2012 – Day 1

Nothing like starting the year off with a bang…. and a PR!

I would have been content with a nice long 10,000 yard pool set… a standard 100×100… or maybe something a little more creative, but since no pool within 50 miles was open today, I decided to join CIBBOWS for a New Year celebratory ocean swim. An unseasonably warm winter so far has brought the ocean temperature slowly down to 45 degrees… only 5 degrees colder than my last Brighton Beach swim the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I was feeling rather positive that I could swim for at least a mile… maybe more.

I got in the car at 8:00 AM. Outside temperature 31 degrees… a little frost on the windshield. Ten minutes drive I was in New Paltz… grabbed a cup of coffee and headed for the NYS Thruway… outside temp: 36 degrees. This is looking good.

XM radio deep tracks and coffee house kept me company until I was within range of WNYC (one of new york’s public radio station)… classical music… not in the mood… switch to some Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds cd’s… that’ll put things into perspective. Over the George Washington Bridge, the Hudson looks flat. The sun is shining… outside temp: 42 degrees… open moonroof. 30 minutes later I’m at Brighton Beach. The streets are empty but there is a lot of activity on the boardwalk. I’m the first swimmer to arrive… outside temp: 46 degrees.

I pace around a bit wondering if anyone is going to show up here, or head down to Stillwell Ave to marvel at the invading swarm of humanity gathering for the annual Polar Bear dip. The water near the Coney Island Pier is busy with Police and Fire boats, even though the Bears aren’t scheduled to plunge for a few hours. Hsi-Ling and John H are the first to show up, and soon 20 others spread their gear out at the usual spot. There is no hurry to suit up and get in, but there is a lot of discussion about it! Brad and I formulate a plan to swim to the white building (at the east end of BB) and back… a distance of one mile. He warns me to give him a head start as he is slow getting in… knees then hips then shoulders then a little heads up breaststroke… I don’t know how people do it like that. I’m a kamikaze.

Brad starts his entry routine, I already have my earplugs in and a silicone cap on… check to make sure my goggles are seated well… parka off and to the water. Brad is up to his waist. I start to wonder if this is a good idea. Its three degrees colder than I have ever swum in before… a measurable difference for sure, but I’m a little older (yes) and wiser (debatable) now…

I turn my back to the water, and facing the boardwalk, close my (goggled) eyes… taking deep breaths, I talk myself through the doubt. “Its a perfect sunny day”… “Its only a mile”… “Its only 3 degrees colder”… “Etc”.

Eyes open, turn around. Brad is breaststroking; the final stage of his entry ritual. Its go-time.

I run in up to my waist and dive in. It hurts. Its cold. It feels like someone slapped my neck, both sides simultaneously just below my jaw line, I gasp for air, and again until it becomes a steady rhythm. Breathing left (beach side) I soon pass Brad who is still doing breaststroke… sorry, can’t stop now, I’ll have to double back when things even out a bit more. After a few minutes I am able to settle into a comfortable pace. My hands and feet are getting cold, ironically, I look forward to this sensation as a sense of inner warmth always follows. Some say a loss of dexterity is a sign of hypothermia, but I’ve found that this happens so early into a cold swim for me that it is more of a sign that my blood is staying in my core… where I prefer it to be. I turn back often to see where Brad is at… always about 25 yards back and swimming steadily. I get to the white building, swim back to Brad, and we continue to the white building again together. I feel good now, but its no time to chat so we start right back west.

With Brad on my left (ocean side) I alternate breathe all the way back. When we are a few yards from our starting point, we are greeted by another swimmer heading east. It takes me a moment to realize that its Rachel. A hug and a frozen faced, bells palsy-like mumble of apy ooo ere, and I decide to join her for a round trip to the large rocks east of Grimaldo’s chair… probably 800 yards. We pass the jetty and head back. With a little more than 150 yards to go, a dreamy feeling paid me a visit, so I headed for the shallows. My face was pretty frozen, and I wasn’t closing my mouth after each breath… taking in a bit of water each cycle. I found it cool and refreshing. This I took as a sign to get out. I exited the water and ran on the beach for a few minutes before joining the rest of the gang.

A little over 40 minutes @45 degrees! (a new low!)

The after drop hit me and so the shivers began. Lots of hot tea made its way around, and the sun was still shining, so the warming process was uneventful. Everyone started making their way west to Stillwell to join the Polar Bear festivities.