I feel the fresh grass on my feet as I leave my flip-flop on the side, before stepping on the light wooden jetty. I look around, taking in the new sights. It’s my first time here. The sun is reflecting on the long narrow lake. A bunch of orange and pink buoys bobble on the surface. Swimmers tow-buoys. I can’t quite make out the those marking the course in between the orange and pink flecks on the water but I’m sure it’ll get clearer once swimming. My wetsuit feels tight around the neck, as always. I wasn’t even sure I would fit in it. 9 months since I last put it on. It fits, as unevenly as before.
I find the ladder to get in the water and take my first steps down, bracing myself for the cold. Not sure how many steps there are either, I’m preparing for a quick immersion too. Neither happen. The water is nicely warm against my skin, and even as it predictably swooshes in the gap between my wetsuit and lower back, there’s no cold shock and the usual quick shallow breaths and grimacing. My feet find the gravelly bottom of the lake too and I move away from the jetty. I lean into the water and a take a few breaststrokes. The resistance of the neoprene slows the movement a little. Water flows in between my fingers and toes, and now has fully infiltrated the upper part of the wetsuit. There’s a layer of warm water flushing in from the wrists all the way to my shoulders. It doesn’t bother me for once. It’s skin temperature and if anything, it’s refreshing. I’ll worry about getting a better fitted wetsuit another year if this always feels so pleasant.
Slowly moving towards the first set of anchored buoys, I half dip my head under the water and decide it’s time to move to freestyle strokes. It’s effortless and I find a rhythm. One, two, three strokes, breathe. One, two, three strokes, breathe. One, two, three strokes, breathe and lift my head to glance at where I’m going. Too far left. Too far right. The sudden darkness in places disorientates me a little, until I realise it’s just the trees hiding the sun from view. Still, better pay attention so I don’t end up accidentally scraping the edges of the lake. More than once, I interrupt my strokes, take a breath and check I’m still going in the right direction. I’ve now reached the turn-around point. I think. I can’t see any immobile buoys in the distance. That must be it. I give everyone but the buoy a wide berth as I make my way round. Social-distancing in the water too.
It’s strangely a lonely swim on the way back. Did I leave everyone behind? Did I become a fast swimmer?
A moment of respite, treading water for a minute or two. I feel good. Off I go for lap 2.
It’s harder second-time round. The turn-around point feels further away somehow and doesn’t get closer with every stroke. Shoulder are beginning to ache. I have no choice but to continue so I persist, definitely slower. There’s relief when I go past the turnaround buoy. And now I even have a swimmer to follow on the way back to the start. For a minute or two at least. Every time I look up, he’s that little bit further away in the distance. But he’s where I need to go. He’s reassurance.
Not swimming at all for 9 months, and lack of acclimatisation in the pool at the beginning of the season, means this is all harder than I expected. It doesn’t feel smooth and relaxing. I’m not in a flow but thankfully I’m not panicking or feeling really out of breath either. Just seriously out of shape.
Back at the jetty, I’m relieved I made it back. Knowing I can’t stomach another lap, I climb back up the ladder and smile. Water dripping, I unzip my wetsuit to free my arms and chest, take a deep breath and look around. Happy tiredness envelops me. Relaxed, gaze softens while I watch in the distance the other swimmers still in the water.
I’ll be back.