Drip, plop and drop. Whether its on the outside of the tent, the hood of my coat or the surface of the water... Rain has provided the rhythm of the last 3 days. In fact, those periods when it's not raining actually feel quite strange. So we paddle on.
The first day of this week stands out even among the other 79 we've now paddled. Within an hour wed reached the Austrian border - not a bad way to start the day.
Within a couple of hours we were showing the world how to canoe the continent inexpertly. Arriving at the lock, we couldn't see the buggies that usually ease our carry around the lock. With the poise of an expert, I said I'd take a look. I didn't look very hard so we walked our bags around the lock... To be greeted by the buggies.
This could have been the end to our ineptitude, but the buggies were padlocked. Having spent a good 10 minutes looking for the magical key, we gave up and got ready to tow the canoe on our own crappy wheels. Just as the long trudge was about to begin, I spotted a sign.
The sign was huge, red and said ACHTUNG in capital letters - I did well to spot it. Slowly I guess-translated the words.
"Der... Boat craft... 350m away..." Well that would have been useful 20 minutes ago.
"Der... Key... Ist... Here." And there was the key hanging on the sign. I still think its quite impressive that I'd silenced Jimmy's pointing and got all the way through the second sentence without clocking the key. Did I mention we've now been around about 300 locks? Experts, like I said.
Anyway, we did the lock with the buggy and paddled on. For about half an hour. Last week Jimmy had received a text from family friend Tim Franklyn saying that there were €50 waiting for us behind a bar in Austria. After 2 beautifully seasoned mushroom soups, 1 plate of carp, catfish and haddock, 1 house special beef stuffed with pork, 2 large sidesalads, two huge pancakes stuffed with ice cream, 2 pints of coke, a filter coffee and a cappuccino; I'd like to say thankyou to Tim and Gasthof Luger's head waiter who was happy to accept our challenge for an amazing €50 3 course lunch.
From there, with bloated stomachs we paddled through the most spectacular Alpine scenery we've seen so far. Gasthof Luger and then the deep greens, steep cliffs and emphatic meandering of the Schlogen loop meant that Austria scored perfect 10s for day 78. After finding somewhere to wildcamp, a beautiful, delicious and now 70k day was complete.
Day 79 probably wasn't as good, but it wasn't exactly bad. On the previous day we'd see the rain coming: you'd look behind you and see it storming down the valley to swarm over the nice blue sky. On day 79, it was just grey and wet.
I ran in the rain and then swam in a rainy danube. Then, having procrastinated over breakfast in the tent, we paddled on. Our route around the first lock took us through an area of dead water set up for international rowing regattas. Having canoed all the way up lane 6, we paddled on.
At about half 11 we reached Linz, a city that the map had reliably informed me was formerly industrial and now quite cultured. I can attest to that. We dried off a bit in a palacial cathedral. We dried off a bit more in an award winning bakery. And we finished drying off in a warm corner of a shiny shopping centre where we also made our sandwiches.
Having passed through another a lock and been re-dampened by the rain and accompanying choppy waves, we paddled on. After sombre moments in the canoe as we passed by the town of Mathausen with its famous concentration camp and discussed religion, we eventually reached a pleasant campsight to do some drying.
The campsight at Au on the Danube was apparently voted one of the top 100 in Europe for 2013. It is clean, has good facilities and free WiFi. The campsight owner also gave us a 100% discount upon hearing about this adventure. It is therefore currently my no.1 in Europe- and we've been to a few.
And so day 80 began in high spirits. And it didn't even start raining for a good hour or so. We did however have a few reminders of the rain. Much of the low-lying forest has been flooded and at times the water has been frighteningly choppy as it comes spilling out of the hydro-electric damns. Fortunately, this high water also means that the canoe is flying at the moment.
And so on day 80 we casually paddled on to another 70 plus kilometers which puts Vienna not too far away. Beside some cracking views, it was quite a quiet day, although Jimmy did manage to pull.
... A fish. Stopping for lunch after another inexpert detour around a lock, we got chatting to a friendly old man about our journey, his travels around Africa and fishing on the Danube. As we went to pack the canoe, he asked Jimmy for a hand pulling in a fish. And it was a whopper. Fair play to him, he was a great bloke.
Once we'd loaded a canoe that was moving about a metre up and down as the waves thundered in, we paddled on. After more choppy waves and another lock, the sun seened to set that little bit earlier and it seemed to be a little bit colder as we actually had to pay for camping tonight.
Ah well, another long wet day boshed, and we paddle on.