The sun is just beginning to glow majestically above the horizon as we walk to the boat called “The Dauntless” which will transport all the swimmers to the Bay Bridge. The plan is to jump underneath the Bay Bridge with pods of similar speeds, guided by a dedicated Zodiac pilot and, once we reach Aquatic Park we’ll be reunited with our kayakers and on our own. As each swimmer boards the boat we are checked off a list. Bundled up in our long swim jackets and woolen hats we take our seats on the 45 foot cruiser. All the swimmers are giddy with excitement and adrenalin. We all LOVE this part. Some swimmers get upbeat and silly, others are quiet and focused. I’m in the former camp – happy and very chatty.
The Bay looks eerily calm as we motor out of the Hyde Street Pier towards the Bay Bridge. Not a breath of air, or ripple in the water. It’s too good to be true, because we all know that conditions change dramatically west of the Golden Gate Bridge. But that’s all part of the fun.
As we pass the San Francisco Ferry Building, it’s time for me to get ready. I take off my warm woolen hat and put my swim cap on, tucking a Gu inside the cap just in case I need an emergency “pick me up.” Goggles. Check. Earplugs. Check.
Pod 1 jumps in. 5 minutes later it’s my pod’s turn. One by one we jump off the stern of the boat. I love this part. I hold my goggles to my face… and… jump. Woo! My head pushes through the surface of the 55 degree water. I swim a few yards towards the South tower of the Bay Bridge and touch the barnacle-ridden West Tower with my hand. My swim has officially begun!
I look behind me and wait as each of my 4 pod members do the same and begin swimming along the San Francisco waterfront. I pass the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, and aim towards Alcatraz to bring me further out into the shipping channel and into stronger currents. It’s a GLORIOUS morning and I feel so strong. I continue swimming when all of a sudden my right arm begins to sting. Really sting. The pain increases and I stop to look. A massive, basketball-sized orange-brown Pacific Sea Nettle floats past me. They look so beautiful and so harmless but they hurt SO much.
I continue swimming. As I turn the corner by Fisherman’s Wharf, I see the kayakers lined up across the water. I feel really strong and move towards the kayakers… I spot Joe, smile and swim towards him.
Swimming up to the kayak, I waste no time. Joe hands me my warm Perpetuem and I drink as much as possible in 10 seconds. Although the water feels comfortable at 55 degrees I have to keep moving to stay warm. I swim towards the Golden Gate Bridge. It seems to take forever to get closer… it’s literally glowing in the morning sunrise and it’s absolutely beautiful.
Joe catches my attention as a sea lion swims beside me. I simply love it when one of my pinniped buddies “escorts” me during my swims. I notice as he pokes his nose out of the water and glides effortlessly beside me.
With the Golden Gate Bridge only a couple hundred yards away, I feel the ebb begin to rev its engine significantly. My body feels like it’s lying on a supercharged conveyor belt as the water moves at an impressive 3.8 knots. The waves are quickly increasing in size and, as the water begins to come alive, I feel the adrenalin shoot through my body, making me swim faster. I have only 3 miles left to swim.
Suddenly, I hear one of the Zodiac pilots yelling at Joe through the wind. Apparently we’re too far north and I need to be repositioned. The Zodiac pilot pulls me onto the boat as the waves crash into the boat. I need to get in the water as soon as possible because soon, very soon, my frozen body will begin to shiver as I “thaw.” I slouch into the rubber boat away from the wind and wrap myself in a woolen blanket. As the Zodiac zips across the water, every time we hit a wave my body elevates about 1 foot. The pilot waits for Joe to kayak over to me and instructs me to jump. 3-2-1 I jump. Joe is right beside me as the water swirls furiously around me. Almost immediately I’m stung once again by a sea nettle. I stop briefly as I grab my right leg in pain. I swim another 50 yards and I soon feel a large warm mass bump against my torso. Probably just a seal I tell myself, and swim on.
The waves are now 6 feet and I watch as Joe launches off the top of the waves in his kayak. Conditions are always rough outside the Golden Gate Bridge, which I normally don’t mind, but today is different. I need to make a beach landing on Ocean Beach.
I see the Cliff House restaurant on my left and have only 200 yards left to swim around the corner to the beach. I stop for my 4th “feeding” of Perpetuem and consult with Joe. I want to finish this swim on the beach – face my fear of being held under by massive waves, but I have to sensible. The waves are now cresting at 8-10 feet.
Joe and I decide it’s not worth it. And I agree.
Often times it’s about the journey, not the goal. And today, it was quite the journey.