I am thrilled to share that my next adventure is right around the corner. Near the end of this month, I will join five team mates for a round-trip relay swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands, and back. We will swim in hour-long rotations around the clock, wearing our regular attire (swimsuit, cap and goggles) to complete this treacherous 60 mile adventure. Together we expect to swim upwards of 30 hours.
Invigorated with the knowledge of my full recovery from last year’s North Channel swim, this time returning to my almost all-consuming training schedule has been different. More than ever before I have an acute appreciation for being alive, and an intense desire to feel alive each and every day. I want to experience as much as I possibly can. Yet fitting in the self-imposed demands of my life has not been easy. There are always sacrifices. Somehow I make it work, even if, for example, my weekdays begin at a rather unpleasant 4:15am. The chance to experience another aquatic adventure in the great unknown – that grand blue expanse of ocean - makes all the hard work worth it.
The Farallon Islands are a strange outcropping of jagged islands that peak from the depths of the Pacific Ocean approximately 30 miles West of San Francisco. Visible from the city only on the clearest of days, the Farallon Islands are a marine sanctuary, populated by thousands of sea birds, sea lions, seals and far less but more variable numbers of Great White Sharks. Except for a handful of marine biologists, human visitors are strictly prohibited on the islands. Sailboat races, whale watching and shark cage diving expeditions frequent the area from a short distance.
The boat ride out to the islands is notoriously rough. But arriving at the islands is otherworldly. If you can stomach the overwhelming stench of bird droppings, a dip in the cool water is (for me at least) a “bucket list” item. In the daytime, the water is both delightfully and terrifyingly clear, and even unexpectedly shallow in some parts close to the islands. Small numbers of various sized yet innocuous jellyfish float randomly throughout this glorious blue expanse. Herds of curious seals swim towards you, daring to take a peek at the odd and unfamiliar swimmer in their pool. Comfortable with an audience, some seals partake in fairly overt courtship dalliances with one another - a mere 10-12 feet away. At night the water is even more scary yet mysterious in a way that is oddly alluring. Minuscule bioluminescent sparkles fly off your fingertips as you move through the black abyss. Odd unidentifiable creatures (most likely seals) may gently bump your body. Without being able to see what is nearby, these interactions are utterly terrifying. Call me crazy, but this is also incredibly exhilarating.
In less than five years, the Farallon Islands have become a very special part of my life. I remember when I first fell in love with these islands. In February 2011 I was invited to join a group of open water swimmers called the Night Train Swimmers. At the time they had been attempting to complete the very first relay swim to the islands. Although I was a poor swimmer, my now mentor and good friend Vito Bialla recognized my potential. He believed in me and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime: I was now officially on the relay team. And on May 20th 2011, after almost 15 hours of non-stop swimming our team completed our goal. It was an experience like none other. I could hardly believe I had been a part of that. And all I wanted to do was return to those islands. Two weeks later I managed to convince five other women to form the first ever all-women’s relay team to swim to the Farallon Islands. Enduring massive swells and poor weather, we stuck it out together and successfully completed the swim. These five women will forever be the toughest women I know. To this day I vividly recall swimming the last shift in the dark towards the Farallon Islands, and wonder how on earth that was possible. As the moon began to rise, I could identify the mystifying silhouette of the islands. With each stroke forward, and adrenalin pumping furiously through my veins, I was convinced my arms or my legs would be eaten.
In the years since, I have swum in the water surrounding the Farallon Islands countless times. For me it is place that is tremendously meaningful. Every time I return, it feels like a spiritual homecoming. Five weeks after being discharged from hospital last October, I accompanied my Night Train Swimmer friends there on a random weekend trip. As I watched my friends swim, and although I was still recovering, I slipped gently off the back of the swim platform on the boat and immersed my weary body in the cool blue waters. As my hands gripped the platform I felt my soul ignite. Exhausted from this brief dip, I spent the rest of the trip asleep on the boat. A few weeks later I even I celebrated my five-year swimming anniversary at the Farallon Islands surrounded by humpback whales and rather amorous seals.
And so fast-forward… today. I am once again on the precipice of another homecoming. And I simply cannot wait.