Things I’m Loving

In honor of Valentine’s Day this past week (and more specifically, in honor of the leftover candy I’m sitting here eating), I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about some things I’m loving lately. Definitely taking full advantage of this sugar high to try and kick start a return to writing regularly! So, with that said…

1. SCUBA DIVING. I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice (or three times? Or maybe four? Etc…) how much I love swimming and how I firmly consider myself a water person. I’ve been a swimmer for as long as I can remember, but, weirdly, I’ve never tried scuba diving. I’m not sure if that was ever a conscious decision or if I just never got around to it, but as much as I love being in the water, I’ve only ever really spent time on the surface. For the most part, I have been fine with that, although largely thanks to following the artist Jason deCaires Taylor, I’ve become increasingly interested in diving over the past few years. Finally, in January, I decided to go for it, and signed up for the PADI eLearning course and the five initial contained dives through a local dive shop. The next day I had my shiny new flippers, mask, and snorkel in hand and was throwing myself into the first online lesson. I went full-on Hermione and devoured the online course, and on Day 1 of the pool dives, I took my first breath from the regulator (on land, even) and was instantly in love. I finished the pool dives and just need to do my four ocean dives to complete the PADI open water certification (allowing me to dive with a buddy to depths of up to 18 meters). The ocean dives can be completed locally or at a different site through a referral, which brings me to the next thing I’m currently loving…

2. TRAVEL PLANNING. January was a big month for me. While I was still just playing around with the idea of trying scuba, I was also talking with a friend about his plans to spend the spring in Indonesia. “If you’re looking for a travel buddy…” I told him, with exactly zero subtlety or chill. Luckily, this particular friend knows that I don’t offer to come unless I actually mean it. So approximately 24 hours after that first conversation, and after I had confirmed which island in Indonesia I should be flying into, I had my tickets to Bali booked and was researching dive shops “just in case” I decided to sign up for diving and needed a place to do my final dives.

 

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But for real

 

 

Now, about two weeks out, I’m still reading everything I can about the location, the history, the current events, and best places to eat…anything I can find (and I’ve identified my top two dive shop options). When I travel I want to know as much as I can about everything to do with my destination, and with Indonesia being in a brand-new part of the world for me, I’m loving every second of pre-trip reading. As much as I love solo travel, it also helps to have a friend going. There’s so much more time for fun reading, when I know my accommodation is already being handled. On a related subject…

3. FRIENDS. It wouldn’t be a Valentine’s Day (ish) post without getting a little bit mushy. I love my friends. This isn’t surprising or in any way new information to me, but recently it has truly hit me how many amazing people I have in my life. In the past month I have been lucky enough to celebrate birthdays, engagements, and new babies; I have had dinner, coffee, and gym dates; I have gone to late night concerts and early morning ski trips.

 

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SurfSet NYC with Aheli Wanders

 

I am so grateful that I have people who will help me book spontaneous trips to the other side of the world and who will offer to meet me at the airport when I get there. I am floored by the fact that while my upcoming trip involves only one such friend, I have multiple other people who would do the exact same thing if I happened to be in their part of the world. I am eternally grateful for the people, both local and afar, who know me as well as I know myself and for all the advice, support, and encouragement they offer me, and I only hope I am able to return the favor! I am amazed by this little global community I’ve managed to build for myself and while I hate that I can’t have all my people here with me all the time, I love knowing that they are out there, and it is beyond nice to confidently know that whenever I manage to see them next it will be like no time at all has passed.

4. MOVING. I feel like the past few months I have been almost constantly in motion – swimming, running, spinning, skiing, yoga, surfset – you name it, I’m happy to throw it into the mix. It started with a SwimTrek trip to Oman back in December. SwimTrek is basically my ideal lifestyle – this trip in particular consisted of daily boat rides on a traditional dhow into spectacular fjord-like sounds, 4k wild swimming in the morning, lunch on the dhow, 2k swimming in the afternoon, a boat ride back to the hotel, and fantastic nightly dinners. Waking up to Those Views, and spending the days in, on, and around the water was a dream, and the sense of accomplishment of finishing 6k daily was heady and addictive.

 

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Oman!

