Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Becoming a river swimmer


Me, jump in the river water? That cold liquid downstream from all the Superfund Sites? Well, if it got to 95+ degrees I did. But this summer, not only did I lower that minimum temp to 80 degrees, I found myself jumping in for refreshing swims on a daily basis. Then I took to what no one else on the moorage had done -- swim-circumnavigate the moorage. I'd step down the ladder slowly, acclimating myself to the cold, then swim downstream in the main channel, and come upriver in the backwater and around by the sailboats, where every time, a guy on the end sailboat working on it would spot me and say "Here comes the blue river rat." (for my blue life jacket.)

I started out wearing a life jacket, since I'm not a great swimmer and I was going alone. Then my neighbor Mary let me try her less cumbersome AquaJogger, and I liked it so much I got one of my own.

How far was I swimming? I wondered. I walked up and down the walkway, counting the boards which, with spacing, are a foot wide. Then I saw Bruce and of course he knew and it was 1,000 feet, which, doubled and adding the moorage width, comes to something like four-tenths of a mile. Then I found a swimming/distance/calories calculator to see that one circumnavigation burns 259 calories -- a small mocha frappuchino with calories to spare.

It occurred to me that I probably swam more in the past month than I had in the whole rest of my life. We didn't swim as kids -- just floated in inner tubes at a lake. I didn't learn to swim until I took classes at the Y after I got out of college, and since then have swum mainly occasionally in hotel swimming pools.

River swimming is part of a new movement called "open water swimming." I looked it up and came across an organization in England called the River and Lake Swimming Association, or RALSA. Their main goal is to "increase public awareness to the fact that swimming in open water is a natural, healthy and ecologically friendly sport." My favorite of their club names is one called the Welsh Wild Swimmers Club. Maybe we here would be the Willamette Wild Swimmers.

These swims feel invigorating and like extremely good exercise. When I am in the backwater I swim on my back with a graceful underwater dance-like stroke. It doesn't cause any splashing and one lovely benefit was passing a rare-to-see green heron who didn't fly away as I glided past.