Thursday, August 1, 2013

how do i love facebook™®? let me count the way

From Dave Mulcahy, all the way from Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland!
Photo taken far from there, calm Lake Natoma, Sacramento County,
California, United States of America.
For all its faults — of which we need blame ourselves; it's only the monolithic messenger, after all — facebook™© is wonderful for one reason:

It turns my world into one well-knit neighborhood of swimmers.

The virtual neighborhood became real last month. More on that in a bit.

I belong to a facebook®© group with one simple purpose — to share each member's swim that day.

(Technically, the page asks members to tell whether they swam that day, but thank goodness few are so terse.)

My daily routine includes checking the page to learn the latest.

A small number of posts are lists of pool sets (distance, number of repetitions, type of stroke or kick, intervals between repetitions, target time, etc.) Those reports look something like this:
200 Choice Swim
200 Pull
200 Choice Swim
200 Kick
6x50 drill w/:15 rest (1 Sailboat/1 Catch-up/1 Fist)
1 x 100/200/300/300/200/100 @ 2:00 per 100 (First 100 is always FAST!, pull second half of ladder)
300 w/fins (50 Kick/100 swim, repeat)
*2600 total*
I don't really understand what they mean, but I "like" them anyway, to acknowledge "Hey, that's your thing and right on! Swimming is swimming®."

"Swimming is swimming®™" is a registered trademark of the aforementioned facebook™© page. All rights reserved.

Most posts, though, describe vividly swims from across the globe, no matter the water. On a given day, the group will share about a summer swim in the now-frigid, now-warm waters of Lake Ontario … the winter threshing of surf off New South Wales, Australia … another tarn (mountain lake) "bagged" in the Scottish Highlands … and an exploratory swim of St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Fla. as part of the fight to save it.

We read reports of swims in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, England, Ireland, Greece, South Africa, American Samoa, New Zealand, Russia, Tunisia … Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Washington, Utah, Florida, Hawaii, and up and down California. Pool, lake, river, ocean and sea.

Every once in a while, the group talks of swim caps.
Here's one of my proposals. dyst? is the acronym,
"Did you swim today?"
That's a woefully incomplete list. I left out Zane Hodge, for example, an English instructor in Greenwood, Miss., who swims in swarms of catfish for his open water experience, then raises diabetes research money each year by swimming 14-plus miles of what appears to be an ancient bend of the Mississippi River.

Group members are treated to photos of storybook cottages in England along little smooth green rivers in which swimmers splash with their orange "butt buoys" floating along behind … the hyper-real Technicolor®™ of sharks and fiddler rays and creatures from a Ridley Scott movie swimming beneath swimmers off Manly Beach near Sydney … garibaldis (California's state fish) and tide pool denizens just below the daily swimmers off Laguna Beach in Southern California … and swimmers laughing above the froth with Coney Island swirling and whirring behind them.

A doctor in San Diego swims the ocean at 5 a.m. and reports the sea life he finally can see when the sun rises.

No fewer than 70 swimmers (and usually about 200) meet each morning at Manly Beach in neon pink gear under the rubric Bold & Beautiful. The Laguna Beach crowd, calling themselves the Oak Streakers, make sure to dress appropriately for all the big holiday swims and festoon themselves with glow sticks and blinking lights for full-moon swims.

Almost left out the Seabrook Seals of Dorset and Big Ricks Swim Team. So many to mention and this list is still so incomplete. 

We share it all each day, like sitting down at a collective kitchen table and recounting concisely our concurrent days of swimming. When a swimmer bemoans his/her loss of mojo or gets stung by jellyfish, others quickly provide advice and condolences. New swimmers get encouragement and virtual back pats. Congratulations bloom immediately when swimmers reach major goals, whether a 25-mile race or
Here's another design proposal. The discussion on this topic
has gone dormant, as it does from time to time …
their first mile, whether by a globally renowned open water swimmer or a schmo like me.

Our communication is instantaneous, another thing I like about facebook™©®.

We also commiserate with one another. A swimmer named Jonathan Joyce, a Web entrepreneur whose energy and love of life shone through the tiny windows of facebook©® posts, died on a swim in June. An English Channel swimmer named Susan Taylor died last month in her attempt. Swimmers on the group page mourned their loss. Many wrote the swimmers' names on their arms and photographed their arms, posting the pictures on the page.

