Blogs tagged with "ocean"

2017 is here and many of us have a new reality to face. And by "many of us," I specifically mean "those of us who are passionate about the environment." We have a new president who doesn't believe in climate change. I believe science is telling us we have reached a critical state, and we must do everything we can to protect our planet from further abuse. I believe clean and renewable energy is a good idea - for both the environment, the future of energy, and world power-struggles. And as a swimmer, I also believe we must stop polluting our oceans and waterways and destroying the animals that call them their home.

But I'm only one person, and in the last days of 2016, I found the artist in me powerless to resist a call to use my art to illustrate the very issues I feel most passionate about. I'm not sure how it happened, but images made their way into my consciousness, and at times, these images even kept me up all night.

As a result, the most direct and graphic work I've ever created (and perhaps, most disturbing to some), is the following three diptychs of etched linocuts that I made in December 2016:

"Coral Bleaching"

"Bycatch"
"Shark Finning"

If these images inspire people to "Google" the issues, or even better, be mindful of the oceans or the environment, then I feel I've done something with my talent (or lack thereof), and my presence on the earth is not just a waste of resources (which I used to believe).

2017 is also my second year in a new sport, open-water swimming. I started 2016 by conquering my fear of swimming alone in the ocean - in La Jolla Cove. (You may remember the blog about that.) It's been a long time since then, and I've succumbed to hypothermia in one race, overheated in another race, and finished my longest-ever open-water race - the Swim to the Moon 10K in Michigan.

This year, I must conquer the biggest hurdle I face as an open-water swimmer: acclimating to the cold. I wrote about my experiments in cold Lake Erie in September and October, 2016. But that's only the tip of the "iceberg" - the water temperature in those swims was in the mid-60s F, and the water I must eventually face may be well into the 50s.

I have a plan and I will talk about it as it unfolds. In the meantime, I've re-entered the 9-mile swim in the Ocean Games in Ocean City, MD. I vowed to finish it this year and do it as a fundraiser for brain trauma (the cause it supports). The race is in July, and I would be grateful for your support, which you can do through CrowdRise or through the widget in the right column.

2017 is here and many of us have a new reality to face. And by "many of us," I specifically mean "those of us who are passionate about the environment." We have a new president who doesn't believe in climate change.

Last Saturday, I decided to attempt my first real solo open water swim - from La Jolla Cove to La Jolla Shores in southern California.

It wasn't significant because of the distance. It was a mile - a distance I've swum many times in the past, in many bodies of water.

It wasn't significant because it was open water. I've swum many open water swims before - in triathlon races and in triathlon training.

It wasn't significant because it was in the ocean. I've swum in oceans all over - the atlantic coast, the gulf coast, the pacific coast, the Hawaii coast.

It wasn't significant because the water temperature was 57 degrees F. If you read my last blog post, you know I've swum in water more than 10 degrees colder.

It wasn't even significant because of the waves. I've survived swimming in chop so bad that other people drowned the same day.

No. It was significant for ONE reason. I wanted to conquer an irrational fear of swimming alone in the ocean and prove to myself that I would not have an irrational moment of panic.

You see, I grew up in the water. I may have swam before I could walk. My childhood friends called me a fish because I never got out of the pool. On summer days at ocean beaches, I would rebel when my parents dragged me out of the water to eat lunch, or rest, or (God forbid) go home. And I've never been afraid of open water. Well,... except for a little while after I saw Jaws at age 10. During that time, I wouldn't even put my feet in a wading pool lest there be sharks that were somehow transported there (and survived). In my defense, I was 10! And I was not allowed to see scary movies after that.

But, to get back to my story - it's true, swimming in open water, especially the ocean, was something that did not strike fear into my heart as it does many triathletes who stand on the beach in their first ocean swim triathlon. Many times at race starts, I've even found myself talking people through their fear of the ocean and the waves and everything that goes with it. Don't worry, have fun, dive through the waves not over them, try to swim with the swells, and capitalize on the current when you can. But mostly, HAVE FUN.

Because - that's what I always do when I get to swim in the ocean.

But to be fair, I've never really swum in the ocean - or open water for that matter - alone. By myself. I've always been with other people in races or in training groups. If I needed to swim alone, I would parallel the shoreline under the watchful eye of my parents or my husband.

The only time I remember being in open water completely alone, I had a bizarre experience. I was in Utah Lake during the ill-fated inaugural Ironman Utah in 2002. It was my first Ironman. A freak morning windstorm came up and blew swimmers all over the lake - and suddenly I found myself completely alone in the water. When I realized this, I was dumbstruck with panic for about half-a-second. That momentary lapse into fear has never completely left me. Mostly because it baffled me. Seriously, it made no sense whatsoever. I'm one of those people who feels more at ease in water than on land. I even dream about being able to breathe underwater. Why, then, was I so scared?

I've processed this so many times, it's burned into my brain. Was it the cold water? Was it the being alone? Was it the fact that my first Ironman would be a complete fail? What. Was. It? Even weirder, I recovered from it so quickly that the moment became a mere blip on the radar that day. However, lately there's a nagging feeling that somehow, that moment of time would eventually hold me back from the solo open water swimming that I'm hoping to do in the future.

I had to conquer it. Clear and simple. I chose to attempt that in La Jolla last Saturday.

The reason I was there was to meet up with my husband Jim on the tail end of his business trip to San Diego. Before the trip, I told him I wanted to swim in La Jolla Cove because it's a well-known open water training and racing location. So, we booked a the weekend at a hotel only a few miles away.

