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Month: May, 2014

Lied

“Can you imaging wasting a minute of your life on something that wasn’t personal? Something that didn’t mean anything to you?” says a fictional character to another fictional character in a short work of fiction1.

So it isn’t just me. A published author, in an attempt to emulate real life, has felt such a value legitimate enough to bestow upon a supporting character in his short story! It is proof: humans do things that have personal meaning.

But this isn’t news to anyone, nor to me. Whenever the discussion about my Next Big Swim comes up, the Channel Question inevitably gets asked. My answer has been the same for the past few years. “No,” I say, “I like my swims to have personal meaning, and right now the Channel just doesn’t.” This way of selecting swims has been true for me since I began open water swimming, and I whole-heartedly believe it.

This isn’t to say some swims have not been stepping stones, but as a whole, my swim resume consists of water bodies that hold personal significance in my life. Manhattan is an obvious one, growing up just up river from the course. The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim ends on the island my mother lived on when I was young. Training swims in the Lake District where I’d vacationed. 8 Bridges (see previous post). The Strait of Juan de Fuca, near where I now reside.

Well, that last one. See, the Strait is sort of still the same body of water as where I train, the Puget Sound, sort of. And it is less than a four hour trip from Seattle, so it is basically like home. And I’ve been there, well, once, and…oh my god, I’d never been to Vancouver Island before this swim.

I’m a fraud! Here I am espousing the greatness and beauty of personal, meaningful, local swims, and I had never even set foot on Vancouver Island – apart from that one brief moment – until this month. I’d spent a grand total of barely two hours of my life gazing northward from Port Angeles towards Canada. Never actually swim in the Strait. And this personal connection was supposed to be my raison d’être? The reason I was swimming that swim?

What I think I wanted was a cool swim. What I was training for, and was mentally prepared for, was a swim in the Puget Sound near Seattle. That is my home water, where I train, play, and onto which I gaze longingly on a daily basis. That is where my big swim should have been. That was the personal connection.

And that is why I’m having trouble going back to the Strait. I want to, for sure. No self-respecting distance swimmer would call it a day and back down with a result like what I had, essentially amounting to a successful swim with an error in navigation. But it has become apparent that the Strait of Juan de Fuca is missing something critical. Something’s holding me back. A connection.


 

The narrow road ended abruptly and I made a quick left into a parking lot on the edge of a sun-filled meadow. My work clothes were exchanged for shorts on the hour drive south. I hastily emptied my pockets into the void beneath the driver’s seat and headed to the park’s info sign. After aligning the posted map with my iPhone map and using the sun as and mountains as a compass, I ran off down a gravel path, tripping over my sandals as I headed in what was hopefully a southerly direction. The shore was easy to find, and breathtaking, but not what I was looking for. I ran along the undulating coast, running because I didn’t know how far I had to go or how long the sun would be with me in the waning day. The short climbs up and down hills made my legs burn and reminded me how much I’ve lost my coordination for land activity, but I kept pushing south. Past two fishermen heading the opposite direction, the coastline grew more and more jagged and familiar. I ran, now trotted onward as the coastline pushed me west. And suddenly ahead, a cliff rose from the water, a cliff burned clearly in my memory. I’d run past them, the rocks I sought. Just behind me now, they were unmistakable, there in the cove, low to the water, protected from the wind. Where I started my swim 10 months ago to the day.

How had I never been here, to this spot or any like it on the Island? There: that is where I climbed out to start on shore. Why has it taken me so long to make this stretch of water my own? There: I stood on this rock while Steve bumped his kayak on to shore to start his own crossing. How can one look at those mountains, so clear on this spring day, and not be tempted? There: I jumped back in there, the tide was a little higher that morning. And why did I leave my suit in the car?

The sun wasn’t to set behind the cliff for another hour, and the sun felt warm that day. If the Strait and I are to ever be friends or lovers, we were going to begin right then. It was just the two of us in the bright evening light. No one was around to see me leave my clothes and modesty on the rocks as I swam out through the kelp. There was a tug, a voice saying, “come swim out a little farther.”

“Not yet,” I replied. “Not just yet.”

Beechey Head from land


1 Lipsyte, Sam. “The Naturals” The New Yorker 5 May 2014; 60-66. Print.

Tuesday’s first swim

Melissa had a birthday on the Sunday past, and so on the same day, Melissa had a birthday swim.

