Goin’ back to Cali

Well, I’m not exactly GOING, but I did GO! And it was awesome!

One of the perks of my profession is that I (usually) get to travel…a lot. Before the dreaded plague became our new normal, I was on the road approximately 50% of the time. And when I’m on the road for work, I always stash my cap, goggles, Duo, snorkel, and highly technological Ziploc baggie full of workouts in my suitcase. I hate to lose ground in my training, especially during spring when I’m full steam ahead on building kilometres for my summer swims. And my job often involves eating in restaurants and raiding the mini-bar late at night when I can’t survive without Pringles. Damn you, Pringles, and your crispy, salty, crunchy stack of freeze-dried mashed potato goodness.

Whenever I’m traveling, I search out open water swimming groups on Facebook to figure out if I can make a group swim happen, since it’s always nice to meet new fish. And failing that, I try to find a reasonably nearby pool where I can crush some laps. Swimmer’s Guide is a great resource that uses your geo-location to find nearby pools.

So I was very excited to learn that my new-ish job would take me to California for 2 weeks of meetings. And also that MY MUM (and MY AUNT and other family/friends) would be in Palm Springs during the weekend in between the 2 work meetings. I avoided the plague like the plague leading up to the trip, and was transported in a tin tube in the sky all the way to LAX where I promptly rented a convertible (a Jeep was all they had) and made the drive up the 405 to Ventura. And even though it was mostly freeway, I could smell the briny ocean air and felt the salt water in my bones. I turned right and jeeped past Casitas (apparently Johnny Cash lived there for a time) until I came to Ojai, and the beautiful Ojai Valley Inn which would become my oasis away for the next week. This beautiful complex is whitewashed adobe with stunning green spaces, surrounded by the Topa Topa and Santa Ynez mountains. It has several pools, but my favourite was the lap pool at the Spa. With 2 lanes and just under 25 yards, I had the pool all to myself all week and treated myself to a daily post-meeting swim under a palm tree.

The Spa pool at the Ojai Valley Inn

At the end of the week, I air-kissed my colleagues goodbye and set off for Palm Springs. The first part of the drive through the mountains was thrilling and scenic, with the remaining 2 hours a bit of a drudge, especially getting through San Bernardino. I’ve written previously about the year my family spent in California when my Dad did his Masters’ degree. My sister and I were 10 and 7 when we drove south from Saskatoon to San Diego, complete with a UHaul and my Mum, of course. After a long day’s drive, we pulled into San Bernardino and searched for a place to sleep before the last push to our new home. Upon seeing a motel sign that said “WATERBEDS!” (and the motel had a pool right out front) my sister and I lost our shit in the back of the Dodge Aspen and pleaded with my Dad to get us a room. We’d never slept in waterbeds, but we were both swimmers, so we knew we’d like it. At this point in our lives we had no way of discerning between a decent but affordable hotel and a complete shithole, but into the office went my Dad (he was so awesome) and we waited for him to come back with the room keys. In the meantime, an altercation of sorts broke out on the balcony above the swimming pool. The man and woman involved appeared to be more permanently entrenched at the hotel than regular old overnight guests, they weren’t wearing much (this may have been due to that lovely California weather but I don’t think so), and they communicated their frustration with one another with colourful language of the sort we’d only heard at slowpitch games. Our eyes grew as wide, and I think my Mum told us to cover our ears. The fracas culminated with the man’s final expression of displeasure, a deep, rumbling, back-of-the-throat conjuring of a giant ball of yellow phlegm which he spat from the balcony into the pool below. And it didn’t just pop from his mouth and straight into the water, but rather oozed its’ way south in a satisfying string. My Mum gagged as only she can, and just then, my Dad came running out, grinning with the room keys clutched triumphantly in his hand.

I don’t remember if we just drove away or whether there was an effort to return the room keys, but the story has become legend in our family and I couldn’t resist telling it here. I’d never seen a loogie horked so meaningfully before then, and I haven’t to this day.

