Neither do I. It must have been in gym class. I was probably the last kid across the finish line. I probably walked for 1/3 of it. But I do remember that I always, always, always sprinted to the finish.
Remember the first time you ran two miles?
I do. It was only a couple years back, actually. I couldn’t swim because my shoulder was injured and I had taken up running to stay in shape. I remember running two miles. I remember it was hard. But the first mile felt easier and I didn’t have to walk. I remember the hill I went flying down toward the finish. I always sprint to the end…
Remember your first race?
I hated the idea of running a 5k. I have always rejected anything remotely typical. I chose a 4.4 mile race instead. My name was second to last for finishing. I’m sure I sprinted to the end. After all, that’s what I do.
Remember that great run you had when you didn’t want to run at all? How about the one where you thought you might throw up? The one that brought tears to your eyes? The one that made your lungs burn? The one that surprised you with how smoothly it went? That best personal record? The worst possible run you ever had?
We mark our way forward with milestones. This is how far I’ve come. This is what I’ve done. I will leave my name as a mark and a memento. Data on a stone along the road.
I found myself wondering about milestone zero last night. Why did you want to run a marathon, Bethany? Where did you begin? Are you running away from something? Or were you just running toward something else? Was it out of something beautiful that you began? Or out of a neediness within you?
I realized that I don’t have much of an expectation about that first marathon at all. I want to run the whole way, but I don’t need to. I realized I’m not as interested in running the marathon event as much as I want to discover each milestone along the way toward it. I want to get to know myself along this journey. It’s an unnatural place for me. I’m not comfortable running. I want to find my feet. I want to stay healthy and strong and still be athletic even in the midst of swimming injury and burnout.
I want to run a marathon, not because I love running, but because I love me.
Each milestone, right now, seems terrible and painful and uninspiring. I collect them for my little data collection and I work at not getting discouraged. It’s not spectacular. It’s not grand or glorious or exciting. It’s not an overnight success story or any kind of impressive speed time. Goodness knows, there won’t be a book or a movie.
It’s just a girl who never thought she could run changing her mind.
Big Moose Lake – not to be confused with Small, Medium, or Gargantuan Moose Lake – is located along Route 1 (Big Moose Road) in the Adirondacks. It’s about 4 miles long and seemed to have been settled into nicely with multiple camps, recreational facilities and even homes. It’s not too far from Big Moose itself or from Inlet, NY which seems to be a bustling touristy area… at least on the Fourth of July.
Intrepid adventurers, Bob and Deb and I, had decided to try to hit three lakes on July 4th on our way back home after a pleasant evening at Covewood Lodge the night before.
We began by breaking into Big Moose Lake.
Okay, we weren’t really ‘breaking in’ so much, but we felt very bold as we got in the water and swam outside of the roped off section of the lake that was Covewood’s swimming area.
The water was very dark, I remember. A deep black/orange color. The sky was slate gray, too and gave an almost begrudging chill to the morning. That, and the temperature was only in the mid-50s. The water temperature was recorded at 68-69 degrees and was definitely a wakeup call.
Leaving our hot coffee cups on the dock as a fond memory, we swam out into the darkness, marveling at the coves we found and the plant life we encountered. Boats were already out and about in different areas, but the lake was mostly quiet.
When we turned around to head back, Deb pointed out that our bubbles were hanging out on the surface of the water. They were like bread crumbs for us to find our way back to dock we had left. Not that we went too terribly far, anyway.
I did notice during the swim that I had slept uncomfortably the night before and my back was sore. It seemed to be interfering with me keeping my hips up. I was glad when we finally made it back to shore.
We felt refreshed and slightly chilled and decided unanimously to head for Inlet and nice hot breakfast.
The past several months have yielded multiple speaking engagements for me. I’m always honored at the opportunity to tell people about my English Channel swim. Every time I tell the story, I see the awe on their faces. I put it into words and paint pictures they can only try to imagine. I find a place in their minds where I can connect and I do my best to explain and expand and clarify and impress the challenge and the commitment and the magnitude of the support required. There has always been one part of the story and one question that stumps me:
“How did you swim in the ocean at night?”
Honestly… I don’t know.
