Finally, after two cafe stops for coffee and scones (it's not even a two hour drive), Shark and I arrive at Windermere. The car suspension has survived the journey, and I'm talking about our over-zealous packing, not because I've spent the last eight days overeating, but passing it off, rather successfully I thought, as carb loading!
We headed straight down to the lake’s edge, but as we approached some territorial ducks confronted us and, as I couldn’t be sure whether it was food or my feet they were after, we retreated instead to the pub (only for soft drinks – my body being a temple and all that!) where we discussed the details for the following day with our boat crew from Swimyourswim. This was the point I broached the subject of available room on the boat, to which I was pretty much told that it wasn't the QE2 and that silver service would not be provided during the swim.
After our standard pre-swim meal of fish and chips, we head back to the hotel for an early night, but unfortunately despite the comfiest of beds it just didn't happen, so I began to read, only to be distracted by worrying questions going round my head. Not sensible ones like did I pack a spare towel? Or have I added the right labels to each feed? No, it was stuff like will my sandwich taste any good if I drop it in the water? (No, it was shocking, but ate it anyway). Would it be worth putting sun lotion on my hands? (Even though I didn't because it was overcast, I should have because I now have awful tan lines on my wrists!) Should I pack the ‘I heart New York’ key ring with room on the boat being tight and all (I’m prepared to tell them that it is actually my lucky mascot and essential to my mental well-being for the swim)? It must have been bad as usually it's impossible to distract me from a Roy Grace novel once I get reading, but as it stood I couldn't sleep and nor could I read.
The following day, the day of the swim, and I couldn't have been more excited. Breakfasted, we were collected and driven to the other side of the lake where we met up with Al and Leon at the boat. After loading on our bags we headed for the slipway, where I did my warm up and then we set off. In my eagerness to get started I forgot to ask the temperature, and I also forgot to put my goggles on! My second attempt at starting was thankfully more successful, and despite being given clear direction from the boat about which direction to take, I began swimming towards the wrong buoy. With an eye roll from the boat the more simple instruction was "See those huge hills over there? Head for them!" You couldn't wish for a better, or bigger thing to use for sighting!
The water was a millpond, and the temperature okay; I soon found my rhythm and a steady pace. I was worried about setting off too fast, after all I'd not swam this distance before, and after what felt like no time at all it was time for the first feed. We had planned on every hour and although the conditions were near perfect, it's usual for me to have really cold hands and feet for the first hour or so, and today was no exception, added to this there were some really cold spots in the lake. To help with this I had packed some hot (too hot) orange squash. I asked Al for some of my (Harrogate) water, packed specially (from my home town) to cool it down a bit, to which I was told we didn't have time and to stop faffing about and dip my cup in the lake!
An enormous, solitary and curious swan that was in no hurry to move guarded the next stretch. We had a whole lake between us, but were both determined to be in the exact same spot. We were on the brink of a stand-off with a swan, when I realised that I was actually in no position to win. We were eye level with it and very much at a disadvantage. I swear it was sizing me up, and had pretty much come up with an exit strategy when thankfully it flew off further down the lake. Thank goodness. I'm not entirely sure whether me leaping on a small boat, with two people on it and a load of heavy (and quite large) bags would have actually survived the impact and I can say with certainty it wouldn't have ended well!
Continuing the swim I had been using the "huge hills" to sight, however decided at this point to stop using the landscape in front of me, it just never got any nearer, and instead began using the boat to my left and any buoys to the right, which I found quite successful although of the whole lake stretching roughly 18km x 1.5km you would think that I could use a buoy to sight, and not actually touch it, but no, I managed to hit the thing with my arm. You could look at it as a positive though. I am 100% accurate!
I began to tire but knew that our next feed was imminent, as I'd seen Al rifling through our bags. It had felt like a long hour, and my stomach felt a little strange. I continued swimming until Al indicated he was ready, and this was the point where I think I saw the only fish of the whole swim. I say think because there is a possibility that because I was tired I was actually hallucinating, still, worked a treat and for the next five minutes my pace increased, despite the lack of energy. When we stopped I was ready for something more substantial than a bar or a gel, so ate half of a jam and butter sandwich (the bit I didn't drop in the lake tasted 100% better than the bit I did!) and as I began eating it I realised that the unfamiliar sensation I'd been feeling in my stomach was actually hunger. Something I'd not felt once for the last eight days, since I began carb loading... eight days is far too long a stretch for carb loading.
In all of my training it's around the six-mile mark that I struggle a bit, and knowing this in advance really helped me to choose carefully for my next feed. It wasn't a case of choosing what my body needed, it was more about having some home comforts, and bearing this in mind I had packed myself a Fat Rascal from Betty's (the cafe in my local town), and I have to say it really perked me up. It tasted amazing... except the bottom half. That was less amazing having being dunked (definitely not deliberately) in lake water. Next time I'll break it up into smaller, bite size, chunks beforehand. Lesson learnt.
The weather couldn't have been better, and the water was really flat, so it was very much a surprise when suddenly Leon indicated some chop. A boat, that we hadn't seen, had come towards us quite fast and of course caused a wake. I say wake, it actually caused a wave that stopped us in our tracks. I have never heard Shark swear like that, which made me laugh and swallow a large part of the wave as it hit me in the face. This brief interruption was actually really welcome by way of a bit of a change, however my feeling was short lived when shortly after another boat came near causing another smaller wake, again stopping me in my tracks and putting me off my stroke ... I was less keen on change and other boats being on the lake after that.
With one mile to go the feeling of knowing we had nearly completed it spurred me on. I had a sudden burst of energy, and almost euphoria. We were nearly there! The end was in sight, and so was our large, solitary swan again! (I'd at least like to think it was the same one, because I'm not entirely sure that they are usually that large). I'm not sure why it kept appearing, possibly just to keep me (metaphorically) on my toes, or it could have been attracted to my rather fetching orange swim cap (heaven knows why), but decided that my best strategy was to avoid eye contact and swim round, far round, if necessary.
We were finally at the finish with a few strokes left to do, and I had planned to exit the lake like Ursula Andress in Dr. No. In my mind I had it perfected, but unfortunately where we were to get out the ground was covered in large, slippery pebbles and as I stood up to get out to give Shark a "bloody hell we did it!" hug, I slipped and at the same time she stumbled backwards. We both fell back, very unceremoniously, into the water. I tried again to stand but my unobliging body was not having it, so sitting in the water for a breather to come eye to eye once again with our favourite stalker swan, this time flanked by the army of ducks from yesterday, and a sudden grim dilemma hits – there are two ways to get out of the lake and the other is back where we came from... Maybe next year!