Date: Monday, June 18, 2012
Conditions: Sunny and windy. Air temp: 81°F, water temp: ~66°F. Swift current, some rapids, shallow water
Crew: Jill on shore
Route: The eastern, narrower, and gentler side of Expedition Island. Distance about 500 feet (done twice)
Observations: Here’s a story from when I was a little kid just just learning to walk. According to my mother, I let go of the arm of the couch to take my first unaided steps and immediately fell on my butt. As my mother tells it, I was so upset by this fall that I didn’t walk again for a week.
But I didn’t just go back to crawling, she says. Evidently, I would stand by the couch and practice a controlled fall just to get used to the feeling. So I could recognize it when I felt a fall coming? Or to make it easier to balance myself better? Who knows. But before I fully learned to walk, I had studied the mechanics of the fall fairly intensively.
In some ways, swimming in new water feels a lot like learning to walk. Each time I show up in a new location, I look at the water and imagine how the swim could go wrong. Sometimes it takes me a while to just dive in because I can’t stop thinking. This swim in Green River was a good example of this. I walked around up and down the river to decide on a place to get in and get out and check out the conditions in between. But after I stepped into the river, I held for a few minutes to seriously think through how the swim would go. Jill was downriver about 50 feet, and she peered around some bushes to make sure everything was okay. It was! I was just (over) thinking!
Some neat things I saw and thought before I actually took the plunge: I startled a bird in a bush as I walked down to the river. As it flew away it did #1 and #2 (as birds do) in the water right where I was about to step. A sign of good luck! Then, on the opposite shore I saw a tiny dust devil whip up the orange dirt for a few seconds. The water was colder that I expected. The rocks below the water were visible, and I worried that the river might be too shallow to swim in. And even if it wasn’t, I worried that I couldn’t swim out to the middle of the channel because the current might quickly sweep me into some pretty big, nearly exposed rocks. I didn’t even let myself think about snakes.
But finally I managed to turn it all off. Thinking is the enemy of doing. So I dove forward and went. And everything was okay. So okay that when I got out at the end, I walked back and did it again.
That’s not to say that I didn’t scrape my toes and knees on rocks in the shallow water, and that I didn’t feel nervous when, at points, the current grabbed and wouldn’t let go. It’s just that because I expected some of these things to happen, because I had visualized them before I got in (mentally practicing my fall), they weren’t unfamiliar to me.
I have to thank the friendly locals who advised against swimming on the west side of Expedition Island, what they called the kayaking side. One person even showed us where the water would pull you down and hold you. She mentioned that some other swimmers had been in the river on the east side of the island lately, and it probably was the best place to go.
And I really have to thank Jill as photographer. She would bike ahead of me, take out the camera, and snap some great shots. She also reminded me to do the swimming treadmill in the river before I got out. You can watch that video here.