 

Back in the frigid New England winter, I couldn’t quite replicate the SwimTrek experience, but the need to spend my days moving and the bliss of collapsing into bed at the end of the day tired and aching in the best possible way haven’t gone away. Now, I know this isn’t necessarily sustainable and I know I have a tendency to go until I absolutely crash. I am also very aware that the yardage/mileage/whatever I’m putting in isn’t all the best quality; “junk miles” would apply to a lot of what I’m doing and there are definitely days I know I need to hold back because I haven’t fully recovered from the previous day. That said, I found 2017 really difficult – personally, politically, globally – and I spent a lot of time feeling stalled, stuck, or like I was working so unbelievably hard to break even and stay exactly where I was. 2018 has brought some relief, along with plenty of new worldwide heartbreak, but on a personal level I feel like I’ve been catapulted forward, and I am loving the sense of being in constant forward motion. My plan right now is to enjoy this until vacation and then use Indonesia to possibly re-set a bit so I’m not burning myself out. But for now? Onward!

5. WRITING. I haven’t written in a while. This is definitely a pattern with me – as always, life happened, I got busy…etc. Writing has always helped me organize my thoughts, but there were times last year when I just didn’t know where to begin, and so I kept falling further and further behind. However, in the later part of the year I managed to organize some trips to some places I was really excited about (England! Oman!) and it has been bothering me that I never managed to write them up or transfer the daily notes I took (seriously) into something more coherent than my frantic, handwritten stream of consciousness thoughts. So, I’m hoping to remedy that soon! With so many good memories I want to commit to a more permanent record, and so many exciting things coming up I know I won’t want to forget, this seems like the perfect time to try and get back into writing, and to try and commit to writing more regularly. It is truly something I love, and that definitely makes it worth effort.

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I love that dirty water

Until this year, I didn’t realize how strongly I felt about NOT swimming in the Charles River. I knew it had been horribly polluted in the past and I knew (thanks to a friendly duck boat driver!) that in recent years it has gotten much cleaner. A certain kind of duck is back, meaning a certain kind of fish is back, meaning pollution levels are not where they used to be. Great! But still, it’s hard not to think of the Charles as kind of gross – it runs through a major city and has large, multi-laned roads on either side, but, maybe most importantly, the Standells’ “Dirty Water” is played frequently and sung along to enthusiastically throughout the bars, stadiums, and streets of the city. Since I first moved to the Boston area in 2004, I’ve been singing about that dirty water, meaning I’ve had 13 years of internalizing the fact that our river may be beloved, but it is best loved from a distance.

But then I found out about the annual Charles River One Mile Swim and quickly signed up. What better way to get over my lingering river issues?

The race is in its 9th year and is run by the Charles River Swimming Club, in cooperation with the Charles River Conservancy and the DCR. It starts by the Hatch Shell on the esplanade and the course is a clockwise diamond between the Harvard (Mass Ave) and Longfellow Bridges.

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On the morning of the swim my Support Crew (aka parents and bf) and I parked over by Boston Common and it was a short, easy walk to the start. Check in was quick and I had a lot of time to stand in the sun, catch up with friends, and go through varying stages of panic at my preparedness. You know, the usual.

At a few minutes to 8:00am I joined the first of two waves and walked down to the start dock.

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Please note the Fin to the right

 

We all jumped in and treaded water until someone shouted “Go!” and then we were off! Being a mass water start, it was a little chaotic for a few minutes, but I did my best not to kick or be kicked in the face and having succeeded at that, I’d call it a success.

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The first leg had us swimming towards the Mass Ave Bridge, and one of the coolest things was looking up to breathe and seeing the Prudential Center get closer and closer. I spent some time contemplating the general murkiness (the verdict: no worse than other bodies of water I’ve been in) and singing to myself (Selena Gomez’s It Ain’t Me, for the win). It stayed fairly crowded for the first leg, but after the first turn, things opened up a bit and it was smooth swimming to the next buoy. The third stretch was hard in that we were swimming right into the sun and it took me awhile to find the buoy. I was also a touch distracted by someone who inexplicably insisted on swimming right on top of me, even though by that point everyone was pretty spread out. Necessary to touch my foot every stroke? Not so much. As a result, I overshot the buoy a little bit, but managed to get myself back on track fairly quickly when I realized.

