Diary of an open water swimmer - Wild about swimming and Great North Swimmers
The diary of open water swimming from myself...been doing it a while, to those just starting out, feel free to ask questions and make comments. join me via facebook but most of all enjoy what you are reading, those already in the group will contribute as and when they feel like it so you will get the open water swimmer from everyone's perspective!!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEn3rI_Uu0s&feature=youtu.be (Wonderful video taken by Shane Wasik of Basking Shark Scotland) Silfra in the Thingvellir National Park, in Iceland? I had heard rumours of its beauty, seen pictures of its stunning clarity...but surly those pictures were photo shopped weren't they??? Well i was about to find out for myself. I had booked a trip to Iceland through my good friend Shane Wasik of Basking Shark Scotland - you will remember that previously i have been on his basking shark swim trips and have never come away disappointed and so i embarked on another swimmy adventure under the wing of Shane and his crew. Silfra has been referred to in many ways, my favourite being 'liquid meditation', hard to imagine meditating in 2 degree water but that is exactly what happened, the calm stillness of the water leads to gently on its current into a trance like state where you forget all troubles and worries, you swim, float, snorkel or dive into a piece of heaven. Formed by earthquakes, you swim or dive between two continental plates, North American and Eruasian, lava fissure that will take your breath and leave you spell bound, you can literally at times touch both sides!
Driving towards the national park, the landscape gives not a hint of the beauty that you are about to experience, it hides its glory amongst the splendour of the height of the mountains that surround it. As tempted as you may be to stride out and attempt to get to the top, the terrain is unforgiving at best, brutal at worst. The lack of visual wildlife an indicator of its harshness to the breathing form. The tarmacked roads pay tribute to the evolution of the landscape and man,s intrusion into its rolling forms, there are two main roads in Iceland, aptly named road 1 and road 2, occasionally tributary roads have been formed but these tend to be in the form of tracks and are not currently designed for driver comfort as you bounce along hearing stones reek havoc on the undercarriage of your vehicle.
The landscape as stunning as it is has a distinct lack of trees, efforts are being made to plant them however even to the naked eye it is easy to see that none will reach great heights, perhaps the soil and the climate negate a forest being formed, when we did see trees however they were a welcome sight, as normally they surrounded housing and showed that life could indeed exist on such a volcanic plateau.
There is no dramatic signage to show that you have passed over from one continent to another, our guides in the form of Dive.IS Padi (http://www.dive.is/) were a fountain of knowledge and informed us of its occurrence. Not long after we departed the long and winding road and turned right towards the lake...and wow what a lake it is! Once viewed it is little wonder as to why so many flock to it through out the year. It is truly breathtaking and on such a calm day it is hard to imagine how violent the water could become during a storm.
Now the monumental feat of getting encased in a drysuit,for most of us a novelty having never worn one before. Bladder empty (we had been warned not to pee under any circumstances in the suits) it was thermal layers first then the drysuit. If you have ever wonder why divers take so long to get ready feel free to have a go getting the kit on, its possibly the most ungainly piece of equipment created....but with the help of our guides i eventually managed to squeeze my head through and opening which only served to remind me how a baby must feel exiting its mothers body....squished was an understatement, i got it on BUT would i ever be able to get it off again without the aid of sharp scissors remained to be seen! Gloves, goggles and snorkel selected, camera at the ready and now to wait for others to make their final struggle into their kit....and whilst waiting...the thermals did their work...turning me from comfortable to hot in a matter of minutes, i now was becoming desperate to jump into the water so it could cool me down!.
Finally we were all ready, Shane leading the way, passing one of the best road signs i have seen!! Out of the cities there are very few road signs so to see this one was brilliant! A short walk and we where there...the water beckoning us clear and crisp...so clear in fact that it was hard to differentiate where the water started and the air stopped. The excitement of seeing such clear clean water was overwhelming i can tell you, it was like all my Christmas's had come at once! Even in the ungainly fins that i was wearing i was hopping from foot to foot in anticipation of getting in.