I have never found an answer that quite covers it. To me, it is no small miracle. In the preceding 4 years, I swam for a whole 2 hours at night in the ocean. I never swam for more than half an hour at one time. It terrified me every single time. Terrified me. I would put on my courage and go in, but I could never quiet the voices or tame the vivid imaginations. When my first opportunity to swim the English Channel arrived, I apprehensively faced the fact that most of it would be at night. I was surprised when the world darkened and the colors faded to black; I found myself not only able to continue – but content. I was comfortable in the darkness. When I saw the shadow of something swimming between the boat and me, I simply said, “I’m not going to worry about that.” And I didn’t. I didn’t worry at all. Not for a second. Even with the jellyfish stings and the dark and the vomit and the cold and the salt and the unknown. I didn’t see any of that. I saw the most beautiful, exquisite stars. I saw the boat with the moon hovering over its bow. I saw the lights of France and heard them calling me…
The truth is, I loved it.
Logic tells me it was just like swimming during the day. Emotion tells me I was in my moment and nothing was going to stop me. But something deeper than logic and emotion reminds me that that night spent in the ocean wasn’t the darkest moment of my life. It wasn’t my hardest hard. Swimming in the ocean is a sport. It’s a physical demonstration. As a part of the human condition, it’s one of life’s many electives.
The truth is that there are darker, more hopeless, more frightening things than swimming in the ocean at night. Darkness is unavoidable. We have no choice; night will fall. We don’t get to opt out of getting diagnosed with life-altering diseases, confronting abusive situations, overcoming addictions, facing terrible accidents, or losing someone we love so dearly. The harshest parts of life overtake us like the blanket of night, and all we have is to keep swimming. Through our own vomit. Through our worst fears. Through the tidal changes and the shifting currents. Twice as far and much longer than we ever anticipated. All the natural world seems against us, and the ocean seems angry and it’s the blackest black you’ve ever seen…
But we keep going.
In the Channel, I kept going because I got to keep going. Not because I had to. I got to. It was my privilege and my passion. It’s the same in life. We get to keep going. We get to keep living. We get to keep dreaming. We get to hope. We get to have the chance to be stronger than the darkness we didn’t choose. We get to become something we never dared imagine we could be. We get to be not just happy, but whole. We get to see our own strength, beauty, determination, and excellence. We get to leave a mark on the earth that shows the others coming behind us that there is always a way through.
The hardest hard is finding the place of gratitude and grace in the midst of the night you couldn’t avoid. Find the unfettering peace of profound forgiveness. Identify the inescapable and divine truths about yourself. Look yourself in the eye. Learn to fight for your life with dignity and honor. Trace the threads of joy and contentment woven throughout your existence.
When our opportunity came, it came at night. It came in the dark. We got the fanfare of color in the sunset. We got the company of the stars. We got the silent, stern black water and the fluid, swallowing horizon without definition.
We got the truth: it can’t stay dark forever.
The sun will rise. It must. Until then, I will be the light. I will love the stars. I will be grateful and glad and content. I will keep swimming. Whatever! …Because I will reach the other side and the darkness will end. It must end somewhere.
And it will be the most beautiful sunrise.
“How did you swim in the ocean at night?”
I found a place of grace. I felt mercy. I dared to hope. I practiced forgiveness over and over until it was a natural part of me. I found the truth I always needed. I celebrated the stars. I let my light shine brighter than the darkness. I knew love was there – as much as it felt so far away, I knew it was there. I was never out there alone. Never.
The truth is, I had every good thing I ever needed to make it through.
The truth is, I had no choice.
I had to swim in the ocean at night if I was going to swim.
According to Google Maps, there are multiple Silver Lakes in the Adirondacks. Searching for Silver Lake does not bring you to our quarry. Instead, google Twitchell Lake and move slightly to the west and you will find our Silver Lake. Nestled in the middle of nowhere, about half an hour from Inlet, NY with no road access, Silver Lake was the perfect introduction to a weekend of Adirondack Adventure Swimming.
We were drawn to Silver Lake by the promise of its fantastic clarity, its remote location, and the absence of people. It was our plan to drive to the Twitchell Lake parking area to leave the car. From there, we would backpack up the trail to find Silver Lake. We would swim around the lake and enjoy lunch on a rock in the sun and then hike back out. That was the plan.
We finally wound our way along Route 1 and up Twitchell Road until we came to the parking lot. We located the hiking trail, however, we couldn’t find any signs pointing to Silver Lake. A little unnerved by this and thinking we were in the wrong location, Deb pulled out her GPS. We confirmed that we were in the correct spot and boldly began our hike into the wilderness.
Good walking or hiking shoes, Backpack, Water, Lunch, Towel or Robie, Swimsuit, Cap, Goggles
Camera, Bug Spray
The hiking trail led us along a muddy path that was, at times, so wet that it was indistinguishable from a stream. We continuously checked in with the GPS as none of the signs indicated the way to Silver Lake. We had to duck off of the main hiking trail down a less obvious path when we got near enough that we thought we might be able to see the lake.
