DISCLAIMER: Open-water swimming is inherently dangerous. Open-water swimmers risk drowning, hypothermia, hyperthermia, heart attacks, panic attacks, cramping, jelly fish stings, fish bites, boat or jet-ski collisions, collisions with floating or submerged objects (including other swimmers), and other calamities that can be injurious, disabling or fatal! The "West Neck Pod" is an informal association of open-water swimmers who swim "outside the lines" with no lifeguard protection, it has no formal membership, organizational structure or legal identity, and its participants, including the author of this blog, make no representations and assume no liability with respect to its group open-water swims. All swimmers who participate in West Neck Pod group open-water swims do so at their own risk. Be careful out there!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 to 2012: Swimming from One Year Into the Next...

This morning Annmarie Kearney-Wood and Gae Polisner took their last open-water swim of 2011, plunging into the colder-than-ever but mirror-like waters of Cold Spring Harbor for a nearly half-hour swim on this glorious New Year's Eve Day...Carole Wickham, Kathy Wickham and I would happily have joined them but were tied up this morning taking our written exam for Red Cross Water-Safety Instructor certification after completing a week-long course at C.W. Post (nice pool!). We all passed and, newly certified, arrived at the Beach in time to get the post-swim report from the chilly pair, who said that despite the warmish (50 degrees!) air temperature, they experienced a distinct "brain freeze" for the first minute or two after hitting the shockingly cold water...That eventually dissipated, and they enjoyed a nearly 25-minute swim, with plans to return (if this evening's celebrations permit) for tomorrow's 11:00 a.m. New Year's Day "Polar Bear Swim" at West Neck Beach. In the meantime Carole, flushed with the success of her WSI certification, announced Big Plans for a unique and distinctive New Year's Eve celebration: She intends to swim from 2011 right into 2012, with an open-water swim at West Neck Beach tonight beginning just before midnight and ending....well, sometime in 2012! Of course I'm going with her...and you're all invited to join us for the swim and/or for a champagne (hopefully not too chilled) celebration on the beach afterwards...Happy New Swimming Year!

Look who's here! Remember Ken Longo??

Saturday, December 24, 2011


There was a thin layer of ice on the pond we passed as Carole and I made our way down to West Neck Beach for yet another open-water swim in a season whose "imminent" end we have been whining about since August...For the five "Polar Pod" members who took the plunge today -- Carole Wickham, Kathy Wickham, Gae Polisner, Rob Todd and I -- this was our first-ever Winter swim, the Solstice having marked the official beginning of Winter earlier this week. (Rob Martell, of course, is now a veteran winter swimmer, and soloed at WNB yesterday when the rest of us bailed because of high wind and rough water).  This morning, with air temperatures of 32 degrees, it really felt like Winter, especially when the wind suddenly picked up and began throwing icy whitecaps in our faces as we edged our way into the water and started swimming. The cold wind added to the already bitter sting on our exposed skin (which for Rob Todd still includes his bare feet -- I don't know how he does it!), and the initial "three minutes of 'holy-crap' coldness" that Rob Martell describes lengthened to nearly five before we were acclimated enough to once again revel in the experience of the open water and enjoy another exhilarating, invigorating, and truly empowering swim....Now, on December 24th, Christmas Eve, with our first Winter swim behind us, we are truly a Pod for all seasons, and are no longer whining...because we know that our 2011 open-water swimming season will only end when 2011 does -- on December 31st!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!  See you in the Salt!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The West Neck "Polar Pod" Is Seven Strong for Saturday's Swim!

