Thursday, September 29, 2011

Foreign country, foreign beach, in massively cold water

Photo of English Bay, Vancouver, off Stanley Park, by SqueakyMarmot on Flickr Creative Commons license.

Nearly brought to tears, I was, by the Strait of Georgia.
Shed my socks and sneakers on the gray-sand beach. It was the texture of flour with a bit of water and milk added, there at Stanley Park on Vancouver’s watery edge.

I plunged in a foot and felt the grip -- the absolute seizure -- of skin, bones, and all, by the cold depths.

The truth is, the Strait was no colder than the Puget Sound. I simply didn’t have a friend to egg me on, as I do at home in Seattle, and I knew that I'd left my Vancouver hostel already: If I dove, I'd need to make the 4-hour train ride home to Seattle in damp duds.

I was tired from sleeping poorly at a couch-surf, and sad because a very dear friend had just returned to the airport and onward to New York. I was alone in a foreign country, on a foreign beach, standing in massively cold water.

I watched my ankles in the clear depths, and moved forward a bit in the sand. Unlike Seattle beaches, this one had no pebbles to cut into my feet, which should have helped -- but the water was cold and seemingly bent on murder. I felt mortality.

All of a sudden, I lost the drive. I had been walking in sunshine along Stanley Park’s seawall, looking at the funny folded-umbrella shape of black cormorants on cliffs and down on rocky points in the sea, nodding at passing walkers and cyclists, gazing across the silvery waters towards the mountains of the separate district of North Vancouver.

On this particular day, I wasn’t ready for the mortality. I wanted the sunshine.

Usually, I would have driven myself to dip fully, to feel that excitement of being entirely wet, and the warmth that comes from no longer being half in one state and half in another. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to submerge – knowing, as I did, that I’d end up chilly and remaining soggy.

Strangely, though, the feeling of dread passed quickly. If there’s one thing cold water does, it lends a feeling of resilience: “If I can withstand that, I can do anything!” At least, it does for me.

I liked being in Vancouver, looking at the cousin to my regular views in Seattle. It was as if I’d started out looking at water from Seattle, and suddenly the picture slid over a bit further – and I was looking from further north.

It was a bit eerie, but wonderful. I’ve never vacationed anywhere that was in some ways a continuation of my own region, like a chance to learn more about it. It was like meeting the cousin of a dear friend, and finding that they have the same laugh and give their hair the same part. I kept looking at pewter water extending to distant hills, and boats in the marinas, thinking to myself: “Hey, hey! More of that! More of that thing I like!”

So, no swimming this time in Vancouver. But next time, when I have shower access, and possibly a wet-suit like the resident I saw at the city's Jericho Beach -- I'm up for it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The water was fiercely oceanic, bracingly cold

Photo of Seward Park Beach in Seattle by Chas Redmond, Flickr Creative Commons license.

Came here to the lake's east side cocky, post-Puget Sound popsicle toes of two days prior.

That earlier water had exhilarated me. It was so fiercely oceanic, so bracingly cold that we emerged with pinkish-red skin. Our epidermis needed to work -- skin's version of rubbing sticks together -- to re-kindle our body warmth. We were thrilled, and warmed happily in the sun. The outside temperature was mild in comparison.

After that, I figured Lake Washington would be relatively easy. Or at least, easier.

Today was sunny and sharp, but not chilly fall, yet.

Crossing the 520 bridge from the city, the sky and expanse of the lake were blue, the water a deep but limpid navy -- not somber as on some days. Bright motes bounced around the bus's vinyl interior.

In Kirkland, the lake-front is a narrow pebbled beach and a promenade where people walk wearing saris, head scarves, and the usual.

I was water-bound. Shucked shoes, stored other items near a friendly retiree from Cle Elum.

Walking to water, I realized that the pebbles at water's edge were different from other beaches' -- they were continuous, compact, and dug into my feet with insidious variety. 

Jumping from the dock it was, then. The quick plunge is actually my preferred method: into the sweet cool sluice of water, quickly. When it's not the Sound, or the lake in January, the water temperature isn't shocking, but nice, I feel.

I found a span of dock with a ladder on its side. Then I stood, jiggled my feet in nervous anticipation. Felt the audience of people sitting across the water, on benches under spruce trees in the park.

Then I jumped. Felt the water, delicious, cover my head. Felt that fall, the Jacques Cousteau-like propulsion. I felt unable to stop further immersion and unwilling to slow it. 

It was a wondrous human moment of letting go.

The water wasn't cold once I was in. I swam breast-stroke, against waves, and entered the marina. I passed docks, went toward the beach, and returned to my original dock. 

I felt like wondrous swim pioneer, like a Channel crosser.