Don't You Get Cold?

Sunday 11/22/09

The water temperature has begun to descend on its annual glide path to a landing somewhere in the low 50’s or high 40’s Fahrenheit. There are a couple of signs the temperature is dropping aside from the wall gauge at the Dolphin Club and the digital thermometer at the Kebbe buoy. As the water becomes more frigid, the chirping increases. Some of the swimmers have thermometers on their watches. A common refrain arises as one individual encounters another known to carry this equipment. “What did you get on your watch today?” Each winter, members from both clubs interpolate these assorted measures to establish a consensus calibration.

Another sure sign of increasing cold is the disappearance of people who swim in wetsuits. During the summer months, as many as two hundred neoprene-encased swimmers ply up and down the buoy line of Aquatic Park. They often form groups of fifty or more to engage in jogs on the beach and sand-based calisthenics before venturing into the brine. Come Thanksgiving, perhaps half a dozen wetsuit wearers remain. By January, there will be more swimmers wearing birthday suits than wetsuits.

The body’s mewling provides a reliable scale of cold for most winter swimmers. Lindsay Casablanca says, “I know it’s getting colder. I can feel it in my hips. I can feel it in my knees.” When the water is at or below fifty degrees, most people complain that walking on the sand after a swim feels like shuffling through a bed of hot coals. In the water, fingers splay open and on the beach, mouths refuse to elicit even simple words of greeting.

Of course, tolerance to the cold varies widely. Mike Rollieri was renowned for his imperviousness. A slow swimmer, he needed an hour and fifty minutes to finish a New Years Day Alcatraz swim. A dark-room thermometer recorded the temperature at 49.3 that day. When Mike finished his swim, he calmly retrieved the stick noting his last place finish and then strolled down the dock in his dripping swimsuit to help pull the heavy wooden pilot boats out of the water. Scott Haskins, another English Channel crosser regularly stays in the sauna for less than ten minutes even after long swims on the coldest days. I suspect that he is actually seeking the warmth of camaraderie rather than the warmth of the heated enclosure.

The severest case of hypothermia of which I am aware happened in 1987. The water was below fifty and the cove was turbulent with a winter tempest. Susan Cobb-Frederick and Bill Horgos were swimming to the Flag when they spotted what they thought was an orange buoy broken loose from its ground tackle. Getting closer, they recognized a friend of theirs from the South End bobbing face down in the heaving water. Susan and Bill flipped him over and towed him to the nearest shore in front of the Maritime Museum building. His mouth frothed with pulses of air bubbles. Susan jogged down the beach to summon help from the Dolphin Club.

A party of four or five men snared the closest available sedan and drove down the road in front of the Maritime Museum to meet Bill. The unconscious gentleman was locked in rigid attention as if in a state of rigor mortis or perfect military bearing. The men had to carry him like a plank board to the waiting car and slide him into the back seat with his legs sticking out the side. One man jogged beside the rescue vehicle, holding the door to keep it from smacking into the limbs of the victim. They shuttled the stiff carcass up the stairs to the relatively closer and more commodious Dolphin Club sauna.

Apparently, the stricken swimmer had jumped with the Sunrisers that morning from pier 41 ½ to ride the strong ebb back to Aquatic Park. Overcome by hypothermia and overlooked by his companions, he was drifting in a state of mammalian diving reflex. A paramedic squad arrived shortly and began ministrations. Some while later, the swimmer regained consciousness. An ambulance took him to the hospital where he fully recovered. At the hospital, the medical staff dried out his lungs and advised him that, while not always fatal, nearly drowning was something to avoid. Undeterred, he has continued to swim in the ocean for many years.

Another person that survived dampened lungs was an aspirant to swim the English Channel. She was training for her first attempt. She was swimming around the Bay accompanied by a motor craft. In the fifth hour of her eight hour practice swim, she was near Angel Island in fifty-three degree water. The attendant crew were feeding her on thirty minute intervals and checking regularly on her well-being. Although she didn’t reply to repeated questions at feeding time, she was notorious for being remarkably taciturn. A pace swimmer leaped into the water to provide tempo and shortly had to stop saying, “I can’t swim this slow. I’m getting cold.”

