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ENDWET - Swim Event Stories

Have you ever wanted to swim in water the consistency of coffee and chocolate milk mixed together? Used a catfish as a paddle? Almost swam into a dead beaver?

Look no further, just sign up for ENDWET, the Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test! It's the longest open water swim race in the USA.

In 2017, I was the 106th finisher of the 36 mile freshwater river swim. The swim took me just over 13 hours, and although I don't remember most of it, I have a few funny stories from the day.

The swim "starts" at its end with most of the swimmers boarding a party trolley in the dark of early morning and being driven ~36 miles away from the parking lot, up the Red River, the water border between North Dakota and Minnesota. This ensures you end at your car, and get the party of a lifetime driving with fellow groggy swimmers and paddlers to the start line while Buckcherry and colored lights blast you awake.

Each swimmer has their own paddle support, with an opportunity to replenish supplies around the halfway point. Jacob, my paddler, loaded up on water, snacks, and my strange feeds, and once the director told us all to get moving, started paddling with the river next to me.

At first, my excitement propelled me to feel the river, but that soon eroded into feeling how the sediment kept getting stuck in my 2-piece's seams and lining. Within the first 2 hours, I was chafing, despite my kayaker having lubed me up with Vaseline before the start. I kept trying to stay in the fastest part of the river, and my kayaker, used to going point-to-point to get the shortest race course distances, kept beaching me in shallow portions of the river. The Red River isn't wide or deep, and when we tried to take the "shortest path" of the curvy river, I ended up pulling the bottom of the river, eating sediment, and once, accidentally grabbing a catfish.

One of the simultaneous high and low points of my swim career: I used that catfish like a paddle... and let it go. Jacob saw I had groped a catfish and was heartbroken when I came up, grinning like a fool, telling him I had used that poor catfish as a paddle for 1 stroke after I had caught him. (Jake was heartbroken because he loves ***eating*** catfish, and wanted it for dinner.)

By the 4th hour, we had fallen into a good rhythm, keeping to the middle of the narrow river, which allowed Jake to "coast" and stop paddling for long stretches at a time.

As we had gotten into a good rhythm, I had gotten less "on edge" and had stopped glancing a peek ahead of me every so often; I fully relied on my kayaker to guide me around each river bend. I knew that we had passed debris after I saw it floating off behind me... but I hadn't realized that one of the large floating "things" I had passed was a bloated dead beaver.

Jake took SUCH A DELIGHT informing me that I had so nearly collided with it, and that it was easily double the size of my head, and could I imagine what would have happened had my hand sliced into its carcass?!?!?!? I think that may have been his high point, knowing the power of beaver slicing vs. evasion that he held... and he was so starved for entertainment, he almost veered me into that beaver.

By hour 6, as we were reaching the halfway point, I was READY to see another human being. With the course being a one-way narrow river, once the swimmers were spread out, you didn't see anyone on the course, as they were hidden by the twists and turns in front of or behind you. You'd get a quick "hello" from the safety boat coming by to check on the swimmers, but it wasn't a long enough break from the environment. I think Jake was ready for human contact as well, as my tired and bored mood wasn't helping entertain either of us. The solitude, coupled with the terrain of North Dakota/Minnesota, had us both excited for the restock point.

We arrived to grab another jug of water, and even though I was supposed to have kept swimming, I paused to tread water and ask random people random questions. Did they see any cool animals? Did they see the dead beaver? What was going on? Could anyone tell me a fun story?

Everyone just yelled at me to keep swimming. (Insert eyeroll and keep sigh) Off into the coffee ground opaque river I swam.

If you can imagine putting your arm into the water next to your head and not seeing anything at all out there (not even your elbow), you'll understand why I started to get annoying, asking for an entertaining story every time I stopped for a feed. There wasn't anything to look at, in or on the water, except my kayaker, who had put on music that I couldn't hear, and was having a relaxing float on the river beside me.

On a feed around hour 10, I had looked at my watch and saw we had made it to 26 miles! That was an important milestone for me, as I knew I could finish 10 miles, even if I felt like I was dying. I felt elated, whistling and whooping in the silent river during my feed. I even asked for a "big feed" of a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

When Jake handed me the piece of sandwich, I forgot all about my open, bleeding chafe sores, my sore back, and my alien-feeling jaw. I stared at the sandwich longingly, and took a bite. A bite that I quickly realized I couldn't chew because my jaw had decided it was no longer accepting work for the day.

Jake saw what I was about to do moments before I did it, and started to say "Nnnnoooo" as I dunked my PB&J into the river to soften it up. While he gagged, I happily put it into my mouth and sucked all the yummy flavor out of it, spitting the bread back out. Now, to finish 10 miles, which I can do in my sleep, I thought.

A few minutes later, Jake caught my attention pointing at a sign on the left bank. The race had put up mile markers on the left side of the river, and the one he was pointing at said 25. Mile 25. Not Mile 26.

My mood and energy level went from "I CAN DO THIS" to "PLEASE KILL ME" in an instant. It didn't matter that we were already into the 11th mile left. That 10 vs. 11 miles, in the grand scheme of ENDWET, didn't actually matter. That I'd be fine.

At that moment, every single tiny, medium, and massive complaint I had about anything and everything showered down onto us. I stopped swimming and told Jake I was done swimming. He laughed, and then noticed I was pretty serious. I told him I was Done and I would wait until a boat came and got me. I was done getting chafed, I was done eating wet dirt, I was done looking at him next to me, floating along. Done.

He asked if there was anything he could do to help. I told him that I wanted to talk to my parents. He pulled out his cell phone, and used the weak 1 bar of reception to call my parents' home number. After a few rings, my dad answered, and said "Is it over? Has she finished?!" When I cried into the phone, telling him I refused to swim any further, he asked again if I was done. I whimpered "no" and he told me to keep swimming and HUNG UP.

Deep sigh. I put my face in the opaque water and started swimming again. I tried to focus on anything but how much I wanted to not be swimming anymore. Singing along to favorite songs, trying to spot anything on my breaths (like another beaver), and fanaticizing about what I'd eat after getting out of the water.

Finally, 13 hours into the swim, I started to recognize the finish area and realized we were pretty close! With my very last drop of effort, we swam into the finish. A handful of people, including a few of the earlier finishers, congratulated me as I attempted to lift my body onto the adapted boat ramp. I couldn't get my back and legs to move right, and Jake had to help me wobble to our rental car. After stripping off my sediment-filled suit pieces, I threw some clothes on and returned to the dock to receive my ENDWET finisher dog tag and get the details about the celebratory dinner later that evening.

After 13 hours and 3 minutes, I was finally done. Jake drove us back to the hotel, where I took a long shower and catalogued my chafed areas after calling my parents to let them know I was alive. Pretty much anywhere that my suit seams had rubbed on my skin, I had open welts. The worst was in my arm pits on my rib cage. I threw that suit top away.

Later that evening, Jake and I arrived at the restaurant where everyone was meeting for a big post-race meal. I ordered a meatless burger (I was in my vegetarian era), and started to feel so sleepy as I waited for my meal. I started to doze while listening to others recount their race experiences. When my food arrived, I started to try to eat it, realizing I was more tired than hungry, and that my jaw hurt too much to bite more than a tiny bit of the burger.

The next thing I remember, I was being gently shaken awake. I had fallen asleep, face planting into my meatless burger, and Jake had noticed me napping on the burger bun.

All in all, a successful and ~mostly~ uneventful swim.

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