Cold Water Log: Let Year 2 Begin

Swim 2.01
DateOctober 15, 2019
Time in water: 53:46
Water Temp: 53°F / 11.6°C
Air Temp: 43°F / 6°C, sunny, still
Where: Sellwood yeti ramp

One of my joys over the last few months has been my morning swims, which have lately been graced with gorgeous sunrises, lighting up the skies and Mount Hood with oranges and pinks, outlining swimmers’ arms in a bright spotlight of sun, sometimes surrounded by a low fog on the water. I feel incredible gratitude and awe in these moments, so much so that I find it hard to put my face in the water to keep swimming.

The water temps have been steadily dropping, so much that I have skipped a degree or two between swims that are only days apart. Yesterday afternoon, the sun bright and warm, I met up with some folks at Yeti Beach, despite the fact that I was tired from a long run the day before and a hard gym class in the morning. But I needed to see the sun. I needed to feel that water. To see the rays of sunlight making diagonal green shafts under water and lighting up my hands with each stroke. To feel the cold water on my skin, even feel the prickly sensations of cold in my arm pits that I haven’t felt in months.

I have only gone camping once this year and have hardly gone out into the woods at all with my year’s focus on swimming instead of mountain biking. Without my weekly forest baths and gleeful hours on the trail, I feel a deep hollowness with the day to day and an overwhelming sense that I must get out of the city. I’ve been struggling with meaning and purpose more generally, and the one place I’ve found something to hold onto is in these swims.

Again this morning, I decided at the very last moment that I needed to watch the sun rise from the water, so I drove across town to Sellwood. Normally my focus is all about getting in the proper training and a solid workout, but now it seems to be mental health.

And wow what a morning, I can’t even describe how beautiful the light was on the water. I was in awe, every breath, every sight, I felt rushes of joy. _This is it, this is everything. This is why. _Surrounded by friends and new yetis, glowing autumn leaves in the morning light, a river all to ourselves, what more could I possibly want?

Willamette River at Sellwood Bridge, predawn

This is the beginning of year two of my cold water adventure, and everything feels different. This morning it was 43 degrees outside, and 53 in the water. A huge plunge in temps for me, going from 58 or 59 the week before. I wasn’t nervous, I didn’t question it, I just wanted to watch that sunrise. And while I was in the water, despite my hands losing the ability to form a solid paddle, and my lips losing the ability to completely close, I wasn’t concerned. Last year I would have been in a panic, sprinting back and trying to control wild thoughts.

This time, I backstroked so I could watch the wisps of clouds in the sky, and reminded myself I swam two hours at this temp in the spring. I also cursed myself for wearing fins to keep up–I forgot in cold water they dig into my skin. I had hoped to have a slow drawn out exit, Margot style, but I wanted to get the fins off my poor chewed up feet.

While I wasn’t nervous this morning since I made my decision so last minute, I know I would have been if I’d planned on it the night before. Knowing what’s coming almost makes it worse, it’s like my body starts to react way in advance. This happened to me with cyclocross racing, just thinking about it makes me break out in a cold sweat. Honestly that made me not want to race any more. Last year was just about riding the thermometer down to see what I could do; this year I need a new challenge: Finding zen in the water. Not being so nervous ahead of time, not panicking in the water, and letting out a few more ice wolf howls.