As we motored into the protected lee of the island, the air and sea were mystically calm. As the boat crew positioned the Outrider as close to the island as possible, my crew (Melissa King, Nancy Cutler and Brett Hillyard) snapped into action.
Glow sticks were meticulously and thoughtfully attached to the kayak that would accompany me throughout the swim. Green, yellow, blue, pink lights adorned the kayak and soon it looked like my very own aquatic Christmas tree.
Decking the halls even further, my kayaker, Melissa, attached a colorful and inviting “necklace” of glow sticks around her neck so that I could see her at all times against the night sky that was as dark as ink. I put on my New Zealand swim cap, goggles with blinky light and attached an additional blinky light to the back of my swimsuit. Safety is paramount, and these lights would enable my crew to see me clearly at all times.
Nancy carefully applied lanolin and Vaseline to my neck, armpits and under my swimsuit straps to prevent chaffing from the coarse salinity of the ocean water. Morbid images of body embalming darted through my head fueled by adrenalin. My body was ready.
“Kim, it’s time to go.” Moving silently to the bow of the boat, my heart was beating furiously with anticipation. The lights on the boat were so bright I had difficulty determining how far to step down onto the swim platform. Holding on to the boat, I gingerly placed my feet onto the cold metal grate. I took a deep breath and jumped feet first into the unknown. I come up for air and waste no time. The 68 degree water feels lukewarm and tolerable. For my swim to officially begin, I must start on dry land. This means I have to swim 50 yards from the boat to the island before beginning.
As I ease my hands into the water, stretching out my arms into nothingness I make my way towards the island. Despite brief entanglements in random kelp forests, I move stealthily towards the beach made decipherable through the darkness by a massive spotlight that shined from the boat.
Still at least 25 yards from the beach, looking up to determine its exact location, I spot a vision of white. Poised before me is a lone and majestic 4 foot tall Great Blue Heron. I gasp with disbelief. A long sinuous neck, glorious plumes of blue-grey feathers bleached white by the intensity of the spotlight standing atop a pair of long elegant legs on the beach where I was to begin my swim. I was in awe.
Slipping carefully under a buoy line approaching the beach, my heartbeat slowed. With the Heron still standing before me - watching me - I felt as if I were gently stepping up to the sacrificial altar of Mother Nature. Having heard the Last Post upon my departure from Long Beach, I couldn’t help but connect the dots and assume the worst: I am going to die tonight.
In a last minute attempt to change my fate, as I inched forward I asked quietly (and politely) for permission of a safe passage across the sea. And, as if acknowledging my panicked request, the Heron pointed his beak to the ground. I moved closer to stand on the beach. Within seconds, his wings stretched out an impressive breadth and he flew away. I was officially blessed. Or that’s what I chose to believe.