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The final stretch was the hardest for me. I found the water a little choppier in that stretch – just enough so that it was hard to fall into a natural rhythm. But by that point the dock was in sight, so I just kept on and tried not to swallow too much water. The dock had a giant sensor on the end, so I just had to hit it with the hand that had my timing chip and I was done! I climbed up the ladder back onto the dock and was engulfed by my family and friends. There was coffee and food available after as well as, most importantly, “I swam the Charles” stickers, which you can bet I will display proudly.

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In the end, I finished in 33:20, about a 1:55 pace – a bit slower than I wanted, but not far off and solidly middle of the pack – certainly not bad for the first open water swim of the season. I would absolutely swim this again. The water was cooler than most years (around 65) but I was fine without a wetsuit and the event was so well run – friendly volunteers, plenty of pre-race information, lots of safety provisions (water quality checks in the days leading up to the race, lifeguard, kayak and boat support on the day of, an organized post-race check in process and optional Mylar blankets), and excellent support from start to finish.

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Around this time last year I was on a SwimTrek vacation, and while I can’t say that the Charles River necessarily compares to the fjords of Montenegro (what does?), there’s something about open water swimming that I find so relaxing. The water is my happy place, and I am thrilled to have found that same vacation feeling so close to home and in such an unexpected place. Having been submerged and spent 30+ minutes in it, I can confirm, without question, that I truly love that dirty water, and am happy to call Boston my home.

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Swimming Saves Lives

I have always been a water person. Growing up an oblivious/imaginative kid in Rhode Island in the era of the Little Mermaid, my mom quickly realized that I needed to know how to keep myself afloat. I was never scared of the water, which in turn scared her immensely. According to her, the chances of me wandering in too deep without realizing were about equal to me waking up on any given morning, truly believing that I was a mermaid, and jumping in above my head without a second thought.

I was extremely lucky in that: 1. Neither of those things happened, and 2. That I had access, early and often, to lessons that took my love of the water and fashioned it into a working knowledge of water safety, a decent stroke, and a lifelong relationship with pools, ponds, lakes, oceans, and, most recently, fjords.

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Magnificent Montenegro

 

As I said, I know I was lucky. So many children, for so many reasons, don’t learn to swim and as a result, “according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than a third [of] adults in the United States can’t swim the length of a pool, which puts them at risk of being one of the 10 people who drown every day in the United States.” Those are some scary statistics.

I learned about The Swimming Saves Lives Foundation when I joined Masters swimming, and I was interested to learn that April is Adult Learn to Swim Month. Adults can sign up for free lessons with volunteer instructors and cover everything from the absolute basics of getting in the water to stroke improvement. I signed up to teach, read over the instructors’ guide, and last week I showed up at the pool for my first lesson.

I can’t say enough good things about the program. There were enough instructors that each lesson was one-on-one and I was paired with D. D was there with her sister and the two of them were a blast. We started laughing within the first few minutes and didn’t stop until they got out of the water. D let me know that there was no specific reason she hadn’t learned to swim; she just never had and as a result she wasn’t scared of the water exactly, but she was hesitant around it. Still, she jumped right in and an hour and a half later, D was swimming almost the entire length of the pool. While she hadn’t quite figured out the timing for breathing, she was well on her way.

I’ve taught swimming before, but always to children. I wasn’t sure what to expect with teaching an adult but what I loved was that it was more like a collaboration than a straight lesson. D and I spent the time throwing ideas back and forth, looking for different ways to explain things to each other, and keeping warm by bouncing around acting like total fools (and possibly singing…). Obviously, that approach wouldn’t work for everyone, but that’s what was so great about the one-on-one format; we were able to settle in to a dynamic that worked for us. My biggest concern was taking cues from D at the beginning to get a sense of how she would be most comfortable, and then we ran with it. In terms of the progress D made, I may have brought the experience, but she took everything I told her and put it all together and I couldn’t be happier with how it went.

I’m teaching two more evenings this month and I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts to share, about the program in general and the specific things that worked (or didn’t). One thing I can already say with certainty is that I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about learning to swim, or who would like to improve their stroke (whether for racing or recreation) to look into Swimming Saves Lives/Adult Learn to Swim programs near them. The benefits are innumerable, and the process itself is a blast.