Gae, demonstrating proper pre-swim headgear
It's somewhat paradoxical that the numbers of the West Neck "Polar Pod" should be increasing now that December is here and  overnight temperatures have dropped to near the freezing mark, but that's exactly what's happened, as a total of seven intrepids showed up at West Neck Beach for Saturday morning's 11:00 swim! The air temperature and the water temperature were evenly matched at about 42 degrees, and Annmarie Kearney-Wood, Carole Wickham, Kathy Wickham, Rob Todd, Marc Leahy, Gae Polisner and I huddled in our cars as we suited up out of the wind. Marc, whom we were not expecting to see again until Spring after his post-Thanksgiving November OWS debut, returned for a tilt at December, now properly outfitted with insulated booties and gloves, but Rob Todd was still incomprehensibly barefoot and barehanded, having opted to hold off on shopping for cold-water gear until next season. Annmarie -- who doesn't mind shopping -- has procured fabulous new thermocarbon gloves from the Bunger Surf Shop for the rest of us -- technological marvels that really do keep our hands perfectly warm -- so I loaned Rob my old pair of insulated gloves to give him some extra protection from the cold.  (One unfortunate casualty of the new thick-fingered thermocarbon gloves is picture-taking in the water -- I can't hold the camera properly and it's almost impossible to push the buttons.)  Suiting up for cold-water swimming is a complicated and time-consuming affair, but after tugging on our wetsuits over our layered swim shirts and bathing suits, and pulling on double bathing caps, double booties and insulated gloves, we were ready to swim. The water was calm and glass-like, but with at-the-shoreline temperatures measuring between 40 and 42 degrees, it felt cold -- significantly colder than it was on Thursday when Gae, Annmarie and I took our first December swim.  Getting acclimated to the colder water took a bit longer, too, and I was nearly to the dock before I was able to put my face fully in the water. North of the dock, though, where the water is appreciably warmer, my face stopped hurting and I could settle into my swimming rhythm. With the sun shining brightly over my left shoulder and sparkling on the crystal clear water, I no longer felt the cold, and I was as happy and peaceful -- and almost as warm -- as if I were swimming in the Carribean! Rob Todd evidently wasn't feeling the cold either despite his bare feet, and managed a solo power swim to the end of the Causeway and back! The rest of us were content with a more modest round-trip to the yellow sign...with the anticipation of still more glorious open-water swims to come!  Stay tuned for the further adventures of the West Neck "Polar Pod" (and thanks to our Pod-sister Joye Brown for the appellation!)....We'll see you in the Salt!
After the swim, warming up in our cars...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Yes, Virginia, There Is Still Open-Water Swimming in December!"

The sun was already low in the sky, though it was still shining brightly, when Annmarie Kearney-Wood, Gae Polisner and I stepped into the West Neck Salt at 3:07 this afternoon for our first-ever December open-water swim! The water felt cold but not unbearably so -- no doubt as a result of the 60+-degree weather of the last several days -- and with our new "Psycho gloves" or their equivalent (Gae was right -- they are a game-changer!), we felt like we could swim forever, despite the whitecaps and the crazy chop kicked up by a steady northwesterly wind. Thirty-five minutes later, with our toes numbing up from the cold, we weren't so sure, but when we emerged from the water, giddy and giggling on this December afternoon, we were making plans for our next December swim, on Saturday morning at 11:00! See you in the December Salt -- bring your "Psycho" gloves! Oh, and Christine and Rob, YOU OWE US A DRINK!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Last Swim of November??

The still-swimmin'-wimmin of the West Neck Pod -- Carole Wickham, Annmarie Kearney-Wood, Gae Polisner and I -- were joined for this morning's swim by Rob -- no, not Rob Todd, and not Rob Martell, but the other, other, long-absent-from-the-open-water-RobRob Ripp! Also joining us for the first time this November was Marc Leahy, accompanied by his land-hugging wife Kathleen (who took most of these pictures) and two dogs, who also wisely waited on the beach.  The water temperature was right around 49 degrees, which felt very tolerable to us well-acclimated women but was quite shocking to the men, especially since neither was wearing the insulated booties and gloves that make the cold water bearable to the rest of us. They credited themselves nicely, though, once their hands and feet got numb and they adjusted to the biting cold on their faces and leveled out their breathing...eventually they were grinning as widely as the women as we all swam to the yellow sign where we exchanged high-fives before heading back against a strong outgoing tide.  Marc, having earned his November OWS chops, says he'll see us in the early Spring, but it looks like Rob Ripp has finally remembered who he is and (at least once he buys his booties and gloves) will be joining us for our first December swim....!  See you in the Salt!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Indian Summer" Comes to West Neck Beach

