BELFAST, Maine — On sticky-hot summer days when dogs pant in the shade and air conditioning seems like the best invention ever, Helen Sahadi keeps cool in a different way.
The Thorndike resident and Belfast merchant whiled away the warmest hours Wednesday at her downtown yarn store by plotting her next long-distance swim in one of Maine’s multitude of lakes and ponds.
And after she goes for that swim, she’ll write about it in her website, SwimMaine.com, which she hopes will become a resource for others who are also enamored with swimming in the fresh air and open water of the Pine Tree State.
“We have biking trails and we have hiking trails,” Sahadi, 51, said. “But we don’t have swim trails.”
With the website, she hopes that will change. So far there are just four entries, but she envisions having many, many more, if people who love swimming outside decide to post their own favorite “swim trails.”
Sahadi is looking for spots that are safe, that are publicly accessible, that are of interest to swimmers, and that ideally would allow people to swim for at least a mile.
She’s also hoping to encourage more people to swim in the outdoors — which is something that she had never considered doing for most of her life but which now has become one of her favorite things.
About six years ago, Sahadi’s doctor told her that she had high blood pressure, and put her on medication to bring it down. But she decided to try to get healthier through incorporating more exercise into her life, and she chose swimming.
“When I started, I couldn’t swim across the pool,” she said. “But I was determined. I was going to be a swimmer.”
Over time, she grew more comfortable in the water — but still kept to doing laps in pools. Then two summers ago, a swimming friend encouraged her to swim outside.
“I was scared to death,” she said.
One swim at Lake St. George in Liberty, and she was hooked.
“Swimming in an indoor pool is like being on a stationary bike in the basement,” she said. “I look at the outdoors when I swim. In clear lakes, you connect to this whole world under water.”
Now, Sahadi hits the swim trails of Maine from the end of May to the beginning of October.
“I’m always ready to swim,” she said.
Another bonus has been her health. Her blood pressure is low and she is now off medication.
“I feel so good,” she said.
This summer, she intends to make many entries to the swim map on her website, but she knows it’s impossible to do it all on her own.
“There’s so much water,” she said of Maine.
Sahadi does plan to use the website as a reason to explore parts of the state where she’s never been, including northern Aroostook County.
“Now I have a purpose,” she said with a smile.
She likened her quest to the hunt for the perfect antique. Last week, she got out her gazetteer and went on a road trip to several likely swim trails in southern Maine. Some were busts, while others were clear and beautiful and definitely ready for inclusion on the map.
Sahadi keeps her Subaru stocked with the tools needed for an impromptu swimming adventure: goggles, cold-water swim cap, water thermometer, waterproof watch, towel, suit and her newest invention, a lobster buoy attached to a belt.
She wraps it around her waist for a little more security — and buoyancy — when swimming.
“It’s great,” she said. “You don’t even feel it.”
Sahadi said she would be happy for people to contact her if they want to go for a swim. She’s not a certified lifeguard, but said she would gladly lend them her swim belt and share her knowledge.
“I love turning people on to outdoor swimming,” she said.
For information or to add a trail to the swim map, visit the website swimmaine.com, call 338-8388, or drop in to Helen Sahadi’s store, Heavenly Socks, at 82 Main Street in Belfast.