Monday, October 24, 2022

Open Water Swimming in Puget Sound: Besotted by the Sea

Apologies to those of you who follow this blog for the lack of content this year. While I used to post about all the places I went, all the getaways, hikes, and such, I'm not inspired anymore to promote favorite places that are getting a bit much traffic for my taste. Our special corner of the world is definitely on the map now.

I've been hiking some, been out in my kayak a few times, and attended a great farm dinner this past summer. But somehow I didn't get around to blogging about those things. Mostly what has grabbed me this year is my healthy addiction (is that an oxymoron?) for plunging, dipping, bobbing, and swimming in Puget Sound, the southern portion of the inland Salish Sea.

Although I first plunged into the Sound in January 2020 (for probably less than 15 seconds) and blogged about "wild swimming" last year, this is the first year I've really truly become an open water swimmer. (Exhibit A, short video of me this past January...)

Open water swimming exploded in the region during the first couple years of the pandemic, but I didn't really get my groove until this year when I connected with a regular swimming partner who also lives near the Sound. The camaraderie is a motivator. Since last winter, my swimming pod has grown. And the more you go, the more you start to recognize the other regulars.

Last week I was interviewed on the beach by someone from KIRO radio about being an open water swimmer. [They didn't use my quotes, but here is the story.] She asked, why do you do it? What keeps you coming back?

I don't remember exactly what I said, something like, I start craving the cold water when I don't go for a couple days. It's clarifying, bracing, invigorating. There's always a bit of euphoria.

Plus I've witnessed many glorious sunsets this past summer and early fall while in the water or on the beach right after swimming. Sometimes we're lucky and a curious seal or two pops up close by to check us out. I've seen sea stars underwater as I've swam above them.

A highlight this past summer was the warm July evening we took a road trip north to Chuckanut Bay to swim in the bioluminescence, which is plankton that glows in dark water when it's disturbed. When it's fully dark, I put my head in the water and thrust my hands forward as I began my breast stroke, swimming into bursts of little plankton galaxies.  It was "effing magic," to quote an Irish gal from the Golden Gardens RAFT group of swimmers I join some times.

We've been spoiled this past summer with such warm and dry weather for so long. Now that fall has really arrived, it will take more fortitude to stick with it. Last Friday I did my first swim in a chilly rain. It was still awesome, but I was pretty chilled afterwards. A thermos of hot tea is a must now.

Today we went again in a steady rain. There was only one other solo woman out there.

"This is my favorite swimming weather," she told us. It was especially exhilarating being out there in the elements. It felt more wild.

I was initially inspired by a few YouTube wild swimming videos out of the United Kingdom. In an "it's a small world" twist, the photo above shows me sharing a dip with Cheryl, who was passing through Seattle from Scotland. She found the Seattle Open Water Swimmers FaceBook page and asked if anyone would be willing to join her for a swim.

A couple of us picked Cheryl up at her hotel and spent a fun few hours learning a bit about her life in the UK and taking the plunge. If you want to see a few seconds of pure joy, check out this short video.


If you're interested in giving it a go, this piece in the Seattle Times provides some advice and more links. Start gradually and see how you take to it. It's not for everyone. More than half of my friends are a hard no when I suggest they join me some time.

No matter how stressed or anxious I might be feeling, it always dissipates when I hit that cold water and start swimming. I come out with a smile on my face every time.

Like I told the radio interviewer, I'm hooked...on the cold clarifying water, the friends and companionship forged through a shared sense of adventure, the glimpses of marine wildlife, the sounds and scent of the sea, the joy of movement and swimming, and just fully inhabiting and being in a beautiful place.

And mostly, I'm grateful to live so close to the sea and to have discovered this joyful, slightly crazy, life-affirming habit.

If you're interested in seeing some short videos of me or friends swimming, post-swim musings and sunsets, check out my YouTube channel.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.


Ron Mitchell said...

Wow, that's so "cool" for such a wild activity to grab you so passionately. Sounds like fun.

jill said...

Indeed Ron! More like "chilly" than cool now. Chill? Anyway, it's wild indeed.

Unknown said...

I've enjoyed hearing about your open water swims! Considering my draw to the water - either in it or on it (sailboats, kayaks, canoes) - I still can't imagine myself swimming in Puget Sound. But I've got to try it at some point! In the meantime - love hearing about it vicariously! Thanks for your post!

Jill said...

Thanks unknown! (although I suspect I know you?). Yes it's worth a try at least once.

RG said...

Great post and I suspect you won't be running into crowds at your favorite swimming holes for awhile!

Jill said...

Thanks RG! Yea definitely fewer people out there now, but still seeing a steady amount of swimmers/dippers even with the weather change. It's the non-swimmers that have mostly disappeared and now we can find parking easily!

Kathy said...

I loved this, Jill. You describe really well why we do this. Thank you!

jill said...

Ah thanks Kathy! So glad you (and sometimes Marcos) are a part of our pod/tribe!

Mary lou said...

so, this can't be crazier than standing in the rain washing walnuts in November, All good my friend, Mary lou