Thursday, March 5, 2015

Gym membership renewed, year 5

New pass — cheaper than last year's! — amid the detritus
of an inveterate doodler.
Another year!

One year more, for swimming my beloved Lake Natoma whenever I feel like (within reason and daylight … ), whenever I can, any day of the year.

Christmas! New Years! Sadie Hawkins Day! That's right, I said Sadie Hawkins Day!! Damn the limits!

Well, except March 31, 2016, when this contract expires.

But that's not gonna happen. I'll be in line that day buying the 2017 pass, probably after a swim. Bet on it!

Not that there is ever any line to buy the pass. I'm just melodramatizing my zeal.

This pass is so much more than a convenience and amazing bargain. It's a symbol, a trophy I award myself.

It means I plan to embrace the water at Natoma for as long as I can, one year at a time. This marks the beginning of my fifth year.

Since buying last year's pass, I have migrated farther up the lake to its northernmost point, where the water is coldest, and have nearly tripled the difference of an average daily swim. During the year our swim buddy ranks have thinned, from as many as five in spring, to one other swim buddy now. Life happens when you're making other plans, right?

Seems silly to design group t-shirts now.

I have swum the lake's length 10 times at least, and swum a double length once.

The pass marks my passion to do more — more lengths as a matter of course, a few more double lengths. Maybe permission to dream of officially epic swims, and let my body and mind toughen over time for that possibility, in the cold green water of the lake.

Distances and dreams aren't as important as to me as perseverance, and the realization I have swum at least five days a week for seven straight years, the first three in a pool at 4:30 a.m.

It's something grand for me that I'm glad to do, and hope fervently to keep doing.

I bought this year's pass at the ranger kiosk at the lower lake, Nimbus Flat. I usually buy it at the labyrinthine central offices of the California Department of Parks and Recreation in downtown Sacramento. I always forget in which of the nondescript towers the little windowless park pass office is, and I have to sign in at the front desk, and wear a little badge. So much Big Brother bother.

By buying it instead from the parks attendant at the kiosk, out in the fresh open air, I came away with additional swag I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

I got:
Last year's pass became quite
the conversation piece:
"Hey," says the state park attendant,
"Why is 'January' crossed out and
replaced with 'February?'"
"The guy at the parks office made
a mistake," I explain.
"Why didn't he just issue a new pass?"
"Hey, what am I, Scotland Yard?
How would I know?"
No, I didn't say that. I say,
"I don't know."
(Pause for scrutiny.)
"Well, all right, then."
(Attendant waves me through.)
Repeat nine or 10 times.

  • A receipt! 
  • A recap of state parks rules. Nothing prohibits swimming, I see, though I'm forbidden to destroy or disturb natural resources. Destroy? No. But I couldn't say whether natural resources find me disturbing.
  • A pamphlet on how to reserve campsites in the California parks system. It's eight pages of very tiny type to explain this succinct concept: Good luck and God be with you. The state could write that on a Post-it®™ note.
  • A list of all the places we can and cannot go (mostly Southern California beaches) with the pass. 
  • A map of the state parks system, to go with the many other maps we already have. It feels weird that it's a 2013 map, but why spend my tax money if you don't need to?
  • A Guide to Eating Fish Caught in Folsom Lake and Lake Natoma. Trout 16 inches or shorter, as well as bluegill and green sunfish, are low in mercury. If you're not a woman 18-45, a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding, or a child 1 to 17 years old, eat two servings per week if you want. Try the trout, the pamphlet says: it's high in Omega-3s!

    But don't eat any kind of bass, chinook salmon, catfish or trout longer than 16 inches. They're high in mercury. That goes for everybody.

    These things I did not know. Also, there are no known fish that have just medium levels of mercury. I don't know why. The pamphlet doesn't explain.
  • A pamphlet for Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. It's embarrassingly pro-Folsom Lake. Lake Natoma is the poor distant cousin, seen on the map but not heard from very much. Oh well, more for us swimmers.
  • A pamphlet for pumping wastewater from your boat, and how to prevent water pollution.
The receipt reveals a markdown in price. Last year's pass was $150, to commemorate the 150th anniversary o the parks system. It seems strange and ballsy to charge more money for such a commemoration, but I'm not in marketing.

I also got a wallet card that would have gotten me into All the Places No One Wants to Visit. It was free. I tried going to one of those places. It was closed. On a Sunday. Sunday feels like the kind of day one of these places would be open so folks could visit. You know, to give it a fighting chance. But I'm not in charge.

At either price, the pass is a bargain. If more people bought them, California's parks wouldn't be in such woeful shape, where gleaming water fountains stand broken and a bare water pipe sticks up out of the ground nearby instead, with a Cold War-era bubbler screwed to the top.

If you go to a California park or historic site even once a week, you should buy one and save yourself serious money. Do it for my sake.

I'm going swimming.

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