It began, as most important things in my life seem to, early in the morning. I didn’t sleep much the night before. I expected not to, so that was okay. I got a few hours. I was completely awake by 5 a.m., thinking. The day before, we took a ferry around Alcatraz and I got to see the course that was explained in the email I got before I left home. I had been seeing it in my head all that day and probably dreamed about it overnight, but didn’t remember. I saw it now, how I was supposed to swim west first, then back east into the arms of the jetties that formed Aquatic Park and the end of this road that had been consuming me for the best part of a year. If all went well, the culmination of months of physical work and mental preparation would be over in about an hour. I got up and showered. Registration opened at 6 a.m. and even though I was only four blocks down the street, I wanted to be on time. I hate being late. By 5:45 I couldn’t wait any more. Leaving G still trying to wake up, I headed down to the rowing club. Not surprisingly, I was the first one to register. That got a smattering of applause. They gave me a bag with a bright yellow swim cap and a Velcro strap with my timing chip in it. When I stood on the mat to jump off in a couple of hours, the chip would activate and at the end when I stepped across the finish, it would calculate my time. “Put it on, NOW!” the guy who registered me said. I did as I was told, hiking up my sweats to fasten it around my ankle. It was surprisingly soft against my skin. I got my number, 470, and got the blue spectator band that G would wear to allow her on the boat with me as we went over to the island and a tag for my equipment bag. Then it was time to go back to the room and wait to get ready. More waiting. I stopped at Starbucks and got G a coffee and something to eat. The night before, I found protein drinks at a Walgreen’s and decided that would be the best thing for me this morning. Protein, liquid, easy to digest, nothing heavy. Every time I swam in the lake this year, I swam pretty much on an empty stomach. I didn’t really want to do anything or wear anything much different from what I was already used to. The rituals needed to be the same as possible. I got back to the room and laid out my gear:
With my ankle bracelet:
Time passed. The sky got lighter. I knew registration would close at 7:30 and there was going to be an orientation, so around 7 we headed back. By then, the crowd was seething. There were volunteers throughout the crowd waving marking pens in the air. I found one and got myself numbered up.
I had never done anything before that required me to be marked up. It felt great. Then we just hung around, watching. Oh, and looking at the medals. Soon, one of them would be mine.
I stayed half dressed for as long as possible, but then there was the call to orientation and I got suited up the rest of the way and we all made the march down to the ferry landing to get on the boat:
Note the woman under the white arrow. Yes, she’s in a Wonder Woman costume, but she was not swimming. Later she would be encouraging everyone out of the water and she might have been the one who actually put the medal over my head. I don’t completely remember that part.
Suited up and ready to board:
Being piped aboard the ferry:
And down the gangplank:
Our boat: (there was one for the “suits” and one for the “skins”)
By the time we got on, all of the chairs and seats around the perimeter were taken. That was fine with me. I haven’t yet tried to sit down in a wetsuit. I can’t imagine it would be particularly comfortable. I found a pole to lean against and was quite happy. The boat continued to fill up.
We headed out toward Alcatraz, and got into position, but then, we had to hold everything for a barge that was coming through and then we had to go around the island one more time in order to get back into the correct position for jumping. We were literally just a hop and a jump away from “the Rock” itself.
That’s the back side of the island as we’re coming around to get ready again. The anticipation was palpable, but everyone was cheerful and friendly. That’s what struck me–how helpful and chipper everyone was. I was completely focused. I thought I was going to be nervous, scared, a wreck. I wasn’t. I was completely calm. I enjoyed every moment of it. I felt completely ready. I had not a doubt in my mind that I could do this. I felt more prepared for this event than for just about anything I’d ever done in my life. Even the jump out of the boat, which had really put me in a dither over the last few months, no longer seemed that big of a deal. I was dying to get in the water and swim.
I realized that by not sitting down and attaching myself to the convenient pole, I had put myself into a great position for jumping. I struck up a conversation with a guy who also happened to be wearing those 5-toed shoes to swim in. Turns out, we had met him on Thursday night (but I didn’t remember till later) and since we had been told that we needed to jump out of the boat 3 at a time, he asked me if I wanted to jump with him. I said sure and we recruited one other person and so had our three-some. He offered to take a picture of G and me:
Then, everyone and everything was in place. The support teams were ready:
And it was time to line up:
That’s our little jumping group. Then the boat was in position and off went the first group! We were only about the 4th group back, so I had no time to get nervous. In no time it was my turn:
Before I knew it, there I was at the open door of the ferry, staring down into the water. The watchers were good about making sure that the last group was up and out of the way before they let the next group go, but then I heard, “Jump, jump, jump!” and off I went. I had a hand over my goggles to make sure they didn’t shift and when I hit the water I just remember thinking that I was about 20 feet down, and that hey, it’s not as cold as I thought it would be! (It was 62 degrees). I broke the surface and started swimming. It was important to get away from the boat ASAP so the other groups could go, so I lit out and went for a good 100 or so strokes. Then I pulled up and looked back over my shoulder. The boat was way behind me! I was thrilled! For some reason I had thought that maybe it would be like swimming on a treadmill, that I would swim as hard as I could and not go anywhere. I knew a lot of people would be ahead of me, but I didn’t care, I was getting there. Already Fort Mason, where they told the slower swimmers to aim, looked closer even in my nearsighted state. I remember grinning like an idiot and I started swimming again. By then G had got up on top of the boat and was snapping pics like crazy:
By the time she got up there, maybe 3 or 4 minutes into the swim, I was probably somewhere near the red circle. The line is basically the way I swam–first west to the GG Bridge (giggle) and then back east to allow the current to help you get into Aquatic Park. Everyone said you did NOT want to be east of the opening because then you would be swimming against the current.
So, I swam. The water wasn’t any choppier than the worst time on the lake and it wasn’t any colder. My goggles never slipped. The sun was bright and the gulls flew overhead. I didn’t get kicked in the head by another swimmer. I did have to stop fairly often to take my bearings, but Fort Mason (the long light-colored buildings on the right) is hard to miss even with bad vision. The club had amazing spotters and kayakers who communicated with the slower swimmers. One guy stayed with me so I could keep swimming and look at his boat and not have to stop so often. Everyone connected with the swim was absolutely awesome and helpful. I never felt uncomfortable in the water. I never felt overwhelmed. I never felt like I had taken on more than I could do. All my training and work and thinking was exactly right. My gear was perfect. It was ALL GOOD.
Slowly the pier came closer. At one point my kayak angel told me to head east, I was ready to head to Aquatic Park. I had been swimming for nearly an hour and it felt like I just jumped off! When I passed into the lake-like water of the closed off area, I could see the shore.
Amazingly, Roxy was there unbeknownst to me at the time and she was snapping pictures. Although we had not yet met, once again, serendipity came into play and she managed to get the most amazing photo:
My jumping partner made it in about 15 minutes ahead of me and was very sweet to G when she started to get worried. I was never worried. I made this swim in my goal of an hour AND I was not the last person out of the water, which I think might have been an even bigger goal. I realized as I was working today that it’s already been a week since I swam. I can hardly believe it. All I have to do is close my eyes and I’m right back there on the ferry, the smell of salt water and neoprene in my nose. I can feel the water around me, remember swimming through the waves, catching my breath on the dips and riding on the swells. It was an incredible thing. And I did it.
I did it.