The recent summer-like conditions continued for yet another day, and "Pod-Father" Rob Martell was one of the first to savor the gorgeous conditions at West Neck Beach this morning.  He was just finishing up his swim as I arrived for the 11:00 shift, and, with the air temperature already close to 60 degrees, confirmed that we (Annmarie Kearney-Wood, Carole Wickham and I) could expect a delightful high-tide swim in flat, calm water.  He recommended that we start our swim at the north end of the parking lot and swim northward along the Causeway, where, he assured us, the water was at least five degrees warmer. He was right, and we enjoyed a delightful and decidedly warmer swim, encountering a pair of friendly kayakers and this very large work-boat along the way.  By the time we returned to the beach, the sun was high in the sky, and we stripped off our wetsuits and stood drying in the warm sun, where we were ogled by scores of beach-goers who were astonished to see people swimming on November 26th!  "Rich," a Water-Blog reader who normally swims alone at Callahan's Beach on Long Island Sound, was suiting up in the parking lot as we were leaving, and we shared some advice about where to swim and what to watch out for before he set off for his first-ever solo swim in Cold Spring Harbor. We hope he enjoyed his swim as much as we did ours...!

Tomorrow's weather is predicted to be a little cooler and cloudier but otherwise much the same as today -- so we'll continue to take advantage of these unseasonable conditions and grab one more November swim...See you in the Salt tomorrow (Sunday) at 11:30!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving -- With a Dash of Salt!

If it weren't for the 42-degree temperatures, you could have mistaken this bright, clear, sunny, Thanksgiving morning for a mid-summer's day, especially when a half dozen wetsuited swimmers jumped into the water and started swimming like gangbusters! Annmarie Kearney-Wood and I were there, of course, as was Rob Todd as the lone representative of his gender (except for Sal Romanello, who came with his children to cheer us on from the beach and took this photo of what he termed "The Turkey Swim"!). Also coming out of early retirement to swim in the chilly waters were Gae Polisner and Kathy and Carole Wickham, the latter still recovering from her injured shoulder but no longer able to resist the call of the sea!  Pod member Bonnie Millen and her dog Willow watched us incredulously from the beach, until pressed into photographic service by Gae, whose fingers were too cold to hold the camera, so Bonnie took most of the pictures and videos below -- thanks, Bonnie!  We six enjoyed another lovely, energizing, invigorating swim, which whetted our appetites not only for our impending Thanksgiving feasts, but for our next open-water swim....Now that November's almost over, we've got our goggle sights set on December...!  We'll keep you posted. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all, and much gratitude to this beach, this body of water, and this Pod.... See you in the Salt!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bye-bye, buoys....!