Owens Beach in Tacoma looks north across Dalco Passage to Tahlequah, upon the southern tip of Vashon Island. The hills of Point Defiance rise behind you as you stand there and block the winds and currents that race through the Narrows. The water is usually calm owing to the small fetch from all directions but east towards Commencement Bay, and the current nearly always pushes west regardless of tide. Along the water for 1km, there is a running path maring the boundary between the tall northwestern pines and the gravelly northwestern beach. This is the Tacoma open water swim spot.

Between Owens Beach and Vashon is 2.4km, but not without its challenges. Through this 400ft-deep waterway runs any ship, tug, tow, log boom, and recreational boat transiting between the southern and northern Puget Sound. Currents in the Narrows around the corner reach 6kts and come spilling out into Dalco Passage. Also, sometimes it rains.

Sunday morning, Tuesday and I put in at the Tacoma public dock at the edge of Point Defiance and set out to find, map, and understand the currents immediately before the birthday swim. There are no NOAA current predictions for a lot of the Puget Sound (I suspect because of the complexity the landscape induces), but the models I could find suggest that on an ebb flow, the middle of the Passage flows strongly east and eddies back to the west along the Tacoma shore. As we slowly made our way across and back in the bright morning sun and still air, not a current could be found. After two hours of searching for anything, water movement, drifting of the boat, tide lines, debris lines, anything, we gave up and headed into the beach to meet Melissa and Alison.

Tuesday on Owens Beach

Melissa and Alison piled in and the three of us headed north to Vashon. When we reached the other side, where the swim would begin, we waited for the kayaker Heidi to complete her crossing. As we drifted near the beach, a moderate current pushed us to the west. Heidi reported some mid-channel water movement when she reached Vashon. These currents were not there thirty minutes earlier, I swear.

They jumped onto the sunny shore, smiled for a photo, and then jumped in the water and started the swim at 11:00am. The swim took a total of 52 minutes, and as swims go was straightforward. From my vantage, I was able to see many things a swimmer cannot. I could see the seals coming over to investigate, and watch the boats all safely pass us by. And I could finally see the currents. Where I’d previously thought perhaps I was no good at recognizing currents, I could immediately tell that I’d just been searching for them at a slack tide. The currents were ripping now.

About 1k from shore, we entered the strong eastbound current. The water racing out of the Narrows had made a hard right and was rushing past us. This torrent created boiling, swirling water, short choppy waves at the current interface, and a few standing waves with white caps. I was instantly jealous that I was not swimming. Melissa later told me that she could see the algae below her moving in different directions at different depths as the currents switched. And as suddenly as we entered the current, we were out the other side into a small, calm debris patch, as eddies roiled by behind us.

Swimming Dalco Passage

In the end, Melissa and Alison made it back to Point Defiance, and only 400m from where they planned to finish. The currents had done almost exactly what was expected (expectations set by this Tethys model), and so had we.

Back on the beach after, I was even more excited by this beautiful little boat that had just taken us there and back. She is very stable and handled well in some confusing water and I’m gaining confidence in my piloting and boat handling, and bigger things seem very possible. As an unexpected bonus, watching two friends swim for an hour made me want to swim, like really made me want to swim. It is that feeling that has been waning lately during the past few months of training, and it is nice to have it back.

Dalco Passage Swim

Happy birthday Melissa, from Andrew and Tuesday.

 

Haiku 7

Jet set

Final boarding call
Suits drip from my carry-on
Next workout, next town

1,600 days of data

As of today, I have 1,600 continuous days of data showing my swim, bike, and run training. There are some small periods with more detailed records from when I was focusing on certain goals, like running paces, or swim duration, or what shoes I wore, but at a minimum I have recorded date and distance.

Tracking workouts has helped me greatly in establishing training goals, and in understanding my performance during events. At times, it has kept me motivated, when keeping a blue line near a yellow line was the only reason to jump into cold water. And an unintended benefit: being able to correlate training to and from the rest of my life.

At 1,600 days, I’ve made a new discovery that should be of great help after this June’s 8 Bridges. I’m not exactly sure how, but my goal for this summer is to do things other than work and swim and sleep. I’m going to talk to people other than coworkers and seals. I’m going to cook food that isn’t tacos, and eat it while sitting down. I’m ready to know what the people know, ask them my questions and get some answers. I’m going to…

Training-1600-days

…swim less than 2.5 kilometers per day!

Haiku 6

Blossom

Sun makes algae bloom.
Algae makes me smell like a
California roll.

Haiku 5

Friday Night

Get home from work. Then,
eat all the cookies. Then, run.
Then, buy more cookies.

