Buildup.

Photo credit: Brett Hillyard

Photo credit: Brett Hillyard

For me, the anticipation of a swim adventure in the ocean is delightfully intoxicating.  With each day that passes I can feel my body and my mind prepare. Every cell in my body awakens – and it is simply electrifying. Initially, time slips by effortlessly, only to gather momentum hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute. As my excitement builds, and time speeds up, my only wish is that I could briefly pause this swift passage of time. Because this is my favorite part, the uncomfortable buildup to a swim, riddled by anxiety. And I want to savor every single moment.

Days zip by furiously and deliberately, like a train barreling through a platform stop. As the carriages fly past, I want the train to stop. I want to catch that moment in time.  But within seconds, the train is gone and I am left anticipating the next arrival. A new day materializes with each sunrise and sunset appearing and disappearing far too quickly. My mind flips sporadically back and forth between wanting more time to prepare and wishing the swim day would just be here already. Now that my training is winding down, I try my best to get more rest. The extra hours to recharge remind me how much time is left in the day without hours of training. I feel like a regular person, giving myself permission to sleep past my alarm, or do absolutely nothing on a Saturday afternoon. Yet, predictably, my old friend insomnia crashes the party, usually between 1am and 3am almost every day in the few weeks leading up to the swim. My heart races and a “to-do” list streams through my head. “Don’t forget to pack extra goggles (light and tinted), earplugs and swimsuits,” “Share the GPS tracker link with friends and family," “Call Mum and Dad.”

When I do sleep, visualizations of previous swims play out vividly in my dreams. I recall what it feels like to finally be on the boat, heading out to the starting point. Watching the reruns in my head I see boat leave the dock and I know this is truly the point of no return. This is when I typically second-guess my sanity. My moment of truth – the ultimate sanity check - comes hours later as I prepare to jump in the water for the first time. Peeling off the layers of warm clothing to reveal my swimsuit, goose bumps litter the surface of body. Adrenalin surges so forcefully that my hand tremble. All of these unique and precious memories flood through my mind. And I love them all. Being reminded of previous swims is so incredibly scary and exciting. I know new memories are just around the corner, even though I still can’t believe that my mind and my body were able to do all that was needed to complete prior swims. And I can hardly believe that I have yet another opportunity to push myself even further.  

Perhaps in an effort to normalize this odd and uncomfortable anticipation, a collection of pre-swim activities has now become a set of rituals that fill up my calendar. I always get a pedicure before a big swim. Invariably the color is a warm tone; I want to visualize warmth (especially as the water temperature at the Farallon Islands is hovering around 50 degrees). Laundry is done. Bills are paid. Swim bag is already packed. Everything is in order. This preparation allows me the chance, I guess, one last chance to control that which I can control. For I am now only five days away from once again surrendering myself willingly and completely to the great unknown… another chapter in my life, another life-changing experience.