“But you hate canoeing. And you have that weird fear, right? Raftophobia or something?”
“It’s bathophobia – and I don’t hate canoeing. I’m just not very good at it.”
For the record, bathophobia is not a fear of baths. It is a fear of deep water. Especially contained deep water, such as a lake. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember, despite being a perfectly capable swimmer. And as for canoeing, ‘not very good’ was putting it lightly. I’d only ever done it once before and it had ended with me literally going round in circles before unceremoniously capsizing, and then panicking because my feet didn’t touch the bottom.
Perhaps my other half was right to be concerned. I had just told her I’d accepted an offer to take part in a canoe marathon in the lakes of Dalsland, West Sweden, in a few days’ time.
“What about training? It’s a marathon – they’re like 26 miles, aren’t they? Surely you need to train?”
“Actually,” I swallowed hard, “it’s 35 miles. But they said anyone can give it a go. I’ll be fine!”
I was beginning to have crippling doubts. Still, at least no one I knew would be there to witness my inevitable failure. But then I had the bright idea to invite a friend – Andy – though carefully avoided mentioning the word ‘marathon’ until he’d paid for his flights.
The Dalsland Canoe Marathon+ (the plus symbol is an acknowledgment that the distance is substantially longer than a normal marathon) traverses four interconnecting lakes – Laxsjön, Svärdlång, Västra Silen and Lelång – in the area after which it is named. It begins at the marina of Baldersnäs Herrgård, a gorgeous manor house set on a peninsula jutting into Laxsjön, and finishes at Bengtsfors, a small town which, as the crow flies, is only a few kilometres from the start. But we weren’t crows. And the only flying we would be doing was from London Heathrow to Gothenburg – a journey that would prove almost ominous in its smoothness – before making the three hour drive to Dalsland.
The evening before the race we met Stig Bertilsson, one of the organisers, who promptly asked us how much training we had done together. We told him.
“Nothing? Wow. Really? Nothing at all? Seriously?”
“Wow. Then you guys have a big day tomorrow. A really big day. But I think you can do it! Why not! But I dare not tell you anything else now. Just try to enjoy yourselves. And make sure you stay close to the shore. At all times. Trust me.”
He chuckled and shook his head. Andy and I exchanged a glance. No words were needed.
We were standing on the porch of Baldersnäs Herrgård. The mellowing sun was flooding the verdant grounds in golden light and the lake shimmered in the background. Lean men and women were marching past, making their way the lakeside, shouldering colourful kayaks which weren’t much wider than the paddles used to propel them. (Wasn’t this supposed to be a canoe event?)
Our vessel was already there waiting for us. It was a canoe, no question, and in comparison to the other boats was about as delicate as the Titanic. It was at this moment we relaxed, for it was suddenly quite clear that no one actually expected us to finish this marathon – not in this. It wasn’t that hope had been lost, rather we realised it had never been there in the first place, so after the naming ceremony – King Cnut, obviously – we headed back to the manor house to sample as much Swedish beer as our stomachs would allow.
Text and images, Will Jones, My Destination
Did Will and Andy manage to complete the Dalsland canoe marathon?! Find out later this week when we publish part two of his adventure…