The bay beckoned. And the wind ripped while I drove down the 101 on Friday. As I came around a curve in southern Marin and crossed a bridge, a glow from my left snagged my attention from the task at hand. She was whipped seafoam green, lit from within, and dotted with white sailboats and white caps. Just another typical gasp-inducing view of the bay in Marin.
I had to stop in Sausalito – oh, the tragedy of that – and nearly Marilyn Monroe’d it as I made my way along the sidewalk. I was becoming slightly intimidated by my solo swim with each step. Last time I felt like I was being juggled by jello. This time I was concerned I’d be juggled as if in the mosh pit at a Rage Against the Machine concert. I envisioned bobbing about, gaining a foot for every three I lost as I thrashed in the waves.
Nothing like appearing in distress from below the surface. I was sure to be fish food. News at 11: Ginger mauled by bottom feeders in Aquatic Park, “Too easy of a target,” remarked one satiated Leopard shark.
Errand completed, I made my way across the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve never paid attention to the faces in the cars around me when I traverse her brazenly beautiful span, but I imagine many of them are like me, slack-jawed. She is not a modest lady. It’s all LOOK AT ME from the Marin Headlands to the city, as she draws a line in the air between the churning Pacific and the sloshing cup of sea that is the bay. I am in awe every single time I make the crossing.
I pit-stopped at the Sports Basement to exchange my wet suit. On my first outing, it decided to unzip itself after about 5 minutes in the water. I thought a little water was seeping in down the back of my neck, but that whole puppy was pried wide open for the duration. I didn’t realize this until Mr. Triathlete noted it as I exited the bay after I squeezed out a half mile with about as much grace and speed as a newt. The young man at the store assured me that this one would remain zipped, and then proceeded to tell me that he hated his swim in the bay that morning.
She’s not happy today. I didn’t like it.
This coming from a man who grew up in Hawaii. My arm pits were sweating. I grabbed, for the first time ever, a package of disgusting energy chews and scarfed those blueberry-pomegranate squishy balls of mucous in a last ditch effort to power up the old engine.
I need to complete a mile in order to feel like I have a shot at finishing this swim. And it has to happen today.
Aquatic Park sits just in front of Ghiradelli Square at the Wharf. This is not your ‘off the beaten path’ location. Directly across from the two swim clubs are about 8 free parking spaces, probably the only free ones in the entire neighborhood. I grinned as I spied an open spot waiting for its mermaid. It was a sign that I was catering to my needs, just a little reward from the Universe. I paid the day use fee at one of the swim clubs and found my way past the gleaming wooden boats to the ladies locker room. I was walking tall with my wet suit draped over my arm, mentally preparing myself to complete a mile with ease, breathing calmly as I navigated the buoys alone. (Interesting note – a wet suit is not a badge of honor with most who swim regularly in the bay, quite the opposite. It’s like a swimmer’s version of a binky. To me it’s my armor.)
While slithering into my suit a woman entered the locker room. She was stunning. At least 6 feet and a couple (like four) inches for kicks and giggles tall. Maybe 160 pounds. (Question: why is the abbreviation for pounds ‘lbs.’ and not ‘pds.’?) I knew that weight was accomplished with effort. It must take a lot of calories to power that pillar. 10 strokes and she would wrap up a quarter mile given her wing span. I’d have to work a little harder than she to make it twice around the half-mile course, for sure.
I felt strong as I entered the water, diving under as soon as the sand fell away from my feet. Along with the prime parking spot, the Universe gifted me with a quieting of the wind. I made my way to the lap area and realized what a drag, literally, the unzipped wet suit caused in my first outing. Instead of feeling weighed down, I felt buoyant, able to pull the water behind me with much more ease. I was gliding after each stroke. My breathing was relaxed. I could actually take the time to drink in the view above the water line and below. Which was good and a little unsettling.
The sun broke through the surface and illuminated the water down maybe 7 feet, creating a ring of light that made each sand particle pop, all billions of them glittering as they danced around me. And it made the darkness ahead, well, darker, a black void. The contrast was distracting, and disturbing as I envisioned a massive set of jaws piercing the light and coming right for me. The beams of sunlight played visual tricks on me. A shadow would morph in my peripheral vision only to vanish when I attempted to zero in on it. Leaving me wondering…
I began to bilaterally breath which calms me, and I placed my mind on holiday so I could focus on loving the feeling of being in a place where I could not see ahead or behind but only what was right in front of me, of being in a place that requires one to be brave. I turned all my senses inward and thanked my body for doing the work that allows me to relish the adrenaline rush of a physical and mental challenge.
