What better way to celebrate the vernal equinox than to tiptoe into a local lake with a friend and fellow cold-water enthusiast? It was a spontaneous plunge—planned just minutes before the official moment of spring at 2:58 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. With the air temperature in the low 80s in Olympia today—and cooling back down to the 60s tomorrow, it was a carpe diem kind of event.
I had been to my local Y in the morning with my new swim goggles and plan to see if I could swim for an hour without any significant breaks. Surprisingly I could. It was almost anticlimactic. I thought I would be struggling by the end of 45 minutes and would finish the hour feeling like I had preserved and really accomplished something. I swam for an hour and ten minutes and then I just felt done. Eventually, I’d like to build more speed, strength, and stamina so I can swim comfortably for an hour in open water. But there is a big difference between a lap pool and a lake (especially if its cold) and I wanted to work on getting acclimated to cold water so I could enjoy a long swimming season this year. I didn’t want to wait until the summer solstice to start. So why not see how cold a cold lake feels right now?
A few e-mails back and forth with my friend and we were off to Munn Lake, at the south edge Olympia. There were just a few fishermen on the lakeBetween the two of us, had two enormous towels, one wetsuit, two big fleecy sweaters, one hotpot of water for tea, two mugs, one thermos of coffee with Kahlua, and Discover Pass, and one very excited golden retriever. And a thermometer for testing the water. It was 52 degrees F. Bracing? Refreshing? Painfully cold? It was hard to tell.
I wasn’t sure I was going to get all the way in the lake, but my friend just peeled down to her bathing suit and started walking down the submerged concrete boat ramp. Just like that. I announced that my goal was to get in slowly, eventually, and not scream or use any swear words. By the time my ankles were wet, my friend was already in up to her neck, smiling. “It’s lovely! It’s hard on the arms, but otherwise perfect.” She looked like she meant it.
So I tried to follow suit. The longer I stayed above the water, feeling the unseasonably warm sun on my skin, the colder the water felt. Forward, ho! My legs numbed quickly, I splashed water on my arms, winced, then pushed off the last concrete slab and was in. It was…not bad.
There is definitely a timing trick here. Plunge in to quickly and you could shock your system (heart) in a dangerous way. Too slowly and you are letting matter get over mind, giving yourself too many opportunities to change your mind, lose your resolve, and retreat to your big warm towel and steaming cup of hot something.
I turned on my back and floated myself up the surface of the water to take advantage of the relatively warm water and the very warm sun. Now it was delightful and I relaxed into the lake, into the landscape, into an afternoon that was the fulfilled promise of Spring.