Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Uncharted waters

I'm in Canada this week for a conference, Quebec, in fact, here. Needless to say, I was stoked to be going to the great Canadian outdoors, and to get a chance to check out that lake.

Seriously, this was the view from my balcony this morning.

The resort was at the base of Mont Tremblant, a popular ski mountain, so I was a little worried about how cold this lake was going to be. I called the resort last week to see if I should bring a wetsuit. Here's how the conversation went down:

"Hi, I'll be staying with you next week. I was wondering if you knew what temperature the lake was."
"Ha ha ha. No, I don't know"
"Oh, well, have you been in the lake yet? Is it very cold?"
"Employees aren't allowed in the lake"
"Ok, have you seen many guests swim in the lake?"
Ok, fine, it looks cold, and they have a "semi-olympic pool," so I opted to not bring the wetsuit. But when I got there, the water was super warm, maybe 68-70 degrees. Monday afternoon we had some downtime before dinner, and I ran into some one else from the conference carrying goggles. Good sign. I asked him if he was going to swim, and he said, yes, but that he had already been chastised by the lifeguard to only swim within the ropes. But that the lifeguard took off at 5:30. So we bided our time. Finally around 6, we got our chance.

As we waded out of the shallows, I asked him about his open water swimming. Turns out, he's signed up for his first sprint in August, and he's never done any open water swimming, but he's pretty confident. I briefly go over spotting to keep him swimming in a straight line, and off we go.

Here's our planned route.

The first bit is sorta yucky. As the sand disappears into the depths, the seaweed reaches the surface. Despite all the open water swimming I've done over the last 5 years, I prefer to not see anything in the water when I swim. I resort to closing my eyes.

I clear this bit and get into the real deep, and things are feeling good. I pull up to a few kayakers and look back. My new friend is probably 50m back, and is breast stroking. I wait up for him, and assure the kayakers that we will be fine, we're strong swimmers and no, those dark clouds on the horizon don't look that scary.

When my friend catches up, I check in with him. He says swimming into the dark water had been harder than he expected, but he points out, he's gotta do it at some point. Right, I had forgotten about how scary that is. No matter how comfortable you may be at the deep end, when you're suddenly more than a few strokes from the side of the pool, panic sets in. Steve in a Speedo actually talked about getting his brother-in-law in the water for the first time this week.

We decide to continue on to swim to one of the islands. I suggest he tap my feet. This is a drill we do in practice to prep for races. You swim faster with less effort when you're swimming on some one else's feet: it's like drafting on the bike. And you don't feel alone. And you've got a goal which is keeping on those feet, and that helps keep your mind off of the deep.

Off we go. I check every 30 strokes or so, and he's keeping up well, and we make it as close to the island as I want to get (no seaweed). We tread for a bit, then breaststroke for a bit to catch our breaths. Those dark clouds from before, they've moved closer, they are encroaching on the resort, and in the distance we can hear thunder. I convince him to get moving. This time, he doesn't stay on my feet. This time he needs more rest. So we swim for a bit, we breast stroke a bit. He offers for me to go ahead, but no way am I gonna leave him in the middle of this lake.

We make it back through the seaweed, and we're chatting our way back to the shore, when the storm just opens up. Massive drops, strong gusts. We sprint out of the water, grab my clothes as they're just about to blow away. And jog into the hotel. Phew, safe.

Into the elevator, hit the button, doors close, lights out. Sweet, the power is out. About 30 seconds later, the emergency power kicks in, and the lights come back on. Ok, door open. Door open. Door open? Nothing. My friend tries to pry the doors open, but it's a single door, that closes to one side, and he can't fit his fingers in. Luckily, my fingers are small. I can just get my fingertips around the lip of the door. And I pull. Success. We escape.

It's been a long time since my first openwater swim at Walden all those years ago, when simultaneously Robyn, Andrea and I all stopped, panicked and decided to swim along the shore for safety. I'm impressed with my new friend. He did way better than I did, I'm sure he'll have a great swim.


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