Saturday morning, I got up and went on a running reconnaissance mission, hoping to find some swimmers at the cove that day that might answer any questions I had. As luck would have it, there was a guy in a full wetsuit just finishing his swim when I got there. I asked him about the water and if he could tell me something about distances. Here's what he told me: the water was about 57 degrees F, lots of people swim in the cove and they swim all day long. He was surprised there were only a few there at the moment, but it could have been due to rough surf. Then he pointed to two tall cylindrical buoys to the left - he called them the A and B targets - and said they were about .25 miles and .45 miles respectively. To the right of them was a round buoy - also at .25 miles - and off in the distance was another stick-like buoy at .75 miles. The far beach past that buoy (La Jolla Shores) was a mile. Here are two photos that Jim took:

This is La Jolla Cove. If you enlarge the photo, you'll see two little
white buoys between the vertical centerline and the left edge of the photo.
Those are the .25 and .75 markers, and the beach is right above them in the
 distance, where the water meets land (to the left of the reddish structure).
Here's a view of La Jolla Cove from the other direction.
La Jolla Shores beach is behind the trees in the front.

My mind was instantly made up. I wanted to swim to the beach, point to point. I decided to run there and scout out a place for Jim to pick me up. On the way back, I saw a lifeguard/fire-rescue guy and asked him about safety. To summarize answers to my questions: it's the ocean, so (1) it's cold, (2) it's rough water and (3) yes, there are sharks "out there" - but there have been no shark attacks in La Jolla. I did a little googling on my phone and found out that in 2015, the beaches were closed after a kayaker had a close encounter with a hammerhead shark. I stopped reading. No Fear.

When I got back, I told Jim my plan. Surprisingly, he didn't even flinch. (I think he's beginning to accept how serious I am about this swimming thing, and, between you and me, I think he's being a saint about letting me drag him to pools and lakes and coves on our trips.) To save space in my luggage, I only packed my wetsuit top, but I wasn't sure I needed it. I saw a guy go in that morning with only a jammer-type suit. We prepped and then drove up to the cove.

The first thing I did was look for other swimmers for final advice. To my relief, there were three swimmers - members of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club - getting ready to swim. They confirmed what I had been told about the distances and the temperature. They also advised me to wear a wetsuit if I wasn't sure about the cold. Then they gave me a quick review of the dangers and told me how to get "out there" (you know, out past the waves without dying):

  • Know the stages of hypothermia. (got it - I told them I had been through those stages once in 2009)
  • Swim out towards the left so that you don't get caught up in the current and smashed to pieces on the rocks to the right.
  • Don't swim too far left because there's another set of rocks there. However, stay close to those.
  • If you have a neoprene cap, wear it. (I didn't. But I had two latex caps and was told to wear them both.)

I noticed they were all putting on swim fins. Did I need fins? The woman said "do you HAVE fins?" like it was a matter of life and death. I said no. They said some people can make it just fine without fins.

Like I needed something ELSE to worry about.

The two men were wearing full wetsuits. The woman was wearing what looked like a neoprene (or thick material) swimsuit and a neoprene cap. After a mental debate, I decided to wear my wetsuit top, only to avoid hypothermia because Jim would be waiting for me at the beach and I'd have no way to contact him if I was going into shock from the cold. I didn't want to ruin our vacation by being stubborn and doing something stupid just to prove a point. Besides, there will be plenty more opportunities for me to tempt hypothermic fate.

The last words I was told by one of the swimmers: "We're spoiled. Once you swim here, you'll never want to go back to pool swimming."

Making our way down to the cove - I'm in the yellow cap.

I walked down to the water with them, and just followed the first one out into the water. It was nothing short of amazing, and actually, surprisingly easy. The waves were not scary - they were fun! I didn't really feel much of a current pulling me to the right, and once I was out in the cove, all I noticed was how great the water felt and how sunny and blue the sky was. I said thanks and goodbye to my new friends and aimed for the beach.

The cold water was a non-issue. This still surprises me as I had once gone swimming in 56-degree water with a wetsuit in the Outer Banks, and I remember it being painfully cold. I expected 57 degrees to feel the same. It makes me wonder if (hope?) I'm starting to get more comfortable in cold water. I reached the .25-mile buoy and signaled to Jim that I was, indeed, good to go and would make my way to our meet-up on the beach.

And then I just swam. And it was good. And there was no panic. None. I even did some backstroke to appreciate the sky.

When I got closer to the beach, I swam into a group of kayakers and waved, and then started to feel the current and the waves pushing me ahead. I was disappointed it ended so soon, but it was time to body-surf my way in. Amusingly, surfing the waves was the only point that I got myself in trouble - I got caught up inside a wave and struggled for few seconds to reorient myself and come up to breathe. It would have been ironic if I made it all the way to the beach and then drowned in standing water.

Yippee!

When I finally stood up on the beach sand, I heard the following (very geeky) thing in my head:

"You've taken your first step into a larger world."
These are the words Obi-wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) speaks to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) following his first lesson in using the Force. It's true - I WILL have a hard time going back to a pool. I'm a salt water animal. My La Jolla swim was the closest to heaven I've ever felt.

Here's the video. I swear the waves on the way out didn't look as big to me as they do in the vid. (Again, I'm the one in the yellow cap.)

Last Saturday, I decided to attempt my first real solo open water swim - from La Jolla Cove to La Jolla Shores in southern California.

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