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A Chesapeake Bay Swim Experience
Bby Jon Wood

Don, his wife Mickie and Jen and I all drove up together Sunday morning to Sandy Park State Park for the beginning of the ride. Also, Jonathan Savitch followed along in his car and later took pictures. We arrived at 8:15 am and encountered a bit of a traffic jam getting into the park, otherwise everything went smoothly. I had thought that we were swimming from west to east, but were surprised to learn that we were at the start on the west side. Fortunately, we had two non-swimming drivers for the two cars and it wasn't a problem.

The start reminded me of salmon spawning and if I ever do this swim again, remind me to let everyone else go ahead before I get into the water. I kicked and got kicked more times than I could count in the first three minutes of the race. Nothing terrible but mostly avoidable. My goggles didn't leak a single drop the whole time, probably because they were considerably warmer in the minutes before the swim, compared with the usual 0545 start time.

Jen, Don and I didn't wear wetsuits, and I don't know yet if Bill wore one. The vast majority of the field wore wetsuits. I noticed one guy with bandages along the back of the neck in anticipation of chaffing marks. Chaffing was what I was trying to avoid by not wearing the wetsuit. I put lots of petroleum jelly in my armpits. In some of my longer training swims I had ended up with red marks there. There was a great T-shirt worn by some club Don was telling me about. The front said "We're not leavin' till we're heavin" and the back said "It's just one lap."

It was a warm day and the water was said to be about 70F. I looked up the water temperature at 11 am yesterday on the web site. It was 70.7F. It didn't ever feel cold, even though the water temperature varied quite a bit from place to place. We had been told that there were two currents, first from the left, then a placid portion, then a current from the right, but all I really felt was the current from the left. In that first part of the course, I found myself on the far right side, next to the pylons and in danger of being pushed out of the course and ended up swimming at an angle to make forward progress. We might have been working against a head current towards the end. At least it felt that way.

For long stretches I was in the water all by myself. And then another swimmer would come along and I would kick him in the head. Not on purpose, you understand, but just by some application of Murphy's Law: "If two swimmer are on the same 4.4 mile stretch of water one will kick the other in the head at some point." Actually, I did this three or four times in the middle part. At about a third to a half way across, I noticed that there was a kayaker that seemed to be tracking me, and he stayed near me pretty much to the end. Sometimes he was ahead of me, sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right, but he never got very far away. Which was great, because after not seeing any swimmers or boats for what seemed like an hour it wasn't hard to believe that the course was really somewhere else. With him I could believe that I was still in the race.

The view of the bridges from the water was simply spectacular. It reminded me of a science fiction set with roadways that curved high above us and disappeared into the mist. The left bridge was higher than the right, which threw me off in my calculations of where between the bridges I was swimming. You see, I thought I was in the middle, but as the left bridge got higher and higher I was actually swimming to the right. And when the current kicked in, I was all the way at the edge. I corrected and then found after a while that I still was on the edge. That's when I started respecting the current's ability to put me out of the race if I wasn't careful.

It really was a perfect day for the swim. I did end up with some good sunburns across my forehead and my nose and on my upper arms, but no jellyfish were mentioned. The water was pretty smooth at one or two feet and only occasionally did I drink any water because of an unexpected swell.

Jen and Don finished within a few minutes of each other, and Bill and I finished way later. I think I overtrained in the last week with 20,000 yards through Thursday. My Reston 2 mile time was at a 32:30 min/mile pace and I had had a good taper. Bill, on the other hand, didn't train at all and simply gutted it out, the stud. Ed Pagett, who swims at the Mount Vernon pool also came in two and a half hours.

We didn't stay for the awards ceremony, so don't know what happened there, but one of my co-workers told me he saw last night some news footage of a "mass of humanity" in the water.

I haven't found a date for next years swim on the web site yet. Anyone know what the date will be?
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Jon Wood is a member of Alexandria Masters Swimming, and swam the 4.4 mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim on June 11, 2000.