This part of Holland is famous for its canals, and I wanted to swim in one for no reason other than their existence. When the owner of the Hotel Baan told us that the canal next to the hotel was both clean and permissible to swim in, I knew I’d be hopping in eventually. At the canal’s bank, I’d feel the water and decide it felt warm enough to hop in, and I’d look across it and say, “I can totally swim across this!”
Eventually the day came when I announced to the lobby that I’d be hopping in, which was met with raised eyebrows. Nobody agreed to join me, but I’d have a few spectators, which was good. If I drown, I don’t want to be alone. This also pumped me up a bit, because once I had an audience, I couldn’t wuss out.
This canal is deep enough that there’s no way you can touch the bottom at any point. I estimate it’s about 70 or 80 meters wide, which for me, is narrow enough to look easy to swim, and wide enough for me to be wrong about that. Once I jumped in, I yelled out to my friends that I was going to swim out a bit to, “see how far I could get,” but I already knew I was going the distance.
The first half feels easy. In no time at all I’m halfway out, but then I look at the non-trivial remaining distance and feel a moment of doubt. Then I look back and realize it’s the same distance. There’s nothing to do but keep swimming.
Two thirds of the way down and my arms start to burn a bit, so I switch to a backstroke. I book it for the last 10 meters, which feel harder than the rest of the distance combined. I reach the wall and climb out. My friends are waving and calling out to me and I wobble around and catch my breath.
I’m feeling pretty winded and I need to rest before I can go back. I half consider just walking to the bridge, but after making it down, not swimming back would feel like a defeat. I need another minute or two to rest, but my friends are still out there just sitting and I don’t want to keep them waiting too long. I feel strong enough to make it; time to dive back in.
The way back is significantly harder than the way there. I feel fatigued before the halfway point but push on. I tread water a bit at halfway and give myself a short pep talk. With about 20 meters to go, it’s getting harder to keep water out of my nose and mouth, but I know I’ll make it. Pretty much my entire body is burning, but I’m too close to fail. April would later tell me that around this point I looked really tired and she was genuinely worried for me, especially because, not being a swimmer herself, she would have nothing to do except watch in horror as I drowned. I push through and touch the wall.
Pulling myself up isn’t as easy this time, but I do it without assistance. Some people said that they felt pulling myself up was as impressive as the swim. Back on solid land, I actually feel a bit faint, and I’m not sure if I’m taking in too much oxygen or not enough. My ears feel like they need to pop, and I feel cold, even though my skin is a perfectly normal temperature. I go to my room and pass out for about 40 minutes.
I swam the canal three times in three days and it got easier each time. I found it very cathartic, as it is challenging enough to be proud of myself, without being genuinely very dangerous. It’s also a good workout that takes only 15 minutes. The third time, I did it while it was pitch black out, which made the whole thing a bit psychologically more stressful, but I think it’s good to scare yourself every once-in-a-while. It’ll be too bad when I get back and there is no canal right outside my door.