On Saturday June 28th I met up with FeLady, Mr. FeLady and their friends Mr. and Mrs. Chico to take my second shot at swimming from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park without getting eaten by a Shark. It was the FeLadies 5th swim. Mrs. Chico is the smart one of the group and was just along to socialize and be our sherpa. Her husband is the loony one in the family and was also out for Sharkfest #5.
As you can see, Cheryl and I suited up in sushi just to make things a little more interesting. Were we being chums or would we be chum? That was the question. Interestingly enough, both of us had had fantasies that the event might be canceled due to low visibility. No such luck. The skies were gray and there was wind but you could see just fine.
We suited up in neoprene and headed over to the ferry. This is a fairly long walk that must really amuse the tourists. Where else can you see 800+ wetsuit clad people and 20 or so non-wetsuit nut cases marching along one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions? Fisherman’s wharf’s finest hour if you ask me. Not that it took an hour to walk to the ferries but it does take about 15 – 20 minutes. It’s a good time to take a few deep breaths and get in touch with the reality that you are about to jump off a boat in dark and very cold water and swim for quite a while.
The ride out is the ride out. More time to panic if you don’t mind your mental machinations. I did not panic. I trusted myself and my experience and tried not to think about how badly I wanted to run out of the water at Couer d’Alene where the water temp was at least 1 or 2 degrees warmer. I kid you not. Sharkfest allows neoprene hoods but not booties. I had neither. I did have 2 caps, though.
T-minus no more time left and we are at the door with the guy yelling “JUMP!”. As soon as I hit the water I hear some woman from the other ferry screaming over and over and over “WAHHHHH! WAHHHHH ! WAHHHHH!”. I really wanted to yell “STOP THAT – YOU ARE TIPPING MY WAH”* but I knew she could never hear me over the din of her own terror and besides I figured she was one of the nut jobs with no wetsuit so who was I to criticize?.
We lined up at the kayaks and waited and waited and waited and waited some more for the horn to blow. Finally something happened and we all started swimming and that’s when things got really dicey. First of all it meant that it was time to put my face in the ice bucket – ow. Second of all I soon discovered that it was very, very rough out there.
My last recollection of being tossed around by water was when I was a kid playing in the surf at the beach on Long Island sound. Scary but I could touch the bottom. Not here. The water was sort of roiling and rough and I think there were currents to deal with. All I could do was poke my head up once in a while and try to find the 2 towers I was sighting on. The problem is that I’m not good l at stopping and looking around. I just want to keep swimming and swimming but I have no skill at all in holding a line. Can you spell z-i-g z-a-g?
So the swim went like this – zig, zag, roll, bounce, blub, blub, blub, swim, swim,swim, look up, correct, zig, zag, blub, blub, blub…. you get the idea. I drank quite a bit of salt water. I’d draw you one of those amusing pictures but honestly I have no idea. I just kept going. I was gratified to find myself not all alone after 15 minutes like I was last year. I could always look up and spot yellow caps and boats and that gave me great comfort. In fact, there was a guy in a speedo (crazy bastard!) who I met up with repeatedly. I knew he was making the best time he possibly could for shore so I took that as a good sign.
The amazing thing about an event like this is that all you can do is keep trying to move forward no matter how totally unnatural it is and let me assure you, clawing at water from a horizontal position to gain forward momentum and trying to breath and not panic is about the most unnatural thing I’ve ever done. That’s the part I love. It is positively surreal – no drugs needed!
At some point I realized that I could see the porches on the building I was sighting on and then I could see the orange buoy on the lead boat and I knew I was actually making progress. Then I could see the seawall and the masts of the C.A.Thayer and I swam harder and there was the speedo guy. I probably headed more to the left of the entrance to Aquatic Park than I needed to but there is a current that will pull you back toward it so it’s better to head left than to try to hit the thing dead on.
Finding that opening and getting through it was a kind of relief you feel only when the traffic jam you are stuck in breaks up in just enough time for you to make your flight. It’s just like that. In that moment you know you will get to the shore and get out of that water and you will live to tell the tale. Last year I was so knocked out I couldn’t even find the buoys that mark the exit but not so this time. I saw those buoys, made a bee line and finally realized that my hand was hitting sand and I was in about 12 inches of water. HUZZAH! I stood up and ran out on the stubs at the end of my legs. My feet had checked out of service about 10 minutes into the swim.
As soon as I stood up I turned around and was elated to see the waters of Aquatic Park chock full of swimmers who were coming in behind me. My time was not so great and I was 15 out of 18 in my AG (FeLady was 9th – TOP TEN!!) but I was 171 out of 223 women (FeLady was numbah 100!) compared to last year when I was 162/209. So I moved up a few slots. The important thing is that I lived, trust me.
There were really 2 great lessons in this experience. The first lesson is that if you just keep going and don’t give up you can get there (absent any medical issues like hypothermia or broken bones). I used that thought extensively on Sunday when I decided to climb Mt. Diablo after riding 35 or 40 miles. I wanted to quit and just head down the hill but I kept envisioning orange buoys and shore and I kept pedaling and I got where I needed to be. The second lesson is that FeLady and I are chums. Not chum – chums. We had a great time together.
*ShoGun reference. I think that was the phrase. Does anyone else remember?