Another awesome thing about our year in California was that we got to attend swim meets in exciting places, including Palm Springs. Our Palm Springs meet took place sometime in the early summer, I do believe, and it was so blisteringly hot that we had to be pulled out of the pool and carried to the grass after our races so we wouldn’t burn our feet on the scalding pavement. I don’t remember much else from that trip, so when I pulled into town on March 11, 2022, I was almost seeing Palm Springs for the first time. Using Swimmer’s Guide, I’d located a few options and was very much looking forward to cranking out a workout in the morning sun. But when I stepped on the deck of the Palm Springs Swim Center, I knew that I’d been there before. I knew that I’d been pulled out of that exact same pool over to that exact same grass, under the exact same shady palms. My exact same Mum was even right there on the deck! It all came rushing back to me in a flurry of memory, nostalgia, synapses firing, and missing my Dad. And I had a great swim, a refreshing outdoor shower, and a delicious smoothie.

I was here when I was 11!
What one might call “Happy as Larry”

On Day 2, we ventured in a slightly different direction and headed for the Palm Desert Aquatic Center. The drive into this beautiful sports complex is lined with palm trees and makes one feel very fancy indeed, despite the very reasonable $6 USD admission fee. Having not swam in a 50 m pool since March 2020, I was overjoyed to do a 4km long course workout as the sun shone down on the sparkly water. It was very warm, but I was able to get out of the pool without being carried, even though my Mum probably would have if I’d asked her. She took some video – essential as I’m working out a few major stroke issues – and most of her photos only have half a thumb creeping into the frame. Still, what’s better than driving around to swimming pools in a convertible Jeep, WITH YOUR MUM!??

Long course, at long last!
Always bring your Mum to swim practice

I had to leave the desert and head to Los Angeles for further meetings, but I wasn’t as successful in finding lap pool times that would coordinate with my work schedule. It seems that March is just a wee bit too early for the outdoor pools. I did get close to the ocean, at least, and I did indulge in catching a few rays at poolside at my next hotel, the Sunset Marquis. No-one horked off the balcony at this place, thank goodness.

Not long enough to swim laps convincingly.
But perfect for this 🙂

It’s all in the balance, but it was good to be out in the world again, in a top-down Jeep with my Mum in the passenger seat.

I just want to see some palm trees.

I will try to shake away this disease.

(Santa Monica, by Everclear)

In Praise of Swimmin’ Women on IWD 2021

I woke up this morning, tired – and having cancelled my usual Monday a.m. swim. I’ve been a little unmotivated lately. I didn’t realize that it was International Women’s Day.

The great Gertrude Ederle

And then, as usually happens when I spend time scrolling the socials for news, opportunities, and a much needed dopamine hit, I started to see a whack of posts, memes, diatribes, confessionals, laments, and promotions heralding THE DAY. Not to be left out, I thought about a post that I’ve been pondering a while about something I’ve really noticed in my open water swimming journey, and I decided to bloody well write it before the inspiration faded, as it has so many times during the last few months when I’ve had something to say, and then didn’t in the end. Meh. Covid.

As a relative newcomer to this open water life, it’s become clearer and clearer to me that women – or SWIMMEN (if I may coin a word) – are the backbone AND child-bearing hips of open water swimming. My training partners have mostly been women. My biggest cheerleaders are women. My support teams have mostly been comprised of women. When I planned my Christina Lake swim last fall, 5 women appeared ready to help. I meet women when I travel to events. Sometimes, we sit on the school bus to the start line and encapsulate our entire swimming history in 4 minutes, and then we’re friends. For life. The upper echelon of this community also seems committed to support and share – interacting through the channels that connect us through this weird time in the world. Jaimie Monahan has commented on some of my posts, which flummoxes me, because if I met her in person, I would probably die a messy fan-girly death.

I have never felt marginalized or disaffected within the open water swimming community. The connections I’ve made through events, training, and even my social media presence have largely been with amazing and awesome women, who sometimes reach out just to extend a wave of support. The power of this community is that it is free of boundaries, free of bullshit, and full of heartfelt support. If you’re reading this and you’ve ever reached out to me, I hope you know how much it’s meant.

