Cape Cod Bay swim, part 2
by, August 25th, 2012 at 08:59 PM (1503 Views)
When I had imagined this swim beforehand, I was particularly excited about getting to swim straight into the sunrise. I had pictured a dark night followed by one of those glorious pink-and-orange extravaganzas unfolding ahead as I stroked eastward towards Provincetown, with maybe some overwrought movie orchestration swelling in the background for good effect. The reality was more subtle, not to mention quieter. With the cloud cover, the blackness surrounding us gradually gave way to a palette of blues and greys. All was calm and peaceful, and I felt a sense of wonder and satisfaction of having stroked along until daylight.
We continued to feed every 30 minutes. During my previous swims I had fed from accompanying kayaks, with my feeds stored either on the kayak itself or handed off to the kayaker by crew on a nearby boat. Either way, the kayaker simply handed the appropriate container to me. In this swim, however, there was no kayaker alongside us, so we received feeds directly from the boat. To accomplish this, I had brought along a length of rope with a carabiner knotted to the end; bottles could be clipped to the carabiner and thrown into the water near me, and retrieved after I was done with them. Solid foods, and anything else I needed from the boat, could be handed off via a telescoping fishing net that I had brought along.
Among the net handoffs were fruit purees or homemade gels every 2 hours, and an asthma inhaler plus an ibuprofen-stuffed marshmallow every 4 hours. The latter I put in a small ziplock bag, to the top of which I had attached loops of tape to make them easy to open with wet hands. Once I dropped my marshmallow in the water, but it still tasted ok.
Feed gear: (clockwise from upper left): rope; net; push-up pop mold for homemade gels; asthma inhaler and marshmallow in easy-to-open ziplock bag; fruit puree (aka baby food); thermos for hot feeds; bottle for cold feeds
After the sun had been up for an hour or so, it broke through the clouds to become an orange glow ahead of us. Since we were headed eastward, its orange reflection in the waves created a glowing path for us as we swam along. I recalled some Old English poem which describes a ship sailing along the sun-road (Old English, like present-day German, likes to squish nouns together to form compound words). I felt a new appreciation for that image, and delighted in our journey along this modern sunroad for a couple of hours, until the sun rose higher in the sky and the effect disappeared.
Swimming along the sunroad (photo credit R. Davies)
The non-stinging jellyfish that had glowed so brightly during the nighttime hours were still with us, pulsing under the surface at depths ranging from about 20 inches—just close enough to caress my fingertips now and again—to as far down as I could see. The water seemed very clear, and I could see their bodies quite well. Although I usually breathe every 2 or 3 strokes, sometimes I would string together several stroke cycles without a breath just to focus on their movements. I remembered the morning’s factoid about sunfish eating jellyfish, and tried my best to send a telepathic message to any sunfish in the area: Come swim by us! Plentiful buffet here, free for the taking! It didn’t work—if any sunfish were nearby, they didn’t show themselves.
Every now and again I thought about sharks, but never in a fearful they-must-be-nearby-and-looking-to-dine-on-me way. Instead, I thought about how cool it was that other big fish were out there, sharing the same water with us, and the idea made me feel peaceful and connected to something big and wondrous. I have no idea in retrospect how my usually skittish self managed to be that sanguine during the swim—all I can say is that on that day, I felt like the ocean was exactly where I should be, and that no harm could come to me there.
As we swam eastward the water seemed to gradually grow warmer—after the swim I found out the temperatures ranged from the initial 63 to a high of 72 somewhere near the end. (Rondi recorded water temps every 30 minutes, along with our stroke rates and feedings, for our swim logs). When I felt the temps getting warmer I took my earplugs out and tucked them in the sides of my suit, just in case I needed them again. I had also started out the swim double-capped, and took one off somewhere along the way and tossed it in the boat. At 7˝ hours in I asked to switch from warm to cold liquids for my feeds. (I had prepared four hours’ worth of each to start, so that Rondi wouldn’t have to do any mixing when it was dark, then had concentrates that could be mixed with hot or cold water as needed for the rest of the swim).
During one of my feeds during the middle of the swim I looked behind me, then in front of me, and was struck that I could see land in neither direction. I looked again, enjoying the feeling of having swum beyond what I knew, and heading to a place beyond my perception. Although this swim was defined by its endpoints—a crossing from Province to P-town—I didn’t go into it assuming that I would make it to the end, or determined to do so at any cost. I wanted to swim longer than 6˝ hours, my previous PR, but beyond that who knew? Rather than find out how far I could swim, I simply wanted to find out how long my desire to swim, and my ability to do so happily, could last. With a swim this long, I figured that I would either find a definite answer to that, for reasons that were fixable or not, or else I would find out that the answer was “pretty darn long!” Any of those scenarios would help me make a more informed decision about what sorts of swims might suit me best going forward.
So when I saw land in neither direction, I was reminded of one of the main attractions of this swim to me: the possibility of simply swimming and swimming to my heart’s content. And so far, I was feeling very content in the water, stroking along happily and wishing for nothing more than to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.
(The following day I discovered that this inability to see land in either direction was probably due to either the cloudiness of the day, or being at swimmers-eye level. On a boat on a clear day, retracing our route, I could see land in both directions from the middle of the bay. Still, it was a inspiring moment during the swim!)
Soon enough, during one of our feeds Rondi pointed out P-town’s Pilgrim Monument in the distance—the only structure of any height on that otherwise flat spit of land. That was where we were headed. I took off my goggles and squinted towards where she was pointing, and could just make it out. I felt excited that our destination was visible. But between visible and there still lay many miles.
Cape Cod Bay swim, part 3