Swimming the Seine
On the morning of June 6th, 19-year-old Arthur Germain arrived at the rural town of Source-Seine, in between two national forests in northeast France, and said goodbye to his girlfriend, his parents, the town’s mayor, some journalists, and a small group of onlookers as a guitar player strummed a classically French song in the background. Then Germain disappeared into a grove of sycamores and began looking for water. He was embarking on a journey that had, to his knowledge, never been attempted, much less completed: swimming the entire length of the Seine River, all 480 miles of it, from where it begins as little more than a trickling creek just north of Burgundy all the way to the coastal town of Le Havre, in Normandy, where it meets the Atlantic.
By Germain’s estimation, if he could maintain an average of 10 miles a day, he would need just over 50 days to complete the journey. But his lithe, 5-foot-8, 138-pound frame wouldn’t just be pulling his own weight. He wanted to be completely autonomous during the undertaking, so he planned to swim with a rope around his waist tied to an inflatable kayak full of provisions: a GoPro, a tent, a solar charging station, a hammock, three pounds of trail mix, powdered sweet potato curry, and canned sardines, to name a few. There were also keepsakes: copies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker and Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet and a mini Book of Psalms his mother had given him for protection. In total, the load added up to nearly twice his body weight.
The first few days saw him walking 18 miles over rocks and uneven dirt roads while pulling his kayak behind him. The wheels on his makeshift trailer broke almost immediately as he traipsed through wide open fields and dense forests. Then, when the river was finally deep enough for him to properly wade through, he found the waters were wild with fallen trees, strong currents, and the occasional rapid. “I had to lift the kayak above trees and sometimes had to cut them with a machete,” he told me on an afternoon in late July, when we met at a midpoint on his journey, a two-hour drive southeast of Paris. “It was like, ‘Boom!’ Imagine a rapid with a big tree in front of you and you’ve also got this kayak full of stuff.”