Since both swimmers were quite fast and nearly equal speed, this prompted intense, renewed scrutiny. Closer inspection of the channel aspirant revealed grey skin, slowed stroke rate, and a sunken profile in the water. Saltwater inhalation had severely damaged her swimming ability, but she was still stroking away like a metronome. The crew pulled the swimmer into the watercraft and rushed her to shore. Alerted by radio, emergency medical technicians were waiting to administer to the nearly drowned swimmer and ferry her to the hospital. She also recovered completely from her escapade and successfully swam the English Channel the following year.

The coldest person I ever saw was first discovered in difficulty at the shoreline between the piers of the Dolphin and South End clubs. Unable to speak and unable to swim, two men dragged him from the bay. With a man at each elbow, they steered him up the twenty-four stairs of the Dolphin club in a Frankenstein-like lurch. By the time they reached the sauna, the sufferer had become as rigid as one of the Chinese terracotta warriors. His supporters had to rock and twist him from side to side like a piece of plywood to march him into the heated room.

He seized onto the upper sauna bench and became rooted. His assistants couldn’t persuade him to sit or move and physical attempts to help him bend his extremities met with a low ghoulish howl. His mouth was frozen in a rictus grin and his eyes were wide and unblinking like those of a linebacker in mid play. Drool dangled from his chin, swinging slimily from side to side as various people jostled to administer aid.

By now, a half dozen people were engaged in a chaotic discussion as to the best course of action. There are as many theories regarding hypothermia treatment as there have been hypothermia victims at the club. Some recommend a lukewarm shower. Some recommend a hot shower. Some recommend hot sauna and no shower. Some recommend a seat on the lower bench of the sauna. Some recommend hot packs placed under the arms and at the femoral artery sites. Some recommend hot or warm drinks. A comparative consensus involves wrapping the patient in blankets. One person took the practical course of wiping the drool away.

The paramedic team arrived, strapped the still-not-lucid man into a gurney, and carted him to a waiting ambulance. He hadn’t swum a remarkable distance and the fifty-three degree water was not exceptionally cold. As a year-round Bay swimmer for over twenty years, he had never had a problem with hypothermia. The culprit turned out to be a faulty mitral valve in his heart. The valve had been steadily deteriorating and leaking away his circulatory supply of oxygen. The condition eroded so gradually that he was unaware of the adverse effect on his swimming. As the water chilled that year, trouble finally made its surprise attack. With a surgically repaired mitral valve, he now braves the waters as he did before.

My most hypothermic moment happened in 1999. I was competing to become the Polar Bear champion that year and had become somewhat obsessive. At the end of that winter, I had begun swimming three miles in the morning and two miles in the evening on Saturday and Sunday. Monday through Friday, I would swim two miles in the morning and one mile in the evening. The water temperature had been below fifty all but three days during that Polar Bear season and that particular Saturday, it was forty-seven degrees.

A friend convinced me to swim with him on the east side of the Hyde street pier, which added a quarter mile to the first large loop around the Park. My companions went back to the club as I continued on to complete my two additional loops. I was wearing two caps which ameliorate the cold considerably. Still, as I plowed under the Roundhouse the third time, I was getting a bit nervous and had another quarter mile back to the beach. I knew that hypothermia sneaks up on a person much like bleeding to death. Just before the onset of catalepsy, a warm sense of well-being envelopes the swimmer.

I was certainly not having a warm sense of well-being. I was uncomfortably cold and having supreme difficulty touching my thumb to my little finger, a simple test for hypothermia. I made a concentrated effort to maintain an even stroke rate and tried to do simple arithmetic puzzles in my head. Arithmetic has always been a needs-improvement area for me and no one was around to check my results but it did keep me occupied.

I rounded the Bad Becky, scooted down the side of the Balclutha and behind the Eppleton Hall, and skirted past the Oprah to complete the last hundred yards. It had taken me an hour and forty minutes to swim the three and a quarter miles. Reaching shore, I locked attention onto the stairs at the foot of the back deck. Seizing hold of the grab bar, I carefully dipped my feet into the foot bath to wash off the sand. From there, I lurched to the handrail at the bottom of the staircase leading to the men’s locker room. I stumped my way up and made a beeline for the closest showerhead.

