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.)