Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fantasy swim league

My Devil's Tower … my No. 23 … my Moby Dick
Meet my white whale.

Du jour.

When they come to take me away, you'll wonder about the image I'd been scribbling over and over just before.

I'll spare you the mystery: I'm toiling in my own sweatshop, forging the chains of my foolish obsession, which is to create an entity of swimmers in our Lake Natoma.

A swimming group already exists at the lake, and I belong to it, but I've explained before that I prefer the colder, starkly beautiful stretch of the upper lake, while the swim group stays at the lower more popular end, ringed with beachgoers and etched with rowers.

That swimming group also swims neighboring Folsom Lake when it has sufficient water, but I prefer Natoma exclusively.

This needs another tweak or three, but reflects the wildness
of the upper lake, particularly in late fall. The Rainbow
Bridge looms.
Only three I know of swim upper Natoma regularly, and only one swims regularly with me, and then only when our schedules mesh. One other regular swimmer returned to school, another moved away.

So even in the best of circumstances, it's not a big group.

But I dream of such a group: Natoma Open Water, or NOW. It doesn't really have to be big, just a steady, friendly presence on the lake, a regular group gathered solely for the love of swimming Lake Natoma.

Groups exist around the swimming globe — Coney Island and the Atlantic states, along California's coast and western Washington, Australia, throughout the United Kingdom, just to name a few. Some are huge, all are going ventures.

The group I dream of can include triathletes, but it wouldn't be a triathlete's group, or a group just for racers, or just for distance swimmers. They could belong to this group, but the common denominator would the simple love of swimming this water.

I've been working on an identity for that group for as long as I've swum Natoma, and I'm still at it.

Now I'm obsessed with the bridges of upper Natoma, the graceful imprint of humans on the natural landscape (not counting the granite channel partly shaped by dynamite in the state's early years).

The upper lake (formerly the trunk of the American River) narrows, and three bridges cross it:
A work in progress, a long way from finishing. I like the
force of negative spacing to "build" the new
Lake Natoma Crossing and using the background
as a third color, but it still doesn't tell the story from
a swimmer's perspective.
  • A century-old iron truss bridge built for cars and wagons but now solely for pedestrians
  • The stout Rainbow Bridge, nearly a century old, named for the concrete arch that seems to hold it up
  • And the new Lake Natoma Crossing, sometimes called the new Rainbow Bridge for its long fluted arches between the trestles, that mirror the arch of the old bridge. I'm just starting on the research, but I'm told the arches don't really have a structural purpose, and their inclusion became a debate of costs vs. aesthetics. The better decision won.
The bridges are best enjoyed from the water. From the streets only drivers on the old Rainbow Bridge can see the arches of the new bridge, and vice versa. The new bridge just feels like a four-lane freeway from the road.

It's a gorgeous sculpture beneath, where I am: Tapered arches and capped tapered columns, wasted on all but the aquatic. So now I'm trying to capture that elegance and turn it into an icon which may become a logo for a T-shirt for a group that may never exist except in my head.

It portrays the green water, at least … and the cold.
As my regular swim buddy David eloquently explains, "What for?"

It's not like swimmers flock to this place.

Still, I dream. I dream of being a friend of the lake, participating in beach cleanups and joining other nonprofit groups assisting in general maintenance. I dream of scheduling group swims for different routes. We have given names to the landmarks, and already dreamed up routes and swam them. We could have embroidered badges for completion of each route each year, just as the Sydney, Australia, Bold and Beautiful group does.

I dream of open-water introduction swims, much as Suzie Dods and the Dolphin Club do in San Francisco Bay's Aquatic Park.

Way too early … needs so much work, but going in the
right direction …
I dream of races. I haven't dreamed of them for a while, but an opportunity to show off upper Natoma
to La Jolla long-distance swimmer Tom Hecker this week has revived the possibility. He really enjoyed the early-morning trek beneath the bridges and thought almost immediately of a 2.4-mile swim here.

Word is sanctioned swims used to take place here, but someone told me many participants declared the water too cold, and the event was eventually no more. I dream of making the low temperature a selling point.

An group with an identity that uses and stewards the lake, that collaborates with all the other users and maybe raises the profile of the lake and the idea of open-water swimming to pool swimmer and anybody — like me — who never knew open-water swimming could be such a wonderful part of life: That's what sometimes peppers our after-swim chats around cups of hot cocoa.

It's high up and far off.

For now at least, I can work on the T-shirt.

This old one has franchise possibilities …

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