And then I thanked my soul for helping me to be brave in my divorce.
I made two laps around the buoys that day, completing a mile with only one small disturbance. Nearing the end of my swim I felt a twinge in my right foot. (I’ve been having cramps on and off for a few months now. Including a few calf-grabbing middle of the night whoppers that had me yelping into the darkness of my room as I folded upright in agony. Literally. Agony.) The cold temperature of the bay masked what was happening to my right flipper. As I brought my foot to the surface I saw my big toe hiding behind its mate, pointing to two o’clock. Not an attractive look, and a bit unsettling to see. 55 degree water is no joke. This was a severe foot cramp that I barely felt. I’ll need to be very careful on race day. Full leg cramps are as desirable as cuddling up to an electric eel when they hit you a half-mile off Alcatraz. Visions of me being hauled into a kayak danced in my head. My bum hanging over the side as they row me to shore like a fresh catch.
By the time I reached the piers the foot had calmed down. I took a moment to float on my back and stare at the sky. Swimming in Aquatic Park will be part of my life forever. It satisfies my need to be vulnerable yet powerful, and bonded with nature in a most primal way.
As I was peeling off my wet suit on the dock, a group of swimmers in suits alone began to wade into the water, one being the woman from the locker room who was now clad in a two piece racing suit. They were going out for a dinnertime swim to celebrate a birthday, because that’s what people do here. It was about 6:00PM.
At 6:30 she was walked into the locker room by two women, eyes wide but not seeing, her body limp. I could feel how cold she was inside as she passed me. They walked her gingerly to the sauna where she slowly warmed herself. It took 20 minutes for me to hear her speak. The cold of the bay got to her real fast.
One of the women who helped her in caught my eye and said, First timer.
She needed a wet suit, I replied.
She surprised herself by nodding in agreement. I’m not a fan of them, but in this case she needed one.
I was grateful for my Swedish body with its extra insulation in all the right places. I was even more grateful for my wet suit. But my gratitude didn’t stop there.
I was massively grateful for my new-found initiative.
Need #4: I need to take initiative in all areas of my life. The simple act of energetically completing a task or meeting a challenge with determination fuels me as much as a 20 miler with an elevation gain of 5,000 feet. Taking initiative means not only setting forth to complete a task, but taking a hawk’s view of the situation, assessing the circumstances, and setting myself up to succeed by being prepared and paying close attention to the signs.
I felt invigorated after my swim, but not just because of the work out. Mainly, because I set out to take time to do something for me, alone, without anyone but myself as the catalyst. It required confidence, a little bit of bravery and determination. But before I could bring any of that to the party, it required initiative. The first step. The one that more often than not needs to be taken alone.
I don’t need anyone to set the pace for me. I’m the one with my hand on the throttle.
While my swim only lasted about 40 minutes, the high from forging ahead despite the less than hospitable conditions, remaining centered and in the moment so I could truly enjoy the murky uncertainty of it all, and accomplishing my goal lasted all night.
I called my Mom as soon as I got to the car to give her the blow by blow. I was jacked. The whole day had been a big confidence booster on many levels. I shared my tale and we said farewell with love. Seconds later, before I had backed out of my parking spot, Mr. Jackpot called. 15 minutes later we were sharing a Zin and three salads at Rose’s Cafe. We recounted our tales of recent water adventures, mine in the bay and his a coastal journey to deliver a yacht to Vancouver, BC. We laughed. We relaxed. It was like old times.
Because we both tended to our need to be in Nature. A little self-care has a way of righting many a ship.
Nature wasn’t done with me that day. I arrived home much later than I had anticipated. My shelter cat, who shall also remain anonymous and forthwith go by the name of High Maintenance Kitty, or HMK, met me at the door doing his best impersonation of Linus. The parfum de skunk was righteous and ripe.
The next night my kitchen looked like someone had been murdered in it and I heard voices. Mr. Jackpot had a hand in it all.
I’ll be swimming in the bay on Tuesday. Unless something crazy-nautical happens I’ll be back at the keys tomorrow night (technically tonight as it’s 1:40AM). Can’t wait any longer than that to continue my tale.
PS: As Whitney looms, please take the time to follow me on Twitter. Many updates between posts as I venture inland to meet the mountain. The button is to the right. Right over there…
PPS: All comments in the queue will be answered in the morn…thank you for your patience.