Three midweek days

On the first day I awoke early. I remember feeling frustrated that it was light and we weren't up; yet I still ached from the previous day. However, soon our routines were in motion and we were eating cereal sitting on the food barrels. Across the water we saw the sun rise. It was a deep red.

Loading the canoe was bumpier than usual but we thought nothing of it. I started in the front and we churned through the choppy water for the first half hour.

Then the big waves started. The canoe was being tossed upwards and then I was crashing back into the next wave. Jimmy was struggling to steer. Twice in quick succession we veered towards the rocks. After the second time we voluntarily made directly for the shore. Jimmy shouted for my opinion. I told him I wanted everything out.

The canoe bounced on the rocks with every wave but we untied the barrels and bags. Jimmy held the canoe and I stood higher on the rocks. Painstakingly, one item at a time, we threw our belongings onto the rocks. As Jimmy passed me the second bag the waves were not relenting. He grabbed my paddle as it began to float away. Behind him, the back of the canoe was now submerged. He grabbed his own paddle. We managed to get the wheels out as my water bottle was torn away by a wave. I dragged the front of the canoe and Jimmy lifted the back. Eventually we had the canoe out of the water.

Jimmy changed his trousers, I put a coat on, we updated the route tracker, joked about dying and started the walk towards the next town on the river.

After about 40 minutes towing the canoe and carrying our gear we reached a sheltered harbor. We locked the canoe there, leaving the cumbersome food barrels. We found a cafe in the town of Golubac and Jimmy had an ill-advised coffee while I put some trainers on with the vague idea of checking the conditions for the next three or four kilometers. I returned; ambivalent but largely positive. There were still waves and a lot of wind but I naively felt it was safer around the next corner. Jimmy then topped up on groceries while I had a cold drink and watched the bags. Then we reloaded the canoe and tried again.

To start with it wasn't too bad. We planned to reach Golubac Castle five kilometers away. The waves weren't as big as before and I never felt like we were in danger. But as we sighted the castle the waves once again grew.

We made to go around a rocky outcrop jutting into the water. Steering from the back of the boat, I could feel the wind beginning to take a hold. But even when we were barely edging forward against the wind I still felt calm because the wind was directly ahead - we were fighting forwards and there was no danger, just the inconvenience of slow progress.

Then the wind gusted, throwing us towards the cliff face. I shouted to Jimmy that I needed to change paddling sides. I'd only said the word 'Switch' but my voice had conveyed my panic as Jimmy swapped immediately and picked up his tempo. We managed to edge away from the cliff face and around the corner.

However we had nowhere to stop and exactly the same crisis happened as we cornered the next outcrop. I remember hearing a lorry driver toot on the road and wishing that an onlooker could do more than give us moral support. Once around this one and into calmer water, we stopped as soon as the bank looked adequate for scaling with the canoe. Once again we unloaded the canoe. While we were taking extra precautions, it was relatively safer here than it had been before. With the canoe once more ashore I sat down beside it. I sat on the rocks with my chest thumping. Jimmy got his phone from its dock and eventually sat down on the rocks. I took a deep breath and swore. Jimmy turned away and wiped his eyes.

Again we started to walk. We were on the main road along the gorge and stopping regularly to swap between the burdens of canoe and barrels. We walked through the castle arches and laughed at the traffic jam as lorries attempted to squeeze through the same route.

We made it to the next hamlet and stopped above some stairs down to a jetty. Jimmy ran ahead to again weigh up our options while I made lunch. We then ate our sandwiches with the map open in front of us.

For the third time that day we re-entered the Danube. We were now at the edge of the lake we had been battling through and the water was idyllic and calm. We canoed out of the bay and into the narrower gorge. We canoed for a further two and a half hours and returned the greetings of impressed fisherman but neither of us really relaxed. As we began to look for camping spots, we paddled past a swimming pool and what turned out to be a camp-sight. We set up camp, ate and swapped stories with a friendly pair of cyclists who hailed from Burnley and were trying to reach Jerusalem. And that was the first day.

On the second day I awoke early again. I felt relieved to be safe and trundled out for a run. The air was still and in the semi-darkness there was not even a breeze. We followed our morning rituals and wished our new friends good luck.

For the first time for three days we had a couple of hours paddling where it was possible to speak without having to shout above the crashing waves. The water was better for us, but our efforts still drew a spontaneous round of applause from two fisherman on plastic chairs on the shore. However as the morning developed, the waves returned. While it was calmer than the previous day, we rounded outcrop after outcrop only after shouted agreements between one another. Just before lunch the waves re-gained their power from the previous day.

We had lunch and tried to place ourselves on the map. In disagreement, we walked up to a ramshackle farm and asked an old woman where we were. After much pointing it was clear that we sat just behind the biggest headland on this section of the gorge. The waves were white-capped in this sheltered bay and would only be worse when exposed to the width of the coming lake.

After many unanswerable questions had been asked, we decided to wait until the end of the afternoon and then try on the calmer evening water. By half four nothing had changed. If anything, the wind had risen as we had grown more frustrated at our lunchtime spot. We decided to leave it till the next day. After a quick foray to find the best way from bay to road, we set up camp by a well-stocked fisherman. As we had dinner the weather continued to worsen and we affirmed to ourselves we were doing the right thing.

On the third day we both awoke early. We scrabbled around in the darkness with the wind howling around us. We were eating breakfast before 5.30 despite the night's sleep having been broken by visitors to our fishing neighbor. We planned to start early and either get some kilometers in before the wind arose or make a start on a hard walk up the road.

After a stormy night there was no doubt between us that the walk was our only option. Then, as I stood with trainers on, Jimmy called me to the water's edge. Although the waves still lapped the shore and the wind still rustled the leaves, we agreed that it was a considerable improvement on yesterday.

Tentatively we canoed out into the bay. Jimmy asked that I should tell him if at any time I felt we should turn back. I requested the same honesty in return. We went around the first corner mentally prepared for danger. Yet there was no massive lake and rather it seemed it would be around another rocky outcrop further up. With grim determination into a stiff wind the outcrops kept coming. With each one the suspense was ratcheted up.

Finally we were out into open water. The wind had been strong but the waves had barely been white-capped. We bobbed for a minute on the waves and felt safe enough to take a drink.

We spent the next hour in relative calm. Having made good distance, we checked the map and decided to stop in Donji Milanovac for food on the basis that our next town could be some time. The supermarket there was well stocked and we departed Donji feeling relaxed.

As we moved around the next meander the wind all but disappeared. The water turned glassy and, with the clouds sitting low on the mountains, it felt like we were canoeing in the sky. We are lunch and drank in our mystical surroundings.

From there we paddled past the Danube Gorge's narrowest point, past cliffs 40m high, past a convent alone in a valley and past Roman and Dacian monuments carved into the rock - all from water calm in its still state.

And they were my three midweek days.