Brendan van Son does a daring polar plunge in Norway (brrr). Come check out his story!
The day prior, we crossed the Arctic Circle: 66 degrees and 33 minutes north. We passed a point on our northbound travels at which the sun stops setting. Instead, it just sort of hovers around the horizon. And maybe, energized by the excess sunlight, or perhaps loopy from the lack of sleep, we're all feeling pretty brave as we roll into our campsite in Skibotn, Norway.
Almost before the coach even comes to a complete stop, the Topdeckers aboard are all stripped down to their swim gear and of all their inhibitions. You see, right now, we're on a bit of a mission to knock off some of Topdeck's Ultimate 49 bucket list items. On the itinerary today: a polar plunge. Eeek!
The town of Skibotn sits over 69 degrees north - that's 300+ km up from the Arctic Circle as the bird flies. That's almost 2000km north of where I grew up in Canada – the butt of nearly all cold weather jokes. Our campsite, located just outside of town, is surrounded by a jagged horizon of rocky glacier-capped peaks. Through the campground, a river rolls – residue from the ice melting under the light of the 24-hour sun.
And while the snow-capped vistas and the glacier-fed waters might seem like a deterrent to going for a casual summer swim, it's about as nice a day as comes along in this part of the world. And our Topdeck squad is feeling rather warm to the idea of a polar plunge.
Our Tour Leader points to a steel foot-bridge straddling the river – some four or five meters above the water – and steers us towards a much more dramatic plunge than many of us have envisaged. In a way, it makes sense, though. Like ripping off a bandage, you can't dip your toes into waters that are not much warmer than your standard deep freeze. You have to rip it off. You have to take the plunge.
An Aussie is the first to the plank. And with a brave face, and no hesitation, he jumps. We all freeze, figuratively, as he hits the water and then takes a couple of dramatic seconds to come back to the surface. “How is it?” Someone shouts. He doesn't respond. Instead, he trots to the shore, his skin red as if he's been sunburnt. “That wasn't so bad,” he lies.
My icy Canadian pride takes full form, and I step up to the bridge. I push past a group of the squad deliberating over whether or not they should jump. I climb the rails and cannon ball into the river. Right away, survival mode kicks in and I splash towards the shore. Immediately, I understand why the Aussie didn't respond to me when I asked him how the water was.
The coldness of the river hammers all the wind from your lungs. I'm left feeling like there's no air, I gasp frantically as I push to the edge. I'm filled with relief as I waddle onto the shore.
“How was it?” The Aussie asks.
“Not so bad,” I said, with a sly smile.
Brendan van Son is a nomadic travel photographer and filmmaker originally from Canada. He has spent the past eight years exploring six different continents and over 100 countries. His work and travel exploits have appeared in major media such as The BBC, National Geographic Traveler, and The Toronto Star. Brendan vlogs his daily life as a travel photographer over on his YouTube channel and shares his imagery from around the world on his instagram channel (@brendanvanson).