This year’s model of the "Pod-Sandal-Station" was sitting high and dry on the sand at the high-tide mark when Rob Todd, Annmarie Kearney-Wood and I arrived at West Neck Beach on Saturday morning for the planned 11:00 morning swim. The clasp that tethered the buoy chain to its concrete anchor had broken, and – the tide having receded in the meantime – the buoy was a mere tide-change away from being lost forever. Rob Todd, who had thoughtfully placed the device for the tender-footed Pod after the swim lines were pulled from the water in early September (prematurely, we thought), carried the buoy carefully to his car, promising to clean it up and bring it back "better than ever" next season. Then we laboriously dragged the concrete anchor from the shallow water up across the beach to the parking lot, leaving a long, deep trail in the sand that would leave late-day beachgoers wondering....
Our chores done, we turned our attention to the whitecapped waves breaking on the beach and the wind howling across the water, which made the air feel vastly colder than the thermometer indicated. The idea of swimming in those conditions seemed harrowing and potentially crazy, and we ducked into the lee of the wind behind the bathhouse as we weighed our options: We could forgo today’s swim altogether and try for tomorrow, which was forecast to be even warmer...or, since we were already here, and it was a gorgeous, albeit windy, sunny day, we could suck it up, suit up, and get in the water and swim! After considerable hemming and hawing, we chose the latter – and numerous shrieks and nine strokes later were still regretting our decision as the icy water sliced through our wetsuits and stung our faces, hands and feet. Our faces bright red from the cold, we wondered aloud if we could do this...and then, as we took our tenth, determined stroke through the icy waves, we felt the tectonic shift that has marked every one of our late-season swims so far, as we uniformly proclaimed, "You know, it’s not so bad!," and put our faces down and just kept swimming...Rob Todd, who'd finally yielded to my importuning and put on the insulated booties I kept offering him, quickly outpaced Annmarie and I, his cozy-toesies fueling a sprint to the North Buoy and back on a long, meandering course "way out there" that had me fretting for his safety while Annmarie and I more or less hugged the shoreline in front of the beach. Hopefully Rob got a good long last look at the north buoy, because, like the Pod-Sandal-Station, both it and the south buoy were gone from the water by Tuesday, along with the rest of the boat moorings, leaving the harbor empty and vast....but with no more danger of Rob tearing the top of his head open on a mooring ball like he did last year!

Sunday kept its promise of even warmer weather, and Annmarie and I returned to West Neck Beach for an even more amazing and exhilarating and invigorating late-morning swim as Joye, Carole and Kathy (and the dogs!) watched from the beach.  Adopting some of the suggestions of Cold-Warrior Rob Martell, whose recent HUMS blogpost on cold-water swimming is destined to be a Pod classic (http://hums.blogspot.com/2011/11/cold-water-swimming.html), we wore extra "compression" layers under our wetsuits, and were amazed at how much warmer our hands and feet felt with that extra protection for our cores (oh, and my "grande" soy chai tea latte from Starbucks also helped -- not to mention the encouragement from Liz Perlstein, whom I bumped into there!).  We stayed in far longer than our initial squeals getting in would have suggested, exchanging exhilarated high-fives when we eventually tore ourselves from the water with a now familiar reluctance that grows more intense with each successive late-season swim....The water is cold, and getting colder, and our open-water swims grow increasingly symbolic as their length and distance wane....

But we're not ready to give it up yet, and with Thanksgiving approaching, what could be more symbolic than a Thanksgiving Day Open-Water Swim to express our gratitude for an open-water season that continues to thrill and inspire us! So, this year our Thanksgiving "Turkey-Trot" will take us to the beach, across the sand and into the water for an 11:00 (in the water!) open-water swim at West Neck Beach! Late-season regular Gae Polisner, who bowed out for the last two swims, is apparently thinking about joining us -- maybe you will, too!  See you in the Salt! -- and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Late-Season Swims "Cold Comfort" for Pod Members!

