I never get seasick. I’ve been 100 miles offshore in a party boat going for tuna in seas that measured 12 feet, on dozens and dozens of deep sea fishing trips for fluke where 5 foot swells went on for 8 hours and off the Na Pali Coast in January on a catamaran in what were described to me as 30 foot swells. I wouldn’t know. While everyone, and I do mean everyone, crew included, got sick I stared a hole through a lone tree on the island. I didn’t dare look at the water. I just know that boat rocked, people hunkered down with their masks on to protect their eyes from the crashing waves, and when the crew brought out the lunch platters everyone rushed to the rails. I didn’t get sick. But when I stepped on land after that harrowing experience I kissed the Earth.
In all my swims in the bay I never felt queasy. I’ve heard more than once that the best place to be when you’re feeling seasick is in the water. So I wasn’t really focused on that being an issue, even if the bay was really rough on the day of the crossing.
The Thursday before the swim, the boys and I met Mr. Jackpot at Aquatic Park. I was going to do a last tune-up before race day. On that Tuesday I did 1.5 miles. I was ready. But my shoulder was really tweaked. So I figured a nice half-mile would work out the kink and keep me limber, but not spent given the effort put forth over the last 10 days.
It was cold that afternoon. Bright with sun, but at 5PM the winds were picking up. I was preparing to change when I felt a wave of nausea sweep through my core, leaving me chilled and quiet. I probably didn’t eat enough, I thought. I hadn’t had much of an appetite the past few days what with all the regurgitation that was going on around me. I wanted to spray Lysol up my nostrils I was so terrified of catching the raging critter that was running rampant through intestines everywhere. I swear, even the cat had it.
15 minutes after I intended to start my swim I called it off. I didn’t have it in me to swallow salt water right then. Just didn’t seem prudent. Something was amiss below. And my shoulder throbbed. I really didn’t need to get in the water. I looked out past the walls of Aquatic Park, toward Alcatraz. I thought of what the bay might look like on the day of the swim. I wondered if it would be a blustery, foggy, cold day, the bay covered with white caps appearing like scarves across the shoulders of each swell. My thoughts went to my shoulder. I’ll have to stroke harder and for a long period of time with little chance for a breather. Then to my gut. What if these waves of nausea are the beginnings of the plague that’s taken up residence in my home?
I have to do this swim. I cannot get sick. I felt my shoulder would benefit from the cold water and definitely had an hour’s worth of stroke in it. But an intestinal virus? To swim the bay with an intestinal virus would be a grand demonstration of poverty of intellect. (You knew I had to slip one of those synonyms in.) I’m a pretty smart girl. I would have to back out. I’d get over it, but I’m sure you know how disappointed I would be. That day would blow. I needed to do that swim. For so many reasons and for some really key people, kittens included.
Between Thursday night and Saturday night I ate 2 bananas and 2 pieces of toast. Had some tea. About half the water I normally consume, no coffee. I felt seasick. Nothing appealed to me, my stomach was too busy pretending it was a 40 footer in a Nor’easter to deal with food. These were not ideal conditions for taking on a 1.5-ish (I think I swam closer to 1.7 miles.) swim. But I could not bail.
The night before the race, my California cousins invited me to a swimmer’s dinner at the St. Francis Yacht Club. I spent the day psyching myself up for it. I avoided food, drank green tea and Longevity tea (another Dragon Herbs fav), and thought healthy thoughts. I praised my intestines for having avoided the mad dash to the toilet. I let the critter know that his timing was off and he’d have to come and infect me some other day that was more convenient.
I still felt seasick.
When I arrived at the yacht club after picking up my credentials at the world’s greatest store, the Sports Basement, I stood out by the water and gazed at Alcatraz. What a perfect setting for the night ahead. The sky was 60s eyeshadow blue, the sun was on full power, the light breeze cooled skin that was hot from rays, not temperature. Even when the mercury is middling or chill, the San Francisco sun can be hot.
Then I thought,
Wow. That’s really far away. I can’t believe I’m going to swim that.
You know that saying on the side mirrors of a car? Object are closer than they appear? Flip that for Alcatraz. It looks way closer than it really is. I’m going to have to cross a lot of water with no wall to grab onto to catch a breath. I started to visualize the swim, being tossed around a bit, hit in the face by waves at just the time I’m gulping air, and just settling into it all. Establishing my pace, melting with the water, and stroke by stroke making my way to shore. My body was bouncing ever so slightly in the cadence of my stroke as I balanced on my wedge heels. One, two, one, two, breathe. One, two, one, two, breathe.
After several minutes I turned to walk toward the entrance to the club. Halfway to the door I noticed an absence of nausea for the first time in two days. I was actually getting kinda hungry. Perfect timing! And a perfect evening as I spent the night laughing and learning with a gathering of people who all share a common respect for the gift of life. A real desire to live fully and with great passion and compassion.
We sat around tables decorated with gummy life preservers, gummy sharks, maps of the bay and large, plastic great whites…which I hoped would remain off shore where they belong come race day. As one of two rookies, I listened to the wisdom of the veterans: When it’s your turn to jump off the boat do not delay or you will get pushed, and swim away immediately after reaching the water so you don’t get jumped on. Hold onto your goggles so they don’t come off on impact. Try not to get kicked in the face. This is all before you even take a stroke.
