Unlacing my shoes I have cursed myself as an idiot: it’ll be cold, I’ll get mud between my toes... And without fail I have emerged a wild swim as a new man
I still remember a snippet of wisdom from a book by veteran travel writer Dervla Murphy. She said that she never regretted going for a swim but often regretted not doing so. And she is exactly right.
I have swum in rivers on days when I am in a foul mood, or in a great hurry. Unlacing my shoes and preparing to swim I have cursed myself as an idiot: the water will be cold, I’ll get mud between my toes, I don’t have a towel to dry myself, I don’t have time for this.
And without fail I have emerged from the water a new man, bouncing and invigorated by the cold, my mind recharged and refreshed and caring not a hoot that my hair is wet and I am five minutes behind schedule.
I have stood on beaches and looked out at cold, brown, uninviting oceans and tried to justify my wimpish excuses for not taking the plunge. And I have learned over time that it is always worth the first bracing shock and that even the briefest of swims (I define a swim as completely submerging yourself) will probably be the highlight of my day.
But I am writing this piece today not as a therapy piece. I’m not here to argue my case for outdoor swimming being the simplest antidote I know to impending depression, stress, or taking yourself too seriously. Today I am thinking about wild swimming on your travels.
I try to swim on every single trip I go on, whether that’s an overnight work trip to Scarborough (I slept on the beach in preference to the hotel laid on for me, and I dashed starkers into a pre-dawn autumnal North Sea), a long expedition in the high Arctic (jumping through a hole in the ice into the Arctic Ocean), or – less masochistically – swimming out into Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan at sunset to really appreciate the beautiful view.
My point is this: travel is about experiences, hoovering them up, storing memories and lessons that will help you be a fuller, better, wiser person.
And I promise you that taking the plunge, swimming in a river that looks too cold, or a lake lit only by moonlight will definitely be a memorable part of any trip.
I’ll be back to defend myself in the comments section...
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