As our train rolled out of the border area, we continued heading northeast. The weather began to change from the hot, muggy, and soot-filled conditions of China to the cool days and much colder nights of Siberia. Soon we would come to Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world. According to travel lore, this lake offered rejuvenating properties for those who dared brave its frigid waters. Legend even had it that a dip in Lake Baikal would add years to a person's life.
Since all of us on the train could use a little life extension, we checked the posted schedule. The train made only a nine-minute stop at Baikal; to swim would require careful planning and timing. Not sure if I could pull it off by myself, I went from car to car telling people about the famous lake and the possibility of a quick swim. I reasoned that if enough people joined me, the train would not leave.
Yop would be our timer. He proclaimed that he was too old for such frolic, but he would be happy to call out our time splits for us. We figured that we had two minutes and 30 seconds to run to the lake, and another 30 seconds to jump in and get ourselves wet. We figured that the run back would take no more than three minutes so we'd finish with time to spare.
Yop also agreed to act as our photographer. About 30 of us in bathing suits stood at the doors of the train watching the endless lake. Baikal stretches across 400 miles of Siberia and contains one-fifth of the world's total fresh water. Excitement spread throughout the train as the whistle blew signaling our arrival at the Lake Baikal stop.
When the train finally came to a halt, our steward held up nine fingers and opened the door. Thirty of us screamed and yelled as we bolted out of the station toward the lake. Even the somber Russians who waited at the train station smiled as we whooped and ran right past them.
Throwing my towel on the ground, I charged into the lake. The 46-degree water nearly paralyzed me as I gasped for air. We jumped around splashing each other like kids at the beach. Yop waved his arm and yelled that time was up. I dunked my head one last time, grabbed my towel and raced toward the train. As we sprinted, I flashed back on my marathons and the excitement of crossing the finish line. When we boarded the train shivering and laughing, I threw my fist in the air as I had done in so many races. I had made it just seconds before the whistle blew.