Friday, November 30, 2012

Ski N' Swim In The Same Week Outdoors

It's pretty hard to find a region where you can reliably ski and swim in the same week. Or surf and turf, or "surf and surf" if you're a snowboarder. Southern California comes to mind. You could ski in the Sierra Nevada then end up in Malibu or the like. Or the Cascades near Portland, Oregon. New Zealand perhaps, where the mountains come right down to the ocean (but I have no specific experience).

A friend of mine Peter and I have swum this week in New England. It's an example of how one person can inspire and motivate another. I started swimming in the ocean beginning on April 16 (@ 49 degrees F.), then I swam again in late October, after enjoying my cold river and ocean swims all season. But my friend kept going.

I got an email from him the other day, describing how he ran then dived into the 46 degree waters off South Boston. So I determined that it was my turn. I went over to Plum Island in the early afternoon. The air was 43 degrees F., sunny and breezy, and the sea was well...cold.

I walked for about a mile and was completely alone on the pretty windswept beach. Small waves were rolling in on the purple Atlantic water. The sun glinted off the chop. Properly motivated, I found a sea-battered log, stripped down to my bathing suit, and placed my clothes on it in the order that I woujld put them back on, pants to shirts to coat.

I was about 40 yards from the sea, toward the dunes. Pool thermometer in hand, I sprinted down to the water up to my knees. It didn't hurt, like cold water sometimes does. I was actually surprised that the temperature was quite bearable, given that we have had nights of 20+ degrees. I took a quick reading with the thermometer and it was 47-48 F. A personal record, but only by about a degree. I would not have done any of this if my friend hadn't sent me the email first, and I was having good healthy fun.

I looked around for bundled up walkers, faintly embarrassed, as if someone was going to call 911 ("a person is trying to end it all..."). I was still alone. I dived in. Oddly I didn't gasp (the mammalian diving reflex). I popped up pretty quickly, with the familiar all-body numbness and bathed in beta-endorphins.

I ran back to my clothes, put them on in order, then wandered back down the sand with a kind of runner's high, ruminating over solving the problems of the world. In other words, these cold-water swims are excellent for your state of mind. I had skied in Vermont four days before, a ski/swim first for me, and I think I felt colder skiing than I did swimming.

I couldn't wait to email my friend Peter. Motivation and camaraderie.

A footnote. Walking back along the wooden walkway to my car I heard gun shots. I actually smelled cordite, a whiff of gunpowder. Men were shooting in the estuary towards the Plum Island River. Weird. Driving home, I gliding up to a traffic cop, and he said "they're allowed to bird hunt." But a stray bullet taking out a bird watcher? It didn't seem all that kosher.