(Written 3 May 2013)

8 Bridges – my eight bridges

The number one criterion in selecting my next big swim is intrinsic value. To train for something for months and months and months, to bring oneself to the brink of self-destruction all for something that has no personal meaning is ridiculous! However, doing the exact same thing, not to mention spending a bunch of money to do so, for something that does have personal meaning, is…well, is everything. But we can come back to that after a few more drinks.

Twenty-three years before the first 8 Bridges, as an non-sentient infant, I moved to the Hudson Valley. As a tween and teen, I drove or was driven over, up, and down the course of the soon-to-be swim twice a day for six years to attend one or more swim practices. The Hudson is how I oriented myself geographically, how I aligned myself with my environment. It divided us from them, Dutchess from Orange/Rockland, and Section I from Section IX. I could go on, but to summarize, the Hudson River was hardly out of sight and never out of mind.

Stage I – The Islands

18.3 miles: We’re starting off a bit weak here. On Sunday, 26 September 2004, I drove over the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge heading east on my way home from the Garlic Festival. And as someone who purchases several thousand tons of Portland Type I/II bulk cement each year, swimming past a cement plant will be cool, I guess.

Stage II – The Lighthouses

19.8 miles: One of my first (the first?) times in the Hudson was at the Esopus Creek outdoor education center on an elementary school field trip. We looked in microscopes at what lives in the Hudson, and found old glass insulators on the beach from the river’s more industrial days. I’ve been in the Hudson fewer times than one would imagine, so this stands out pretty vividly in my memory.

The Mid-Hudson and the old train bridge in Poughkeepsie straddle my first swim team’s pool, the old Dutchess Devilfish at the Poughkeepsie YMCA.

Stage III – The Hudson Valley

13.2 miles: Here’s where it gets personal. During this stage, I’ll be swimming less than four miles away from my childhood home. Swimming past Bowdin Park where I played soccer almost in sight of the river (just over the hedges), past New Hamburg where I spent a lot of time swimming, gardening, and drinking coffee after college, past Chelsea Yacht Club where I once hopped on a sailboat to crew for a stranger in a 4th of July sailing regatta, and past the pool where I held my first lifeguarding job. And I’ll be ending at the Hamilton Fish Memorial Bridge aka the Newburgh Beacon Bridge.

Stage IV – The Highlands

15.0 miles: It was across this bridge that I traveled almost every evening from sixth to twelfth to reach a pool at Mount Saint Mary’s college, and/or Newburgh Free Academy, and/or West Point for swim practices. In that short span of time between school and swimming, a time when I should have been making friends, I’d drive along the old waterfront with my dad’s film camera and take pictures of ships passing through the ice. Or I’d drive down to Mount Beacon or Breakneck Ridge or Bull Hill to get lost barefoot in the woods, although one can never really get lost in those hills because the river always points the way back to safety. During West Point swim meets, I’d run off to explore the forbidden trails of the military base that led down to and along the river. My father and I once biked this entire stage, to the Bear Mountain Bridge and back, in one day, only to discover that we were not in that sort of physical condition and should have known better.

Also, this is the site of my first real swim in the Hudson, the River Pool benefit swim of 2007 from Newburgh to Beacon.

Stage V – The Great Bays

19.8 miles: This stage is mostly filler. As it is the connector between Stages IV and VI, so it was with home and away. Nearly every time I ventured into this stage I was coming or going from the City, or the mid-Atlantic states, or a swim meet somewhere. And so it makes sense that I’ll be putting my head down during this stage to race the clock and the currents that can be unforgiving in this stretch of the swim, trying to get from point A to point B.

Stage VI – The Pallisades

15.7 miles: If you have ever taken Metro North’s Hudson Line into or out of the City, you know this stretch of river. It is the wide, flat, exciting, inviting stretch you see on the way south, and the wide, flat, relaxing, soothing stretch you see on the way north. It is the part of the river that makes you remember that the river is Big. And it will seamlessly blend into the upper Manhattan waters.

Stage VII – Liberty

18.6 miles: The photos on the 8 Bridges website can be tantalizing, but it was not until 2012, when I stood atop Riverbank one morning between a workout and work, that I really began yearning for this swim. I stood overlooking the river that morning because on the far side, there were two boats, a few kayakers, and about to be some swimmers. Sadly, I had to get to me car and drive over the GW to get to work at a reasonable hour. Swimming the length of Manhattan does not need to be justified. I’m sure it is something all New Yorkers see as obvious.