Alcatraz! (Day 260)

By 4:30 a.m. I was wide awake and nervous. I ate a couple of protein-packed muffins I’d baked yesterday, drank my coffee, and worried. At one point Lulu woke up and wanted to go outside and when I opened the front door for her, I was blasted by the wind.

Oh no, I thought. It’s like a hurricane out there.

I texted my fears to our group chat and Gabe quickly texted back with a picture of the day’s, very mild, wind forecast.

Get it together, I told myself.

Angie picked me up and we drove down to Gabe and Terri’s house where Arwen met us. She wasn’t able to sign up for the swim, but she was all in with us anyway. We piled into Gabe and Terri’s car and drove across the bridge in the early-morning dark, going through the logistics of the day as the sky slowly brightened.

We said goodbye to Terri and Arwen at Hyde Street Pier—they would meet us at the finish with all of our stuff— and joined the group of swimmers waiting to board the boats.

There we met up with Sheila and Colleen and proceeded to spend what seemed like ages pinballing between various expressions of disbelief at what we were about to do: giggling, panicking, getting excited, fussing with our gear.

By the time we were walking to the boats, I had settled into excitement.

It seems like we all had.

We boarded one of the smallest water taxis because that ensured we wouldn’t have to jump very far into the water—something both Angie and I were particularly worried about. There was room for six so it was just the five of us and a sweet young man named Cooper who had come all the way from Kansas City by himself for this swim.

The captain gave me a minor scare by asking us, Where am I taking you? 


After confirming we were on an actual, organized boat and the captain knew what he was doing, I relaxed and enjoyed the quick ride out the island.

I felt ready. The things within my control were solid: I was energized and fueled with food and a good night’s sleep, I’d done the work to prepare my mind and body. And, by some stroke of luck, the things outside my control were also fantastic: calm water, warm air, light breeze, and a shining sun.  

At the island, all the boats stopped and Warren, the Odyssey organizer, counted down, sounded a horn, and one by one we hopped in. The water was cold, but refreshing and familiar. That familiarity was comforting. I know this water. I swim here every day. It took me a minute to get my goggles sorted and then I took off.

I lost track of all my buddies right away and after a few minutes of swimming, I stopped to see if I could spot them. When I realized the current wasn’t going to sweep me away, I paused to take a few pictures.

Then I spied Sheila and Angie and hustled to catch up with them.

For the next forty minutes, I swam steadily, keeping my eye on Angie’s bright orange buoy. We’d been told to swim hard across the current toward shore, aiming to the left of our ultimate destination because the current would be pushing us to the right as we cut across it. Crossing this current was the source of my biggest fears going into the swim and I diligently followed the directions, aiming east and swimming hard.

But at some point, I realized it wasn’t a particularly difficult swim. I could lift my head and look around, soaking in the sweeping views of the bridges, the San Francisco skyline, the fogged-in East Bay, Alcatraz behind us, without losing much ground. 

As we neared San Francisco, it was time to make the right turn toward the St. Francis Yacht Club. Now we were swimming toward the Golden Gate Bridge and with every breath, I took in that beautiful view. I kept swimming hard. Just as it wasn’t as difficult to swim against the current as we had been warned it could be, neither was it as easy to fly in on the current as we had been promised it would be. Clearly, the current was taking it easy today, which was a good thing overall. 

As we got closer, the support kayaks paddled over to warn us not to get too close to the shore because there was a back current. I’d been so fixated on making sure I was close to the shore when we approached the beach (the orientation information included stories of swimmers who were only half a mile out, but couldn’t get in because of the current) that this information stressed me out. How far was too far? How close was too close? I put my head down and kept swimming.

When we were rounding the corner to the beach Gabe appeared out of nowhere!

I was happy to see them; glad we would all swim in together (except for Colleen, but we knew she’d be faster than us).

Then, Arwen appeared! She’d swum out to meet Colleen and stayed in until she saw us. 

It was a happy scene on the beach; the crowd of swimmers and family and friends cheered for each of us as we climbed up the sand and I was thrilled to see so many friendly faces: Kevin, Laura & Helen, and fellow bulb swimmer Susan, who came with treats! Plus all of Angie’s family and Gabe’s wife, Terri there with all of our warm stuff. (Well, not all of it…Sheila had given Angie and me her warm clothes to hand off to Terri and we’d left them in her car back in Berkeley!). There was much picture-taking and celebrating and then many of us went off to brunch dressed in our finest post-swim gear. 

It was a thrilling day. I’m proud of myself and my buddies for tackling a big swim that scared us and having so much fun doing it. I’m ready for the next one!

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