Swim stories; I read a lot of them with wide eyes imagining what it would be like to swim out into a cold ocean. We were living in St. Louis, Missouri and it was January 2017 when I learned of ice swimming (elite athletes who swim in open water for long distances at freezing temperatures in just a swim suit). I was a competitive swimmer in high school but had never heard of such a thing (I mean, I am from Florida, ha!)
I remember recounting in great detail (to anyone who would listen!), the story of Lynn Cox, miraculously swimming across the Bering Strait (2.7 miles) in 38 degrees Fahrenheit water in only a swim suit, The fascination with the prospect of being able to be near a cold ocean; a place of such feats; probably reflected and fueled our move to Maine; close to the water. The ocean, and swimming, easily captures my imagination.
We’ve been in Maine for a year now and this spring I heard about Peaks to Portland and decided to go for it; even though it definitely sounded frightening!
Maybe BECAUSE it sounded so exciting and frightening?! I qualified around the end of May and then intended to get in plenty of quality pool time. I went to the the pool exactly ONE other time after swimming the mile to qualify.
And I did precisely TWO miles of swim training, in total. I played in the ocean (OFTEN! Daily if possible!) but I never actually practiced swimming IN the wetsuit until warm up 30 minutes before the race! I was definitely nervous, but really I did feel prepared. I exercise all the time; I wasn’t worried about the physical aspects of the swim. I swam for all of high school and here and there; it is kind of like riding a bike. Another swimmer I met before the race happened to have followed my exact training regimen; twice in the pooL! ahaha That was reassuring! :)
The thing I was most afraid of, and tried to be most mentally prepared for, was staring down into the deep abyss. As it turns out it wasn’t deep and dark like I expected, more like a bright shade of green/teal punctuated by the bubbles from my strokes. But still very abyss-y.
We caught the early ferry at 5:45 just in time.
The ferry ride over was so beautiful; the sun was rising and Casco Bay was buzzing with lobster traps being set, nets and poles being cast, distant train sounds, splashes and ripples and cold salty breezes.
The ferry basically follows the path of the swim route (just a different starting point on the Portland side) so it was great to study the landmarks and get a good look at the water. My favorite site while crossing was Spring Point Ledge Light (pictured below) as I have had two nice walks there recently; always fun to see a landmark from a unique vantage point.
Peaks Island was very quiet and peaceful and we got to connect with some new friends. I nervously stared out at the ocean while Greg and the other kayakers drank coffee.
I jabbered on about how “seals have basically the thickest wetsuits ever and they don’t get hot, right?” (I was convincing myself that my very thick, 3 sizes too big wetsuit made for surfing would be suitable for the swim). I didn’t REALLY consider foregoing the wetsuit. I knew I would be grateful for the extra layer and channeled my inner seal. Or orca! It was a hot morning and the water was 63 degrees. When I got in to warm up a bit (and to cool off!) I was immediately thankful for the suit even with the warm(ish) water. Ice swimming in a bathing suit is still a FAR flung dream; wetsuits really are just so wonderfully practical!!
GO! I didn’t want to expend a lot of energy right at the beginning of the race so I hung back in the wave and kind of watched the other swimmers set off. I still felt exhausted pretty quick because of all the build up/adrenaline/nervous energy and It was, for the first time, occurring to me on a very profound level…
“Ok, so this is what it is actually like to swim in the ocean. It’s happening.”
I swam across the channel toward the flotilla; a massive hoard of kayakers; searching for our bright blue kayak. Everything was brightly colored! haha!
I was still far away and couldn’t see a thing so I kept going. Then stopped again and took off my goggles and Smoochie was just about 30 feet away! Woohoo! He paddled over and I swam. My relief to have met up with Smoochie was quickly changed to UTTER PANIC when I saw a dark shadow as I passed north of House Island (probably a seal or maybe a rock on the bottom?) and then shafts of light and more bright green/dark teal and bubbles and TERROR. But a little prayer and the fright passed quite quickly.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Psalms 139:9-10
I swam backstroke and went all sideways and got dizzy. I swam a little breaststoke and jabbered nervous things to Greg, “Ok lets go…We have to stay left. We have to stay away from Fort Gorges. Where’s that channel marker.” Then I would swim for a stretch of five minutes or so (sometimes I think even more frequently than that), and stop and jabber for a few minutes. I do think I could win the award for person who talked the most and took the most breaks during Peaks to Portland. I guess I just needed breaks from all that staring down into the uttermost depths? Plus I can be a bit of a control freak and I couldn’t seem to relinquish navigation/sighting to my trusted and very capable husband and official kayaker (Smoochie) even though that is the WHOLE POINT OF having a kayaker; so you don;t have to sight/navigate. But I insisted on sighting which meant I did A LOT of looking around. About 2/3 into the swim I was taking ANOTHER break to jabber and Greg said “So, are you going to put any effort forth here?” LOLOL And I chuckled and then was like Ok, self, you can swim; and then I kicked it up a notch (e.g. actually started kicking) and gave it a good effort for the final 1/3 of the race (I mean, it is a race after all!!).