Pretty soon Shane and the crew of Dive-IS gave us the go-ahead to get in...and the next instant i was submerged, the icey grip of 2 degree water kept at bay by the dry-suit. Adjusting the snorkel and i was off, the depths of the land laid out below me, it really was quite fascinating to be swimming between two continental plates. The bottom of the lake as clear in my vision as the top, i was blown away and already knew this was going to be an amazing swim.
The divers below were easy to spot and every pinnacle of rock easy to pinpoint, i was quite surreal, it was just as the saying goes whilst driving 'objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are', thats how it felt with the divers below, the clarity of the water made it feel like you could just reach out and touch them however the bubbles told a different story.
A gentle current will take you in the right direction and the dry suit keeps you perfectly warm throughout leaving you to literally enjoy the views as they assault your vision, its undeniably a stunning place to swim, little did i know that the best was still to come.
Gently pulled along by the gentle current, we rounded a shallower body of water and to the left:
the breath literally left my body. Was this all ours to play in!!!!
Liquid medication literally did lay in front of me, a body of water even clearer than what i had just travelled though, i had just died and gone to heaven. Being able to go anywhere we wanted in this lagoon like area was just divine, and with the mind switching off it was simply enthralling just to be able to follow the tracks in the ground below me where the ground was waking up and splitting itself into now formations. Thanks to the snorkel i rarely had to raise my head, other than to see where the other swimmers were.
For an open water swimmer visibility is considered a luxury...we can see the bottom...until we get into the deep...having swam in alot of places the darkest waters i have swam in were Loch Ness, the water so dark that placing your hand gently in and lowering it was to loose sight of your hand after about 8 inches so this really was the treat of all treats!!!
After over an hour of touring the aquatic area, it was time to take the drysuit off, having made the school girl error of releasing all the air in it as an attempt at making myself less buoyant, i was now in need of a wee and feel like i had been vacuum packed. The drysuit had more than done its job and kept me toasty warm....but now i needed to move and be free in the water to swim....!
Lifting my head up ...finally....i realised that i was the only one left in the water..suddenly the urge to wee disappeared...i had Silfra to myself...and now i wanted to stay there and relish that moment. One of our guides had been very patient waiting for me, i was touched that he had not disturbed me in the water, not pushed me to get out, it felt very special to be in the water alone, with the only thoughts going through my head of...wow, wow, wow!!! I literally felt amazing! You can imagine i exited the water with the biggest of grins!!!
Heading back to basecamp where hot chocolate and buscuits awaited i found some of our group dressed, others in a state of undress and others ready to get back in...it seems that i was not the only one having thoughts of.....must return to the water!!!!
Wetsuit donned a few were going in skins only, a smaller group of us headed back in...this really was truly amazing, the rest of the lake a vast expanse before us, steam literally coming out of the mountains at one end and the most amazing silence you will ever have 'not' heard. Silfra is a peaceful venue to swim in or even walk around.
The waters gentle current ensures that even the silt stirred up by the divers (or our) feet) fins settles fast, the water so clean having been filtered through soooo any layers of rock over time that it is drinkable....with no ill effects...i know as i tried it!!!
Free to get my groove on as they say now that the drysuit was off, i could now head back into the water for more exploring, tiny (and not so tiny) holes and cracks were too much to resist as i followed their track at the bottom of the water, some areas too deep to dive down to.
The geology underneath was as fascinating as that of above and surrounding!
Another 40 minutes and it was time to get out, one of the best swims venues i have ever been in, 2 degree water temperature (its highest temperature in summer is 4 degrees!!!). I didnt have the chance to do my skins swim....but the next time it will happen!!!. Even now when i think about it my mind and body is calmed and i am still overawed by the whole magical experience.