The wave of swimmers hitting the water at the beginning of the open-water season has now slowed to a trickle, if not an occasional drip, as water temperatures in Cold Spring Harbor have dipped into the low 40s. Air temperatures have danced crazily between the low 30s and the high 60s, sometimes in a single day, while we "holdout" swimmers anxiously watch the thermometer for the window of opportunity to open for "just one more" open-water swim. Weekday early morning swims are now out of the question, even with the end of daylight savings time, as the beach is too dark and too cold for pleasurable swimming, so we are relegated to the afternoons, weekends, days off, or borrowed or stolen times when a fellow conspirator calls or texts and says, "Let’s go!" – a call that none of us has ever regretted answering...Today, Election Day, was one of those days. The air temperature had wafted up to 65 degrees under a brilliant sun in a clear blue sky, and even the water temperature had risen to nearly the 50-degree mark, so "frequent flyers" Annmarie Kearney-Wood and I (Gae Polisner having been summoned for "refrigerator-repairman duty") suited up for yet another glorious open-water swim in this still-ongoing 2011 open-water season.  It seems like the cold weather came earlier this year than last, but the threshold of tolerance for the cold seems to have changed for we Pod members who have not yet left the now-very-chilly water. Where last year an open-water swim was unthinkable if the air temperature was not at least 45 and the water temperature at least 50, those numbers have now become meaningless.  For me, the determinant remains whether I am still able to enjoy the experience of being in the open water notwithstanding the cold, but I am finding that that is the case even when the temperature of both the air and the water is a scant 42...
As my tolerance for cold has increased, my tolerance for heat appears to have diminished, so when I ventured into the YMCA pool one weekday morning last week, I was horrified -- and nearly asphyxiated -- by the 85 degree water temperature. With my body made heavy by the heat, the unaccustomed lack of saline- and wetsuit-assisted buoyancy also hindered me, and I labored to pull myself through the chlorine-scented water that seemed thin as it slid between my fingers. Eighteen strokes later, I was at the wall, and as I turned to face the wall I had just left behind, I felt my heart sinking, until it felt as heavy as my body in the hot, still water. Back and forth I swam until I could no longer bear the heat or the heartache, and when I left, I sat for a long moment in my parked car, once again tasting the Salt as it ran down my cheek....
I haven’t been back to the Y since, and despite the sometimes heart-stopping coldness of the open water, it still feels more pleasant to me than a return to that box of hot water that we call a pool. It seems that the thing that has changed the most in me – and in more than a few of my fellow Pod members – is that I am no longer merely a "swimmer." I am now, first, foremost, and forever, an "open-water swimmer," and I am compelled to keep swimming, and to extend the boundaries of my open-water season as far as possible before I am forced to go back to the pool – if, indeed, I even can. That remains to be seen, but in the meantime, I’ll see you in the Salt!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On "Wimps" and "Wusses" and the West Neck Pod....

Since yesterday's blogpost, there've been a flurry of emails and Facebook posts, some defensive, some jibing, expostulating on who is and is not a "wimp" or a "wuss" -- or just plain crazy! -- for swimming or not swimming in this late OWS season....It's all good-natured, of course, but it also all misses the point, which is that every single one of us who ever steps off the beach and into the open water is a hero, every single time....The open water is a realm that is populated as much by fear as by the real dangers that inhabit it: rough waves, raging currents, hungry fish, speeding boats, submerged obstacles, descending fog, stinging jellyfish, exhaustion, disorientation, aloneness -- and open-water swimming is not only physical exercise but an exercise in mastering fear and pushing beyond our physical and emotional comfort levels.  Those levels are as individual as the astonishingly diverse universe of people who are drawn to the open water, including those of the West Neck Pod. 

Whether you stopped swimming in early September, when the water temperature dropped below 70, or in early October when it dropped below 60, or are still swimming when it's dropped to below 50, you are still doing something that most people -- even most swimmers -- find unimaginable. So for all the good-natured teasing about wusses and wimps, I want to go on record as saying that there are no wimps or wusses in the West Neck Pod, and you are ALL my heroes, every day, every time!  See you in the Salt!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Taking the forecast with a grain of Salt...

As I sit here cozily ensconced in my favorite armchair writing this blogpost, the outside temperature is 34 degrees and a cold rain is falling, mixed with occasional sleet and even snowflakes, though it’s only late October. Mindful of the dismal forecast, I probably would have slept in this morning, but Annmarie Kearney-Wood’s urgent early morning text-message: "I’m coming but I might be late – don’t leave without me!" precipitated me out of bed and into preparations for yet another open-water swim – my 102nd of the season, yesterday’s late-afternoon swim with Annmarie having been my 101st. Happily, we arrived at West Neck Beach before the temperature plummeted and the first icy drops began to fall.  As the last several years have taught me, these late-season swims are often lonely affairs, and Annmarie and I now seem to be the only holdouts, Gae having passed up yesterday’s swim on receiving reports of the dwindling water temperature, Carole sidelined by her shoulder injury, Joye still nursing her broken ankle, and "the boys" having dropped off the radar altogether (Rob Martell, of course, excepted).