The great Lynne Cox

Here’s where I name some amazing SWIMMEN so shout these names RIGHT OUT LOUD and you can too: AS LOUD AS WE CAN:

Jaimie Monahan, Ali Gartland, Ella Chloe Foote, Chloe McCardel, Emily Epp, Deanne Steven, Debbie Collingwood, Suzanne Welbourn, Sarah Thomas, Beth French, Lynne Cox, Elaine Davidson, Alina Warren, Joanne Malar, Amber Honeybaker, Catherine Breed, and many, many others.

And let us honour:

  • the women who cross Channels
  • the women who cross Channels several times (my goodness)
  • the women who dream of crossing Channels
  • the women who support paddle
  • the women who drive the boats
  • the women who get their boat licenses the day before a swim so they CAN drive the boat and support their nieces
  • the women who share a lane
  • the women who can handle the cold
  • the women in the hot tub, laughing
  • the women who lend a cap when yours rips
  • the women who lifeguard
  • the women who volunteer
  • the women who drive their daughters to swim practice
  • the women who make Rice Krispie squares for their daughters’ swim meets
  • the women who swim through difficult times
  • the women who are just starting out
  • the women who break records, and barriers, in this sport and all others

We need more than just a day to remember and honour our commitments, contributions, and responsibilities, but let’s take these precious 24 hours and stand with each other, trailblazers and newbies alike and those in between. Or swim with each other. Just don’t touch my feet.

I won’t miss my other swims this week.

Strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them. And may we swim with them, always.

Open Water Life: 2019 Year in Review

Farewell 2019. I’m glad to see your buttcrack as you saunter off into memory with your pants pulled halfway down.

Still, there were highlights among the lowlights. Aren’t there always? Swimming offers me the most consistent vehicle for balance. No matter what’s happening, I always feel better when I’m in the pool. Even if I’m just floating around, thinking “Look at where you are in the world.”

Highlights

  • Swimming in beautiful European lakes during my summer bike touring adventure. Eibsee, Walchensee, Lake Sils, Starnbergsee…beautiful, clean bodies of water that felt so amazing and rewarding after long days on the bike.
  • 312,000 training meters.
  • Second successful Skaha Lake Ultra Swim. I was slower, and it hurt more, but I made it across the finish line and scarfed a giant sandwich and kissed my kid who paddled the whole way beside me.
  • My first open water swim in Sweden – the Riddarfjardsimningen – was exciting and fun and a great way to build in a destination swim with a holiday I’ve wanted to take forever.
  • Getting the green light to swim the Sri Chinmoy 26 km Lake Zurich swim next August. This will be my focus for 2020. I’m gonna give it my all.
  • My 6th Across the Lake Swim in Kelowna, and fastest to date. 4 more and I get that coveted silver cap!
  • The Lower Columbia Masters Swim Club – an opportunity to swim locally with great friends. I didn’t make as many practices as I’d have liked, but I did get to swim with the team for FrightFest in Kelowna in October. I’m lucky to have such a sweet community of fellow open water enthusiasts.

 

Lowlights

  • Being sick and tired for 3 months after my Dad passed away put a major dent in my training and my annual kilometer goal.
  • My Dad passed away. I don’t know that I’ll ever get over it, but I hope he’d be proud of what I hope to accomplish in my swimming goals.
  • Not organizing a swim in Copenhagen while I was there. Not that I didn’t have any fun. And now I have a good reason to return!
  • Cancelling plans for the Slocan Lake and Christina Lake swims, which would have been really awesome additions to my summer events. I need to remember that summer is only really 8 weeks long and that there are only so many things that one can do. This one was pretty busy.

 

2020 Goals  (resolutions come later…. once January has a chance to pull itself onto the deck)

  • Sri Chinmoy 26 km Lake Zurich Swim. I’m going to do it!
  • Portland Bridge Swim
  • Christina Lake – a good warmup for the above longer events
  • 7th Across the Lake Swim
  • Cough up the dough for a proper training smartwatch
  • Consistent, focused training that will take me into the Lake Zurich swim in the best shape of my life. I’ve found a Kelowna-based coach and I am so excited for this man to kick my ass!
  • Yoga, biking, skiing, and all the other cross-training activities I love.

 

Look at where you are in the world. Not so bad, is it? I wish you all the best for 2020.