Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bloggity blog blog (glug! edition)

One thing leads to another, and suddenly I want to travel.

Never really did before. Since I was little, I was conditioned to the conclusion that travel means money, and money must always go toward other matters. Some naturally rebel against such a notion, and trot the globe like Anthony Bourdain with a tapeworm.

I just shrug. Not that I don't love a good trip — unexpected experiences, the open road, the soul restored — and when I go, I'd like to see more of the United States. Even that amounts to so many pipe dreams. How long my kids have only heard me tell of my childhood trip Glacier National Park …

But serious travel? Eh.

Now I'm beginning to change my mind. I blame blogs.

In quick time, blogs have evolved for me from Time Wasters for All Concerned, to Exercises in Self-Indulgence (or Self-Delusion, Self-Congratulation, certainly Self-Something), to Really Useful Chronicles of Information That Speak to Me (though still with a good dose of selfishness in their DNA).

My blog still tootles between the first and second stages, and for your patience in reading this, I am grateful.

Four (no wait, five) blogs in particular give me vivid windows into worlds I had not considered, worlds in which I want to swim. (Yeah, another open-water swimming post; about blogs, for god's sake! Did I mention my gratitude for your readership?)


Donal Buckley is the eponymous swimmer, who plies the Celtic Sea in the southeast of Ireland, along the Copper Coast of County Waterford.

Until stumbling upon Buckley's blog (subtitled "who dares swims"), it didn't occur to me that Irish people swim what surrounds them. Or swim much at all. Proof enough I need to get out more. Why wouldn't the Irish swim!? It's an island nation.

Not only swim, but swim fierce cold waters. Snooping the Internet trove of open-water swimming, I came across a site for races at Loch Ness (how cool!) that calls it "wild swimming" (cooler still!).

That's what Donal Buckley, a solo crosser of the English Channel, and his fellow swimmers (which he doesn't often have, hence "loneswimmer") face. My home lake is a tranquil pool by comparison, my adventures mild.

Much more than chronicle his lonely swims, Buckley describes all aspects of cold-water swimming. Some subjects, though abstract to me, draw me in with his engaging style. Other matters are so concrete and handy I can take them with me on my next swim. All are written with self-deprecation and surprise, as in this and this.

Analyzing the list of what comprises a good open-water swimming location, for example (from The Daily News of Open Water Swimming  and there really is enough for every day), Buckley applies the list (year-round conditions, parking availability. lifeguards and the like) to his own remote location.

Parking he has plenty. Lifeguards? "The one that visited on last summer called out Coast Guard Heli Rescue 117 for me after I’d been in the water about five minutes," he write. "Not missing lifeguards therefore."

Buckley covers injury, pool training, dryland training, nutrition, mental endurance — and even tangential nonsense — with deep scrutiny and an understandable pride for the hardiness of swimming his waters.

Vague notions of listening to Irish music in a pub, after a day's walk in green rolling hills, have weakly tempted me one day to visit Ireland. Now I'd like to swim once with Buckley at Guillamene,
and do all that other stuff too.

Loneswimmer.com is worth a visit, even if you don't swim.

Pacific Jules

Then I'd be off to New South Wales near Sydney in Australia, a place called Manly Beach, where Sunday only 57 swimmers gathered to swim in choppy water. I say "only" 57 because every morning of the year at least 100 swimmers join to swim at least 1,500 meters into the clear Tasman Sea.

It's summer in Manly, the water warm. Swimmers pass over reefs and, I'd have to guess, take with them a thorough knowledge of shark species; I've seen their pictures of sharks called dusky whalers below them, bottom feeders which I guess the swimmers know pose them no harm. I want to join them and swim closely to a shark expert.

A chance conversation with a friend in 2008 prompted a woman named Julie Isbill (the Pacific Jules in question, a long-distance swimmer and lifeguard trainer) to start an informal open-water swimming group. Friends brought friends, and in short time hundreds of swimmers of all ages and abilities have participated, wearing hot pink and black swim togs, under the name Bold & Beautiful.

The group offers a variety of clinics, from introduction to technique to triathlon, and badges for longer swims. "I can't tell you what grown-ups will do for a sew-on badge," Isbill said last week on Australia Day, when the local government named her Manly Sportsperson of the Year for creating Bold & Beautiful.

I think of this group every day I'm on Lake Natoma's shore, usually by myself like Donal Buckley, and twice a week with a crowd of one or two other foolishly consistent swim friends, and wonder how Bold & Beautiful brings so many to the sea every day. I want to go there and find out, and buy a hot pink Bold & Beautiful "costume" (as Aussies apparently call their swimwear). Though I'm disappointed the group offers only bikini briefs and not the longer legged jammers; I look odd enough in jammers.

I learned of Bold & Beautiful through a facebook group page called simply, "Did You Swim Today?" and at least one member posts each day about their maritime adventures. Through that page I've come to learn Irish swimmers jump off nearly every edge of that island. Many, many post from the United Kingdom, England mostly, braving the chill open waters though occasionally frequenting their "lidos" or outdoor pools. One woman in Stockholm swims regularly in near-freezing water.

Swim Avila

Closer to home is a blog so alluring in its simplicity. It's a recap of the usual Sunday swim a loose-knit group of swimmers called the Avila Dolphins make in a somewhat protected cove in San Luis Obispo County near Pismo Beach.

The Dolphins have been making this swim for at least 20 years. Scroll through the blog to Dec. 18, and you'll stroke my ego by reading that I got to join the group on that day (and got extra points for going without a wetsuit). Rob Dumouchel, one of the organizers I swam with, who also publishes his own comprehensive and instructive (and generously illustrated) blog, robaquatics.com, embodies the ethos I got from the swim and the group's blog — a laid-back, aren't-we-lucky-to-be-able-to-swim-such-beautiful-waters? group encouraging others to join.

The weekly posts make me jealous. I'm so close (seven hours with a bathroom break down Interstate 5), yet so far. But in this case I can confidently say I'll be back.

life after 615

The blog that spurred this blurb is "life after 615" written mostly for (rather than by) John Caughlin, a Half Moon Bay, Calif., swimmer severely injured in a boating accident last September after he completed the already dangerous Maui Channel 9.6-mile swim solo. He finished in six hours 15 minutes (hence the title) and was wading in an area boats weren't supposed to go, until one did. The boat somehow sucked Caughlin under, and the propeller sliced through both arms. Surgeons had to amputate his right arm above the elbow and, amazingly, reattached his left hand save for the thumb and forefinger.

I heard his story in passing and hadn't thought more about it, adding it to the mental pile of death and grief and horror everyone amasses in the daily consumption of news. It seemed several rings removed from my life. Until it came to the fore this week.

The "Did You Swim Today?" facebook group page included a video from "life after 615," in which John Caughlin last week swam in the pool for the first since the accident. An easy, graceful technique hides for a moment the fact that he is missing parts of limbs. He reaches the end of the pool with a big smile, testament to the bright spirits that others say he has shown throughout, as his bloggers write. The blog includes a way to donate to his recovery fund.

I'd like to swim with John wherever, just to thank him for his inspiration. I'm sure I'd fall behind quickly.

I'm not so sure swimming will ever really get me to any or all of these places; my wife, harboring more ardent desires to travel, would say, "Oh, now you want to go? To swim?!" But who knows? Swimming has taken me farther than I'd thought possible.

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