The summer of jumping in


Last summer, mid-way through July, I finally took the plunge (quite literally) and started jumping in instead of hanging off the dock ladder FOREVER before getting in... (cliff jumping, diving tower jumping, and just plain ol' joyful jumping...)

It's now been a full year and I'm officially a full-fledged JUMPER-INNER. I love it. LOVE IT. Everything about it. #cantstopwontstop





And I played the animal game where the person on the dock counts down from three and when you are mid-air yells the name of an animal you have to make in the air. (ps: BEST. GAME. EVER).

A snake:


I even tried a canon ball (though truth be told it's not my fav):



Here's to more jumps to round out the summer!

  • Lindsay
  • Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Swimlit: Gillian Best’s The Last Wave is a love letter to the sea


I don’t understand the sea. Not one bit. I grew up in my neighbourhood pool, and in Ontario lakes, and the thought of a shifting shoreline, not to mention undertows, is disorienting, terrifying even. I also can’t read a tide table to save my life. When I hiked the West Coast Trail at 18, I got caught not once, not twice, but three times on the beach with the tides coming in, scrambling up slippery ladders, soaked to my knees.

But if there’s anyone who could convince me of sea swimming, it’s Canadian-born, Bristol-based author Gillian Best. In her debut novel, The Last Wave, Martha, a devoted ocean swimmer who wears the second skin of her bathing suit tan for most of her life, never once steps foot in a pool. “The sea is alive, expansive; a pool is dead and confining. The sea is freedom. There is nothing in a pool: no current, no tide, no waves, and most of all, no history,” Best writes.

In the book, Martha swims to escape just about everything—the drudgery of motherhood, the mind numbingly boring tasks of being a housewife and is so well crafted, when I spoke to Best this week, I had to keep myself from asking how Martha was doing.

Best laughed. “She’s like an imaginary friend to me, too,” she says. “She’s good, she’s doing well.”

Martha doesn’t just swim in the sea, she crosses the English Channel nine (!) times (with one failed attempt). The book traces her swimming journey from 1947 until the present day and includes her Channel swims, estrangement, dementia and a devastating cancer diagnosis.

Best writes: “Gliding through the water almost completely submerged had always been a retreat to a different world for me. Swimming front crawl allowed me to focus inward, blocking everything else out—and the absolute quiet it afforded was unique. No other solitude—not going to the library, not sitting on a bench by myself—allowed my mind to wander so freely, roaming the wilds of my fantasies and the hundreds of other lives I imagined for myself.”

Swimming has also provided sanctuary for Best, the sea omnipresent in her life as well. As a 12-year-old, she spent time visiting San Francisco with her father. “I was always the first one in the ocean and the last one dragged out,” she says. She would collect small bottles of seawater and take them back to land-locked Waterloo with her so she could smell the briny sea during the “grim” Ontario winters and “be transported.”

She believed for years she’d be a professional surfer – something she laughs about now – but realized that it wasn’t surfing she was obsessed with, but the ocean. “It’s a holy experience, how people relate to water,” she says.

After years of swimming competitively, and lifeguarding and teaching swimming, Best moved to Toronto for university and was diagnosed with painful arthritis, a type in which, she describes, her spine and hips are trying to fuse. She began swimming again and says it has saved her time and time again. “I can be limping and hobbling on land, but as soon as I’m in the water, I can move again.”

“For me, water is physical freedom,” she says.

Though Best wrote about the English Channel, and ocean swimming and the power and fortitude of the sea, she admits she’s a pool swimmer herself.

“When I was living in London, I used to swim at London Fields Lido,” she says, a 50m outdoor pool in east London. It’s heated, year round and Best tells me about swimming in the snow on the few snowy days in London. (Check out these amazing photos from The Guardian!) 

“I prefer the wonderful incongruity of a pool in downtown London to Hampstead Heath or the Pond,” she says.

And because I ask every swimmer I met, I asked her if she has any other favourite swimming holes:
1). Her brother’s secret swimming hole in Guelph that he takes her to every time she’s home for a visit (I press for details, but she says she has no directional sense so this one remains a secret!)

2). The Hart House Pool at the University of Toronto: “It’s just so beautiful,” she says.

3). The 25m outdoor pool in her mom’s neighbourhood in Waterloo. “I went for a swim the day I arrived from the UK,” she says. “And it’ll be the last thing I do when I leave, on my way to the airport."

A swimming kindred spirit if I’ve ever known one.

~

Best will be launching the book in Toronto or Waterloo next week (swimwear option!):

Toronto: Monday, August 14 at 7pm at Glad Day Bookshop (499 Church St).
Free event; everyone is welcome.

Waterloo: Tuesday, August 15th at 7pm at Wordsworth Books (96 King Street South






  • Lindsay
  • Friday, August 11, 2017

Buckskin Lake revisited


I jumped in minutes after arriving at the cottage we've rented for the last two years, leaving everything packed, except my bathing suit, gin for a pair of docktails and some chips.

