Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Weekend in San Francisco -- a poem that barely touches the experience--and some photos

24 Hour Swim Relay, San Francisco

She shared the song with a doubtful friend.
What if I have a meltdown? Be sure to
wear flowers in your hair, she said.
I met some gentle people here and there.

Was I ready? I left snow, ascended into cold,
minus more degrees than I was old.
Through the window, mountains, stretches of wild.
How did the pioneers survive, push west?
We were flowers somewhere. It was hard to explain.
They swam in sunlight, the water cold, the people warm,
moving back and forth, belonging, as seals do

to water, slipping through their blood, hot and cold at once,
opposites, held tenderly, reclaimed by land.
We shook the cold from our skin over pizza or oatmeal or eggs,
hatched again in water, calling like gulls to one another,

sometimes flying. A woman swam butterfly in tight circles at midnight,
Lights dancing over the water, swimmers and stars,
tow floats with beacons inside,
swimmers getting wet, getting dry.

Night fades into morning. I leave the dock as sun fills sky,
return to swim. 


It's so hard to put so many memories into words. Seeing the Golden Gate as we neared the airport. The trip on the BART line to the wrong hostel (Mason Street, when I should have gone to Fort Mason--a trip via LYFT resolved that problem­.) Walking along the beach to the South End Rowing Club Friday afternoon to check in and help with dinner prep. People were swimming as if it was the most natural thing to do in February, children playing in the sand, occasionally venturing into the water, emerging quickly, but without shock, despite temperatures most of us would find chilly. 

Dinner--introductions. Where were we from and what book would we bring to a desert island? So many possibilities from the Cat in the Hat to Stephen King (I chose Virginia Woolf's The Waves--perfect for a swimming weekend). There I met Lisa, captain of my team, the Birdwatchers, along with several teammates.

I returned to the hostel thinking it was late, but I was on east coast time. Enjoyed down time with a couple of other swimmers--next morning, breakfast and another walk to the Rowing Club. This was getting real. Yet I was feeling calmer than I had in days--the fear, the anticipation, would I be ready? Would it be too cold? Would I panic? Now it was just a matter of beginning. Of swimming. And that, it turned out, during my first hour, was a frolic, shouting and laughing like children, stopping to chat with other swimmers, then moving on. We would swim around a flag buoy, then across to a pier that looked to be about 300-400 yards away, then to the dock and back out to the buoy. Lisa warned me against a certain spot further along the pier.

“That’s Bitey’s territory.” “Bitey,” probably the unofficial relay mascot, had, in fact, inflicted some pretty serious damage to a couple of swimmers about a month before the relay. Naming him—and even naming a team after him: gaining a kind of power by naming the adversary, perhaps?

On my first swim, I was perfectly happy to go two laps, although in my second one, some queasiness set in after one lap, and I chose to keep it to a single lap. Water temperature 53, according to a thermometer on the buoy.

After the first swim, a walk around Fisherman's Wharf, buying souvenirs, wandering through a museum and some galleries, and back to the club to get ready for the second swim.

It took longer to recover from my second swim, so by way of caution, I passed on the night swims and instead opted for two dock shifts (to record swimmers "getting wet, getting dry." Swimmers were to say that to the people on the dock, as it's unambiguous, unlike "going in" or "going out" which could mean going into the water or out of the water.) I was getting sleepy toward the end of that shift, and it was getting more challenging to record the swimmers, but 1 a.m. finally came, and with it the need to borrow a sleeping bag. Someone--I don't remember who--lent me a bag and led me by hand to the Dolphin Club in the dark.

A four-ish hour nap after shift number one (11 pm to 1 am) in the Dolphin Club (really, my only time inside there)--up at 0430, coffee, bagel, and onto the dock for the 5 a.m. shift. By now, I was more awake and enjoyed the friendly company of Everett, a volunteer helping with the Birdwatchers and getting a chance to swim. We chatted, watched for swimmers, some part of the relay, some just club members out for their daily swim. Someone swam butterfly near the dock--was it on the first or second shift? I forget. She made tight circles around and around until her time was up.  A peace settled over us, and the two hours flew by. Back in the Rowing Club, enjoyed some breakfast, more coffee.

I felt ready once again to take on another swim. There was to be a "victory lap," with all the team members swimming, and I began my swim about fifteen minutes before the lap was to start. Lisa had already gone in, and I was solo for about five or ten minutes until I caught up to her near the buoy. We exchanged hugs and swam together, again the childlike exuberance returned, the laughter, the shouting, the whooping it up, until all the swimmers hit the water, and we swam around, not all of us to the buoy, then back to the dock and to shore. By this time, I was delighted to be in the water, didn't want to leave, felt celebratory--could have stayed longer, but it was time to get ready for my trip back home.

The recovery period in the sauna was easy--I had familiarized myself by then to the after-drop, the odd sensation of both hot and cold inside, as if I'd swallowed Icy Hot, the muscle rub that can't make up its mind whether to chill or heat your sore muscles. I knew that feeling would pass in time, and meanwhile, I had new friends to cuddle with, shoulder to shoulder, women together talking swimming and so much else.

Teammates Everett and Jamie took me to the airport--smooth, on-time flight back, with the pilot providing not only flight updates but Superbowl scores. I half listened, dozed, read the inflight magazine, dozed, looked out the window--clouds with lights poking through from time to time.... landing in Philadelphia to the news that the Eagles won--applause on the plane as passengers retrieved bags from overhead bins. 

Horns honking on the LYFT ride home... and my sweet yellow 17-year-old kitten greeting me... So many memories swirling around, so hard to capture them all!