This weekend Angie and I are on a sailing trip to Benicia (well, I drove here, but everyone else sailed). We had a fun night of shenanigans last night and I woke up desperate for a swim. Colleen, always up to try a new swim spot, met us at a park in Benicia where a couple of folks from our google group had swum before.
The view of the Carquinez Straight and Bridge was striking; the yellow hills against the steel gray of the bridge. The tide was at its lowest when we arrived and we were tentative about walking in; the mud was slimy and deep and the park ranger had told us that the beach was glass-ridden.
After trying for a while and getting nowhere except further embroiled in muck, we walked over to some rocks in search of deeper water. It wasn’t much better, but we eventually flopped in. I performed my much-practiced shallow water swim until we were deep enough to swim regularly.
It was exciting to swim in new waters, but also nerve-wracking. I worried about getting too far into the channel where the currents are wild; I worried about what manner of sea life lurked below the surface (the same as lurk below us at the bulb, no doubt, as it’s all still the San Francisco Bay).
But mostly we swam, chatted, and swam some more. Enjoying water that felt free of the red tide and the novelty of a place we’d never been before.
As we headed back to the beach, we got caught in a current and stopped making progress. Luckily we were close to the rocky shore, and still in relatively shallow water and we ended up scrambling out over the rocks. It wasn’t particularly graceful and my feet are a little bit chewed up, but we made it!
*It’s a few weeks later and I’m doing some work on my blog and I feel compelled to add an addendum to this post now that no one but me is likely to read it. That last paragraph is bullshit: I vastly underplayed the terror of being caught in that current. This was probably one of the scariest swims of my year so far; or that last five minutes of it anyway. I felt stupid and reckless for putting myself in that position and so I skimmed over it in my write-up. Here’s what really happened:
We swam back to the pier and it took us much less time than we expected. We realized the currents were gently pushing us back the way we came the whole time we’d been swimming and so we hadn’t really gone very far. We weren’t quite ready to end our swim and so we decided to go back out in the direction of the bridge for a few more minutes and then turn back around again.
We swam and frolicked, chatted and played. We assumed it would be easy coming back because it had been easy mere minutes before. And, at first, it was. We turned around and swam easily towards the pier, debating whether to try and get out on the mucky beach where the tide was still low or aim for the boat launch on the other side of the pier. Colleen, a stronger swimmer than either Angie or I, headed for the beach. She was a fair bit ahead of us when Angie and I realized we weren’t moving forward at all. In fact, without a concerted effort, we were drifting backward.
With a pounding heart, I tried to put my feet down. For the whole swim, any time I was feeling a tinge of nerves, I reminded myself that we were in shallow water. Worst case scenario, I could stand up and walk back in. But my feet grappled for the mushy bottom and sunk. Kept sinking. There was no solid ground beneath me. I would not be walking in.
At that realization, I felt a surge of genuine panic. I might not be able to get to shore. There is nothing like the feeling of swimming as hard as you can and making no progress. Helpless, hopeless. You are doing the one thing you know how to do to make yourself safe and it isn’t working.
The terror probably only lasted a couple of minutes, but it felt much longer. I kept swimming as hard as I could and made incremental progress. Eventually, I felt a solid rock below me and grabbed it with both feet and hands. I pulled myself up that rocky outcrop with relief pouring out of every cell of my body, not even noticing the scrapes and cuts, which I would later find all up and down my palms and the bottoms of my feet.