"Chocolate covered coffee beans?"

“What are you doing this weekend?” asks one of my coworkers. “I have quite a bit of training to do - tonight at 10pm I’ll be doing an 8 hour swim.” Puzzled and trying to understand, my coworker laughs uncomfortably and says, “Kim, I’m want to understand this more, but I’m having some difficulty.” 


Arriving at Vito’s house that evening, it’s a crisp and beautiful starlit night in Tiburon – just a few miles north of San Francisco.  My training plan stipulates a long 8hour swim. So rather than go mad in a 25yard box filled with chlorine, we’ve chosen the Belvedere Lagoon for the swim. With a capital H-shape, its approximately 3 miles for each loop. At 70 degrees, this is MUCH more tolerable than the usual 76 degree pool. And the best part is NO flip turns! (While much progress was made prior to spraining my ankle, I feel like I’ve lost my, ahem, touch).

Simon and his friend Kirk will swim the 22 mile length of Lake Tahoe in 4 weeks time and they asked if I would join them as they practice swimming through the night and into dawn. Tonight is one of the few nights Joe is forgivably excused from swimming. Four days earlier he attempted to swim from the Farallon Islands to San Francisco, a mere 30 miles through the infamous Red Triangle in water ranging from 52 – 55 degrees.

Joe rubs lanolin under my arms and a few other “strategic” spots to prevent chafing, and my heart begins to race. I love swimming at night. And while the lagoon is safely enclosed except for a few resident bass, the anticipation of swimming in the dark still provides my body with a glorious and familiar surge of adrenalin. 

After lining up all our drinks and snacks along the edge of the dock, we turn on the blinky lights that attach to each of our goggles. While the lagoon is currently lit with the glow of bedroom and living room lights of the neighboring houses that line the water, as we swim into the early hours of the night and morning, this will soon change. The blinky lights will be the only way we can identify each other in the dark. Kirk’s light is a pulsating green, Simon has a white light and my light is a constant green. I couldn’t find my lucky blue blinky. Green will have to do.

Jumping in the inky black water, I question my sanity immediately. I can’t see a damn thing. Having spent many long training sessions in the lagoon previously (in the daylight), with the capital H-shape firmly etched in my memory, I feel like a salmon spawning – instinctually navigating through the darkness.

A few awkward bumps into one another and many “oh, I’m sorry – that was me” exchanges along the way, my eyes gradually begin to adjust and I find my way.

Swimming past the houses, my mind drifts effortlessly as I imagine different scenarios of each household. The “night owl” fixated on late night tv as a blue light radiates from televisions filling the empty room with an ethereal glow. Bedtimes religiously adhered to as living room lights extinguish one by one precisely on the hour. I imagine couples curled up next to each other in their cozy beds. Children tucked up amongst their favorite cuddly toys.

I snap back into consciousness as we arrive back at the dock to feed. Unlike an actual swim where one is thrown a drink bottle on a rope while treading water, tonight we have the liberty of selecting from a buffet of carbs, proteins and fat lined along the waters’ edge. 

Crouched in the shallow water I guzzle my homemade concoction of carbs and protein in the form of a drink. Nothing fancy, but it works for me. One of the many interesting things about open-water swimming is everyone has their own choices of feed. What might work for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Also, some people work in treats to their feeds as a way of encouragement. As Simon consumes his carbohydrate drink in silence, next to me, Kirk is rummaging through multiple types of packaging. He has a rather deluxe smorgasbord of treats.

“M&Ms?” offers Kirk. Of course! “Cliff Bar?” Oh, no thanks. Wait a second – what else does he have?? I start to get a little jealous.

Trying my best to be quiet, I can’t help but giggle and see the comedy in all of this. “This is not normal” I tell the guys. “It is a little bit unusual isn’t it” replies Simon. It feels like we are subjects in a weird science experiment, perhaps conducted by Aliens as part of an abduction - “oh if we give one human this, what happens to the other one?”

“Chocolate covered coffee beans?”  asks Kirk.