I passed a few anchored sailboats and could easily see the beach. Nausea came and I gagged. My right eye socket was pounding sore from my goggles. “Oh yeah this is why I avoid cardio/long stretches of exercise.” Ha! But I pushed on and those things passed and I was swimming hard now over green sea grass and I got a good look at the beach and the finish line!
I ran up on the beach along with two other swimmers and started running and thought “Hey! maybe I can beat these two guys!” lol And gave it a strong finish. And so thankful to MOochie for capturing a picture of that!!!
That swim was wonderful. It was a yin yoga style of swim. A sight-seeing style of swim. Next time, I know the course and might try to challenge myself with more abyss-staring and cardiovascular effort but for now I am BEYOND grateful to have had the opportunity to just really take it in and get to see Casco Bay from a whole different perspective. An hour and 27 minutes, 27.9 seconds REALLY well spent.
I’m also in awe of getting to be in the same race as so MANY world class, elite, FAST swimmers; it was a humbling privilege to swim in the ocean with all of those amazing people; people like Merry Farnum (2019 was her 32nd Peaks to Portland swim!!) and Brim Peabody, 16, who won the men’s race in a time of 48 minutes, 19.7 seconds and Genevieve Worthley, 24, the women’s victor with an impressive time of 53 minutes, 11 seconds!! I am so grateful for this experience!!! Thank you all for your support and donations toward this event that raised $200,000!!! to help bring more SWIMMING and other healthy activities to kids in southern Maine!!!!
Do you ever make a list of the cool people that you know/meet? I make mental lists all the time of the interesting people I learn from. I think about how their strengths/unique perspective can improve my ability to serve others as a practitioner (and also my life in general!)! It can bring a lot of joy to slow down and think about the SPECIFIC DETAILS of why people you know are awesome. Since each person is unique, literally every person brings something different and new to your world; that is pretty cool! It really inspires me to see individuals embracing their unique gifts and working to be the best versions of themselves. Chelsea Jeter is a naturopathic doctoral student based in San Francisco who is also an accomplished small business owner/entrepreneur AND fashion model/social media genius! She has this fearless commitment to being the most authentic version of herself and it is contagious!
AND GET THIS…
AS IT TURNS OUT, this precocious beauty believes me to be “woke”!
I was going to tell her I was too old to be woke but then I decided I’d go with it! (maybe I can write a Elizabethan sonnet about being woke lol). She is so cool I thought she might be AI. #conspiracytheories lol But seriously, her fearless commitment to being the very BEST VERSION of herself just shines! She has an EXCELLENT downloadable Top 10 ANTI-AGING pdf on her website. It really delves into what true skin health is all about and provides information about tools you’ve never even heard of! (Hint: it is not about moisturizers or serums!) Jeter inspired me to get working on my own “TOP 10” basic health tips (that you haven’t heard before!) and we even collaborated with the final editing! I am so excited to share the health tips with you; head over to Atlantic Family Health to sign up and receive the pdf via email! For readers here on spy garden I’m thinking of also posting the info maybe 1 item from the top 10 at a time (it’s a lonnggg document! About 7 pages :) of MUST-READ material!! :)
So excited to share with you all! And thanks to Chelsea Jeter for the inspiration!
These next few shots were taken by Stewart Smith Photography:
Love how these photos turned out! Stewart Smith Photography is located right by the OOB Pier and offers a super casual session where you just walk around OOB and take in the sights of the pier/beach while he snaps some shots! What a genius idea to remember your vacation in Old Orchard! We took advantage of the shoot as a way to get some shots for Atlantic Family Health!
Stewart also shoots all the covers for Keep it Local magazine, where I have been advertising!
Pictured below: Old Orchard Beach (north of the pier). My brother in law stayed at Friendship Ocean Front Suites ). Great spot (we went surfing there as the moon rose; it was awesome!!!) and heated pool!
My sister and brother in law stayed at the Nautilus and it was awesome! Highly recommend!
We had the best visit!!!
And nearly as tough as a rock…