Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Just Keep Swimming...
See Kelly. See Kelly swim!
That is the opening line of my new swimmer's page. Now, in addition to this blog, my beloved e-mail account, my new Facebook wall, my cell phone, and about three street addresses I use regularly in spite of the fact that I live transiently out of my Toyota Sienna, I now also have a Swimmer's Page to manage! (follow the links on http://www.savebay.org/ if you dare) Is it summer? Is it sunny? Are my kids hungry? Who cares?! I am busy on my laptop... I love these things, I do admit, tho I'd be happy to throw my phone in the lake.*
But summer means swimming to me and swimming means Saving the Bay so log off I must. This is my ninth year to swim the 1.7 miles across Narragansett Bay, the waters of my youth and beyond. Rhode Island is the Ocean State and I grew up on Aquidneck Island, the original Rhode Island as you may have learned from an earlier post I ranted about. I have always been surrounded by water. But even you folks in, say, Iowa, really oughta learn to swim because the sea level IS rising after all and there once was this really big flood.. I love to swim. And other than that one time when I inadvertentely wore 17 pounds on my scuba weight belt I have always been perfectly at home in the water. The saltier the better. I spent half of my youthful summers at second beach riding waves and floating with my ears just below the water line drowning out the busy summer beach noise and watching the gulls fly overhead in search of someone's sandwich to steal. The other half of my summer was spent on our lake in Maine where there were no waves and the water tastes sweet. We waterskiied because in those days there was no easy tubing option and we swam to the raft where we practiced our diving skills and where I think I was 20 when I finally got up the nerve to do a back dive off the edge. We played King of the Raft for hours, screaming no and meaning yes to being highland flung off the edge by our teenage heart throbs. But, I digress...
Swimming, yes, that was it. I love to swim, did I mention that? It is meditative for me and even though my shoulders are a bit tight from swimming about a mile the past three days in a row, I think I could swim forever. But I am prone to exaggeration. Save the Bay is a great organization dedicated to restoring Narragansett Bay and the surrounding waters, educating folks of all ages about the salty and brackish waters that surround us and the other critters who call it home and scrubbing it clean of all the nasty things we have seen fit to discard in it, out of sight, out of mind-ishly. This year is the 33rd Swim across the Bay which is the largest fundraiser for Save the Bay. Each of us 3 or 400 swimmers have to raise at least $300 to get a number sharpied onto our bulging biceps, don our brightly colored caps, wade across the seaweed covered rocks guarded closely by the War College and start swimming. Heading out in four different colored waves and escorted by a fleet of brightly colored kayaks, it makes for what must be a beautiful sight. Fortunately they stop all boat traffic in the bay while we make our way across so the best view is saved for those driving across the Newport Bridge. One year my nieces were riding across the bridge and spotted us swimming. "There's Aunt Kelly, saving the bay!" they said. And for me, that is the primary reason I do it.*
But the other one is that we have so much fun training and, did I mention I love to swim? I play, I mean "train," with a group of friends and one or another of my children. We meet for training swims at a variety of beaches and shorelines around Narragansett Bay and beyond so that each of these swims is an adventure in itself. Last year I swam with Joyce and Eve in the ancient emerald green Mayan waters of Lake Atitlan. This year I swam with Micah in the clear, turquoise waters along the white sandy shores of Playa Conchal below our house in Costa Rica. Every year I meet my friends in the greenish waters of second and third beach on our island or at Mackerel Cove on the next island over, Jamestown. This year Rachel and I swam at Narragansett Beach for the first time. We typically do a Provincetown Swim for Life in September from Race Point to the marimba band playing in drag in the waters below the Boatslip at the finish line. I swim in the sweet, brown waters of Pocasset Lake in Maine and in Siltcoos Lake in Oregon. When necessary, we enter the chlorine human habi-trail of any nearby pool where we talk and flip our way through lap after lap with our fins and kickboards. Like so many things in life, the journey to the swim can be more fun than the destination itself.
But for me, being in the middle of Narragansett Bay in my swimsuit and Save the Bay cap is undoubtedly a worthwhile thrill. As I swim across to Potter's Cove in Jamestown, every time I turn my head to the left in my alternate breathing pattern I see the Newport Bridge moving across the water with me. To my right sits Gould Island which has an interesting history including as the former training site of the Harvard football team but which is currently owned by the military and used to test torpedos or whatever else they dream up. I make a point of stopping midway between the bridge's two lofty spires to warm the waters of my wetsuit, if you know what I mean, and take it all in. I always think the kayakers are lucky with their vantage point. In the years that Andy kayaked next to me he spent the whole swim talking to other paddlers and I spent the whole time vaguely hearing him through the water in my ears and exhaling with my breath, "What?" to which he would reply, "Nothing."*
I ushered in this new century with my first swim in 2000. Isaiah was a baby and I had gone back to the YMCA pool to get in shape where I met Rachel and Liz and they convinced me to do the swim. That year most of the swimmers got stuck in a rip tide and I swam in place for an hour trying to get into Potter's Cove before we all finally realized through our increasing hypothermia that we had to abandon our course. We cut diagonally across the tide and climbed onto the rocks south of our destination, hiking over to the cove and jumping back in to swim to the finish line. It took me hours to warm up and when I did I realized my numb feet were all sliced up from the barnacle-encrusted rocks we traversed. But I was hooked. The next year I was back out there swimming and have jumped in every year since. Hannah has joined me for three years and Micah makes his debut this year. Christiana does not love to swim long distances but I am hopeful that Isaiah and Bella will join me some day. I look forward to the once-a-year chiropractic adjustment I get before I swim and the free massage waiting for me at the end. I have a collection of great beach towels they wrap us in after each swim and have given away a hefty stack of swimming t-shirts.*
Somewhere in Costa Rica right now a Tico is sporting a Save the Bay t-shirt. A tourist is walking along Playa Conchal saying, "Well look at that, Martha, that towel is from Save the Bay! Isn't that in Rhode Island??" And I am preparing to swim across the lake on a sunny day in Maine. Nato ergo sum. I swim, therefore I am.
P.S. "All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath." ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
P.P.S. Usually the only press I ever get is when I am sporting an attractive swim cap and goggles. (Thanks John Martin for the great photo!) A couple weeks ago we made a commercial for Save the Bay where my hair is actually blowing in the wind for a change. I will attach the link when it hits the streets! Sure to be a YouTube hit...