Wednesday, August 16, 2017

8/12/2017 A Surprisingly Splendid Women Swimmin'

Finally a weekend with a taste of the summer I'd been hoping to have, during my annual trip to Ithaca to help out with the wonderful Women Swimmin' for Hospicare fundraising event. My amazing Antarctic kayak guide friend Louise  first introduced me to this event back in 2013, asking me if I might be interested in coming to help out as part of the Kayak Safety Team, a group of skilled paddlers who line the course and keep an eye on things, helping out with things like matching up swimmers who turn out to swim at a different pace as the rest of their "pod" (small groups of swimmers who set out with a absolute minimum of two escort paddlers, generally more) with a group that they can stay with better, providing a brief respite for a tired swimmer, and the like. I enjoyed it so much the first time that I've made an annual thing out of it, even last year - no, ESPECIALLY last year when I myself was just coming out of being treated (succesfully so far!) for breast cancer.

The best year was probably 2014, when instead of driving back to Brooklyn, I drove to Waterford, dropped off my boat and camping gear on the Erie Canal, ditched my rental car with Enterprise in Albany, took a cab back to my boat and then paddled home to Brooklyn. I don't really do that bucket list thing but a solo trip down the Hudson River Water Trail had been a pipe dream of mine ever since I'd read a book by a professional adventure-travel guy who did a solo paddle the length of the Hudson, but didn't really like either the Hudson or paddling by himself. 2014 the workload, the currents (the Hudson is tidal so that's key), and the date of Women Swimmin' all came together perfectly, and boy was that a wonderful way to get home. Last year was also pretty special, being my own year of surviving cancer.

This year, Louise was out of town the weekend of the swim, but she made arrangements for me to stay at her place, and that worked out fine. I made my plans to take my usual 3-day weekend, and reserved a car, and scrambled to finish the massive licensor forecast that was due on the 15th, and packed my bag, but as I mentioned in my last post, with one thing and another, this summer hasn't been quite the summer I'd hoped for, and in the last few days before the  weekend, it was looking like my much-anticipated Women Swimmin' weekend had a good chance of following that trend.

In addition to paddling for the event, which is a fun, non-competitive 1.2 mile swim across Cayuga Lake, I'd been especially dreaming of swimming myself at this beautiful spot at the north end of Taughannock State Park, where you can swim along a cliff and past a waterfall, and during the late nights at work finishing up the forecast, I kept picturing myself swimming there and that kept me going.

But then I started looking at the forecast, and it was terrible - all rain and thunderstorms all weekend - and then I looked at the Women Swimmin' site one morning and noticed a "Blue-Green Algae Update" button and when I hit that I found out that Cayuga had been having a blue-green algae problem this summer, beaches had been closed, and that the swim would be called off on the morning of the 12th if an early-morning inspection of the course revealed any signs of the stuff.

I wouldn't have thought of backing out at that point, I'd promised I would be there, but I was worried. Trying to make the best of it, I packed up a couple of books and some art supplies; earlier in the spring, a friend at work had given me some watercolor crayons that I haven't had a chance to try out yet and a rainy Saturday afternoon in Ithaca seemed like a perfect chance to try that, and I also figured that if it was still raining on Sunday I would just head home in the morning and have a quiet Sunday evening at home.

So how did it all work out?

Surprisingly well!

The blue-green algae hadn't been seen much in the south end of the lake; some friendly Cornell science folks had been keeping an eye on things for the event, and their morning check revealed fine clear water for the swim, and as a matter of fact the need for that check meant participants got to sleep in a bit (usually we're arriving while it's still dark, but they needed daylight to make sure the course was clear so our time to meet on the water for our pre-swim talk was a relatively civilized 6:30 a.m.), and then the thunderstorms and rain that were predicted went elsewhere. The weather during the swim was just beautiful, and then some clouds moved in towards the end of the post-swim festivities; I'd been thinking of going to do my own swim right after the event, but when the clouds came in I figured this was the leading edge of the bad weather and gave in to a sudden desire to go back to Louise's for a nap, only stopping at the Taughannock Falls Overlook for a few pictures of the falls.

At this point, Sunday morning was looking like it was supposed to be nicer so I figured I would swim then, but then when I woke up it was beautiful again, so I threw on a swimsuit and grabbed my goggles and headed back to the lake, where I ignored the "beach closed for blue-green algae" signs (this beach was not far from the event course so I figured if one was OK the other probably was too, and the water looked fine) and went for the exact swim I'd been daydreaming about all week (even better, in fact, I'd forgotten about the waterfall).

And there was a perfect finish to the day, too, one of the other Kayak Safety Team folks had told me that there was a free concert in the park that night and that he and his wife and some friends of theirs were going and that I was welcome to join them if I wanted to. I'd originally had some vague plans about having dinner at a nice farm-to-table restaurant in Trumansburg that I'd found on the internet, but with the weather having totally relented and an afternoon swim having worked out so nicely, I put that on the back burner for another trip, picked up a chicken spiedie sub ("spiedies" are a regional specialty and I'd never tried them before, quite tasty), and headed back to the park for some good music from The Pelotones.

Really couldn't have asked for a much nicer day. BTW, I'm kind of the worst fundraiser in the world, I mostly donate my skills for this event, but every boater in the event does get a donor page, and if you were inclined to donate a little something to this good cause, here's mine, late donations are accepted!

Here are some pictures from the swim, which at last report (via email, the website hasn't quite caught up yet) has raised $408K for Hospicare of Tompkins County. As usual, click on any photo for a slideshow view. I don't have any mobile devices and I go mostly incommunicado when I travel, so I didn't hear about the terrible things that happened on the same day until I got home on Sunday, but I'm glad to have been part of something so solidly good that day.  


Beth Havey@Boomer Highway said...

My daughter went to Cornell and I love Ithaca. I also admire your solo boating expeditions. You go girl. And thanks for the help you give others too.

bonnie said...

Thanks! My dad actually went to Cornell. I love the area but I don't know how this gal from Aiea would hold up to a Western NY winter.

My friend Louise is of course a great Nordic skier too so that would be one way to keep from getting cabin fever while the water was all hard!