Thursday, August 18, 2011

Swimming across America

Who knows what evil lurks in the floral depths of Diamond Lake?
Just plants … probably …
In my futile, doomed, disorganized, happenstance attempt to swim in every lake in America, I can at least cross two more off my list. It wasn't a big list to start with: Folsom Lake, Lake Natoma (Sacramento and Placer counties); Lake Tahoe (Nevada and California sides); Spring Lake (Sonoma County); Ozette and Cascade lakes (Washington state); (does San Francisco Bay count?). The list remained small because I had held to the wisdom, broken but a few years ago, to wit: "What fool would swim in a lake?"

(Lake Pend Oreille {Pon-du-RAY} in Idaho doesn't count. That was more of an organized attempted drowning when I was eight or nine; but that's a story for another time.)

(On second thought, if I include Lake Pend Oreille, I could try for a more bucket-listy swim-one-lake-in-every-state goal … )

Over a farewell-to-summer camping trip with my family the last long weekend, I swam in Lost Creek Reservoir (wonder why it's lost; maybe because the creek got turned into a reservoir?) and Diamond Lake in south central Oregon. Two more different lakes would be difficult to find, but I'll keep trying.

Neither lake caters to swimmers. Lost Creek Lake sets aside a paltry misbegotten swim area on the other side of steep peninsula from the narrow marina, where all the action, if you can call it that, was. The reservoir holds back some of the Rogue River, and the water level has dropped 20 feet from its max, leaving swimmers with a long, gravelly, weedy, desolate walk to the water.

At Diamond Lake, the swim area is even tinier, a rectangle of no more than 10 yards wide and 20 yards long on a narrow beach in front of its resort (where it's always yesterday, and the last good yesterday appears to have been 1964). I did not swim in Diamond Lake's swim area; since the water would have not even gone up to my waist, I would have had difficulty swimming there.

I swam in the middle of Diamond Lake instead, off the deck of a patio boat, the rental for which we splurged. I mean, how many chances are you gonna get to rent something called a patio boat (which is exactly as you would imagine, a floating patch of shaded indoor/outdoor carpet on pontoons, complete with deck chairs — it was missing a Weber™® grill — and an outboard motor on the back)?

We made a three-hour tour … a three-hour tour … around the lake, stopping to eat, stopping to look, stopping to swim, tootling along.

I didn't swim for long, because of the sudden realization, after I jumped in, that I would have a difficult time getting back on the boat. Much like an actual patio, the boat lacked rope ladders.

Knowing the effort back on the boat would be a pain, I didn't stay in the water more than long enough to note that it wasn't very deep (maybe 20 feet where we were) but very dark green and full of plants whose long tendrils crept just within the clearer water closer to the surface, to resemble fingers reaching up for my feet.

I'm not usually mindful of the flora and fauna below me as I swim, but these fingered plants made me want to get back in the boat quick. More and more these days, I'm mindful of the rhythmic risk-and-rescue that swimming is: Alternately submerging your face into the dark dense unknown and lifting it for a quick saving breath, just to risk all once again.

Shallower places along the lake were crystalline green, but I didn't get back in to look, a decision I regret.

Lost Creek Lake flat-out does not welcome swimmers. It's a powerboat/ski boat/jet ski lake (Diamond is a trout fisher's paradise where most boats plod along), so swimmers face high risks venturing beyond the swim area. My daughter spotted a floating swim deck in the middle of the lake (which seems stupid because of the high-speed boat traffic), but I didn't feel safe crossing the boats' paths to make the half-mile journey to the deck. My daughter and son and I were confined to the swim area, where the wind and chop had churned in the fine red dirt near the shoreline to a rusty murk.

It made me thankful for cool, green Lake Natoma, where a low speed limit discourages motorized boats. Except for a few racing kayakers who think it's funny to race right through a group of swimmers, most people on the lake leave swimmers alone.

Let me know of a swim-friendly lake in your state. Maybe I could make this a bucket list after all. Though I'd swim Pend Oreille again just to make matters kosher.


  1. Pff, your son spotted the floating deck. Your daughter just told you about it. :)

  2. such a claim needs proper documentation …