Mr. Angel used the word providence to describe our meeting. It’s stuck with me. The meaning, The protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power, couldn’t be more spot on as I step my way through my divorce and healing from the knowledge that for four years my husband deceived me grandly with his affair. As you all know, Nature has been playing a starring role in the story of my life post Pocket Call. She was even busy pre Pocket Call, making sure that we moved to a place where she could easily nurture me as I began the process of falling in love with myself.
I can now see another reason for my meeting with Mr. Angel. As we chatted away non-stop on the boat, the calm waters of the bay woke up with the sun. That glassy floor I was going to joyfully dance across was no more. Had I spent my journey from shore to Alcatraz analyzing the now choppy bay, I would have gotten too caught up in my head and not centered in my core. Mr. Angel was sent to center me in my core.
Honestly. I’m flat out convinced that Mr. Triathlete sent Mr. Angel to me. Call me bat crazy, but I know it. Mr. Triathlete would have kept my attention from the bay, too, much like he did on our first open water swim when he said,
Don’t hesitate. Walk right in. And swim. I’ll stay with you.
That last part was key. This dude can motor. He could lap me with the breast stroke.
Mr. Angel diverted my attention away from the long view of the swim, only letting me look far enough ahead to the jump. Or, in my case the get pushed. Together we created a kick-ass encounter. Crazy laughter, moments where we paused to digest a nugget of wisdom worth pondering, and a shared delight that we could be in each others company for our rookie ride of the bay.
Total encounter perfection.
I stepped onto the tiny metal ledge on the outside of the vessel, about seven feet (I’m so bad at judging distance) above the water. I moved to my right to buy some time so I could spot my cousin and know my derriere wasn’t going to come crashing down on his head. And then I was pushed off. Into the bay. Game on.
There was a place inside me, a bouncy house, where lots of feelings and thoughts were careening off the plump walls. Their reasons for being echoed with the sounds they made as they lofted themselves in the air. It was muffled, but I could hear them as I popped to the surface and went into task mode.
What have you gotten me into? This isn’t going to be fun, but I’ll get through it. Are you really going to be able to pull this off? I wonder if you look like you’re not going to make it? I wonder if the people in the kayak are saying, Follow that one over there! What are you trying to prove? Are you dehydrated?
The bouncy house was bobbing and weaving with activity while I was dodging other swimmers who swept past me as if I were waving the flag at the starting line sending them on their way. I focused on what I had learned the night before: get away from the boat, don’t let your goggles get kicked off, get your stroke smooth and try to understand how the water’s moving.
My path was arced toward the Bay Bridge to make up for my lack of confidence in my speed. I was still feeling less than strong and wanted to pace myself so I could finish. The farther I bent left the less chance I would have of being swept past Chrissy Field and then needing to swim against the tide to make shore. The less chance I would have of being half-hoisted into a kayak, rump to the sky and paddled to shore. My Aquatic Park breath of every three strokes was reduced to every stroke. All to my left to avoid the waves, which doesn’t feel as good to my body as bilateral breathing.
I felt really freaking small. The kayakers looked like silhouettes of mountain ranges, lit from behind by the rising sun. My earplugs and neoprene cap made me feel like I was in the world’s largest womb. Sea water heavy all around me, stroke after stroke yet the Sutro tower was no closer. At least it didn’t seem to be on the two-second look I managed to get before my next stroke was needed to keep me afloat and on the move. I was swimming in polenta.
This was completely surreal.
All that in the first ten minutes.
I settled down, as much as I could, and lost myself in the up and down of the waves as I pulled the water behind me. Once I felt alone, sure that no swimmers were destined to collide with me, I stopped thinking and started feeling.
I’m doing this, and it feels great. I’m not uncomfortable, I’m not tweaked, I’m actually loving it! This is fun!
And then I got into the middle of the bay. It became a little less fun and a lot more work. The waves were bigger. Big enough that I had to time my breath or I would open my mouth only to have it swallowed by the back end of a wave, filling it with salt water and robbing me of air.
Wow, if it gets much rougher I’m going to have to work a lot harder than I anticipated.
I started to smile. I’d miss a breath and get off beat and I’d smile. The waves picked up and I smiled more. I spied a kayaker off to my left.
You okay, swimmer?
I gave him the thumbs up.
You’re looking good! Head to shore!
I wasn’t sure if that was just a cheer or he was telling me I was heading too far left. I was still aiming for the Sutro tower. Wasn’t that the plan? Was this where I would realize my concerns were valid? That I wouldn’t know when to turn the wheel and how far?
The missing piece of the puzzle was Alcatraz. I refused to look back. I was afraid I would turn my head and have to look straight up to see the prison. I didn’t want to know how little distance I had traveled. Had I looked back I would have likely been pleasantly surprised that I was closer to shore than I assumed. I also would have likely known when to adjust my arc.
