It’s the first time I needed a jumper on a plane. Normally a t shirt is perfect, the short sleeves perfect for wiping the sweat off my brow. I even had to wrap the air France fleecie blanket round my feet because they were uncomfortably cold.
This is nuts, I have worked in some warm places including Africa, India and Brazil, I have sailed over the equator at least 5 times it could be even seven but my memory is like a sieve only catching some moments, letting important events drift away like flotsam flowing out of Lubnaig down the river Teith. This is the first time I needed a jumper traveling home. Have I become a wimp over the night? well three months. I have always handled the cold. Road trips were conducted in shorts and t-shirt as Clare always had to wrap up and put the car heating on. There’s still snow on the hills and recent posts indicate the water temperature is far from double figures. I tried to stay away from the cold water but I turned miserable. So some heat technology is required.
A thermal rash vest or thicker wet suit? the bank manager would advise on the vest, however I think I will go with my gut insinct and order a 5mm wet suit.
Will I need the neoprene helmet? In the darkest depths of last winter when ice was surrounding the lochs. I wore two silicone swimming caps to reduce the ice cream head aches. Will the gloves and booties require upgrading to the expensive merino wool lined joobies that kite boarders use? This cheap past time just got expensive. The main reason I wore a wetsuit was to reduce my drowning fears. There are many other reasons for donning a wetsuit, one of the other benefits was increased time in the water. Driving a round trip of thirty miles for a ten minute panicky skin swim is not my idea of fun, my 3mm wet suit allowed a decent 2km swim most days. When I was swimming 5 days a week in the Trossach’s lochs, the fuel bill for the van at the end of the week was ignored.The petrol money could have payed for the more time in the local pool. But all that chlorine would split all my hair ends and parking the van is nightmare at the local leisure centre, these could have been some of the reasons I drove into the hills, in fact only when it was too windy I would go to the baths. I could have had a 2km swim with lanes and been home a good hour earlier. My swimming technique required attention I tried to organise lessons but they were all pool based and the lure of hillside view catching a breath would win, the swimming lesson money would be spent on petrol. It was the outside adventure, every swim something different happened. You don’t get that same stomach butterfly anticipation standing trying decide what lane would you fit that morning, no triathletes sending you to the slow lane or full of breast stroking grannies making you jump into the fast lane, hoping no decent swimmers arrive shaming you to change down a lane. My belly does big tumbleberries walking down to the shore side to determine conditions, distance and route.
Take in the view and a breath, a couple of photos, try to relax, a wee bit, then run back to van to don the neoprene. Last year trying to keep as warm as possible before swimming, I had started copying a few of the trossachs swimmers and arriving at the loch side suited, but I did not go the whole hog arriving with the suit unzipped and pulled down to my waist with a wooly jumper over my top half, it was the thought of explaining my attire to the polis, if there was a road accident, (I am sure there it was a Billy Connelly sketch about his mum insisting he always wore clean underware incase he was rushed to the hospital, that also stopped me traveling fully suited.)
Jet lag, eyes sparked fully open at 5am, I could try waking my wife I had not seen her in a month and there was still some unresolved physical issues requiring attention, but I am sure she would have took a pair of sissors to me if i tried waking her at this ungodly hour. There was nothing for it, than silently sneak out the house like a swimming ninja and take the 3mm wetsuit out for one last swim. Lubnaig or Venachar my favourite spots both similar distance. I could head for lone saltire of Lubnaig approximately 700m out giving a decent first real swim in 2016 or head for Venachar. Venechar is a great spot to swim, the sailing club have made it easy for us and invested in swim markers similar to a golf driving range for judging distance or accuracy of your swing. They are for the sailors but we have hijacked them. (They have given me a massive fright, when head down, no other thoughts than breath, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, breadth then out of the murky brown peaty depths the tie down tether suddenly appeared in the corner of my goggles or when I was really unlucky and the bottom of the plastic drum got up close and personal.) The bollards allow for perfect route changes mid swim, if feeling strong a few extra can be added, or when the biorhythms are weak drop down to one and still feel a sense of achievement. I don’t know what made me turn right at the traffic lights head for the invertrossachs road. Stopping at Venachar was one of the safest decisions of my short swimming career.
The trossachs swimmers always swim round the safety of shoreside. I always prefer straight out, not having to keep checking for trees or rounding the corner, just get in, the head down and start paddling. This is not tough and macho but it’s less complicated, it requires less thinking, I know with my tow float and wetsuit I am pretty bouyant, not safe but there’s a good chance of returning, worst come to worst flipping onto my back to catch my breadth, easy. To be honest seeing loch bottom through my goggles always freaks me out. I prefer only to touch water with my feet, the surprise of soft, hard, stony, muddy, grassy, sticks, fence posts, old cans or discarded picnic debris always gives me the heebiejeebies and I prefer to grab my tow float and bob about, than stand up. I mostly say close enough before turning round and swimming back without touching the other shore side. [In wet suit ]
2 caps on, gloves, booties, blue tack in my ears and goggles, I headed out to the first buoy, nothing to strenuous for my first big swim of 2016, start gently. That was the plan. I splashed my face from the loch as I got deeper trying to aclimatise to water.
I ducked down for a shallow dive forward into the water, I managed 3 stokes before forgetting how breath, in fact the frozen water gave me temporarily amnesia. The liquid ice swapped my knowledge of swimming for tourettes. I stood bolt right up grabbing my head trying reduce the ice cream headache. I was glad the car park was empty, my use of the F word would have even embarrassed that Scottish cook off the telly. If I had went to Lubnaig with its sharp deep drop off I might not have been able to stand up, the shallow shoreside of Venachar was indeed a blessing. It had only been three and half months since my last decent swim in Loch Voil at Balquhidder, added with the two days previous, I had been swimming in temperatures over 20 degrees in the South Pacific. It seemed to have stripped my cold water protection, stealing all my hard earned layers of cold limitations. Last year I had walked through ice to get into the water and managed a good half an hour swim. I couldn’ t remember when the water had shocked me so much. I managed to round the corner past the car park by swimming a few strokes standing up giggling, laughing and walking forward catching my breath then repeating. I managed a continous swim of the few hundred metres back but after stripping off the suit in the shallows for one last dooking. I returned to the van with hands curled and blocks of solid ice for feet. The pain was unbearable between swearing and repeating – oh god – I managed to get into my many merino layers, 2 pairs of long John’s and 4 tops of varying weights and a goose down micro fleece.
Returning home, my hands had defrosted enough to have 2 smoked ham houghs and vegetables in a pot for lentil soup, before the house awoke demanding to play the xbox. I was busy on facebook when Clare appeared down stairs, I had missed waking up together for the first time in nearly five weeks, I think or hoped she understood when she saw my massive grin. I might not be focused on great distances or trying to find my limits anymore, but it has become apparent I need to keep getting in the water to keep a smile on my face.