The weather app gods thwarted the 5:30 AM lake swim with thunder signs on the weather app. You need to get toes in early so the cops don’t come down, crack the whip, stay within the buoys! 7am was supposed to be just rain. Then the thunder signs moved to 7am and 8am was scheduled for just rain. 15 miles away from Lake Harriet, in South Saint Paul, the skies were sunny. At 7:20, I said fuck it, there’s going to be no thunder. I boiled my coffee, added two cubes of frozen cashew ice cream and sped the Honda Element toward the waters of Lake Harriet. Unlike the placid, desolate beach that characterizes the usual 5AM scene, the Sunday morning at 7:50AM scene was bustling with runners, bikers, fishers, and what looked like leftover Saturday night partyers. The dark clouds were rolling in, so I hit the head, tilted back the last of my coffee, and stretched on the wetsuit. The zipper is still finicky, so I had to put on the suit, take it off, rezip the zip, and then try a second time. After all this futzing, the sky was significantly more ominous. The wind had picked up. Grey overhead. Rain was coming. Which was welcome because I figured it would act as cover for me. For the daylight, I wore my grey cap, instead of the usual pink. In order to act as camo.
I was toes in at 8am. Real easy stroke, low hands, high elbows, extending the arms forward and down into the water. I felt like an alligator, eyes at the rim of the water, peeking up. Looking for sirens like you would when you’re speeding and you g know it. There was a fishing boat on the other side of the lake that made me nervous. Other than that, just grey grey grey and some wind chop. I’ve circled the lake enough times to know what pace is a slow march around the four buoys and what is chipper. My stroke was long and slow, playful, looking up every few minutes, treading water, and admiring the drip drop on the water’s surface. The light pours into the water much differently at this late morning hour, making it glow brown instead of inky blue 5am. Swimming with the rain is a rare treat.
I stretched out my stroke, rounding the buoys in good time. While I said I’ve circled the lake enough to know my pace, that’s not quite true. I check my time at each buoy and I’m never quite sure if it’s 44 at the last buoy or 46 or 48 or 43, you know I get the exact nature of the numbers confused. So I’m never 100% certain if I’m on record time or somewhere far behind.
When I reached the beach, or the red ball buoys 10 yards out from the shore, where you can easily stand, I stopped the watch. 50:57. A record pace. And easily the easiest effort. Just otter like. Seal like.
Figuring I was safe from the police, I just floated. The wetsuit adds significant buoyancy, so floating is effortless. I just lay lay lay, tasting the blur hum of water above merge with water below.
Probably for the uniqueness of swimming in water as water falls from above, the rarity of this natural treat, I would say this ranked as one of the more enjoyable swims of the season.
Plus coffee with half and half at my father’s residence on York Avenue, a minute drive from the beach. And toast with Irish butter and a sheen of smoked salmon just gilds the lily. Does it ever. Next time my police wary old man will have to join in the lap of civil disobedience. The lake does not belong to law enforcement.
The swimming write up may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Which is why I drink coffee. Originally I was working toward black consumption. But it seems in my old age that cream is a necessary constituent. I did find a goat’s milk place not to far by the name of Poplar. Allegedly, they sell raw goat’s milk out the door. So I’m going to drive up and see how that fares in the coffee.
A final word about the swim write ups, and not being a reader cup of tea. We really do need to give less shits about what other people think. At it’s most basic level, this is a very stiff challenge. Are you doing you? Or are you living your life for someone else? It’s very dangerous to ask this question. It brings up selfishness, selflessness, etc. Ultimately, it must be a tight rope balance. We can’t really be 100% one or the other, at least not in a way that’s fully satisfying. But the balance is also marred with tension and pangs of dissatisfaction. My swim today was tweaked by a veneer of paranoia that the popo sirens would bear down on me, speedboat Baywatch-like or something. I wondered weather the late swim would mean too much time away from Kate and the baby, whether I was shirking fatherly responsibilities. Whether I was overindulging in me time.
It is now Sunday at 11:07AM. As a kid, it was around this time that my three sisters and I would run out of the brick church in Eagan, MN. St. Thomas Becket Catholic Church. I’d likely have white powder from donut holes smattered on my lips. My mom always forced us to go to church. You can take an hour and thank god for all the good things you have, she’d say. The logic, even then, carried a certain weight. It wasn’t mixed up with beliefs or angels or whether god does or does not exist or whether Jesus did or did not rise from the dead or ancient history or miracles or any of it. Her argument was one of reserving time for gratitude. I don’t go to church anymore. At least not conventional church—steeple, rows of people, Sunday best attire. I strip down into a Speedo, pull on a size small Quintana Roo wetsuit, and freestyle my way around a rare urban body of water.