It’s not quite warm enough to swim but warm enough to talk yourself into doing it again, so that’s what we do. There’s a small island in the Bottensjön D wants to explore with me. (Not that he doesn’t already know it.)
I park the car just off the road according to his instructions and we gaze out over the lake towards the island. It’s mostly clear today, a lot of blue sky, but sharp wind whips white crests onto the waves, and the island looks pretty far away.
“You think you can make it?”, D asks, his brow furrowed. I nod, itching to get going – I know I’ll be cold again, but the cause feels worthwhile somehow now that we’re going someplace that is unreachable by any other means (well, unless you have a boat, but we don’t).
D hides behind the car to change while I employ my father’s strategy of tying a towel around my hips to change invisibly beneath it, happy I finally can. (Doesn’t work nearly as well if you have to cover your chest too.) Then we move out into the water, D taking point and yelling about sharp rocks as usual.
“Conserve your strength”, he advises, alternately looking at me and the waves. I nod, and we start swimming.
It’s a very different experience than swimming from peninsula to peninsula. Whitecaps froth around my face, wave troughs pull me to the left, peaks reach my nose and ears unless I anticipate them and rise to meet them.
When I was a child, my family used to go to a public pool that had a wave machine. It would switch on for ten minutes every full hour, heralded by a gong sound, and we kids would drop whatever we were doing at the time and race to the pool to test our strength against the water, usually staying where we could reach the ground in between the peaks, right at the corner where the water would actually crest. Swimming into the deeper water was somewhat more boring and exhausting, but I’d do it when the good spots were too populated for my liking to enjoy some more peace and quiet.
The waves here are not as tall, and far less rhythmic, but the sensation of throwing myself against them is familiar. Sometimes I misjudge or am just plain lazy and get a mouthful of water, but nothing that can’t be cleared by spluttering for a second except for once – that one time the water reaches my lungs and I spend a while coughing while swimming. D sounds like he’s having more trouble in that department, but that might not be reliable – he gets loud quickly even without distress. (Seriously. He even yawns loudly.)
Rising higher in the water in anticipation has the pleasant side effect of relieving the strain on my neck every few moments, and it doesn’t get uncomfortable for a long time. We draw nearer to the island so slowly our progress is hard to notice. I try swimming on my back once or twice to rest, but the waves quickly teach me otherwise: I can’t anticipate them if I can’t see them, and while they’re not quite tall enough to submerge me completely, they’re tall enough to be troublesome.
I roll back onto my chest and realize with morbid fascination that if I ran out of strength out here, I’d drown before anyone could save me. D might notice, but I’m not sure if he could drag me the rest of the way, not in these waves, and there’s no way to call for help – most likely, nobody would even hear us, let alone reach us fast enough. This isn’t like rock-climbing, where you’d just call help from your cell phone and then hang in the ropes until somebody came.
And yet I had no qualms about swimming out here at all, confident enough in my own ability to make it to bet my life on it.
I was right, too, and my toes are the first to touch the sand when we get close enough. I walk out of the water, feeling a bit heavier with every step as I return to air instead of water, and shiver just as I knew I would. We were carried off-course somewhat by the waves, reaching the very tip of the island rather than somewhere around the middle – we’ll have to watch out for that when we swim back.
We leave the narrow band of sand and pebbles and find another blueberry-lined forest path to follow. To D’s dismay, we’re not alone: through the trees we can spot a boat anchored at the other side of the island, and voices float our way from the shore there. (A family, from the sounds of it.) The path leads right towards them.
I follow D at a terrain-induced distance. The father calls out to him at some point, and D answers and tells him we swam here in English. As I slowly come into sight of him and his two kids, I wonder what they think of us and feel very, very naked.
We pass them and follow the path back into the forest until there is no more path to follow, at which point we just walk through the forest. D leads, looking like his feet are actually made of sturdy leather, while I teeter awkwardly along behind him, watching my feet disappear between the blueberries towards unknown ground with every step. Eventually, he offers me a ride on his shoulders, and I accept after a moment of thought.
I haven’t sat on anybody’s shoulders in a long time. Climbing on while he kneels before me is awkward, but he gets up and walks on steadily enough while I hold on with my legs as if he were a horse, and soon it feels pretty much like that: ducking low-hanging branches and cobwebs (when I manage to see them), my hips swaying loosely with his shoulders to keep my balance and bother him as little as possible.
When we reach the steep slope at the end of the island, I eventually slide off again to make my own way down to the water. We walk along the shore until we find a reasonably comfortably-looking rock and rest there for a while, watching the far shore, the waves and the occasional seagull, beleagured by red ants who climb our bare feet. I carefully brush one of them off and then give up on it, figuring that as long as they don’t bite I might as well let them climb me. D crushes a few. They mostly leave me alone, never going farther up than my ankle, while they bother D pretty relentlessly. (I hypothesize that they might be able to smell the dying ants and go into attack mode because he’s obviously a danger to them. He admits it’s possible.)
Eventually, we make our way back to the spot we started from, passing the father and his kids again. He tells us they’d like to watch us take off, so we return to the shore with a following of three and wade back into the water with expectant eyes on our backs. I feel self-conscious and try not to look too awkward navigating the rocks on the lake floor.
The water is still cold and the wind still going strong, and I don’t know where exactly we need to go. I ask D about it and he points to a spot which I try to memorize so I can adjust my course on my own. We take off and leave the island behind, swimming out into the open water once more.
Either the waves have lessened somewhat or I’m more used to them – for whatever reason, I get less water into my face on the way back. About halfway across the distance I finally see the car, too, and smile inwardly at how much the sight of it feels like home.
The current constantly pushes me off-course, though, and I have to keep turning back and favor my left side while swimming. I’m relieved when I finally touch ground again, relieved and exhausted and starving and shaking so much I can barely get out a whole sentence. There are few sunny spots here, the shadows of the trees stretching across the whole road, and I wrap myself in my towel and keep shivering anyway. I change back into my dry clothes and walk back and forth for a whole while before I feel like it’s safe enough to put me behind a steering wheel again. (And then I shiver a few times on the way back anyway, but never hard enough to lose control of my arms and/or legs.)
I look up the distance we swam later, when I’ve put on more clothes and eaten and warmed up even more by doing some pull-ups on D’s squatting rack: 556 m each way, a little over 1.1 km (or 0.69 miles, but that sounds even less impressive) in total. It looked like more, but I suppose it’s not nothing.