Going north. This time to Skellefteå to participate in Scandianvian Winterswim Championship. I am a true rockie in this matter but couldn’t resist the challenge of swimming 25 m lane in ice water.
Travelling by train through the snowy landscape is relaxing and a proper mental preparation for what is to come. The fields and the snowcovered forests passes by in a milky blur. During a part of some 15 kilometer the train slows down considerably due to a raildamage, said to be caused by a freight train with a defect wheel. The delay is not big and ther is still plenty of time to catch the connecting bus from Umeå. Some confusion accurs about which bus to take and we are all anxious to get on since it is snowing – that wet kind of snow that sticks and melts on your clothes when the temperature is above zero. A talkative smoking woman says she often does this trip to visit her daughter in Burträsk. She is from Bollnäs and speaks without interruption.
It seems like ages before we get on that bus when the busdriver doesn’t know how to handle the ticket machine. He is pushing buttons without result looking helpless and tired. I guess he is close to seventy. We are waiting patiently face to back outside the bus in the falling snow. Watching the bus driver as he fumbles with the machine with yet another cashpaying traveller. I have a printed ticket in my hand and it is getting soaked by the snow. Kerstin is further back in the row. Finally I get onboard and find two seats in the rear of the bus. When Kerstin gets on she says she will be roadsick sitting this far back.
Someone has written a love message on the back of the seat in front of us – ”I love you and haven’t seen you for two days and I can’t stand it any longer”. Touching.
There are seat belts which we manage to put on after some difficulties. Once you stop pulling you can not stretch it any further, so you have to let it slide back all the way and then keep pulling consistantly. It is dificult because the seats are narrow and you have to do this in an awkward position. Finally we are safely buckled up and on our way. The road is narrow and slippery and the carriage throws back and forth. In the loo there is no water to flush or to wash your hands with, which I mention to the driver. – Typical, he replies.
The walk from the busstation to our hotel was not far, about a kilometer, but the snow clogged the wheels on our suitcases and the pace was not great.
Testswimming was an oportunity on the night prior to the competition to try the lanes and the water before the actual race. We walked from the hotel through the snowstorm to the competition site. Four lanes were cut in the river ice adjacent to the town hall of Skellefteå. Changing of clothes had to take place on the slushie ice which was uncomfortable. Due to the strong current an assistant tied a belt attached to a rope around my waist and ran along as I swam. The current was strong but to my favor so it was a surprisingly quick swim. It was tricky to get on the clothes but Kerstin helped me. I am glad I did the test swim so that I was prepared of what was to come. We went to the nearby restaurant to get warm again. Small parties were gathering with drinks for their friday night pleasures. Groups of young women chatting and laughing and happy to see eachother. I had taken off my boots and put them on the heater next to the window, socks too. I tucked my cold feet in Kerstins wind trousers which she had put under the table. After warming up and a meal and a glass of beer we returned to the hotel.
The dressing room for the competitors was temporarily hosted in a conference room at the town hall. When I entered there was a solid concentrated silence in the room and I felt an urge to comment this and all of a sudden everybody started talking and laughing. Swimmers who recently done their race came in. Their skin was red from the cold and they all had a happy smile on their faces. They groaned and made it obvious to everybody about their achievements. So typically mannish manners. I got ready and started to warm up. On my feet I had my neopren socks and my head was protected by a rubber swimmers cap. I wrapped myself i my terry cloth robe and got out in the entrance where the heats gathered before they strode down to the river. I made contact with the men in my heat to get a feeling of my opponents. One of my age, slightly older, a finnish busdriver and two younger men – a bath attendent from Burträsk and a psychologist from Umeå. Shortly after we stood at the edge of the ice. Each lane had a ladder on both ends. I put my robe, glasses and socks in a basket held by an assistant ready to run with the basket to the opposite side. Suddenly I realized I had forgot my goggles in the dressing room. To late to fix that now. We climb in to the water. It is 0,1 degrees Celcius but I dont even think about the temperature, I just want to swim. On the signal I push away from the ladder. It was a good start and I swim with all my might taking quick strokes. The bath attendent is in the lane next to me and he is taking the lead. Where the other two are I cant see but it feels good and I can sence the cold water in my eyes. Reaching the other end and climbing up the ladder it seems like I was at least second best in my heat. My blood is rushing in my vaines and my skin is steaming and I feel a push of happiness. I get my things back and walk up the stairs from the river where K greets me with a smile and we make company up to the town hall. It was a good race and I gave all I could.
Back at the improvised dressing room the finnish men drink some stuff from a thermos. I ask the if I can taste and get a cup of a hot choccolate, mint and alkohol mixture. It is nice but I had expected a stronger brew due to my preconceptions about fins.
At the office collegues want to hear about winter swimming and they shake their heads and put up that forgiving smile – Are you crazy! Nobody, so far, wants to join me next year for a relay team. But I will definitely be back next year, at least to protect my gold medal.