Welcome to my thirties – the decade where I plan to quit talking about things and get on with the doing of things. The decade of no excuses (that’s markedly different than #nodaysoff, by the way – I consider days off to be an important part of a life well lived and highly productive). Especially when it comes to staying physically fit and active.
If you follow my exploits on social media or by way of direct personal interaction, you may know that I was making the trip (45 minutes each way) to Hoopa to swim in the closest pool to my house earlier this summer. I became a swimming junkie in high school when I joined a water polo team – no, actually around age four when I wanted nothing more than to be able to hang with my brother and his friends at the swimming hole, and that meant becoming a competent enough swimmer to navigate rapids, eddies, rock ledges and other features of a river. So, I started my life as a swimmer early, when my parents saw my interest and enrolled me in swimming lessons at the next closest pool two hours away in Arcata, California. The first time we arrived at that pool, family legend has it that I exclaimed with great enthusiasm, and to the immense amusement of everyone within earshot, “Whoa, this is a big swimming hole!” Apparently, I was hooked.
After my foot injury, I was first able to walk again in a swimming pool. I felt huge relief when, after eight weeks of nearly no activity according to my orthropoedist’s orders, I launched myself awkwardly into the water and could move my whole body in coordination and without weight bearing. And I sought out swimming pools all across Latin America with a wide variety of results. The value of swimming for my health, well-being and sanity cannot be overestimated as far as I’m concerned. Settling back into a rural river life, I have tried to build a routine that works for me.
For now, I’m running and walking every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But my body craves the buoyant, smooth, pulling rhythm of stroking through the water, twisting around for efficiency’s sake, shoving off, and powering forward again, letting it all run by. Swimming sharpens mental and physical focus and balances out the other ways I’m using my body. But, over the years as a swimmer, I’ve found that pools with their lane lines and cross marks for flip turns enable a certain kind of consistency and security. Even though I am perhaps most at home in the Salmon River, I have a hard time streamlining and getting the most out of my swims there. I’m always worried I’ll drift downstream in the current or run into a rock. I have to lift my head up frequently and it’s hard to find a good wall for flip turns.
Nonetheless, driving to Hoopa to swim on Tuesdays and Thursdays seemed crazy and people loved to tell me so. You have a swimming pool right next to your house, silly, one friend chided. I guess we get used to going long distances for everything up here in the far Northern California mountains, so I’m somewhat desensitized to it, but eventually even I had a hard time justifying the drive on curvy roads. So I started biking before work and swimming after work in the side channel to the river right below my house where Butler Creek pours in. I felt more confident about my ability to swim there, but I couldn’t get into a zone like I can in a pool.
Then, a week ago I started a plyometrics class Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at the Panamnik Building in Orleans which houses two non-profit organizations and countless community functions. The question for me was how to continue biking and swimming on those days also. So, I decided to bike about three and a half miles downriver to a swimming hole. Cutting a drifting diagonal ferry angle, I was able to find two bedrock walls that lent themselves to flipturns nicely. And I could open my eyes without goggles or the burn of chlorine (one of my favorite characteristics of freshwater like the Salmon River since I was young.) Before the sun crests the ridge, I find bald and golden eagles, blue heron, king fisher, egret and geese. Fish leap downstream where a creek burbles in. A family of otters observes from the rapids upstream.
Finally I have found a way to merge my love for swimming as exercise and a strange sort of meditation and the “pool” that flows through my backyard. I still carry a swim bag with the essentials in my car, and obsessively seek out pools in more urban areas like Hoopa, Arcata, Ashland, even Sacramento when I happen to pass through them. As winter sets in, swimming in the river will not be feasible. But for now, the eight miles above and below my house are turning out to be a pretty great gym.
I suppose this post is really my ode to swimming. As the door of the pool I found in Oaxaca quipped, “Nada más.” The phrase translates to both “nothing more,” and “swim more.” So that’s what I’m doing.