We were going to leave for the cottage after lunch, to coordinate with the toddler's nap, but my fella and I were up long before the kids (going to the cottage morning is apparently our Christmas morning) so we headed out the moment we could get everything stuffed into our wee car.

The lake was darker than I remember it. And colder this summer than last.



I immediately started swimming across the lake, leaving my family waving on the dock. But three quarters of the way there, I suddenly didn't know the lake and the dark water was made even darker by the tint of my new goggles. I turned around, treading water and clearing my goggles. But there was something in seeing my little family from across the lake that unsettled me.

Last year, I swam the "L" at least daily – across the lake, and the along the far shoreline until the red buoy – but this year, the "L" felt too far. The lake was empty except for the four of us (and one of them depending solely on me for survival) and somehow having a baby, not just a toddler on the dock. The what-if-something-happened thoughts started looming.



That's not to say I didn't swim – I did, just on our side of the lake – an "I" instead of an "L".

There was one beautiful post-dinner swim, where the sun burned the top of the water, and my legs kicked hard against the cold, an early morning swim before the wind had woken up when the water carried an exact replica of the sky, and another perfect mid-day swim where both kids slept and my post-swim snack was s'mores and beer.


There were molars and growth spurts and fevers and rainy days – not exactly the most relaxing vacation, but there was that lake, and a stack of books and docktails no matter what the weather.

Still, I was surprised at how hard it was to say goodbye to the lake I just started getting to know, knowing I might not ever see it again.



Farewell, Buckskin Lake.

  • Lindsay
  • Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Guest Post: Anne-Michelle Tessier, the accidental swimmer



I didn’t intend to be much of a swimmer this summer.

For nearly a decade, I’ve been a runner. An all-season, at least three times a week runner. A road race, trail race, 5k 10k 21k (and one 42k!) runner. I’ve run throughout in January in Edmonton and August in Montreal . I’ve run to the Space Needle and across Deception Bridge and through New Orleans and Manhattan and Port Moody and Hamilton; I’ve run through the Rockies and under the Detroit river, and last season I ran races in both Hell and Paradise, Michigan. Ok, I’m bragging, but you’ll see in a minute while these are merit badges I need to hold onto these days. Running is the primary way I keep sane, keep my body moving forward and my monkey brain at bay.

Then at the beginning of July I badly strained a muscle in my foot. It happened right before a race that I obviously shouldn’t have run, but I did, and so found myself sidelined for at least a month. AN ENTIRE MONTH WITHOUT RUNNING. CUE THE VIOLINS. … And so I took a deep (bilateral) breath and got ready to swim.

In recent years, my summers often involve a membership to the outdoor aquamarine gem of Michigan State University, where grad student triathletes and emeritus breast strokers do steady laps at wildly different speeds. My routine is: slip in, goggles on, breast stroke 50m to the end, one breath, and then front crawl back, for as long as I can stand it. Usually that means no more than half an hour, when either my breathing gets too ragged or my thoughts get beyond bored – normally, both. I long to be one of those dolphins doing flip turns and never stopping but somehow my oxygen levels can’t support it. Occasionally I read blog posts on more efficient swimming, and I remember things I’ve forgotten since swim team for 8 year olds, but trying to implement them at the pool only makes me feel more off-kilter.

Still: with running on hold, there was nothing else to do. In between stretching and strength cross-training and icing like a yeti, I have been going to the pool at least three days a week, and I made it up to 1km with little stopping (but still only 60% front crawl). Every trip to the pool, the lanes first looked cool and inviting, but three laps in they were liquid drudgery.

Then, last week, my friend Cheryl heard about my swimming progress and insisted we go swim in a lake together (well, first she insisted we go swim a FIVE KILOMETRE LAKE RACE together, but I vetoed that pretty fast.) While I’ve been a fair number of lakes, and the odd sea and ocean, my open water swimming has previously been about bobbing, paddling and generalized splashing about. This, however, was to be Actual Open Water Swim. Cheryl wanted to train for the above-mentioned 5k insanity, and I wanted to not look like an idiot behind her.

So yesterday, I pulled on my big girl suit and goggles, and drove half an hour north of the Michigan capital to a beachy lake surrounded by random farming fields, and got ready to swim the unknown. On a Tuesday afternoon, there were probably 30 people on the beach, but most of them were children playing and adults on towels, and those in the water were doing that bobbing and splashing I’ve already discussed. But Cheryl had heard of this lake from triathlete friends, and sure enough there was a woman with a latex head and an underwater watch out beyond the ropes, powering through the little waves. I hoped her location meant the whole rest of the lake wasn’t a mess of weeds? (Which it wasn’t, though they weren’t entirely missing.)

Well, gulp. No getting out of this now.