Where and how do you start to talk about one of the wonders of the world, a definite tick in the box for all swimmers a trip to Iceland...booked in January this year and eagerly awaited!!! Never having been before i had seen pictures, heard the rumours of its amazing waters and stunning scenery. A group of us, mostly swimmers (some of whom i already knew, some of whom were Facebook friends and others friends in the making) but with several divers as well, booked our places, booked our flights and on the 16th October 2014 we boarded our respective flights and headed out...well almost all of us...Jen Taylor for some reason only known to herself and despite having ALL day to get to the airport missed the flight by about 30 mins...and what a journey she had the following day to get to us...but battle on she did ...and eventually full of cold she arrive chirpy and ready to do battle with the water!!! Our plane journey flew by...pun intended....with giggles as Alison Darley and Loraine Macdonald....Loraine, your use of an ipod....priceless...believe me folks you had to have been there but its a giggle that will stay in my mind forever....suffice to say...to use one you have to use the earphones!!!! But our laughter cheered the plane up and the journey flew by and before we knew it we had touched down in Iceland...bracing ourselves for the cold weather we battled to put our down coats back on before alighting the aeroplane. Luggage collected and into duty free....wine purchased....well it would be rude not too, we exited the building to be met with marvellous fresh air!. Our hosts had organised transport so luggage and passengers on board we headed to our accommodation, the Loft Hostel in Reykkjavik en-route being treated to a fantastic display of green flashes in the sky from the northern lights, its as if Iceland was pleased to see us. Literally dumping our luggage we boarded the buses again and off more northern light seeing...if we were lucky again.
First stop saw us looking at a beacon of light shooting directly up to the sky...wow, and more importantly.....why??? Shane Wasik of Basking Shark Scotland (http://baskingsharkscotland.co.uk/) our trip organiser explained to us that the Icelandic people celebrated the life and death of John Lennon with a beacon that would remain lit for a number of months, i felt privileged to have seen it. Leaving the bright light and in search of darker areas so that our eyes could adjust to the skies around us we headed towards water...us open water swimmers know that that can mean only one thing....at some point we would have to get in...yipppppeeee!!!
Cameras at the ready, we stood by the waters edge, those that knew how to use them at night were busy setting them up in readiness to capture the elusive lights. For those less endowed with photographic knowledge we simply enjoyed natures finest sky born display. Greens and the odd hint of blue washed across the sky in front of us, it really does take your breath away when you see them and was definitely a tick in the box for me of 'things to see and do'. Wandering around in the darkness...well yes ok..trying to get close enough to the water to ascertain whether we could swim or not...a quick dip of the hand deemed it 'beyond chilly' we had just left waters of around 12 degrees in the UK, this certainly did not feel 12 degrees!
Right we have no swim kit on us...no towels ....but after a bit of walking...less than 5 mins to be exact we found HOT water...you are kidding i hear you say..nope, we found a large bubbling stone trough.....so well what is a girl to do...yep we did we stripped off and hot water skinny dipped whilst watching the norhern lights...now that is an absolute treat, Alison Darley and I were soon joined by our amazing friend Roger Taylor is loves water as much as we do. And so the three of us languished in the warmth of the water, our breath showing with every exhalation, above us the northern light danced their merry dance to a tune that only they were aware of.
To say it was a moment in my life that i will treasure forever, never did i think that i would get the opportunity to do this...and yet there i was living the dream. As we sat as we wallowed in the warm of the water...the only thing that could have made it more perfect would have been if it had been snowing!
All too soon the rest had regrouped and came looking for us, Shane's rather astonished tone when he found us and told us we were returning to the accommodation said it all....well we are open water swimmers after all....we were to surprise him a few more times during the trip....but with our swim kit on this time!!!...More adventures to come from our Fire and Water trip...some of the clearest waters i have ever swam in....but for now it was time for bed and sleep we did, warm water skinny dip, a glass of red, the northern lights...Iceland certainly does hold true to its magical state!!!
Pictures from myself, Roger Taylor and Christine Menzies