We arrived at Silver Lake after approximately a mile and a half hike. It was tremendously satisfying just to be there – at this remote and obscure pristine setting. There was no sound of cars. Or airplanes. Or people, anywhere. Nobody and nothing. There was only the hushed sound of nature creaking and sighing and humming a nameless and foreign tune.
I loved it.
We changed into our suits there in the wilderness. I definitely recommend a robie or supertowl for adventure swimming. It’s basically two towels sown together with a head hole and arm holes that loosely hangs over you, so you can change underneath it. It’s the best thing in the whole world!
Once appropriately attired, we left our rock and swam off into the mid-morning. We made it to the island in no time and paused to check in. We were all a bit disappointed that Silver Lake was not as clear as we were promised. Bob and Deb had several theories – perhaps it hadn’t turned over yet, perhaps it wasn’t as acidic as it had been 30 years ago, or perhaps the heavy rainfalls had contributed to its turbidity. Whatever the reason and regardless of the clarity, it was a beautiful place to swim.
We swam around the back side of the island and up to one of the two lonely cabins on Silver Lake. I wasn’t sure how anybody had ever built anything there or why. There weren’t any fish in Silver Lake, so fishing was out. Perhaps it was for hiking? I wasn’t sure.
We paused at the docks and as we began to swim away, I caught sight of something floating ahead of us.
“What is that?” I asked, unable to make it out. “Is it a stick?”
I couldn’t take my eyes off of it and didn’t understand why. I was somehow able to realize that it was moving too fast through the water to be an inanimate object, yet I couldn’t quite place what exactly it was.
“It’s a snake!” Deb declared.
“Really?” I asked.
I had never seen a snake swim before! We watched it swimming away from us as fast as it could go, commenting that we had frightened it. We were all intrigued and wanted to get a closer look, but at the same time, a little too uncertain to get too close. None of us had ever met a snake in the water before!
“That just increased the Peril of this particular adventure swim,” Bob determined.
Once the snake had made his way toward the shore, we continued our swim. Fighting off a horde of deer flies, we swam over to check out a beaver hut. I have seen beavers near areas where I swim and they make me nervous, so I opted to be the photographer of this excursion and not to get too close.
At that point, we made our way back to our little alcove with the rocks and the sun and the happiness. Deb and I floated and took in the plant life on the bottom of the lake. I snapped some pictures and learned about carnivorous plants, which was pretty awesome.
We changed out of wet suits and into dry clothes and sat in each other’s company, enjoying the sun and our lunch and watching the water to see what we could see. In a lake where there are no fish, there are a lot of bugs and other things! We marveled at the abundant life and Bob and Deb were quick to identify the different plants and creatures about us. I sat and absorbed it all.
For the hike back, we hung our wet suits on the outside of our backpacks so they could dry. We left Silver Lake for what felt like a much shorter hike back to the parking lot. Some part of me felt like I was leaving a gemstone behind. I wonder if I will ever get the chance to go back and to share the adventure with others.
How many adventures can fit into one life? I’m not sure, but I sure hope some of them happen twice.
Adventure Swimming is a relatively new sport, but it currently enjoys a vast membership of renegade and rogue swimmers the world over. People who enjoy swimming in unconventional and wild settings are flocking to the freedom of immersing and traversing the most unlikely bodies of water.
In my neck of the woods, some friends and I have made it our mission to swim the wild waters of the Adirondacks. Thus, Adirondack Adventure Swimming was born. It could be a club, brand, faction, non-profit, or multi-million dollar investment opportunity – we’ll get back to you on all of that later. For now, it’s a group of environmentally conscious, open water enthusiasts determined to promote the sport of swimming in all its multi-faceted applications and for adults of all ages.
So what constitutes an Adventure Swim? An Adventure Swim is defined by the presence of three components.
Logistical complication – Most adventure swims take place in remote locations with complicated courses and routes. Planning becomes key to proper hydration, navigation, and safety.
Unconventional swimming location – Adventure swims are conducted outside the box. This applies to the location of the swim, but also to administration of the swim. Adventure swims aren’t for competition or completion of a certain distance as much as for the participation in nature and the enjoyment of swimming.
Elements of Peril – Any physical activity has elements of peril. Swimming, perhaps, more so than others. Throw in logistics and unconventional locations, and you increase the peril. You can also increase the peril by adding in extreme temperatures, wildlife, or distance.
There! Now that we’ve done our proper introduction to our sport; I’ve got some tales to tell of some amazing swims from this past weekend! Make sure to stay tuned!