A couple weekends ago I was driving Dad’s taxi up to Dundee for my son’s basketball team. When I discovered there was an hour preparations and warm up, I was stoked, It was not going to be another full day in a gym hall. I borrowed a towel and raced down to Broughty ferry for my first River Tay swim. I drove up and down the harbour a couple of times, it did not look to inviting and by chance, I came across the beach. The wind removed any heat from the sun, as I ran across the sand in my underpants. About 100 yards out from the water’s edge there was a concrete bollard, a tempting target but the river Tay was raging and I was without my trusty wetsuit or tow float, I spent a brilliant twenty minutes (I am guessing), breast stroking up and down the beach not straight out. (I find it hard to front crawl swimming skins, it didn’t help I was without a swim cap and googles). It was not deep, I could stand up at any moment and run back to the van. It’s not always the distance or the target reached, I was happy getting cold and swimming somewhere different. I returned to the basketball hall shaking like some mad bloke and caused much amusement carrying two cups of coffee for my recent passengers. I was concentrating on not spilling coffee with my uncontrollable hands to notice the shocked looks.
A couple of days later I missed a yoga class to take my father and mother in-law, up to the airport for a holiday, I got excited about the opportunity of quick dip at Blackness castle on the south shores of the river Forth on the way back from Edinburgh. (It was recently used In Outlander,it was where the hero Jamie Fraser was whipped by Black Jack Randall.) Five minutes into the journey they dropped the Glasgow airport bombshell. They were excited and telling me about places in India they were lined up to visit, to be honest, I tried to make the correct noises and reactions, but I wasn’t paying much attention, whole time we were driving, I was considering what swim destination close to the Glasgow airport on the opposite side of the country from where I had originally planned on swimming. (I think I am slightly obsessed) I ended up having a 17 minute skin swim at Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond.
These 2 skin swims reminded me of the delights when I was starting, learning and becoming obsessed with swimming last year. Some of these swims were in Shetland and Scandinavian waters without a wetsuit at work.( there are a couple blogs about Norway and one of my first blogs describes some beaches in Shetland). I loved the burning sensation getting in water, it feels raw, more real without a wetsuit. It does require constant and detailed monitoring for hypothermia, the time in the water is reduced dramatically, instead of counting in hundred meters, I counted seconds.
I don’t know if I was aware I was making more time or I just had more time but these cold water skin swims really got me excited about being back in the water. I got four maybe five swims the following week. Spending an hour in the water with my wet suit then sitting in the shallows for a few minutes after taking it off. I got the shakes and appeared slightly confused, well it’s not confused, it’s similar to bursting for the toilet, you can’t understand why the person the other side of the toilet door doesn’t understand the urgency or like when, you’re belly thinks your throat is cut, (really hungry) and you’re trying to explain to a toddler why you’re just in the shops to buy dinner, not spend ½ hour looking at lego. Total focused on one issue, no detours or polite conversation are required. It’s not confusion, I know exactly what needs to be done. Completely focused on getting into clothes, everything else is insignificant (Can someone please explain this to my clothes, they don’t understand that they have to go on smoothly, without knots in the arms or legs, they should know by now, which way the front is, they have been put on hundreds of times and why do my feet always insist on coming to a complete halt, glued to the insides of the middle of my longjohns, they never learn.) . Then taking the hardest decision of the whole swim. Its not choosing a destination or choosing between wetsuit or skins or how long or far. These choices are all part of the journey, paying dues to the search for the perfect swim. The hardest decision of any swim is judging if I am dry enough to start putting warm clothes. Not enough it’s triples, even quadruples the time and hassle taken to get dressed. Too much then the wind ripping through exposed skin with the after drop effect brings on the shakes and claw type hands reducing the chance of trousers buttoned or shorts securely tied. This getting dressed process takes forever, I used to take big warm socks, really easy to put on in my bedroom sitting on my bed, but nightmare in a freezing wind when your hands are transformed into a unmovable frozen claw type grip, pulling the big wooly comfy warm socks over damp ice blocks for feet, trying to make sure the toes and heel arrive at the correct place without a 5 minute struggle, it’s easier putting short thin socks then slipping on some shoes not as warm but not adding to the confusion.
