We’re a little late adding spring. The equinox found me traveling to Nevis / St. Kitts in the Caribbean. The purpose ? Swimming the “narrows” between the two islands, a distance of 2.5 miles (4K). Here’s a little log that describes the journey…
8 July 2016
We hiked up Lost Creek, above the Rio Grande Reservoir which is about 5 miles long. That’s twice the length of the Nevis / St. Kitts Channel Swim. As my husband and I drove upward along the steep drop off to the water’s edge, I could only think, “I can do that.” It’s seven months away and I’m already swimming 1.5 miles. In a pool. Not the same as in the ocean, with no lanes, no ropes, no seen bottom, only blue water, currents, and the unknown.
The Lost Creek trailhead starts at 9,700 feet. Upward the trail winds through aspen and spruce forest, then it opens into a meadow and spontaneously bringing to mind “The hills are alive, with the sound of music.” In fact, sung, in a very bad voice. I could see Julia Andrews skipping over the hillock in her dirndl warbling the joyous words. We took my mother to see the film in cinescope on Mother’s Day a long time ago. Secretly my sister wrote and asked if Julie would be her mother. There was something about making cute matching costumes out of curtains that grabbed her.
The peaks in the San Luis Valley, home of the headwaters of the Rio Grande, even in early July still had tatters of snow remaining laterally couched in crevices shaded from the sun, defying the warm, high altitude summer. Winded and tired legs despite the beauty, thoughts persisted, “You can do this.” Not the climb. The swim. Iit seems everything relates to the swim.
July 9, 2016
Serena Williams won her 22nd major today and as she entered her second set, the determination in an already determined and amazingly accomplished woman set in. The serves were lightening bolts. Her zone had arrived. At 32, she is still beginning. At 63, the age I’ll be when the swim arrives, almost double. I wonder why at this late stage of the game, I’m interested in the challenge.
Maybe it’s the water. Water is life. It’s a place I’ve felt so comfortable, supported, so surrounded by softness, bouyant and weightless, that when I need to escape water is my element. But what am I escaping? What is driving me to spend hours now, in the pool and searching for open water, in order to have not only the physical strength to swim a relatively short distance but still, finish.
14 July 2016
A truck plowed into celebrants at the Bastille Fireworks in Nice. So far 75 reported fatalities. Has random violence ever been at such a peak? Last week, a sniper shot (5) police officers at a rally for “Black Llves Matter.” Those people are protesting the seeming unchecked shooting of primarily black people in traffic stops. Having just finished “Beloved” it’s astounding that the Civil War issues are still at the forefront of our societal patterns. Yet, are we really that bad off? The barrage of media messaging supports the negative and yet, my life, my white life, is pleasant. Growing a garden, walking the dog, planning trips and outings with my husband. Getting stronger for a swim. Does the suffering in the world minimize the small joys? If I am not suffering at this moment, does it make my life any less meaningful?
29 September 2016
A season has passed. I’ve registered! The commitment is made, air and hotel reservations done. There’s a change in my body and mind. I’ve effectively stopped drinking alcohol. The workouts get easier. Strokes are being changed, streamlining, becoming more efficient. Laps have eclipsed the 2.5 mile mark. I know it’s possible now. What is amazing is the focus and anticipation it brings out. There is something magical about this goal. Transformative. I own this thing. The election draws closer and the noise is ratcheted up but it’s been a personal choice not to listen, or watch. My focus has been to register voters since the spring. Encourage democracy.
19 January 2017
The election happened. The “investiture” as they say in France is tomorrow. Walking the labyrinth at Museum Hill. Space clearing. Communal uplift. Non-judgement. All things needed. Today swam 2.5 (little more) in one hour fifty minutes. It’s not possible in the open water, that time, at least I don’t expect that, but it’s the mental game of staying for focused on efficiency, breathing every three strokes, using physics to push my body forward. Awareness. After a month off, slacking off in Europe, drinking and eating, the first time back in the pool was humbling. Muscles aching, stiff wondering is they were to be expected to respond to the demands, out of breath, sloppy strokes. There’s a relationship with the body that becomes a conversation. ” I’ll stay with you if you stay with me.” “We can go faster if we work together.” “I’ve committed to this many laps today, let’s go for it.”
In two weeks the times have improved, the realization that pushing harder is possibly. It’s the mind that stands in the way. I’m tired after time in the water today but also uplifted. High. It’s a good feeling although my legs are tired. A part of me wants to lay down, but I can sleep tonight. I plot the next time in the pool. Not every day right now. Is this being lazy? It seems like giving myself recovery time is good. The last ten laps I imagine the ocean bottom becoming visible, perhaps a shell, some fish, a coral reef. Is there a finish line in the water or will I have to run out of the water to some kind of finish? Imagining the land rising and people as I try to navigate the straightest possible course. Imagining the push. The arms and legs, the breathing working together. The mind on board, now dedicated to not standing in the way but becoming effortlessly transparent and supportive, not allowing fatigue to register, only patterning the side to side movement of the strokes, head down, one eye out, legs moving. It can be done.
March 28, 2017
It’s done. In 1:43… Second in my over-60 age division. The day was lovely, with “a bit of a chop.” I started in the middle of the pack, lots of churning, arms and legs, navigation the anchor lines of the boats in the tiny harbor…then the pack spread out and I remained pretty much alone most of the traverse. Sighting the peak, feeling the water get choppier, deeper (although you never lost sight of the bottom – sea fans, fish, an eagle ray – sadly no turtles for me) and then when I breathed right, the Atlantic Ocean, to the left, the Caribbean Sea. Currents and correction. The wind was evident because the swimming bouy (a required accoutrement ) was bobbing and occasionally getting the way, but not in a big way. As the water became choppier, I could see others bobbing (to my left, far left and I wondered what are they doing so far off course?) and there was an occasional kayak monitoring, grateful they could see me.
My trepidation prior to the race only surfaced when we crossed the channel to snorkel in St. Kitts. It’s a large opening in big water and the realization of just how small one person would be in the mass of water and space gave me pause. But then I remembered the preparation. It would be ok.
Pausing briefly at about the three quarters mark, I ate a goop packet and looked back at the distance travelled. This was a recommendation by Karlyn Pipes who gave two workshops, both of which I took, prior to the swim. They were great at boosting my confidence and also meeting other swimmers. She emphasized “enjoy the swim” and she should know; multiple world record holder in countless masters distances.
Then I saw the finish line arch…one of those inflatable things with flags around it. I began to hear the PA system. But the vision did not seem to get closer. It was stayed suspended in the middle distance. I seemed to be in a current pool where you never got anywhere. Finally, the bottom seemed to be closer, the sound louder, a boat anchored to my left, (along with a swimmer who passed me) then I watched her and gauged the bottom – still too deep to get out. Advice from Karlyn Pipes was not to stop swimming until your hand touched the bottom. And finally it did.
The other advice had been to start kicking hard about 100 yards out to let your legs know they would be required to do more than paddle. They would have to support weight. I prayed they wouldn’t fail me and they didn’t. I trotted across the timing mat and there was my husband with water, camera and a smile as big as mine. It had been his journey too. We did it together. The non-swimmer and the mermaid.
The aftermath. Someone had organized an informal celebratory party at a beach bar down the road. We sat with a Masters group from Nashville who we had become friends with and also a new couple from the Cayman Islands. Then we went further down the road to The Yachtsman Grill. Had celebratory drinks and a sunset dinner. Sleep came with dreamy visions of water, sounds of water and the sweet savoring of accomplishment.