I started to angle toward the St. Francis Yacht Club. So far my sighting was just fine. Probably because I did it sparingly and just trusted my intuition instead of thinking it to death. My focus was making sure each stroke was productive. They had to be because I needed to limit the number needed to wrap this race. My tank suit was beginning to cut into the sides of my chest, especially on my left, accompanying each stroke with a small but potent flame of hurt where the skin was being pried apart. I’d swim through the pain, it wouldn’t stop me from finishing, but I wanted to minimize the gore.
I thought about my shoulder, which felt great, and about my feet, which were getting a little crampy. Before that could get out of control I relaxed them, let my kick get a little loose. They responded perfectly, flapping away in the waves, happy and seemingly at home. My core felt strong. And not at all nauseous. I was working hard, but it didn’t feel that hard in the moment. I smiled with gratitude. I hadn’t had the best few days leading up to the race. To be comfortable in the middle of the swim was an unexpected gift. It made me feel reliable. Strong. Fearless, but respectful.
My mind started to zero in on the lacerations being formed on my chest. I knew I couldn’t stay there, so I went to the bouncy house within. I could zone a bit now, I was over the halfway point and making steady progress. I had to zone. That was the best way to spend this portion of the journey, not unlike the switchbacks on Whitney. I didn’t want to come out of this cadence, the meditative space I was about to create, until I could see the faces of the people on the shore. That way I wouldn’t have to feel claws digging into my flesh for too long.
The bouncy house wasn’t quite as perky as it was when I first bobbed to the surface off the coast of Alcatraz. All those thoughts and feelings were a little deflated, unsure of why they were still there. They watched me and I gazed at them.
You don’t need to worry about me. I have a vision of where I need to be and the endurance and patience to get there at the right time. I have no excuses, no reason to be scared, no need to cling to another to make it happen. I will get there on my own power, supported by the love of all those I encounter along the way. I’m in a good place. It might look like I’m in the middle of a sea of choppy water, opaque, hiding its demons, fighting my every stroke toward shore, but I’m really just living my life. It’s okay that it looks more like an escape from hell in dangerous conditions, when it’s really an exciting adventure with an unknown outcome. You can rest assured that we will all be taken care of.
From deep inside came:
I love my body. I love my body. I love my body. I showered my body with gratitude.
The next time I sighted I saw faces. And a dog. Shore was thirty yards away. While my mouth went on breathing, my eyes were smiling in goggles that never leaked. I did it. I even managed to exit the water without falling, one of my key goals. I didn’t want to face plant like a beached seal but emerge like a warrior. Or at least a super stoked chick who just did something really cool and could still put one foot in front of the other.
As I unzipped my wetsuit and walked (I didn’t even think about my time and running to the finish line) on the sand I felt the joy from every me that woke up each day and went about living her life. The one that was sad, the one that was lost, the one that was confident, the one that was determined, the one that felt pretty, the one that didn’t, the one that wanted more, the one that didn’t know what she needed, the one that was scared, the one that was detached, the one that fell in love with herself…they all celebrated. They were so happy.
We did it!
Then we all honored the body. Something that was long, long overdue.
I sniffed out some coffee and went haywire with a full packet of cocoa for a jolted mocha. It was divine. Those who did the swim but did not elect to run across the Golden Gate milled about, savoring the amazing high of crossing the bay and still having the whole day ahead to enjoy the feeling. I tossed my medal around my neck and took my mocha down to the beach. It was time to look at Alcatraz.
The Rock was out there. Way out there. Much like trying to convince my mind that the peaks I looked down upon from Mt. Whitney’s crown were real, I had to convince myself that I swam from that island to this beach.
I was officially impressed.
I took out my phone to snap a photo. A man was preparing his kayak for launch. He looked up at me from twenty feet away.
You want me to take a picture of you?
I’m not one for solo photos capturing me in a moment in time. I’d rather shoot what’s around me.
As he’s posing me to get the best angle of Alcatraz and avoid the sun taking over the photo he asked what I thought of the swim.
Wild, I said.
You have no idea, he said. A nurse shark swam right across the bow of my kayak while I was paddling out to Alcatraz. She was big. Her fin was above the water by a foot.
Yes. Right over there. He pointed to the middle of the bay.
It is the bay, after all. Nice day out there today. Good day for a long swim.
We proceeded to talk for 20 minutes about getting lost in Yosemite, the beauty of Mono Lake, summiting Mt. Whitney, and riding motorcycles fast. He was a brilliant storyteller, leaving me wanting to hear more but satiated just the same.
I told him about my sunset at Mono Lake and showed him the picture I took which was a fine representation of the magic of that evening.
Will you text that to me?
Sure. While I was doing that I asked him where he was from originally. His accent said Argentina.
He said, Venezuela.
I said, to myself, Are you kidding me?
I complete the Alcatraz Challenge and Nature sends me a Latin man that scares off sharks, laughs about getting lost in Yosemite, and has a white shag rug in his living room? (I know you’re wondering how I know this…it’s not what you think.)
I knew she was my kind of girl.
I toasted her at the Buena Vista, surrounded by medaled participants and their loved ones. The Aquavit Bloody Mary was the perfect libation to kick back with as I observed the merriment around me. It felt a little like a coming out party.
Which is why I feel the need to talk about men…