I rocked on the balls of my feet. Once, twice, stepping forward, and stepping back again.
It’ll be cold.
What if it’s not?
You might not get warm again.
I need to wash.
Someone might see you.
There’s nobody up here.
What if you slip?
I’ll be careful.
It’ll be cold.
I had been standing on the edge of the lake for ten minutes. The soles of my feet were warm from the rock, which had been warmed all day in the spring sun. My mental battle raged each time I put forward a toe, then cowered and withdrew it. If I didn’t get in soon, it was going to be too dark. I could see the rocks under the clear water, coated with a thin layer of algae. I knew I’d regret not going in. I was frustrated with myself. I pushed my sweaty hair away from my face and balled my fists. I was going to do this.
I pictured myself heroically charging into the water and gliding seamlessly into a breast stroke. The reality was more of a slip-and-plonk into the shallows.
“Aah! Aah! ARGH!”
My inner demon was right to warn me that it would be cold. I yelped as I gingerly held different body parts under the surface, then shuffled in deep enough to get my shoulders in.
As I headed further out, my breathing calmed. The chill of the water became less of a shock and I squealed a bit less as I moved. I pushed into an experimental breast stroke. I swam another stroke, and another, until I was at the edge of the lake. I propped my elbows on a rock and looked at the view. The lake was raised high in the mountains, overlooked to the east by Tryfan. I could just about see down to the long scramble I had just climbed. I dunked my face under the water and wiped the salty sweat away.
When I was at the bottom of the scramble, looking up, I had regretted my choice. When I planned the route, I had calculated the time it would take me to do walk up all the contour lines on the leg. What I hadn’t given much thought to, as usual, was how steep it would be when I was actually on it. It was a humid day and I was carrying my heavy overnight rucksack. I’d had to coach myself up the scramble, one step at a time. When I reached the top, I was aching. I’d shoved my map between my back and the rucksack for safe keeping while I used my hands to climb, and half the detail had disintegrated with my sweat. I was angry at myself for making stupid decisions and not thinking anything through. I was supposed to be out here for a night away from feeling stressed, to have some time to myself and to reset. ‘What you have done, Sanders,’ I thought to myself, ‘is exactly the opposite. Well done. You idiot.’
I find, though, that a swim can change your perspective on things: literally, of course, because you’re in the water and not on the ground, but it also gives you time to think. Maybe the temperature change shocks you into a different mindset. Maybe stripping off your clothes on a mountain and mooching around in cold water before setting up your bed in a bag on a rock at the side of a lake is so categorically bonkers that everything else in your life starts to make sense by comparison. Who knows? What I do know is that, if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed and need a bit of me time, stripping off all your clothes on a mountain and mooching around in cold water before sleeping in a bivvy bag on a rock at the side of a lake is a fabulous way to do it.