Friday, April 27, 2007

Worth an experiment, anyway

While I was in Anchorage over the weekend, Geoff cleaned out the storage closet and threw a bulky "Back to Utah" pile in the hall. On top of this pile was Geoff's old river rafting wetsuit - a full body neoprene neon thing that's pink and blue and, as I remember, makes him look like an ambiguously gay surfer hippy from the 80s. I swam for an hour at the local pool yesterday and thought about this wetsuit. Then I thought about it some more in the evening. Then, this morning, I tried it on. Geoff is taller and leaner than I am, and I've admittedly put on a little extra chunk since winter, but I was able to squeeze into the thing. I stood in front of the mirror for a while, wondering about possibilities.

To be honest, I have been thinking a lot about open water swimming recently. I live along a long stretch of protected Pacific water known as the Gastineau Channel. The tides are large but the waves are not. So the surf is often glass-calm, especially along the shoreline, but there are some realities that definitely make swimming daunting. There are sea lions, salmon sharks, the occasional humpback or killer whale, and, scariest of all ... the average water temperature is 42 degrees.

I can't find much information about swimming in the Gastineau. But it has been done. It would probably take a better wetsuit than Geoff's pink nightmare to last longer than a few minutes, but I don't know. When I lived in Homer, guys used to go surfing in January in the frigid water of Kachemak Bay, and they had some pretty rangy wetsuits.

Plus, I have mentioned before that I have a natural ability for swimming (survival long-term swimming, not fast swimming.) I also have a higher-than-average tolerance for cold water. I first realized it when I traveled through the Yukon and Alaska on a three-month car camping trip. My friends and I would bathe in glacial lakes. They would rush in and out of the water in spurts as they lathered up. I would crawl out a hundred yards or so and float on my back as cold sunlight sparkled off the glass-clear water. I loved those swims. And I would love to swim the Gastineau. Even if it was just for a few seconds off the shoreline of a picnic area as Geoff stood watch with 911 set on speed-dial.

It's not that I need craziness in my life (but who knows ... maybe I do.) And it's not that I can't bear lapping an 80-degree chlorine cesspool ad nauseum or lifting weights at a gym. I just need to get out there again. Hiking is so steep around here that it can be more stressful than pedaling, especially on the downhills, but swimming doesn't cause any pain at all. If it really fits my abilities like I think it could, I may find whole new places to explore, whole new ways to love life. (And, if it doesn't work out, I'm still in the market for a discount sea kayak.)


  1. i love that you're considering this adventure!

  2. Cool! Literally.

    I've got a book for you: Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer, by Lynne Cox.

    I also heard of a group fixing to swim a double crossing of the English Channel.

    I look forward to reading all about your next challenge.

  3. My uncle was a transplant from California and had grown up in the ocean. When he moved up here he was one of those guys wind surfing in Cook Inlet. He said it was some of the most dangerous (and fun) wind surfing he has ever done. So I say you should try it.

  4. I miss sea kayaking. I used to live at the New Jersey shore and would go out all the time. Now it has to be a long weekend thing because I am quite a ways from the ocean.

    People down in NJ swam circumnavigations of Manhattan island... you'd be much better off in the water where you are I'd think!

  5. You live in the best sea kayaking place in the world. Damn...that sounds like fun! It can be a hell of a work out if you make it one too.

  6. you should move, alaska is to cold. there are other earthy places, i think

  7. I almost forgot please explain to me what Goldfish crackers are.

  8. A 9 year old swam from alcatrz to San Francisco this past week. The youngest ever.

    Those wetsuits can be layered ... even pink ones ... with a significant decrease in mobility.

    I think there's a group of Yukon divers to be found on the web with the requisite amout of info about how to get in the water and stay there without dying ...

    I was thinking about a wetsuit the other day since I thinking about getting into a kayak.

  9. I think you can do anything you can set your mind to. However, I think you're being a little hasty in thinking you have to find a whole new pursuit. I think you will find your way back to the bike soon enough.

  10. I think you are just bored, a recreational drug habit might be a better way to go.

  11. i start to shiver when i reach here... wow, is it true there is mr croco in that water?

    it look soo cold, but i think i could get a salmon..

    yummy... salmon belly sushi is nice... with wasabi..

  12. Open water swimming rules! I highly recommend you NOT do it in the old surfing wetsuit. Those things restrict your arm movement. Try it in a real swimming wetsuit- the kind you wear in a triathlon. They are warmer, cause your legs to float and allow for mobility in your arms. Also, you can purchase a neoprene hat for open water swimming. Try or something similar. I wear a neoprene hat until July! Swimming in open water is SO MUCH better than swimming in a pool.

    Another tip- tie a cord around your leg, then tie it to a kickboard. That way, if you get in to trouble swimming by yourself (not really recommended), you can reach for the kickboard. I have also heard of people placing a small orange flag on the kickboard so other people can see them.

    Good luck!


Feedback is always appreciated!