In this late-season, Annmarie has become my new Pod hero – having blossomed from a timid, tentative newcomer last year to a seasoned, fearless open-water swimmer, who adroitly finds the adventure in every challenge, whether it be whitecapped waves or 49-degree water...which she keeps assuring me "doesn’t feel that cold"! With my doubled-up bathing caps and insulated booties and gloves, I have to agree, but I am surprised to find Annmarie (who, by the way, is roughly half my size with no discernable body fat) so willing to push the envelope, and "to keep swimming outside as long as I possibly can." Humbled by Annmarie’s willingness to embrace the cold water, I’ve stopped shrieking like a girl when I first get in, so I too can focus instead on how, after only a few strokes, the bracingly cold water becomes supportive and invigorating and thrilling and beautiful, and I feel so lucky to be out here, one with the water and the waves and the clouds and the sky...Annmarie is right, this open-water swimming season is not over yet....not today, anyway...See you in the Salt!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

100 Days of Open-Water Swimming

We of the "West Neck Pod," who swim in the open waters of Long Island's north shore (mostly!), in the northeastern United States, are forever lamenting what is, to us, an unfairly short open-water swimming season. Like all open-water swimmers, we are subject to the whims and vicissitudes of Mother Nature and The Old Man of the Sea, who ultimately determine the "outer boundaries" of each year's open-water season.  We never know when the heavy curtain of winter will finally part, and our open-water season will begin, or when it will descend again, forcing us from the water until the next curtain call....For some of us, it is the "inner boundaries" that determine when we leave the open water and return to our local indoor pools, but I am one of those "outies" whose last day of open-water swimming is usually defined by the weather....When the air temperature is in the low 40s and the water temperature in the low 50s, and the wind that's whipping across the harbor feels icy on my exposed skin, and I know that I will find no pleasure in immersing myself in the icebath and stroking through the face-numbing cold, that is my signal that the season is truly over, and I reluctantly consign myself again to the chlorine...But it is always with regret, and I always wish that I could have had "just one more swim...." 
This season, it occurred to me to count how many "just one more" open-water swims my season actually encompassed.  Inspired by downhill skiiers' concept of a "perfect" skiing season of 100 days, I decided to make that my goal for 2011, and started counting with my first swim on May 27th. Today, October 22nd, was Swim #100 -- marking the completion of my "Perfect 100-Day Open-Water Swimming Season"!  Bonnie, Gae, Karen, Rob Ripp, Rob Todd, and Tim Sullivan joined me in the water, while Ken and Joye tracked us from the beach as we made our way from South Buoy to North.  Our tentative plans for a "Big Swim Across the Harbor" were quashed by the persistent westerly wind and whitecapped waves, but the chilly, 58-degree water temperature and 46 degree air temperature were otherwise no deterrent to this determined pod-let of other "outies," who were equally determined to see me achieve my 100th swim.  With the unusual and even dramatic weather of this season -- from Hurricane Irene to the rain-drenched August to the precipitous cold of early September, followed by October's relentless westerly wind, that swim was never a certainty, and I think we all were a little relieved that I made it!  Of course, now that I have, that doesn't mean my open-water swimming season is over! Tomorrow will be a day off for me (as I embark on my first-ever "Ziplining Adventure"), but I'll be back in the Salt next week -- weather permitting! ...By the way, although I seem to have been the only Pod member consciously counting swimming days, rumored sightings suggest that the evanescent "Pod-Father" Rob Martell has substantially exceeded the 100 number -- and he will certainly take the prize for longest open-water season, as his first swim was posted on May 15th and, as history suggests, he will continue to swim into December....! 
Next season....counting mileage??  See you in the Salt!


