It had been a couple of years since I last went into port in Europe. I managed to squeeze in a few swims. After scouring Google maps the I found a wee beach over 4 km away close to Gorinchem centrum in Holland. Brilliant, a wee swim run. To reduce the faff I keep shorts and runners on during swim runs, this isn’t about swimming a great distance or having perfect technique, it’s to keep a smile on my coupon.
Returning from my first Dutch swim run I had to stop and make sure that my runners weren’t disintegrating, because the ice forming on them made them take a new shape. My board shorts became inflexible as they froze solid. Running in holland isn’t as fun as Scotland there’s no hills it’s mostly long straight roads and at the speed I run they never seem to end during one of the massive long straights on the way run to the beach my mind wandered to a wee adventure working in Kristainsund in Norway about two decades ago. I always liked the 1800hrs night to 0600hrs day shift in the summer it meant getting off the boat and having an adventure. Not, getting off and going to straight to the pub then spending the next few days with a buckled head worrying that I might get into trouble for drunken shenanigans. (In fact saying that one of the best nights out I have ever had was in a karaoke bar in Kristainsund.) So early doors I would jump on the ship’s bike and head off. I discovered wee note books at the tops of Norwegian hills to sign and leave some details, it was on one of these wee days out, I first became aware of the delights of wild swimming. I cycled for a wee while then I rounded a corner to face an amazing wee beach, cove type place with a small square platform about a hundred yards from the shore. There was a pretty cottage up from the shore with no signs of life. I pondered biking back with wet shorts or swimming buck naked out to the platform. Common decency and a uncomfortable bike ride won, it was great decision. Half way out to the wooden destination, large patio doors pulled open and an old dude waved I waved back, got on the box jumped off a couple times then swam back. We met on the shoreside as I returned and he invited me in for coffee, his wife said I was like there grandson who never drank Coffee and they brought out his stash earl grey tea bags. After warming up he showed me around his garden and small jetty he pointed out the locations of his crab pots before I headed off.
Maybe it was my supervisors attitude when I burst into the control room full of excitement with my take on the mornings events, “ eh! Swimming yourself what would happen if you took a cramp. How would we write that up. Look I don’t mind you climbing hills but no more swimming. Right” nonsense like that made me not consider wild swimming for over 15 years. To be honest he might have been right. I don’t know if I had the mental ability back then to be able to stay safe in the water.
Anyway I never really got completely passionate about wild swimming again until a life changing walk into Knoydart. About a year before that My wife asked me what I would like to do to celebrate our 40th birthdays a few months apart, maybe I should have considered her more, but I thought climbing up Africa’s tallest hill Kilimanjaro would be memorable. She on the other hand didn’t think this would be a celebration. She did encourage me by saying “My friend would do it with you?”. “Yeh yeh” I replied. A few months later her friend came up to me a party and asked me” If I was serious?” “awe yeah” thinking when the hangover arrived the conversation would be forgot. A wee while later I received an email indicating which route we would be taking, I didn’t get nervous or excited even when a fortune left the bank account. I did up my exercise and began my obsession with wool. (This has turned from expensive socks and merino wool long Johns and long sleeve top instead of a recommended silk sleeping bag liner bag to constantly wearing layers and layers of wool in fact an certain icebreaker top has become something of a security blanket for me, recently I took a fancy to a female companions cashmere cardigan in a restaurant I think if her husband wasn’t there demanding to know why I was wearing womens clothes I might have tried to wear it longer than a couple of minutes. A week before the cardigan incident I accosted (accosted might give the idea it was nearly aggressive, a wee bit full on yes, aggressive no, but I have to admit was elements of the chat that might have been a classed as stalkerish. In my defense though I always bypass the fruit aisle in Tesco’s until the end so spinach, blueberries, bananas, don’t end up at the bottom of the trolley getting bruised, so had passed her jacket a couple times in the shop, it wasn’t look at that jacket and pounce, no no no, and may I add, I am a little obsessed with sheepskin jackets since discovering the wonders of Ugg boots I realise my faux sheepskin denim jacket even though it’s my favorite and think Denim on Denim is a strong look it has had its time and I need a shearling bikers jacket, it would be truly the warmest post swim attire. (Crickey! that didn’t half meander, sorry. Relax, this blog is not the going to turn into Vogue’s loch side issue with tow floats, goggles and woolen swimming costumes or top tips on how to chat to randoms in Tescos) Anyway the jacket wearer did not appear phased by some strange bloke asking about her jacket and we ended up discussing the cosy green sheepskin hand me down jacket from her mum, as well as the wonders of wools thermostatic properties in the fruit aisle. (Yeah yeah I will get on with it.)