Swimmer and St. Johns River advocate Jim Alabiso even created another group page, celebrating "vicarious swimming" in which swimmers write others' names on their arms, for various reasons, and celebrate them on their swims. 

All these reports send me to Google's map function, to find their swimming holes, and someday to go there. Places named Sonning on Thames, Buttermere, Wastwater (though I proposed changing that name), Allerthorpe, Lac Memphremagog, Loch Lomond.

Great Britain's pools are often called lidos (pronounced Lie-dohs, I believe), where many of the posters swim. I found it funny that one British swimmer demurred at my calling tow floats "butt buoys" when she and others find it perfectly unfunny to call one of their swimming pools Tooting Bec Lido.

Their reports also send me to slang dictionaries to learn that brekkies is breakfast and cossies are swimwear in Great Britain, and "knackered" is bad and "I'm gutted" is about the worst one can feel, probably from missing a swim. Several of the British declare their swims "cheeky."

We have our own slang this side of the pond. More and more posters are describing their swims as "pootles," easy and un-exercise-like.

I add my almost-daily report from Lake Natoma and try to describe the something new that each day's swim brings, and I do so in the spirit of self-deprecating humor most of the swimmers use.

(We forgive the swimmers who report, "Not today (did I swim), but yesterday I swam to France in 14:32." English Channel crossers earn their cheek. 'Tis the season now for the famous marathon swims, the 21-mile English and 20-something-mile Santa Barbara channels, across Lake Tahoe, and elsewhere.)

Yesterday, for example, I noted the turkey buzzards overhead, who missed their chance at getting me for leftovers. I always describe the water and list the temperature, in Fahrenheit and celsius, just in case someone besides me cares. The compendium of reports lets me know the arcing rise and fall of Lake Natoma's temperature as we swim it year 'round.

I seldom post photos, and when I do they're swim buddy Doug Bogle's. I'm terrible with cameras, and one would soon be at the bottom of the lake, joining two of my car keys, if it were left to me.

Which is why I was so surprised that two swimmers came to visit last month, based on my mini missives.

Suzie Dods, known well in the open water community for competing in some of the longest races held, and the one who led me on my first swim of Aquatic Park in San Francisco, came over with a friend to swim the chilly upper part of the lake. We wandered upstream against the current, past three bridges, feeling tiny amid the giant granite boulders through which the water coursed.

Then a man named Dave Mulcahy, from County Cork in the south of Ireland, let me know he'd be traveling to California and would like to join me at Natoma. I've come to know the Irish as fiercely passionate about open-water swimming, in some of the most challenging conditions.

OK, let me know when you're in town, I wrote back. See you when I see you. Out of sight, out of mind. I didn't really think it would happen.

But after a long hot day of work three weeks ago, resolving to skip my swim for the day, I got home to a text message.

I'm in town, Dave said in the message. Are you still up for a swim?

Someone really came all the way from Ireland to swim with me! I grabbed my stuff and headed out, finally finding Dave and his family in the labyrinth of roads at upper Natoma.

Dave's family had planned a trip from San Francisco south to visit relatives, and carved out a side trip to see the lake I described.

But almost everything in Ireland is a three-hour drive away at most, said Dave's wife, Brigid, so it was a culture shock to realize how far from San Francisco their side trip would take them. But they came anyway, even got lodging nearby.

After a tour of upper Natoma, our zigzagging courses crossing each under under the new bridge and back, Dave pronounced the swim "lovely."

Think of it: A swimmer with whom I share words about a shared love. And from those few words, half a world away, we came together. To swim.

Dave presented me with a hat from his swim club, which I'm wearing in the picture. A perfect host would have worn the hat on the swim, but I am a perfect oaf instead. I wore it next day and posted the picture.

Dave and his family made their way down the coast, Dave to swim in all the places I have yet to get to — and I live here! This week I saw another post from Dave swimming near his Fermoy home, and noted his safe journey back. I have a new urgency to make it to Ireland.

Today, as always, I check the world's swims by the world's swimmers. Their joy is best captured by this post, from a swimmer in England who goes by Plum Duff:
"A delicious dawn dip in a blissful French river. Soft water, stillness, birdsong, raindrops; followed by a simple riverbank breakfast eaten to the sight of a pair of kingfishers and their reflections rolling and tumbling across the mercurial surface of the water.

It is fair to say that not all swims are created equal. This was one of the finest."
Swim on!