Being in the bay swimming seemed like a relief compared to disembarking the boat.
I plowed through my salad. I was starving.
We talked about sighting to shore, an area of concern for me. I couldn’t get my mind around the way to use landmarks as guides. If I was aiming for the Sutro radio tower but drifting toward Chrissy Field, how would I then be aiming for the Sutro tower and when would I know that I should switch my aim to the Palace of Fine Arts? If I did it too soon I would be swept out to sea for sure! This dilemma reminded me of the year before I learned how to drive. I would have nightmares about not knowing how far to turn the steering wheel to navigate a curve in the road. I remember asking my Mom, How do you know how far to turn the wheel?
You just know, honey. If you need to turn it more, you do.
In other words, stay in the moment, be fluid. I need to be present and tuned in to the task at hand so I can alter my path in real time, making small adjustments instead of letting something fester and than having to make a huge correction. I experienced this on Whitney. The very nature of the task required my full attention. The same was going to happen with the swim.
The dinner carried on for much longer than anyone thought. It was such fun, but I had to head home to relieve the babysitter that came to care for the boys and check in on my sister who was holed up in a bedroom, too afraid to stand for fear of another mad dash to hurl.
On the drive back to Marin I was full of anticipation and gratitude. The last time I was in Los Angeles to see my cousins they invited me to do the Alcatraz Challenge. To join them and a group of friends who gather in San Francisco every year for the last several years for bragging rights and Auqavit. That simple invite awakened in me a passion for open water swimming and led to some outrageously beautiful encounters. That one simple invitation. That one 2-minute conversation. One that could have easily never happened, but it did. And when it did, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. Whereas about 5 years ago, when the same conversation came up, I recall questioning the sanity of anyone who would swim that stretch of water.
I am a very different girl these days…
I don’t get to see my California cousins regularly, but every time I am with them and their Mom, I am filled with joy. There is a love present that is so simple and pure and genuine. And a shared joy for finding the funny in life, for looking on the bright side. I am so grateful they welcomed me to their seasoned group, and that by living in Marin I will now be able to see them more often. I am so grateful they are my family.
I finally jumped into bed after setting out my clothes and packing my gear. I would get about 5 hours of sleep, if I could fall asleep at all. My adrenaline was waking up just as I was needing sleep. I relaxed my body and thanked my intestines for allowing food and water to pass through at normal speed in the nick of time. I was definitely lacking in hydration, but I at least had some calories in me. I’d be fine in the morning.
When the alarm went off I shot out of bed. Zero reaction time. I have never gotten into my bathing suit and wet suit (I decided to wear it to the waist for the drive into the city.) so fast. I blew off making coffee, drank a coconut water and hit the road in the dark of night. This was it. I was in process. There was no turning back now. Momentum had me. I hadn’t been out of Aquatic Park, but I was about to swim from Alcatraz to shore. A really long swim. In water that could have an attitude.
With eels and stuff.
I decided to focus on my protein bar. Tasty. So glad the appetite returned.
I beat the traffic, found a parking spot directly across from the buses that would take us to the pier to the boat to the open water. It was 5AM when I took up half of my massive leather seat at a table for four on the first bus. Sweet ride for such a short journey. Moments later, a tall man with a gentle smile and a cup of coffee sat across from me. He was wearing a Michigan shirt. Mr. Triathlete went to Michigan. And Mr. Triathlete was in Michigan at a Michigan sponsored alumni summer camp at that very moment. Instead of swimming with me, which was where I so very much wanted him to be. Instead of sitting across from me, sharing a sunrise over a bay we both love.
Instead, the Universe sent his gregarious, hilarious, and happy colleague who had me at, First time for you?
We spent the next 2 hours, from bus to boat, talking non-stop about the race, life, my writing, his amazing charitable work around the world, our families, our physical pursuits, and a recounting of attempts to relieve oneself during an Ironman that had me perched on the pier like a toad ready to leap as I laughed until I cried. I was too consumed to stand.
In that time, we both realized how perfect our meeting was and how it was not happenstance. We knew we were cut from the same cloth. That we would always remain in touch. Even if only every blue moon. He called our meeting providence.
I looked up the meaning a few days later and this was the first definition that appeared:
The protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power.
Once the boat departed for Alcatraz I went to go look for my cousins and friends. I found them gathered around a table stocked with energy chews and power bars. We hugged and high-fived.
I’ll be right back. I want to introduce you all to someone I met on the bus.
I went to get…hmmm…let’s call him Mr. Angel…
As I approached my cousins and their friends, Mr. Angel right behind me, I noticed a few of the guys beaming with recognition at my new pal. At first I was a bit confused. They hugged and shook hands, smiles all around.
They know each other. How hilarious is that. I love how this place works.
The day before, Mr. Angel and a few of the guys shared a cab from registration to their hotels. What are the chances…….
Our gathering was quieted as the boat neared the Rock. We stood silent during the National Anthem. Then began to adjust our goggles and move like cattle toward the shoot. I lingered near the back, hugged Mr. Angel as he moved forward and then fell into step behind my cousin. He jumped first. I looked down and lost sight of him as he hit the water. I stepped to the edge, hoping to watch him emerge a few feet ahead of where he entered the water, but before I could see his head I was pushed off with the words, Go, go, go! ringing in my ears.
For the next 56 minutes I would be on a date with the water. We got to know each other quite intimately during that time.