After the first day I came to the conclusion I had to snack every 15mins or I would get crabbit and lethargic. The next day I started the diamox tablets. You are meant to take them after food, I necked it waiting for our breakfast within the hour, I had extreme Kidney pain, it was a struggle to walk for the next few hours and only after lunch did I think that I might complete our mission. Looking back it wasn’t the brightest move, the tablets do stuff to the kidneys to increase blood’s ability to carry more oxygen to help at high altitude. It does not help that my kidneys are under enough strain dealing with my high protein diet, The rest of the trip was nearly plain sailing and felt no real exertion. I had banging techno and dance tunes on my headphones and with a massive berocca sugar rush I pretty much danced into high altitude on my way to the big sign post. At one point a guide from another group asked me what I was listening to, which turned into me and a bunch of guides dancing to Congolese singer called Pepe Kallie playing through the speaker of my phone while their large group of Norwegian clients painstakingly struggled past us only able to use tiny steps re sickness.
In my mind it was going to be like climbing any scottish big hill where everyone shakes hands and looks at the view then saunters back down. I don’t know if it was the glucose but when the sun came up over the Glacier it felt pretty magical and I am not ashamed to say there was water leaking out my eyes. I pretty much sprinted off the top back to the camp.
Do you know when you go on holiday and get gassed or overindulge and become friends with the whole hotel for the night and for the next few hungover sober days you are filled with the fear, trying to ignore all the strangers that say hello? That’s what it was like coming down off the my massive sugar rush and the hill. I can’t remember having such a big downer, completely catatonic, totally unable to hold a conversation, only requiring my own head space.
It’s hard to explain, at the bottom it didn’t really feel as though I accomplished anything. I know it wasn’t just from feeling bummed from the sugar. This isn’t “look what I have done” nonsense, I am not trying to be blasé about the adventure, I think my walking companion found it life changing, and went on to walk in the Atlas mountains and complete a 24hr three British peak challenge or maybe it was just part of her journey and proving that she could run 10km at a local charity event the year before our African tour, was the major catalyst for her own road to Damascus turn healthy around. For me it felt like a big walk with a few laughs.
I don’t regret it, it was amazing, But looking back I kind of wish I had did something I was passionate about instead of trying to do something memorable. Maybe that was the problem I had to find passion, but you have got to try things to discover what your enjoy. Like my son and Salt and vinegar crisps, I suppose.
There are loads reasons I really enjoy writing about swimming. I now have a record of my last few years, kind of like a swimming diary of things which I had discovered, enjoyed and thought about, but not just all about getting submerged, it’s a chance to reevaluate all my past experiences and decisions trying to make the posts more entertaining. I know it’s censored and you only get to read the stuff I let you, but sometimes I am biting my lip thinking that this is getting a wee bit to much into my head and personal life. It’s does sometimes make me falter when I meet folk wondering if they have read something I wrote, kinda like the hangover fear but only immobilising for a split second not an eternity.
I think the point am meandering to make was Two massive walks, two amazing experiences. The difference between the Knoydart walk and the top of Africa was passion.
In fact ave not even told you about the Knoydart walk, I am sure it been mentioned a few times in past posts, well anyway a quick summary. I had just returned from big trip at work and felt selfish about asking for a free pass for the weekend. But there was something about walking into the wilderness in Scotland that really got me off the chart.
I honestly could breath on the run up to the walk. It was everything I could have hoped for and more. Sleeping where our rucksacks fell. Jumping into waterfalls from piers and beaches.
Since that walk my life has transformed I don’t think I would be getting excited when driving along the top of a narrow twisty dyke late at night and discovering where I am dropping folk off has access to swim in a river
The breakfast chef gave me the “are you mad” face when I asked him about the water quality for my first Dutch wild swim. When there is ice on the water you don’t need a thermometer to tell you it’s was cold. An 8 minutes swim was great. When I returned to breakfast dining area shivering he told me the lady across the road swam every day.
I wonder how many of you would choose Knoydart over Kilimanjaro. If given the option again, Scotland would would win every time. not in paint my face blue and white Nationalistic way. During consideration whilst tapping this out on my phone I think I realise I had to discover what made me passionate first and that took me about Forty years. But saying that if the options were walking on Islands off the Scottish west coast or Lofoten islands up in Norway I would leave Scotland. But then again I would be off my head if it was Norway vs Nepal and not jump for the big airflight. It’s a no brainer, we all would, but would you be doing it to tick a box and for a facebook cover photo or because you are curious about the prospective water temperatures and the chance for quick swim or even long one.
I know this has took several detours from including this month’s Vogue post swim fashion tips and now it is starting to resemble an episode of a Neo Geo travel program. I think I am just trying to say I am glad I found something that I am passionate about, in fact obsessed about.
Please Swim safe.