Sunday, July 03, 2016

On a lighter note....

Yesterday I was talking about how scared I was to get in the water and do a swim.

There was a flip side to it that was really funny -- the reaction I got when I got out of the water.

There was some sort of family gathering at Prouty Beach, not sure what, but they'd rented the shelter for the day.  It was still windy and chilly.  Most of them wore slacks and jackets.

I was the first person back, what with me only swimming a couple of miles and all.  The family was passing the time watching boats on the lake, knuckleheads swimming in water and weather no truly sane person is going to get in... you know, what you do when you're enjoying a weekend summer outing in what passes for summer in Vermont within spitting distance of the Canadian border.

I spotted the people as I was rounding the last buoy and was gathering my strength for the last push to finish my swim.  I was unsurprised to see them and that they were watching.  Seeing anyone swim in that chill and gray weather must be a bit of a novelty.  They applauded when I got out.  It was very kind of them and honestly, it felt nice.

I'm used to the reaction from training swims I've done closer to home.  I start from a little community beach on Lake Mascoma.   The "I could never do thats" are familiar.  They're also not really true.  You can't now because you haven't trained.  You could train for it if you felt like that was the way you wanted to spend your time.

I'm never entirely sure how to react, even so, and tend to fall back into being a Virginian, thanking them for being so kind and flattering.  I feel awkward, but being kind about something kindly-meant is never a wrong reaction, right?

One woman who was quite bundled up seemed deeply concerned about the cold and the wind.  She had something of the air of the experienced camper about her, and I suspect she knew that hypothermia was no joke.  She offered to let me come up to the shelter behind a wind barrier, which was very sweet.    But honestly?

My skin was chilled and I didn't fully warm up until five in the afternoon when I finally got into a hot bath.  However, inside I was plenty warm.  When I took off my cap, my head felt hot.  While being a hothead isn't always desirable, it's my marker for whether or not I'm trying hard enough in a swim.  I was swimming in 67F water, and yes my head was hot.  I told the woman she could put her hand on my head to see if I was okay, and she did, exclaiming with surprise to realize this.

"See, I'm perfectly safe," I said.  I even felt a little surprised I was able to say it.

When I do things, I'm always looking at the masters of whatever art or activity I'm doing.  I certainly haven't been doing open water swimming long enough to master anything, and that's cool.  I have a lifetime to work on it.  But I do often forget what it looks like to someone who doesn't do it at all.  Remember, I was freaking out before this swim and had to be talked down to get in the water at all.  I wasn't feeling like I'd done anything at all impressive.  I felt like I'd just barely squeaked by.  That's not what that little two mile swim looked like to the people on the beach.

I'm sure there's some Dunning-Kruger Effect going on there.  And that's cool, too.

Saturday, July 02, 2016


I was standing on Prouty Beach this morning, the occasional tear running down my face.

Dark clouds were moving like lumbering elephants across the sky, and the wind was shoving the water into small waves.  Air temp was somewhere around 60.  I wasn't sure quite what the water temperature was, but I had dipped my hand in and it was warmer than the air.

I did not want to be there.

I was cold, and the idea of getting colder was freaking me out.  I wasn't sure how well my kayaker was going to deal with the wind, and if it got much stronger, it might be strong enough to push him over.  While I knew that the water wasn't cold enough to do me more than discomfort if I were swimming hard, my kayaker was not a serious swimmer, and didn't exactly have my built-in wetsuit. Yes, he had a life-jacket.  Everyone, even the serious marathon swimmers who were being nice and kayaking for someone else that day, was wearing life jackets.  It's a good habit.

Anyway, I was standing on the beach thinking of bailing on the swim when one of those marathon swimmers who was giving up water time to kayak came up to me and asked me how I was doing.

"Not so great," I said.  "I don't think this is my day to swim."

"What's scaring you?" she asked.  She didn't bother to ask if I were scared or not. She's a real swimmer.  She knew better.  "You know, we all go through this sometimes."

Here's the thing. I knew she was right, and I was kind of grateful for the "we." I don't really know her entire swim resume or anything, but I know quite well that as a swimmer, I'm totally not in her league.

"Is it the cold or the waves?" she asked.

I shrugged and started babbling. "No it's not the waves and I know the water's like 67, but it's freezing in the air and I... I don't know if today's my day."

I was also undertrained, which I didn't mention.  While I've been working hard all winter, about three weeks ago, I had a freakout trying to get into a cold lake to start doing some training and hadn't done any real swims since.

"How far are you supposed to swim?"

"Four miles," I said.

"Well, you have some choices.  You can get in and try to swim the four miles.  You can decide to get in and do less.  Two miles, maybe or even just to the first buoy and back.  You can just decide today isn't your day and stay out of the water."

She didn't try to blow sunshine up my butt, but she did bring me around to realizing that I did need to make a conscious choice no matter what I did.  I was still scared enough of the water that I was babbling and not making a lot of sense when I was talking.

"Oh, I can totally swim two miles," I said waving my hand.  And I can.  Two miles is not a challenge.  It's just a weekend training session.  "And I know I shouldn't let the cold keep me out.  I'm doing Alcatraz in August and --"

"Then you do need to get in the water," she said.  "Go ahead and try for two miles.  When you get to the second buoy, you might feel so good, you do the whole four, or you might decide today's the day to swim two.  Just try to think of something positive to focus on.  Sometimes it can be something like, 'My ears feel really good.'  Just anything.  Smile underwater.  If you keep your head down, you won't have to worry so much about the cold air temperature."

So, I did get in.

This was a rougher swim than usual.  The weather really was challenging.  Swimming in waves isn't too bad a problem for me.  I spent my childhood on the Potomac, in the Chesapeake Bay and at Virginia Beach.  Waves might be a pain in butt to plow through, but I have bilateral breathing down pat and can breathe on any side I need to.  Swimming into the wind ain't the world's most fun and having one's kayak support constantly blown off course isn't ideal.

And yet...

Part of me was enjoying it.   I was worried and emotionally fragile, but I was out there, dammit, and that was good.  

But I confess that happy thoughts weren't going through my mind, but this:

I know it's dorky for a simple two mile swim to require a lot of bravery. I felt that way, knowing everyone else was swimming six or ten miles. Still... Getting in that water was very hard this morning. And thanks, Charlotte, for taking the time to help me out. I am deeply grateful.