Not for one second have I ever considered jumping into a salt water lake (and literally freezing my butt off in the middle of February) something I’d do for fun. NO way, José. So when we got off the 12 hour bus ride to find out we’d be jumping in Loch Eli “for fun” to kick off Encompass, I was ready to turn around and back to England right then and there.
I wasn’t scared, I was just tired and cold. I spent our afternoon of orientation activities dreading the jump, and secretly half-hoping the outdoor instructors were kidding when they said it was on the agenda for the afternoon.
Just before dinnertime, Chris, one of our team instructors, grabbed a bag of old shoes, told us to grab a pair and to please go throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. I grudgingly snagged a pair of worn out pink and white Adidas, trudged to my room and shivered out of my big sweater into my tiny running shorts and a long sleeved poly-pro thermal shirt—my last ditch effort to keep warm. The 12 of us made a little huddle on the driveway as we waited for the instructors to lead the “jog and dip” down to the lake.
“Yeah, me neither, look my lips are already going purple…” said someone else.
Goosebumps covered my legs and my nose was going numb. I could see my breath. I can’t believe this is happening.
“Right, ready to go?” our instructor said. He started jogging down the driveway and one by one, our miserable little huddle followed.
We ran across train tracks to the pier and shoved on soaking, salty life vests. We took a quick picture for posterity and headed out down the pier onto the floating dock. Crap. This is actually happening.
Our little huddle waited for someone brave enough to jump first…no one volunteered. We stood shivering, painfully wishing it could be over, each second that ticked by meant we were getting colder. Finally, two people volunteered. I can’t remember who, that’s how cold my brain was.
They jumped and I heard screaming. I didn’t think twice, I knew I had to go next otherwise I’d never go. So me and one of the other boys took two steps back, three running steps off the dock, and launched ourselves into the salty swirling dark mass of water. Now I know how Harry Potter probably felt in the Goblet of Fire.
Ice ripped down my veins and for a hot second I was frozen underwater in a black, dark death-world. Then, adrenaline kicked in and I was swimming. I was swimming for my life. GET OUT, GET OUT, was all my brain could think. As I pierced the surface of the water I heard a shrill screaming sound. It was me. I kicked so hard toward the shore that my shoes came off. But I didn’t stop. I scrambled out up the slippery, seaweed concrete. I ran up, rocks cutting into my feet. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. It felt like knives of fire were jabbing into my tense, iceberg muscles.
I vaguely registered our instructor telling us where to put the life vests; someone helped me pull mine off. Someone went to get my shoes, someone else took pictures of us (probably for posterity) and I was off, running to the hot shower. Up the steep driveway, my muscles weren’t moving, my shoes were soggy, my wet hair slapped my face. But I didn’t care. I was alive.
Two hours later, after a warm shower, a hot meal and at least seven cups of tea, I was warm. My lips weren’t purple and I survived. We all did. The first day, Encompass showed us that if we can survive jumping into a lake in the Scottish Highlands in the dead of winter, we can survive anything.
Would I ever do it again? Hell no.
Was I glad I did it? Hell yes.