Monday, April 12, 2010


You find the moment in the strangest places, and hardly ever where you’re looking for it.

As the Alcatraz and Golden Gate swim weekend rotates to its new position behind me, it makes the transformation that everything makes, from a series of moments to a collection of moments. I’m now free to view those moments in any order or priority I want. I like to set the viewer on random, but once in a while a single moment will rise to the top, not because it’s a better moment, but maybe because it sums up all the others so well.

The swims were epic, which is the word we adventure dorks like to use for “miserable at the time but awesome once everything turns out OK.” The Saturday swim from Alcatraz had us jumping off a seriously tilted boat (the spectators on the upper deck needed to see the action on the port side, after all) into a flotilla of the Dolphin Club's escort kayaks and Zodiacs (it looked like an Earth-friendly D-day) and surprisingly warm (56 degrees; these things are relative) and pretty choppy water. The real challenge was that the flood tide (the tide flowing into the bay, from our right to our left) was stronger than expected. The big concern was supposed to be the ebb tide (left to right, following the flood), because it was stronger than usual from the snowmelt and had the potential to push us past the entrance to the harbor and seaward. So the plan was to cheat to the left, and the result was a free ride way, way to the left. So we swam a little farther than planned – swim times were about 50% longer than last year’s. But out of 80-some swimmers, only one reached shore aboard a boat instead of their own power.

The after-swim wrap-up was one of the most impressive parts of the weekend. Did I mention that this swim was a function of, and fundraiser for, SwimFAST? This was all about the Foundation for Aquatic Safety and Training, which teaches kids to swim and therefore prevent drowning deaths. It’s a part of a youth swim program in Phoenix called Swim Neptune. So most of the swimmers were kids. A few adults, like me, were along for the thrill, challenge and adventure as well, and the South End Rowing Club provided a near 1-to-1 ratio of escort swimmers for the kids. There’s something about wrapping up a swim like that, then waiting to receive your finisher’s plaque and t-shirt until after the kids get theirs. And I do mean kids. The first wave was kids under 10 years old. Five years ago at the same age, each would have been the youngest in history to do that. There were nine of them.

Sunday’s swim across the Golden Gate almost didn’t happen. The bad weather had turned downright snotty, and the swim was almost canceled. We took the boat to the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge while Bay swimming legend Bob Roper and other experts from the South End Rowing Club watched conditions. When they saw a brief window of opportunity, we lined up and dove in. Go … go … go … it was like airborne infantrymen leaving a plane (back to D-day!), with waves roaring as loudly as the propellers on any DC-3. It was an intimidating start to an intimidating swim. I’d estimate the chop at four to five feet, and from any direction. Sometimes your catch and pull would catch and pull nothing but air. Sometimes your recovery arm would never break the surface. It was scary. It was hard work. It was splendid. Somehow approaching the boat bouncing in the waves off Lime Rock was a bit of disappointment as much as it was a relief. Well, eventually a relief. The climb aboard was even a little epic.

There were myriad moments within those moments. But The Moment, the moment that summed them all up, took place in the hotel elevator. I had showered and warmed up, we'd packed up and we were headed out. We shared the elevator with a couple of sailors who, judging by the graphics on their jackets, had been part of the regatta we steamed past on our way home from the swim.

I asked one of them, “You’re round-the-world sailors?”

He replied, “Workin’ on it, mate.”

I said, “Whoa. You guys impress the hell out of me.” Because they do.

He deflected that as best he could, and when the doors opened and I headed out with the luggage, I heard Patty behind me telling him, “This from a guy who swam across the Golden Gate a couple of hours ago.”

“This morning?”

“This morning.”


Blimey, indeed. That’s exactly the kind of weekend it was. The kind of life this is. Blimey.


Anonymous said...

This had me grinning ear to ear. Congrads! I can just picture all the mini-swimming champs...what a great program. Everyone should know how to swim.

I think you have a great t-shirt in the making here:

ADVENTURE DORK:“miserable at the time but awesome once everything turns out OK.”

Liz said...

Though from SE Michigan, found myself at McCormack & Schmick's overlooking Alcatraz on Saturday evening. Thought of you. Glad all went well.