* Thanks to Newsday, whose October 16th "Long Island Section" cover inspired the adaptation above, and to Kathy Wickham, who "Photoshopped" it into existence!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"The Tempest" meets "The Ides of October"...

Late-week rainstorms eventually gave way to brilliant sunshine, just in time for this mid-October weekend, but a wild westerly wind in their wake left Cold Spring Harbor roiling with whitecapped waves that tossed the weekend swimmers from pillar to post....No scirocco, this wind, but not a nor-easter either, so water temperatures remained comfortably in the low 60s, with air temperatures not far behind, and the late-season's holdout swimmers (Tim, Joye and I on Saturday and Annmarie, Bonnie, Carole, Eric, Gae, Rob Ripp, Rob Todd and I on Sunday, following in Rob Martell and Christine's wake) lingered in the churning waters, enjoying the rollicking ride and plotting the 2011 Season's last "Big Swim."  With boat traffic now virtually non-existent, the distant shore beckons, and a West Neck Pod "Cross-Harbor Swim" is now officially on the agenda for next Saturday, October 22nd, at 8:00 a.m.! (weather and water conditions permitting, of course).  We'll swim from West Neck Beach directly westward across the Harbor, a distance of approximately .8 miles, and then return to the beach (if you can't join us in the water, please bring your kayak and join us on top of it!)  If all goes as planned, this "Big Swim" will mark my 100th day of open-water swimming this season -- so there'll be bagels and coffee on the beach afterwards to celebrate!  See you in the Salt!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Columbus Day Road Trip a "Swimming" Success...!

In a modern-day version of "The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria," "The BMW, The Mazda and The CRV" made landfall in the parking lot of Long Beach, Sag Harbor, early Monday morning to commemorate the explorer spirit of Christopher Columbus with the West Neck Pod’s first-ever "Road Trip"! As has been oddly typical of this 2011 late-open-water-swimming season, all of the day’s explorers were women, and Pod members Annmarie, Susan, Gae, Carole, Kathy, Kaitlyn and I wasted no time in suiting up in summer-like temperatures under brilliant blue skies and hitting the crystal clear water (with Sarah kayaking alongside) for what was unquestionably the best swim of the 2011 open-water season...! (Seriously – this water was so clear it made Cold Spring Harbor seem like a mud-puddle by comparison!) We swam along the seemingless endless shoreline for nearly a mile, then lingered at the jetty in an endorphin-induced euphoric state that sparked various hijinks (see the video!) including synchronized swimming exhibitions and demonstrations of don’t-try-this-at-home "lifesaving" techniques....Ravenous hunger eventually forced us back to the beach where we enjoyed a banquet feast of bagels, coffee, cupcakes and tunafish sandwiches lavishly spread out on the hood of Annmarie’s BMW, after which Gae, Annmarie, Sarah and I returned to the water (sans wetsuits) for some leisurely, languid, don’t-ever-want-to-get-out noodling-around swimming before we all set out for the westward journey home....For some of us (Gae, Carole, Kathy, Karen and I), it was "back in the West Neck Salt" this morning, with another swim planned for tomorrow (Wednesday) at 6:45, but you can expect that next year's open-water swimming season will include a lot more "road trips" -- and it won't be long before we're tasting the Salt at Long Beach again!  See you in the Salt!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Heading Into the Post-Season...

