Friday, June 19, 2015

In which I swim across the Chesapeake Bay.

The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim is a bucket list event. Why? You get to swim across the bay, between the two giant bridges. You get to fight the tide, swells, and stinging nettles. If you get pulled off course by the current - outside the bridges at any point - you're pulled from competition. Since I like super hard things and I like swimming, I was ready to sign myself right up.
The nice calm shore, and my hat taking a rest.

I posted a qualifying mile swim time and then was lucky enough to get in through the lottery this year. The distance (4.4 miles) wasn't a concern for me, but the current was. I am a Small Person. I do not muscle my way through the ocean, typically. I prefer to float like a butterfly along with the waves, which in actuality probably more closely resembles a drunk octopus in a neon swim cap, but whatever. I get the job done.

We start on the beach, splash into the shallow water and wade out a little ways at the gun. I start swimming before a lot of bigger people because I am short. Mile 1 is a blur of 300 people on top of each other. The first 15 minutes or so are spent swimming out to get between the bridges - the good news is that it's easy to sight, just follow the massive crowd of green caps. In fact, it's easy to sight for pretty much the whole swim. Once I'm between the bridges, things start to thin out a bit, and I am able to settle into a rhythm. The rest of mile 1 is tough but manageable - we were told in the pre-race don't-drown meeting that the tide would pull us to the right, so I focus on staying closer to the left bridge. So far so good.
I take off my wetsuit. Something is funny.
I see the mile 1 buoy at 27 minutes, which is right about where I should be. This makes me happy. Then that current starts getting stronger...and stronger...and so I start swimming at a 45 degree angle to stay in bounds. I curse myself for signing up for this stupid swim. I contemplate how nice that rescue boat over to the right looks. I tell my wimpy brain to shut up, and swim at a 90 degree angle just to be safe. This cycle repeats. After a whoppingly against-the-tide 45 minutes, I see mile 2! I see the magic feed boat! This is comical: there is a motor boat carrying dixie cups of water and vanilla wafers (not celiac friendly) chugging slowly back and forth, with a lot of neon-colored swimmers clinging to the side. I grab a dixie cup from the poor guy on the boat whose job it is to deal with all these insane people trying not to drown, swallow some water since I'm swimming in salt on a hot day, and keep going right away since I float away to the right as soon as I go vertical to drink, and I'm not talented enough to stay upright and drink and not be pulled out to sea by the current all at the same time.

A little ways into mile 3, the tide calms down some. Oh, it is still there, but after mile 2 it seems pretty nice. But hey look, here are the swells! I'm bobbing along but I much prefer this to strong tide. I count my lucky stars I don't get seasick. I dolphin dive some when a really big one comes. But I'm cruising and singing Beyonce in my head. Woot woot. The swim is my friend again, and let's do this again next year!! Hey look, there's the mile 4 buoy!

I am swimmer, hear me roar.
Silly me, I think I only have about 15 minutes to swim. But I'm still swimming to the left, and the turn buoys you have to go through are allllll the way over on the right, so I tack on some distance...and there's the magic current again. I grumble to myself as I point my body at 45 degrees to get between the buoys...grumble grumble current grumble...pass the turn buoys in style, and am now under the right bridge. You see, when the bridges end, you cut to the right and then a sharp left to shore, ending at Hemingway's Marina. This requires going under the right-hand bridge. Let me tell you, someone installed an endless pool underneath that bridge. On full blast. I am swimming and going nowhere. All the people around me are swimming going nowhere too, so I feel a little better. I do my best impression of the Incredible Hulk and throw all 100lbs of myself forward to try to get past the bridge. I repeat this process approximately 1000 times, and then I am past the bridge. I flop to the left in the direction of shore. My goggles are on the foggy side, or maybe coated with bay dirt, so I can't really tell where the finish is, but I figure swimming towards sand is a good bet. It is slow going still. I'm pretty sure the last 0.4 was more like 0.8 what with all my direction-changing, plus it's taken me as long as my entire 4th mile. Balls. It gets shallow-ish pretty fast and there are people around me standing and trudging in, but I keep swimming because (a) I am Short and (b) I kind of want to finish this swim by swimming and not by water-walking, dammit. Which eventually I do. I am slightly wobbly going across the timing mat, and I think about how I probably have some orthostatic hypotension, and then I think "man, I am a huge nerd." Then I get my wetsuit halfway off because my shoulders are really done with all that nonsense, and I eat oranges and make entertaining poses for the camera.

I eat an orange. 
In sum, this was a super cool, super hard, super awesome swim. I was told by many Chesapeake Bay Swim repeat offenders that this year was particularly tough, which makes me super proud. And super likely to do it again next year. Cheers!

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