Sunday, August 22, 2010

First open-water swim

I was with my friends Cathy and Dan and their two kids on vacation in Acadia National Park, and we were looking for an activity that would fill a couple hours in the late afternoon. My friends had done a hike in the morning and were too tired to do another. So finding the beach at Echo Lake sounded like the perfect solution--not too physically taxing and not too long an activity, either. Plus, it was a sunny day and we weren't sure how long the good weather would last. So to the beach!!

Public beach at Echo Lake in Acadia National Park
Echo Lake beach is a natural sand beach at one end of the lake. The sands were deposited there as a glacier melted (a very long time ago). The beach was clean but crowded. After all, there are only two beaches on Mount Desert Island. The water was chilly but not extraordinarily so. Dan and I and the two kids waded very slowly out to a spot where the water was waist high. This was fairly far from the lifeguard station, and there were buoys that indicated the end of the swimming area. Cathy saw us being wimps and decided to run into the water and entirely submerse herself in the 68 or 70-degree water. I followed suite and lowered the rest of my torso, and finally my head, into the water. It wasn't bad once I was completely wet.

Feeling chilly before my swim
Given that Cathy and her daughter and I are swimmers, Cathy suggested we leave the regulated swimming area and swim across a portion of the lake to some rocks we could see in the distance. I was up for an adventure and quickly agreed, even though I had secretly never been swimming in open water before. We took off, with me in the lead. I found doing freestyle (front crawl) was fun because I could see the lake bottom for a ways across the lake. Medium-sized rocks with golden-brown seaweed extended beneath me in every direction. I stopped once in a while to make sure my two companions were still nearby and to make sure I was still swimming toward the rocks we wanted to get to. When I paused with the swimming, Cathy and her daughter did, too. I guess we all wanted to make sure the others were OK. Of course once I determined that everyone was fine, I felt a little embarrassed for stopping in the first place. But by this time the lake bottom was no longer visible and I knew that the water was now too deep to stand in, and we were only halfway to the rock outcrop. What would happen if I needed to stop swimming--a cramp or worse, a pulled muscle? Those thoughts only crossed my mind a few times because I had enough confidence that I was a strong enough swimmer to make our goal. A little bit of danger is fun, isn't it?

The rock outcropping was a group of giant boulders that had fallen off the cliff above us. Surprisingly, the water was still too deep to stand in, so we simply grabbed hold of the rocks and rested without getting out of the water. I really wasn't tired. We spent about 5-6 minutes resting and then Cathy wanted to go back. We took a different route back, this time closer to shore and in water shallow enough where I could see the bottom. I led again, with Cathy's daughter drafting me the whole way. Is drafting really effective? I guess it is, but I can't imagine it is pleasant. Wouldn't all that turbulence that I produced cause bubbles and dirt suspended in the water to swirl around Lauren's head as she swam just two or three feet behind my wildly kicking legs? I have never seen my kick, so maybe it isn't so wild. In fact, Lauren remarked about how well I was rotating with each stroke. Cathy remarked about my speed, and she couldn't believe that only a year ago I was unable to swim.

I congratulate myself on my first open water swim. We covered 0.45 miles in about 30 minutes. That's a great way to start off, and now I know that those triathlons everyone seems to be doing will not be as impossible for me as I thought just a few months ago. I genuinely think I will sign up for one of those within a year. I'll be ready.

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