It feels familiar to be gathering my wetsuit and undershirt, my neoprene boots, gloves and cap, remembering a couple of towels, one to dry with and one to stand on while I change at the trunk of my car, despite it being almost six months since I have swum in Walden Pond. Yet somehow it feels like yesterday.
On Wednesday, the first of five solid days of sun, blue sky and increasingly warm temperatures, I heard that the water was 50 degrees. The strength of the April sun must have caused it to creep up a few degrees from there… None the less I am feeling a little apprehensive.
I am getting over a migraine which has slowed me down considerably this week, especially yesterday when it unleashed itself like a savage devouring my mind and my day, and I yearn for the cold water to shrink the swollen blood vessels which make my nerves throb viciously. The best remedy I can find somedays when the medication is not effective is to wrap my head in ice… but sometimes the backlash after swimming is worse than imaginable.
So as I walk down the ramp carrying my wetsuit I tell myself I will only just get in, not push it, just give it a try.
Of course this is a useless sanction. It is impossible to know when I do get in, the cold at first gnawing at my forehead, what it will be like after I get out again, and it takes so much “dressing” be to ready to get in it is hardly worth it not to swim at least a little.
As I swim down the edge along Red Cross Beach I monitor my body. Although the water has made its way inside my wetsuit, boots and gloves, I do not feel cold. I feel instead like a slug in the layers of neoprene, unable to use the strongest part of me, my feet, to kick. The neoprene boots make them float so that they seem to flail uselessly above the water. But I keep going, as my head is feeling in no worse pain, and it is the memory of what I know I love, when I acclimatize, which keeps me crawling forward. Dave, another swimmer I was chatting to before I got in the water glides past me and I try to pick up my pace but it is a useless endeavor so I watch, instead, how different the sandy bottom always appears after the winter, as if a new species of water plant has taken root, resembling a crop of small corals. This distracts me from the cold.
My new goal is to make it to Sandy Point, only because I can’t think how to turn without heading out into deeper water which I know will be colder, and having already entered a colder patch along the shore, have no wish to try it yet.
When I do get to Sandy Point I stop and catch my breath. It has probably taken me 15 minutes, perhaps a little less, but the view looking back toward the main beach has made the journey worth it. And the thing I know from years of beginnings and endings is that it only ever gets easier and better.