I stood on the balcony of my room looking out over the waters of Lake Lusiai suddenly hit by the journey that was ahead of me. A month before I had been studying for my finals when my phone rang and my friend Shona was on the other end. Shona is one of the life optimistic folk, always positive and with an infective type of enthusiasm. Shona was fully aware that I was looking for a holiday to relax after I'd finished studying and had been suggesting places for a couple of weeks. This phone call started with the type of energy that made me know that Shona was going to get her way. Her voice sprang into life excitedly describing a swimming holiday she had just read about online. The article had described a trip in the Sporades National Park in Greece. A week of swimming around islands, enjoying greek food and soaking up the sun. I must admit that it sounded amazing however I tried to interrupt a couple of times to put across what, to me at least, was a pretty clear problem in Shona's plan. I was not a swimmer. Sure I would swim in the sea on holiday but a swimming holiday? I was clearly out of my depth here. Well a combination of Shona's excitement and me needing to get back to revision I ended up agreeing just to get her off the phone. We agreed to meet 2 days later to, in her words, 'finalise our plan' and I hung up the phone in the hope that by Friday lunchtime something else would have caught Shona's attention. Suffice to say her enthusiasm had not waned.
After some chats with the SwimTrek office we ended up booking the Baltic Lakes Tour in Lithuania, the shorter trip a suggestion from SwimTrek to help alleviate my worries around so much swimming.
Matthew, the unique owner of the Tiki Inn, our Hawaiian themed hotel for the trip, greets us warmly and settles us in to our room prior to inviting us to the lounge for a drink. That evening we meet our guides, Telle and Lizzie, and the other swimmers, a really mixed bunch of people ranging in age from Shona in her early 20's to Cathy, who's age I'll keep to myself. We go around the table introducing ourselves and sharing our swimming histories, at this point my nerves really do kick in as I listen to Paul, a teacher from Bristol, talking about his channel relay, and Steph, lawyer from Heidelberg, happily informs the group that this is her 9th SwimTrek. After listening to Shona talk about her, until now unbeknown to me, teenage years of competitive swimming I stumbled through an explanation of my limited swimming experience.
Lizzie, our lead guide, was very reassuring and explained the plan for the next couple of days, talked us through the safety side and put down some ground rules, then it was time for our first swim! We all headed down to the water's edge and made our way in to the, surprisingly warm, waters of Lake Lusiai. Hat and goggles on we only had a short swim ahead of us, just a couple of hundred meters so get ‘acclimatised’ to the water. Lizzie and Telle used the time to check out our swimming and, as I found out the following morning, split us into groups for the swims to follow.
While relaxing and having a drink in the Tiki Inn Lizzie took me to one side and asked how I would feel about wearing fins for the trip. I knew myself that I was clearly slower than any other swimmers and it was something that I had been worried about. Lizzie explained that I could borrow some training fins and that this would helps increase my speed, meaning that I could comfortably swim with others in the group. I was delighted, what a great idea and I was suddenly so much more relaxed about swimming the next day.
The next morning and our first ‘proper swim', a gentle 1km swim across Lake Lusiai, starting directly in front of the Tiki Inn. My pod of swimmers, Cathy, Claire, Rachel and myself, make up the slow group and we set off first with Telle kayaking alongside us. The fins are great and I really start to enjoy being in the water, before long we have completed the crossing and walk out of the lake into the trees of the surrounding woods. I was really excited once we were out the water, I felt exhilarated, it was a great feeling and something that I hadn’t expected….all my nerves were gone.
After a walk through the woods and a picnic lunch we reached the shores of Lake Dringis and my excitement from the morning increases as I look out at the expanse of water ahead of us. Again our little group enter the water first, the water is so much clearer here and I can clearly see the three ladies swimming confidently is a neat triangle ahead of me.
After a little while, honestly my time keeping in the water was non existent, another group of swimmers caught us and went swimming on by. We made our way towards an island, around 2km into the swim, this was our meeting point for a mid swim drink. As we approached the island we saw a group of swimmers coming around the left hand side of the land and Telle directed us to swim towards them, meeting about 100 meters from the shore. It turned out to the Paul, Steph and Alex, the fast group who had looped around the island waiting for us to catch up.
We trod water, chatting and having a drink of water and I was startled to find out that we were less than half way through the swim. While I was enjoying the swimming I was certainly tiring, my muscles just simply were not used to this amount of use! As we set off again the scenery surrounding us took distracted me from my aching limbs and I got back in to my stroke swimming with the ladies. Soon however my tiredness began to distract me from everything else. My arms and calves ached and, despite the stunning area in which I was swimming, I was only thinking about one thing; when will this end. After what seemed like hours Telle could see that I was struggling and she stopped the group for an unplanned drinks break and came for a chat. She pointed out a road ahead of us and said that our exit point was just next to it, she explained that it was under a kilometre away and she encouraged me to have one final push to finish the crossing. Cathy was close by and she also encouraged me to ‘get the job done’. I was determined not to hold up my new buddies and so with a false cheeriness expressed my desire to get going. As I stretched out my arms I was internally cursing Shona, promising myself never to let her talk me into anything again. We finally made the shore and I clambered out on to some grassland and collapsed in a heap! I lay there exhausted as everyone chatted around me, Telle and Lizzie offered around tea and biscuits and relief filled my head.
That evening, after a well deserved nap, the group was having a BBQ and some drinks on the lawns of the Tiki Inn. Telle was asking me about my previous swimming and offered me a coaching session the following morning, before everyone headed out. She explained that she had been watching my stroke during today’s swims and she thought even just a little advice would make a huge difference.
So up early the next morning, wishing that I had had the foresight not to be nursing a hangover, me and Telle are waist deep in the water and she teaches me 2 things. Catch and Elbow. She explained two drills to me, and patiently watched and corrected.
After breakfast we drove out to Ilgasale, our challenge for the day, and Telle’s words echoed around my head. I tried to concentrate on my stroke and think about what I was doing, very different to the previous day of enjoying the scenery! I must admit my concentration waivered as we swam past a couple of Islands and I was distracted by the sight of nesting birds, but at our second drinks break Telle reminded me to think about my stroke and I was back on it.
The morning swim ended and I was in good spirits, although already my muscles had started to ache. After a long walk through the woods and a good lunch my arms seemed good to go and, to my relief, Lizzie explained that we had a much shorter swim this afternoon.
Our last night in the Tiki was certainly one to enjoy, I felt much more relaxed having enjoyed 2 great days of swimming and having really bonded with a couple of the group. An evening of drinking and chatting was ended with a sauna and a midnight dip in the lake, some great memories to add to what had already been a life changing couple of days.
After a winter of pool swimming and many more lessons I am excitedly looking forward to the Greek Sporades trip that started it all, this September.