I went in search of good cold water to see if it would help me find the parts of myself that went missing at some point in my life.
Sara Barnes’ Instagram account (@bumblebarnes) is full of photos of her getting into the water in all temperatures and weather, and always looking utterly joyous about it. I was looking forward to her book, hoping it would help with my own sea swimming psyche as the temperatures drop, and it certainly hasn’t disappointed. This is a compassionate and engaging account of the beauty and release of cold-water swimming. Sara shares her journey with honesty, authenticity and vulnerability.
The Cold Fix opens with a joyful swim, and then with a recap of Sara’s own story: a difficult recovery from an operation, which ended up leading her into the water. It’s clear that the cold water has become a tool for deep introspection for her. On a quest to understand the mythical draw of cold water, Sara speaks to and swims with people all around the world.
She interviews a wide range of people, from those descending into ice holes to those climbing into a wheelie bin filled with water every day. It’s fascinating to read about these people’s motivations for getting into cold water, and the value this regular immersion holds for them. It’s clear that although everyone sharing their story has a different reason for getting in, cold water has become an invaluable part of their lives. The dedication and commitment shown to these regular immersions is impressive! And I appreciated that Sara is honest about her own occasional fear and reluctance when swimming; it’s always reassuring to hear about other people’s fears, and the way she inevitably commits to the water anyway is inspiring.
Sara breaks her own identity into five different facets: the Mother, the Warrior, the Child, the Panther and the Thinker. She identifies each of her interviewees as one of these personas. I didn’t really connect with this way of breaking personalities down, but I can see how it could be helpful to identify different parts of your psyche responsible for the different ways you respond to situations.
There’s a brief discussion in the final pages about how cold water immersion has helped all these swimmers with body image which was really fascinating to read. It’s brilliant to read an outdoorsy book that isn’t full of super-fit, super-muscley types, and so refreshing to see people enjoying the outdoors and finding greater acceptance of their own bodies without having to cram loads of training in.
I also wanted to highlight the stunning selection of photos. There’s a particularly beautiful page featuring three photos of Sara looking overwhelmed with joy; if these photos don’t send you off to find your own nearest supply of cold water, nothing will.
(With thanks to the lovely folk at Vertebrate Publishing for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.)
Predominantly climbing/outdoors literature, mountaineering history and nature writing.