Photo credit: Kate Webber

Photo credit: Kate Webber

Yesterday, just two weeks following our successful one-way relay swim to the Farallon Islands, I simply could not pass up the opportunity to return to this special place. As we approached these remote islands 30 miles off the coast of California – a now familiar scene – my heart raced excitedly. A jagged formation of desolate rocks, devoid of a single blade of grass or tree, yet littered with thousands of birds and just as many seals and sea lions lounged in the morning grey. There was an undeniable and palpable energy.

As I sat at the bow of the boat, a cold, powerful wind blew in my face. I inhaled the cool air, tinged with subtle notes of fishy ocean life and slightly more over-powering and pungent bird droppings. I felt centered and utterly alive. For me there is no other place like it; with its mysterious and terrifying history couched in a pristine natural wonderland. It is always hauntingly inviting.

Before we took a short swim, we ceremoniously toured the islands. I watched with wonder as the wild Pacific Ocean swirled relentlessly against its inhospitable edges. Waves crashed rhythmically against the surface of the rocks only to retreat back into the ocean, though not before gathering a few adventurous sea lions that rode the waves with carefree abandon. A handful of sea lions approached the boat with their heads above the surface of the water. Doing my best pinniped whisperer impersonation, I tried my best to coax them closer to the boat.  Normally they are incredibly curious, but this time there was some hesitation to swim into the deeper end of the pool. Always a glutton for unrequited love, and eager to join my pinniped friends, I put on my cap, goggles and swimsuit. Jumping in the 50 degree water, I felt complete. It is always an equal mix of terror and delight. And this is only place in the world I have experienced such a feeling. Diving down to reach its shallow bottom, I scanned the crystal blue water around me. No one else was swimming.

Six hours after returning to land following our relay last month, and unable to sleep, adrenaline continued to pump through my body, and unsure of what to do, I made my way to Aquatic Park for a swim. Diving into the brackish murky water, I was struck by an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction. This protected man-made cove seemed so uninteresting and confining. Despite having had this incredible adventure – mere hours before – I still longed to return to the sea.  I spent the rest of the day in the city aimlessly searching - what for exactly, I was not sure. After each aquatic adventure, I discover that the transition back to regular life becomes increasingly difficult. And there are few people who can understand this feeling. 

The next morning I was on plane to Phoenix, Arizona for a work conference. The flight was unremarkable, but I watched from the window with some anxiety as the aircraft moved further away from the ocean and into the desert. A few hours later I was in a windowless hotel conference room. Hardly an ideal transition and such a stark sensory deprivation contrast from the full adrenaline rush I had so recently felt. The sanctuary of the Farallones is one for both the animal life west of San Francisco and my soul.