Roulette.

Photo credit: Kate Webber

Rotating obediently through hour long shifts in the following order: Patti, me, Simon Ashley, Emily and David, made our way towards the Farallon Islands. This specific swim rotation was assigned prior to beginning our adventure and could not be changed once the swim started. This meant my individual shifts were 8am – 9am, 1pm – 2pm, 8pm – 9pm, and so on, until the swim was completed. As the gloomy morning cloud finally surrendered to the wonderfully bright sunlight of the afternoon, so too did our hopes of completing a double relay. Though the sun was shining, Mother Nature was not exactly cooperative; at times the wind was gusting 35 knots, fueling massive swells and erratic white caps that persistently slapped the hull of the boat as it listed side-to-side in the turbulent water. Swimmers were momentarily lost within the deep troughs that mirrored the intimidating height of the cresting waves. An exhilarating experience as a swimmer, but fairly risky. Should anything go wrong, it was extremely challenging to exit the water quickly and climb onto the boat.

Despite this difficulty, as seasoned rough water swimmers, we were determined to finish one leg – touching the buoy at the Farallon Islands - before heading back to San Francisco. The hours ticked by, and we all wondered who might be the swimmer who jumped in near the Farallon Islands at night to swim their shift. For me, the idea of swimming at the Farallon Islands – day or night -  is both terrifying and exhilarating. I was struck by Vito’s eerie but accurate description of this experience as “being in heaven and talking to the devil at the same time.” I could not agree more. This strange and mysterious outcropping of jagged islands – 30 miles off the coast of California – is tremendously alluring, but also immensely scary. No one just “swims” at the Farallones. It is a remote location known most commonly for Great White sharks who frequent the area in high numbers at certain times of the year. And there are only a handful of human residents, stationed there specifically to study the surrounding biology.

So the idea of swimming at the Farallon Islands at night is perhaps best categorized in a completely different realm: crazy. Strangely enough this is something I have done before, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be in a position to consider this experience again. In June 2011, during the first (and only all-women’s relay swim), and less than a mile away from the Farallon Islands it was my turn to swim the last leg in the dark. It became without question the most frightening thing I had ever done in my life.  I have watched the video footage of that swim countless times - and I am still unable to believe that I was able to do that.  Yet I continue to watch that footage to remind myself of the unexpected treasures that emerge from within when I face my fears. That experience was truly life-changing.  

Fast-forward four years later… I watched with nervous anticipation as the sun began its descent towards the horizon. It was becoming more and more likely that either Simon or myself would be swimming near the Farallon Islands in the dark. The stakes of our aquatic game of roulette increased exponentially, as did my heart palpitations.

Photo Credit: Kate Webber

Photo Credit: Kate Webber