Thursday, June 7, 2012

The recklessness of water

It was a stupid thing to do.

From the outside looking in, maybe.

By the end, it was a manageable risk, an unabsurd adventure, and a memorable evening, embedded in the soft shimmer of glow sticks the morning after, and bedsheets that still smell of campfire.

The mission: Swim a cove of Folsom Lake under the full moon.

"We should do that," Dan said, a year ago. Seemed like a good idea then, even though I had no clue what it required, and it only seemed like a good idea because we weren't actually doing it. Then again, I had just finished swimming where I had not been before, and I was flush with the feeling I could chew off some more.

A year passed. I corresponded with some swimmers from La Jolla near San Diego, who not only have the privilege of swimming in the ocean every day, but swim each holiday in goofy themed gear. Last month, they swam under the so-called Super Moon, the full moon on steroids.

"We should do that," I repeated.

"Let's go June 3," said Doug, who I now realize was putting some thoughtful research behind this. Not every full moon cooperates, allowing one to swim beneath it at a decent hour. The June 3 (actually, it was full June 4) would permit us to jump into the lake at 9:30-ish.

Invite our whole online swim group and see who shows? Nah, we decided. Some in the group think a few of us are unsafe as it is, swimming at sunset, swimming alone sometimes. We'll invite a small group of known crazies instead:

Brad, who has crossed the 22-mile length of Tahoe, as well as a mile in 40-degree water in Tahoe in January, and who thinks nothing of swimming four to six miles in cold Lake Natoma for practice. Doug, a lifelong swimmer who churns San Francisco Bay regularly when he's not speeding through Lake Natoma, which is often. Dan, who swims, runs barefoot, and roller skates for miles, and in fact roller skated in the dark to our meeting place for the full-moon swim. Me, the slowest.

Doug, me, Brad, Dan, campfire.

(Two of the usual crazies found the late-Sunday evening appointment too crazy for the miles they would have had to travel. Next time.)

If we survived, maybe we'd spread the word next time.

Blinkies (those small clip-on bike lights), glow sticks, swim gear, cold gear, firewood, newspaper, matches. camping reservation (because Doug figured it was gonna be difficult to just walk into a state park and start swimming), wine, beer, Doug's wife, Brad's wife, my wife. Check.

One camera, which only made it as far as the campfire ring. No one who wasn't swimming was gonna follow us out to the water. It was crazy enough just to come out here in the moonlight with a bunch of swimmers.

Doug forgot his waterproof camera, so we were left with an artist's rendering of the act.

"Maybe we should just ditch the blinkies and glow sticks," Doug suggested. "No point in drawing attention."

None of us knows whether swimming the lake under the full moon is illegal. If a ranger wanted to cite us, we decided, then we would have another story to tell. We kept the lights.

The moon cast our shadows as we found a trail out to the parking lot to the beach. The black shapes of Canada geese got up out of their slumber, mumbled, and moved aside.

We could see the other side of the cove under the moon, and the large round oak tree we aim for. The water between was dark, with the moon behind us. The buoy marking about halfway across the cove was invisible.

OK, I was scared, but holding it in. Swimming into darkness, not really sure where I was going? How much fun could this really be?

But the water was warm and not completely black. It was dark dark green, and the bubbles from our strokes glowed softly. I counted strokes and sighted on the red lights blinking from the heads of my compatriots.

In fewer strokes than I expected, we were at the buoy line that defines the Beal's Point swim area.

"I figure the buoy over there," Doug said, pointing off into the night. We followed. Lost in the stroke count, I was surprised to come upon the group, suddenly stopped. "How we doing?" Doug asked, and pointed again to where he though the buoy was.

Off we went. Lost to the idea of swimming through the warm blackness, I didn't notice the group stopped again so soon. Darn if they didn't find the buoy in the middle of watery nowhere.

"I'm up to whatever the group wants to do," said Doug, meaning swim across the cove or head back.

"I'll do whatever," said Brad.

I laid out my case. "We did it, we could swim across, but the campfire is already going and we're not going to enjoy any of it if we swim all the way across."

After a moment bobbing and enjoying the sky, the low lights along the shore, we headed back. Dan got way wide on the way back. Thank god we decided to keep the blinkies and glow sticks. Finding each other in the choppy water would have been a tiring chore.

Proud peacocks, we dripped along the trail back to the campfire to tell our tales and drink beer. A ranger drove nearby as we walked the trail, shirtless. The ranger stopped and looked, then drove on.

Midnight snuck up on us. We broke camp while a ranger was arresting nearby campers for driving under the influence. Time to go home and think about Aug. 3. The next convenient full moon.

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