top of page

My 26th Birthday: A Paddling Extravaganza

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Well, I said I was going to finish, and that is what I did. For my 26th birthday it was my wish to walk away with the 11-city cross.

Let me intro by saying, if you ever want to paddle in Holland, you should do this event. The event takes you through the countryside of Friesland, and stops in the most adorable little towns along the way. You will not regret it. There are two options: the tour and the competition. You don’t have to paddle hard for 5 days, you can take your time and enjoy the scenery and stop to take photos. However, if you decide to do the tour, I wouldn’t suggest taking your super-sweet time because you end up paddling for a lot longer. I would also recommend doing some sort of training for the event.

For more information about the event and the 11-City tradition, you should check out the website.

I didn’t know what to expect, the furthest I had ever paddled was 12 miles in Key West. At the start of the race on day one, I went hard, sprinting off the line. Everyone was moving fast, and I slowly dropped back into my pace. I hadn’t paddled for the last 30 days, having been stranded in Pune, India, but I was happy to be out on the water. It felt amazing. I don’t wear a GPS or heart rate monitor or any sort of expensive equipment, so when I felt tired I slowed down and when I felt like I could paddle harder – I did. I was here to paddle, I didn’t care how fast. Ever since I had moved to India, my mission to find paddling places had been keeping me busy, but was rarely rewarded with success. Signing up for the 11-City tour was my birthday present and an excuse for me to see Holland from the water. About half way through day one, I started to second guess myself. Immediately, I had to stop that kind of thinking. Long events such as this are just as much about mental endurance as they are physical strength. In the long run, not having a GPS was probably a blessing, because ignorance was bliss. I didn’t ever know how much further I had to go, I just went. Luckily, I attached to a few groups during the week to draft. This made a world of difference, not just to aid in paddling, but to have someone to chat with. Whether you use GPS, heart rate monitors, do negative splits, alternating cadences, draft others, or just paddle to finish, my first tip for a race such as this is: know your strategy.

By the end of day three, the days started to blur together. I was without internet access or phone to the outside world. At times it felt like a weird prison sentence that I voluntarily paid to be a part of rather than a holiday. The boat accommodations were nice in that each day you are finished your things were there waiting on you. However, the berths were incredibly small, fitting four into a 6x6ft space with no place to store luggage or personal effects. Toilet/shower facilities were equally small. Although, I think you may miss out on some of the social aspect if you don’t stay on the boat. A few other veteran 11-city paddlers booked a bed and breakfast in each town, and sometimes their rooms were closer than the boats. Each place they stayed in was very pleasant, so there is always an alternative to the boat accommodation if you ever sign up and don’t want to go that route. Rest and recovery are extremely important when traveling overseas or doing an event that is rough on the body, so that is why you should know your lodging.