyes for over one hundred days were lain to waste on the floor of the tent from the crushing blow of his buttocks. Of brittle plastic, they were no match for this human force. A sad end indeed.

If the loss of three pairs of sunglasses was not enough to make you shiver than how about the loss of hats, one more in number? First a sandy colored number which stood no chance of being remembered on the Loire given its chameleon sensibilities. Then, far later, a winter hat that was taken by the trees on the shore, left to provide for a chilly passer by. The last two hats, I'm sure you wonder, what happened to them? Two baseball caps that sat astride our famous gentlemen's heads, were taken in their prime and ravaged by nature. It was on that well remembered day, when boys met tree, tree met water, and canoe met a sudden sinking, that these two other hats were forced from their owners. Taken by surprise, our canoeing heroes capsized their vessel and lost their hats to the river.

It was not only a hat that was lost at this tragic time. A t-shirt, grill and fine blue shoes found themselves on a river bed, beyond the grasp of our boys. They were mourned, with dignity, for some time but, as is always important to remember, we must, eventually, move on.

The Loire was also the sight of a large loss and one that left scars for the remainder of the voyage. Outside the fair city of Tour the vessel, by which our pair crossed the entire continent, was pillaged and abused by suburban children. The list of stolen items is too long to recall and to particular to matter at this later stage in life. A tent, sleeping bag and solar charger, where a few members of the lost team and are forever remembered in the hearts of our paddling pair. The stolen items of tour, etched in the minds of our great adventurers and now scattered across France via underground criminal networks. Chilling.

A grill was lost unnoticed, rarely used but always cherished. A pen-knife met the same fate, left resting on a village wall after fulfilling its apple slicing duties. It's distracted owner was pulled away by the interruption of a road user. Alas, this distraction proved to seal the fate of the penknife which never returned to the cosy pocket where it belonged.

Sunglasses, hats, penknives and shirts, these are mere items, you may think, these are not friendships that have been broken. Though such an assumption would be a mistake, there are, perhaps, more serious tales of loss to be told. First the fleeting friendship with Cat. Cat, a cat, had a closeness with our canoeing pair that is unimaginable to most. Their togetherness was no longer than a ten minute canoe journey, which Cat ended voluntarily, yet it seemed a lifetime. Cat loved boys just as boys loved Cat and as she swam to shore tear drops rippled across the waters of the Danube.

Another true bond that was broken was that between Nathan and his lucozade bottle. It had been a long long friendship, a bottle he had as a child and grew up alongside, a family heirloom (perhaps). But as the winds rose in the Danube gorge, waves began to beat the boys in their canoe and the Serbian weather got he better of them. Pulling the boat from the storm the pair watched, in horror, as a large wave crashed upon their vessel and dragged away the bottle. Yellow and blue, bobbing in the water, the lucozade bottle sat just out of reach in a lake to dangerous to enter. Nathan had to watch, chilled to the bone, as his long term companion was stolen by the waves.

Then, of equal value and an equally painful loss, was the sponge. A mighty sponge that cleansed Dora and wiped down her scratches and bruises. The sponge that was kept loose in the boat and was much talked about since it had travelled for so long without being misplaced. It's time, however, came at sea. The precise date is unknown, but the sponge could not finish the expedition, just like the others before it. It was a sad but inevitable end to its journey. A sponge, cut short in the prime of its life.

What remains? You ask. What other souls were lost at sea? Well, there was Dogger, of course, a friend whose final moments were captured in a previous blog. A dog above all dogs, a sidekick to our Paddlers on their dangerous days at sea, a mighty animal of the wild. Dogger is not to be joked about, he is missed like a fruitcake misses a cherry, like a fat child misses chocolate, like a moth misses a light bulb. He is forever in the hearts of his owners.

The greatest loss of all, and the final loss, goes without saying. The friend who has always been there, the companion to our boy since day one, the soul who led our boys to where they are today: Dora, the ultimate loss on this great adventure.