It seems like only yesterday that I was bracing myself for the end of the 2010 open-water swimming season...The ache of that impending loss has only recently faded, and already it is nearly mid-October and – incredibly – I am facing the end of yet another season, and the pangs of another winter-long separation from the open water. The season’s end is forecast in the diminishing numbers of Pod members who turn out for the weekend group swims, and early-morning weekday swims (later and later every week in deference to the ever-dwindling daylight) are virtually solitary affairs, with Carole, Karen and I the only "regulars" (joined occasionally by Gae and Nancy Lipira). Both Nancy and Karen are training for upcoming Ironman Triathlons, Nancy’s in North Carolina at the end of October and Karen’s in New Zealand on March 3rd. Karen, alone of the Pod, is happy for the steadily dropping water temperature, as she attempts to acclimate to the 50-55 degree water temperatures she expects to encounter "down under." Interestingly, with but a few exceptions, this late open-water season has been owned almost exclusively by the women of the West Neck Pod, who continue to brave the unseasonably cool air temperatures and rapidly dropping water temperatures while most of their brethren have long since retreated to the pool...

This morning the air temperature had warmed up again to 56 degrees by 8:00, and the water temperature was still a tolerable though chilly 60-64 degrees, but only Gae, Annmarie, Bonnie, Sue, Joye, Liz and I, along with Rob Ripp (the sole representative of his gender!) were there to enjoy a blissful Causeway swim in clear, still water under a windless, cloudless, impossibly blue sky.

For those of us who continue to swim in the open water in September and October and even November (and, for our crazy Canadian, Rob Martell, in December!), the Fall is unquestionably the best time for open-water swimming, and it just keeps getting better and better! Aside from the astonishing crispness and clarity of the water, the exquisite oblique light, the dramatic kaleidoscopic skies, the emptiness of the vast horizon, and the stillness and quiet of the nearly deserted beach and harbor, we embrace the bittersweet awareness that each swim might be the season’s last. So every stroke in this late-season is precious, as we try to burn every image and sensation into our memories, to sustain us through the long, Saltless winter. For me, this season’s memories will include some "firsts": the Pod’s several exhilarating forays south to "The New Beach," choreographed "circle-dances" and a beer-toast out at the South Buoy, an armada of orange "floaty-bags" trailing behind a sea of swimmers; and (I hope) some "lasts": Bonnie’s breast cancer, Joye’s broken ankle, Chris Vasallo’s neck surgery, and Frank Fiore’s bike accident....But, this is only October 9th, I still have 8 more days of open-water swimming to achieve my "perfect" 100-Day Open-Water Swimming Season (and beyond!), and there are plenty more memories to be made before we say goodbye to this 2011 open-water season. Next on the list: The West Neck Pod’s first-ever Columbus Day "Road Trip" to Long Beach in Sag Harbor – honoring the "explorer" in all of us....See you tomorrow in the East-End Salt! 

Friday, September 23, 2011

"The Mists of Huntington..."

The first day of Fall slipped in silently under a dense layer of fog, which hovered over the landscape at West Neck Beach, covering everything like a ghostly blanket. Only faintly visible from the shore, the few remaining boats floated like shadows at their moorings, seemingly suspended in a great, soft cloud. The water lay eerily flat and calm, its mirror-like surface dully reflecting the soft grey blanket tamping it down. A vast stillness swallowed all sound, and the voices of the gulls that swooped over the still water were muffled as if from far away. The overall effect was magical and mystical and ultimately irresistible, and the water called to us like a Siren. We swam, Carole and I, north along the Causeway, past the anchored ghost ships and the fuzzy outlines of the floating dock, into an unrecognizable world...Swimming into nothingness, the boundary between water and sky obliterated, we felt weightless and disembodied, with only the faintly visible misty shoreline to our right to guide us and keep us from being swallowed by the fog. We made our way as far as the yellow sign, then reluctantly turned back toward home in the deepening fog....A strange pair of flip-flops had joined ours at the Pod-Sandal-Station, Nancy Aboff having followed in our wake (though we neither saw nor heard her until her return), and Bonnie Millen soon joined us on the Beach, ready to undertake her own solitary sojourn into the void. As we stood, contemplating the deep, silent peace that enveloped us, a pair of Great Blue Herons flew over our heads, beating their wings soundlessly over the surface of the water, then disappearing into the fog like Great Blue Ghosts....This first swim of Fall felt like a blessing, holding the promise of many more glorious swims to come....