I told Cheryl I’d actually never swum with a swim cap before and had bought one just for this event, and so I dunked my head a bit like she did and then clumsily pulled it down to my ears. I kind of felt like a robot now, with this sleek new skull? And Cheryl said let’s just swim down to the end and I couldn’t see how to say otherwise, so I nodded and she started swimming away and I followed.
AND. Suddenly, I was swimming and it was so easy. The lake bottom wasn’t too deep, mixed with sand and plants, and the water was sun warmed in places and chilly in others.  And somehow I was front crawling through it, rhythmically, smoothly, barely having to think.  How was this happening? Why was it so effortless? Cheryl looked back frequently to make sure I was fine, but I was, and so we continued. Our laps drew a rectangle in the main section of the lake, back and forth and up and down, and in the end Cheryl’s wrist says we swam about 1.3k although I don’t see how we could have gone that far. It was so little effort.

I remained a little anxious about weeds looming up to slither at me, or maybe running into a fish. But the whole event was over in 40 minutes which felt like only 5, and it seemed I could have swum forever. Was it a miracle caused by wearing a swim cap? I did feel like the prow of a rubbery ship. Or does Motz County Park have secret watery powers of oxygenation? I am not yet sure, but there is clearly something to be accounted for.

… That swim was yesterday. Today marked two weeks from the day the doctor suggested I let the sprain heal two more weeks before trying any running, and so in fact I am writing this post while riding the high following my first, gingerly two mile run. It wasn’t pretty, but it mostly didn’t hurt, and we are going to call that a solid WIN.  Now back home, with my foot pro-actively iced under frozen peas and yesterday’s beach towel still drying in the hall, I’m thinking about a particular feeling I haven’t had in quite a while. It requires a very specific childhood dinosaur memory, so just bear with me for a minute.

When I was a kid, the Royal Ontario Museum had a dinosaur exhibit unparalleled anywhere else in the world (by which I mean, I had only ever seen that one dinosaur exhibit, so it was the best.) One thing that I will insist WAS the best, actually, was this one dark corner of underwater dinosaur diorama, in which a skeletal ichthyosaurus was suspended, under attack by two smaller prehistoric fish (?) (mini-sharks?), and all made to look submerged with flickering navy blue lighting. Although I was intrigued by the bones and the fight scene, in retrospect I was most affected by the light show – under their influence, I felt like I too was at the bottom of this dangerous primordial ocean, and especially when visiting on a hot Toronto summer day, it was both thrilling and refreshing.

Fast forward 25 or so years, to my best summer runs. It is hours after sunset, and I am gleaming with bug spray and pounding the sidewalks. The air is cooling off, though still sticky, and all around me the streetlights and traffic noises and city haze and neighbourhood chatter blend together. And if all the stars align: at some point, my pounding footsteps blur into a single rhythm, and I feel that I’m riding a wave. The light turns navy blue and the air is liquid and I am unstoppable. I’m night-swimming.

Maybe by the end of the summer, my foot will heal enough to go swimming on the pavement again.

In the meantime, we’re finding another lake to swim next week.


It’s turning out to be a good summer.

~

AMT is a linguist, a runner, a writer, a professor, a swing dancer, and possibly a swimmer. She lives, works and tries to keep moving forward in and around Michigan, but some months is easier found in Vancouver or Toronto. Her household includes another linguist and a dog, both of whom would rather chase the squirrels while she is in the pool.
  • Lindsay
  • Sunday, August 6, 2017

22 weeks till Christmas


It's been a bit of a disappointing summer on the swimming front. I can't even count the number of times I've gotten myself suited up, only to arrive at the pool and be turned away – thunder, often, and the occasional fouling. I have a a 4-month-old which makes mid-day swims tricky (anyone want to walk my baby up and down the boardwalk while I swim??) And I also have a 2.5-year-old which, combined with the baby, makes zipping off for a 7-8pm length swim near impossible. Oh, and then, on a glorious sunny day, I organized all the kids to be taken care of and flew down to the pool, and then was verbally assaulted and it was horrible to say the least. So yah, swimming + me + summer are not jiving like usual.

BUT, I went swimming this morning. The sky was beyond blue and the sun sparkled off the lake like handfuls of tossed diamonds. I walked on deck with a pair of women who I overheard saying, "It's already August, summer's almost over."

"NOT OVER!" I couldn't help but almost-yell (there was definitely panic in my voice).

"You know what I read today on Facebook?" the other woman asked. "It's only 22 weeks till Christmas."

AND THAT RIGHT THERE IS WHY I SWAM NOT ONCE, BUT TWICE TODAY.


Swim number one was filled with lovely, respectful fast lane swimmers and swim two took place under an increasingly ominous sky. It was my 4-month-old's very first pool experience and it was wonderful, though very short-lived because after dipping her toes in, there was thunder AND lightning and the pool closed*.

Still, SWIMMING. Twice. With tacos and paletas and patio cocktails in between. Because summer**.



* Note to self: don't ever bother getting the kids in sunscreen and swim diapers and bathing suits with packed snacks and water and towels and hats and get excited about a family dip because there will inevitably be thunder and/or lightning and you will end up at home in your not-wet suit making dark and stormy cocktails AGAIN...

**Thirty-three days until the outdoor pools close. I'm going as often as humanly possible.
  • Lindsay
  • Wednesday, August 2, 2017

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