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Strait of Juan de Fuca: an announcement

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The Strait of Juan de Fuca separates Vancouver Island, BC from Washington and connects the Puget Sound and Salish Sea to the Pacific Ocean. At its narrowest point, the Strait is 11.6 miles wide. Like the Strait of Gibraltar, it is oriented east-west and hosts challenging winds, currents, and sea life with mountain ranges rising from both coasts. My swim is set for late July and, if successful, will be the seventh swim crossing of this waterway[1]. Planning a transnational swim has been an amazing adventure; its a feat thats made me realize merely jumping in to start the swim will be a huge victory.

But this isnt just a swim report. This is also a love story. However, the fair maiden is not played by swimming as youd expect. Thats old hat; you dont need to hear that story again. No, this time the object of my affection isSeattle.

The idea for this swim popped into my head sometime in mid-December, just after Id arrived in Seattle from New York with all my belongings packed into a half-filled station wagon. At that point, Juan de Fuca was just a twinkle in my eye. What gave the idea some body was a visit with a Seattle native turned New Yorker, marathon swimmer Caitlin R. Growing up in the Pacific North West, Caitlin had already given thought to the seemingly endless possibilities for open water swims the Puget Sound offers, and it was inspirational to find someone to share ideas with, especially someone so encouraging. A sense of adventure: something I love about Seattle.

Seattle in the winter is dark and dreary, the omnipresent cloud blanket blocks out what little daylight there is at this latitude. Wet and cold, its downright British, yet somehow an outdoor attitude persists in a way I never found on the East Coast. On 5 January, I headed to a vacant swimming beach in Seward Park, Lake Washington for my first day of training. The beach was empty, but the paths were full of joggers, dog walkers, and parents putting Christmas present tricycles together. Despite the 40F temps, people wanted to be outside. Outdoorsy-ness: something I love about Seattle.

There are two reasons I began outdoor training in January. First, when it comes to training, $3 per swim is the most Ill happily pay (my entire training costs in NYC for MIMS last year didnt break $210 dollars), and there is so much free open water here to be had in Seattle. Second, the water temperatures, while cold, are consistent. The Puget Sound was 46F in January and will be 55F in August. What better cold water environment could you ask for than one that has such a stable temperature range? Beautiful beaches, you say? Check. Consistency: something I love about Seattle.

As planning the swim got into full swim in March, a new side of Seattle showed itself. Id made a few friends at the beach and as swimmers they were naturally supportive of my plan. What I did not expect was how supportive non-swimmers would be. Surprisingly few Pacific North Westerners have ever asked me: Are you crazy? A typical post-swim conversation with passersby goes something like: [stop walking] How long? Nice job. [keep walking]. Compared to reactions I get from people elsewhere, regardless of water temperature (You mean you actually *want* to swim in that ocean/lake/river?), well, Seattle just seems to get it. Encouragement: something I love about Seattle.

Seattle, with its outdoorsy, encouraging ways has kept me believing this swim is possible. And planning this swim is what has kept me sane. What really kicked the planning into high gear was a grad school rejection letter[2]. For nine months, Id been dreaming of Scripps physical oceanography program as a means of redirecting my career away from heavy civil engineering. Also as a means of moving to San Diego. On that Saturday morning, while plying the waters of Alki Beach, I realized the oceanography I want to do is swim planning, and a grad school rejection wasnt a huge loss. Since then, most of my free time has been spent on a phone or computer or airplane tray table working on this swim. Ubiquitous, cozy cafs: something I love about Seattle.

Seattle was meant to be a stepping stone; it isnt where I planned on ending up. Im still transient, I still live in hotels, and I still travel out of town for work every few days, but Ive surrendered my New York license and Im slowly accepting the feeling of home I get every time I return here. All of this swimmable water (Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Salish Sea) is so surprisingly underutilized by swimmers, but perhaps its this off the-map feel that makes swimming here so exciting. Seattle, I think I love you.

The rest of the story is about the swim itself.


[1] Please feel free to verify this. A summary of my research is available on openwaterpedia.com and will be covered in future posts.

[2] Who sends rejection letters on a Saturday morning???

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Comments

  1. knelson's Avatar
    All of this swimmable water (Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Salish Sea) is so surprisingly underutilized by swimmers
    Because it's too damn cold for most of us!

    Good luck in your endeavor. Sounds like a great swim!
  2. pwb's Avatar
    Great start to what I hope is a great tale of a man and the sea. Good luck.
  3. jaadams1's Avatar
    And I thought the lakes were almost too cold in mid-summer, and that's even in Eastern Washington where it's warmer!! I guess I'm a weinie!!!