The Wild Swimming Brothers are known for their swimming challenges and this month Little Brother Jack (Hudson) has published a book, Swim Wild, all about the siblings’ journey to star fish. Here Jack shares more about personal challenges and adventures – what usually stops us from getting over that first hurdle and embarking on new and unusual outings? And why are adventures important, anyway?
Often, I think, the first obstacle relates to personal perception: am I the kind of swimmer who could do something like this? Could I swim across this lake? Could I make it down this river? Can I complete this crossing? The mind baulks at new and untested possibilities. So, the first effort is to convince yourself that you are this person. You can visualise yourself making it. And the clarity of this vision emerges through training. That’s why you’ve got to create a strict regime and stick to it carefully. Whatever aspect of this challenge most scares you, that is now your primary concern. If you need to unpack your fear of deep water, start heading out a little further with each swim. Let the seabed disappear by slow degrees, over a long period of time. But don’t expect too much of yourself too quickly, and definitely don’t rush… In the end, there is always going to be an unknowable element to your challenge. Surprises are unavoidable. And yet there is a way to mentally counter these setbacks and, in fact, to relish those times when everything goes south, even if it’s only in hindsight.
When we planned our ninety-mile swim from the source of the River Eden to its mouth at the Solway Firth, we encountered all kinds of difficulties, from ten-foot waterfalls to ear-inhabiting parasites. It taught me that the one vital thing you’ve got to have in place is the ‘why’ of what you’re doing. There’ll be times – perhaps when you’re clambering through a bramble thicket looking for a forest toilet, or staring at the cold murky water, wondering why you couldn’t get these kicks from curling-up somewhere warm, like a cat – when you rally against yourself and question your own motives. You might say: “This is all about your ego, so what are you doing here?” Or: “You can’t do this, you’re the guy who sleeps late and stares doe-eyed at takeaway boxes before you open them.”
In those moments you’ll likely find yourself having to dig deeper, at which point the questions could become a little more incisive: “Why is this important? Why have you got to be here right now? Why does this matter to you?” Usually strong motives are strong because they’re predicated upon love. That could just be a love of the outdoors, love of an eccentric ancestor, a friend, or all of the above. When things get hard spend a little time with these motives. Remember that particular ancestor, look around at where you are and take it in… remind yourself that this isn’t the time to give up. All this suffrage is momentary. You’re here because you love this kind of thing. You’re here because why the hell wouldn’t you be?
Sometimes wild swimming wakes up something dormant inside you that you didn’t even know existed. It stokes a fire that we all have in common. Also, I think it’s good and healthy to occasionally put yourself through the mill. Here’s a little extract from my book Swim Wild, which I hope better illustrates the value of adventure. At this point we were waiting for our ship captain at The Lord of the Isles pub in Craobh Haven, about to swim across the Corryvreckan maelstrom:
‘Mum described how Grandma Martin often used to stay at relaxed yacht marinas, just like the one stretched out in front of us. She told us how they’d occasionally encounter rich yuppies who waxed lyrical about their various noble adventures.
“Yah, yah,” They used to say, “I’ve crossed the Channel five times. We’re planning our sixth next year if we can find the time.”
One by one they’d all tell their stories with the same affected air of grandeur, like they were each of them a veritable Ulysses carved by the elements. Then, eventually, they’d turn to Grandma, this little old, unassuming lady with bouffant white hair, and they’d ask her condescendingly whether she’d ever sailed before. To which our grandma would have to reply, in her quiet, polite voice: ‘Well, yes, I’ve crossed the Atlantic three times.’
Damn straight grandma.
She didn’t talk about her adventures too much. In fact, I can only remember a single instance in which she revealed the magnitude of what she’d done. It’s another one of those clear memories. We were sitting at the kitchen table and she was holding her second cup of tea while my auntie and dad washed plates and cutlery and chatted out of earshot.
“It was good that we did that,” she’d said, concluding our conversation.’
What better reason is there to stick with your adventure than the fact that in old age it’ll be something you’ll hold onto – something you’ll remember. Despite all the muddled permutations of life, this will be something you’ll look back on fondly. Then one day, when a littler voice asks you how it was and how you faired, you can see the bigger picture and remind yourself…