I found 1 hour swims with wetsuit followed by five minutes in the shallows in temperatures (I am guessing about 8 degrees) didn’t give the same intense after effect, or complete shakes followed by calm of a thousand meditations. Compared to a 20 minute or so skin swim at the same temperature.
It made me nearly addicted to the cold water skin swim effect. It’s all I thought about. I started driving up to a small reservoir 10 minutes from home. When the tempertures rise in the summer I don’t think enough water flows through it to keep the reservoir hygienic. After some big rain falls and lack of time, I convince myself I it would be alright. I measured the water at 6.6 degrees centigrade. Not far off ice mile temperatures, after getting in and catching my breath I started imagining the water suddenly freezing over trapping me until the spring thaw. It was a long 10 minutes ( I forgot my watch again. Its important, its a lifesaver)
The following day, I managed two swims one with company, it turned into one of those swims when I got home and when quizzed about the swim, I started laughing wondering where to begin. (maybe for another blog)
At this time of year after I returning from a Saturday morning swim, Clare hides, knowing the pain my not yet warm icicle fingers will bring. I hopefully find at least one my son’s under a duvet on the couch, their determination to get to a new level on the Xbox has rid their memory of my hands on their backs under their pajamas tops from the previous week. Their squeals and cries for help go unanswered for fear, I turn my torture inducing digits on their saviour. Weekend mornings are brilliant, the thought warming my hands on my family makes me smile writing this, not that I am evil, just a wee shite. On following morning I ran up from my house 5km up the high hill, it must be close to a couple of hundred metres, for a ten minute swim. It took a good few minutes to rewarm running back, struggling to straighten my back and move my limbs at the same time, never mind trying to keep a constant tempo, but then the turbos kicked and I practically sprinted home. If only I had some beetroot before leaving house I could have set records.
I am tapping away on my phone, a couple days after the swim run thing. Today I had a 28 min skin swim in loch long, a sea loch on the western shores of Scotland, you can look down the water and see the Islands of Bute and Arran. Compared to the reservoir the sea is tropical, the Internet guesses over 11 degrees centigrade. I was front crawling, no ice cream headaches, it felt warm I swam out to boys 100 meters out with only a few fears.
It was that magic feeling of skin swim.
Writing took me by surprise, I never set out to write, it all started with swimming, writing was just an extension of this, most of my blogs describe a swim, a wee bit personal history is chucked in then try to end with a decent satisfying conclusion. This is not planned, it just seems to happen. All them start with an original idea then it transmognifies into a completely different subject. My first half decent blog was about choosing to wear a wetsuit. This present blog started life as something completely different and finished not just a swimming story intertwined with a funny subject to keep your interested, like one of my other blogs. I know it looks convenient and a complete opposite from my first blog. This blog started life describing how my swimming interest dwindle as loch temperatures increased and was a worry. But it turned into a personal reaffirmation that cold water swimming is amazing and keeps me smiling. It was skin swimming that started this obsession. Not endorphin rush getting in or mindfulness required to constantly monitor body functions attempting to stay alive, not the full on intense shaking followed by the relaxed calm. It’s the whole process. Does the body go through such rapid altering states with any other activity? Maybe I am going start swimming more skins but the lack of buoyancy and reduced safety kind of freaks me out it. Cold water is greater fun than warm water. Skins feels much more alive than a suit. I suppose it’s all about eliminating the risks. I could go to a indoor pool and stay safe or reduce the chance of drowning altogether by getting a gym membership. But truly think this would be the most detrimental choice on my health and happiness. Swimming outside is life affirming, it’s amazing. Hopefully my blogs will continue similar to my swimming, twisting and turning and following it’s own path.