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Tag: jumping

Around Bainbridge – excitement

Last Thursday, I sat on the bench at Alki and stared across the Puget Sound at the sun setting over Bainbridge Island. As I prepared for my last little swim before circling that big island, I couldn’t help but notice that I wasn’t excited. Nervous may be a bit strong to describe my feeling. Terrified certainly is. But as I sat there, the thought of swimming for what I guessed would be twelve hours made me uneasy, given that I hardly wanted to put my suit on and swim that evening.

It was about two months after my last big swim and seven months into my season. The novelty had worn off months ago, but October still looked far away. My biggest fear for the coming weekend was: what if I don’t want to do this? A marathon swim, especially one that pushes your limits, isn’t something you complete half-hearted, and I was indifferent at best.

Erika, seated beside me on the bench, reminded me that I didn’t have to feel excited. And she was right. For it was with that same attitude that I stepped off the beach two mornings later. I stared at the flat water right as a large boat wake rolled in. My instinct told me to wait until the wake passed, but then I remembered that the sooner I start, the sooner I finish. As always, getting in was the hardest part.

The points ahead grew quickly, the shore passed by, the sea lions kept a respectful distance. Friends and swimmers and kayakers from the island came and went, excited to be a part of my adventure. The wind was behind me for most of the day, and the water was warm enough to relax in. “You know those days when it feels like you could stay in the water all day,” I asked Erika during a feed about half-way around? “Well what a good day to have that feeling.”

I never felt excited during the swim, nor before nor after. But I was ready to get started, ready to be finished, and just as ready for all the pieces that were found in between. A very wonderful, calm sort of ready.

And now there is just one more swim left in my summer. Then October.

Taking the helm

One can only take so much heartbreak and disappointment before something needs to change.

Look at a map of Seattle and the first thing you will notice is that there is a lot of water. Even to the non-swimmer, the prevalence of water is obvious. Seattle is a maze of salt water, fresh water, peninsulas, islands, rivers, capes, bays, and inlets. Water surrounds and creates everyday life here (ask a Seattler to go to the Eastside and see what they say). Shipbuilders, chandlers, and fisheries coexist alongside the art, music, restaurants, and bars one associates with this town. It is a great place to be a swimmer.

It is because of the seemingly endless reaches of water that a swimmer cannot help but dream up new swims. The number of feasible swims between landmarks in the three to ten kilometer range is shockingly large. Just looking off Alki Beach, the possibilities are huge: 3.4k to downtown, 5k to Magnolia, 5 miles to Blake Island, 4k to Vashon Island, 6 miles to Bainbridge Island, and so on. All I’d need to get there, to any of these places, is a boat and pilot to get me across the channels.

So far, no luck. In the winter, it seems everyone winterizes their boat. Why they do is a mystery to me, when the weather stays so warm all year long. But they do. Puget Soundkeeper isn’t into the idea of swim escort, and I don’t have enough free time to persuade them it is in their best interest (what with the training, work, sleeping, and eating I’ve got scheduled). I also don’t have the time to meet every boat owner in Seattle to see if they’d be game for escorting me around in the cold for several hours. How do you even begin that conversation?

Two months ago, with a trip to Baltimore just a week away, I gave notice that I’d like to try an ice mile in Baltimore Harbor. Wary though they may have been, local swimmers quickly said they were willing to help on short notice, and even lend a kayak or two. But being a novice to ice swimming, and knowing that Baltimore’s urban waterfront is not easily accessible, I wanted a powerboat by my side. Good luck finding one of those when the air is 15 degrees and the water 37. That’s where this attempt ended, with no boat and no swim.

I am sure I’m not the only one in the northwest thinking this, that there needs to be a boat so I can do long, unorganized swims. An Agent Orange, but maybe not so fancy.

On a rainy Saturday in early March. I left my usual post-swim seat in front of the Tully’s fireplace, where Jeffery was telling us about his boss’s extravagant birthday trip to Patagonia, and Maria again kindly entertained my ignorant questions about summiting Mount Rainier, and headed north. Through the intensifying rain, I sped along in my New York manner over the Alaskan Way Viaduct, with its view of Elliot Bay and the downtown waterfront, and into Ballard, where offshore commercial fishing boats in for repairs and outfitting make up the skyline. I stopped at the Market Arms pub and had a drink in the back, trying to block out the noise of the Sounders game being aired, and made a few calls to be sure this was a good idea. No one answered, but I already knew it was. After just one drink I headed a few doors over to Ballard Inflatable Boats and gave Ed a check for my new boat.

Before I left the shop, Ed told me, “Your summer plans just got very different.” Yeah they did.

The Ka Lae method for doing difficult things

[Originally published in Please Tap on the Glass at USMS Blogs on 24 June 2013.]

Years ago, I stood on the cliffs of Ka Lae looking south, out over the Pacific Ocean. Or rather, looking down at the Pacific Ocean. The rocky ledges at South Point, Hawai’i, are a great spot for cliff jumping if you can handle the rough, current-laden water below, and if you can work up the courage to send yourself flying off the edge of a cliff. Standing there at that point, I possessed at least one of the two.

As a swimmer (not even an open water swimmer, at the time), an expansive ocean, some big rollers, and unfathomably deep water didn’t scare me. Looking down, my thoughts were the same as they always are when I look at a body of water: “I want to swim in that.” I take this for granted, my absence of fear in swimming-related matters, my sense of invulnerability about the water. If there was any thought of perishing once I was in that water below, I wouldn’t be standing there with my toes curled over the edge, oh no.

So there I stood, toes curled over the edge, staring down at that clear blue water telling my legs to jump. 1, 2, 3, and…4.

1. 2. 3. Hmm.

Logically, there was nothing bad about this idea. No drowning to worry about. No rocks in the water to watch out for. No rocks on the cliff to avoid. And I’ve refined my cliff jumping skills since that first experience/injury at America’s Most Dangerous Water Park, so no worries there. Despite rationalizing the risk and assessing the cost (nearly zero) against the benefit (greater than zero), it wasn’t happening. Jumping off a giant cliff into a huge ocean was irrationally terrifying!

So I turned around and took a few steps away from the edge of the cliff. The equivalent of four big steps. Looking back at the cliff from my new vantage, the “down there” no longer visible, the fear of the fall subsided. It was just me, the wind, and the ocean on the horizon, and the thought of what I wanted to do. 1, 2, 3. That’s not me counting, that’s the sound of my bare feet pounding the sandstone ground, heading for the edge, too much momentum to stop. 4.

Over the next few years, I found myself doing the same thing in other places. Here’s a picture of me jumping into the cold, cold Hudson on Christmas Eve. Ah, here’s me jumping into the pool at 6:30am for the fourth day that week. It’s mostly pictures of me physically jumping. Oh, here’s one of my moving to London with just a duffel bag.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered metaphorical jumping. The rules are the same:

  1. Be sure jumping won’t kill you.
  2. Know how to swim.
  3. Full speed ahead.

Over the past few months, the planning of my Juan de Fuca swim would stall; knowing that certain parts would be hard, I’d push them aside and then days later pick up the phone and run at the challenge full speed ahead. That’s how I got my WA driver’s license: woke up one morning after stalling for months and went straight to the DMV before even having breakfast.

In chemistry, there’s the activation energy of a reaction. In physics, you’ve got your static coefficient of friction. Life just a bit of that, plus some selective blindness.

And if that doesn’t work, may I be there to give you a good shove?