12 miles outside the Golden Gate Bridge

March 6th 2011

Its five minutes before my alarm and I'm wide awake. It's 5am and I can't sleep... I'm just too excited. Too nervous.

I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to Tiburon. It’s pouring with rain, windy and ominous. As I drive towards the San Francisco Yacht Club, I keep thinking to myself that the swim is probably canceled today. I hope its not. I'm totally amped up. I'm going SWIMMING!!!!!!

I park in the back parking lot of the yacht club per the email instructions. The boat is supposed to leave at 7am sharp. I check my email on my iPhone… no cancelation emails.

I look up and an SUV rolls up. It’s Vito.  He winds down the window, grins and says “good morning - grab your stuff and let's head to the boat.”  I now know the swim is most definitely on.

The other guys arrive – Matt, Dave, Darrin and Joe – and at 7:02am the engine starts and we leave the dock.

We head out into the Bay…. towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The water is really, REALLY rough, its pouring with rain and we're not stopping. Ok…. I thought we were just going to swim from Tiburon to Angel Island. Apparently, we're not.

“Where are we headed?” I ask. “Oh, to the navigation buoy outside the gate… 12  or so miles out.”

OMG. You can do this I tell myself. So much of this is mind over matter. Besides there's no going back and this is what you wanted: adventure. My heart is beating out of my chest with a crazy mix of nerves and excitement. I love this feeling. THIS is living.

Along the way, I ask Vito… “so… how far away from the Gate are we?” 5 miles he says… he shows me the navigation plot… then 8 miles…. Darrin and Joe start putting their swimsuits on…. then… the 10 minute warning.

We talk about how crazy the conditions are, not to mention the 51 degree water temperature. Then Vito pipes up and says, “just so you know guys, I'm not worried about this one (pointing to me). She's tough.”

We arrive at the Lightship buoy - 12 miles offshore from SF, the official entrance to the shipping channel, and part of the infamous Red Triangle.

Its show time.

“Ok guys time to jump… go, go go!!!”

I watch with amazement as these guys power through the waves. OMG. I'm next. I put my earplugs in… put my cap on…. eat a Gu. I think I have 2 actually. I'm not taking any chances. I give Joe and Darrin the 5 minute mark.

I'm equally nervous and excited. I've been watching Joe and Darrin swim for an hour and I know the water is going to feel so good. I know its going to be great. I just know it. But there's apprehension too; I have never swum further than China Beach outside the Gate. THIS, right here, is the open-water. This is the ocean. And THIS is open-water swimming.

Their hour is up. I signal to the guys to stop… they struggle to get on the boat - its rocking even more now.

Ok, it's my turn. No going back. Jacket off…. goggles on…. Vito jumps first, and I let Dave go next. Holding my goggles to my eyes, I jump.

 

As I swim, the waves are relentless, and I keep swallowing gulps of seawater. But all I can think is THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE. PERIOD. I feel the current move me and just surrender to the waves.  The waves are massive.

I'm loving this. LOVING this. The water is so beautifully clear… I can see my arms stretched out in front of me…. My hands and arms are so pale from the cold they look like they're dead. Maybe this is just a dream.

I don't feel cold. I just feel ALIVE. I simply don't want this to end.

A couple of times I feel something bump me… I don't even want to know what that is. I just keep swimming. I think about how deep the water is beneath me. This is SO MUCH fun. I love this. I love this. I LOVE THIS!!!!!

Then, as if no time has passed, we have 6 minutes left. Vito and Dave stop.  Matt yells “neutral.” We swim towards the boat.  Vito gets onboard. I'm next.  The boat is rocking and I can't grab the ladder. How the hell am I going to get on that boat. Ok. Reach. Darrin grabs my hand and helps me up. I hold onto Joe and go inside.

I quickly change out of my swimsuit. And then, I start to shiver. Shiver like mad. OMG. This is tough. I think of warm things. I think of being cozy. I try to tell my body to just stop shivering. This doesn't work. Then the motion of the boat is becoming unbearable. I have to go upstairs. I sit down, teeth chattering…. I need some sugar. I struggle with the zipper of my swim bag and find a Gu. I inhale it. Oh, maybe this wasn't such a good idea.  I swallowed so much seawater swimming that my stomach doesn't feel very good. I concentrate on NOT shivering. Its mind over matter I tell myself. Mind over matter. Now I'm wondering if I'm starting to feel seasick. Oh shit. If I feel sick I'll have to stand outside like Joe in the pouring rain while trying to warm up. That's NOT going to happen. I'm NOT getting seasick. Look at the horizon. Oh, shit what horizon?

These violent shivers continue for at least 45 minutes. And then, all of a sudden, the shivers stop. I did it. I survived. And I feel on top of the world.

And I can't stop smiling. I tell the guys that this was absolutely amazing. And Vito looks at me, smiles and says, “Man, you're tough. Well done.”