Standing under the hot water I was shaking uncontrollably, but this was not uncommon. This winter had been the coldest in recent club memory and everyone shook from time to time. Also, everyone knew my Polar Bear aspiration and was accustomed to seeing me in a violent shiver.

As the shower sluiced off the back of my neck and shoulders, I concentrated on maintaining focus, knowing that a delicate stage of hypothermia comes with the after-drop. After-drop occurs when the cold blood from the limbs is forced back into the body, further lowering the core temperature. This is the reason many people eschew hot showers for those afflicted with hypothermia, but I’ve found it the most comfortable way to get back to normal.

While I was under the shower, a young, fit man whom I hadn’t seen before strolled into the foyer between the showers and the sauna and promptly fainted dead away. He toppled like a Douglas fir to the tile floor and bounced twice on his back before lying inert. His posture was so perfect that his back and shoulders absorbed the fall, protecting his head from the hard tile floor.

When short-term attempts to reanimate him failed, someone called 911. Within a couple of minutes, though, the young man revived on his own and bounced up, seemingly none the worse for wear. Apparently, his prospective father-in-law had challenged him to a swim in the icy Bay. They only swam a couple of hundred yards, but they decided to chase the chills away with some manly portions of brandy. Thus, the sudden syncope and equally sudden recovery.

About ten minutes later, I was sitting on the top bench of the sauna shaking and bouncing like a ball bearing in the back of a pickup truck on a bumpy road. The son-in-law and his new relative were devising strategy for dealing with the rescue squad. The city of San Francisco assesses a hefty fee for delivery of pre-hospital emergency medical care. The in-law's strict admonishment was to refuse all medical assistance.

Still shaking violently, I was worried that the paramedics’ attention might center on me. When they burst into the sauna asking, “Who’s hypothermic?” I immediately pointed a convulsing arm toward the young man and exclaimed, “Hee-hee-hee HE IS!” The medical technicians focused on him and never gave me another glance.

The politics of liability generated a lively debate between the rescue team and the potential family of the recently fainted. Eventually, the EMT’s asked the young man to sign a waiver, acknowledging his refusal of care. When he demurred, the squad leader was summoned to act as a third party witness. As she arrived, the technicians advised us to cover up. My motor coordination was still absent enough that I fumbled clumsily to reposition my towel from my butt to my lap.

It took about forty-five minutes from the time I left the water to return to normal. It was a distinctly disagreeable experience. Although I still get hypothermic from time to time, I’ve managed to not approach this intensity since.

How Far Is It?

Wednesday 11/18/09

For someone with sufficient curiosity, the best English Channel visual aid available is the “Dover Straits Western” Admiralty chart number 1892. The chart provides a mariner’s view of what the French call Le Manche or “the sleeve.” It’s absolutely packed with maritime information including the location of firing practice areas. With some difficulty, Lindsay ordered a copy and we now have it mounted to a cork board in our dining room. We use different colored pins to mark significant spots. This gives us a handy way to familiarize ourselves with the challenge and train mentally for the undertaking.

The shortest distance between England and Europe is across the Dover Strait. This is a narrow band of water that forms an hourglass pinch in the English Channel. The bulk of cross-channel swims start at Shakespeare beach, just southwest of Dover Harbor. The most favorable landfall would then be at Cap Gris Nez in France, a rocky promontory south of Calais, which pokes its grey nose towards England. A straight line from Shakespeare Beach to Cap Gris Nez is 18.15 nautical miles. As with most measures, international standards bodies have been tweaking the various definitions but, as of 1929, a nautical mile is the equivalent of 1.15 statute miles, making it 20.89 miles or 33,123.75 meters across for us landlubbers.

Captain Matthew Webb was the first English Channel swimmer. He succeeded using breaststroke in 1875 with a time of twenty-one hours and forty-five minutes. The fastest verified swim crossing is just under seven hours in 2007, a record held by a Bulgarian, Petar Stoychev. Michael Phelps set a world record in the 200 meter freestyle at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 with a time of slightly less than one minute and forty-three seconds. If Mr. Phelps could string one hundred sixty-six of these performances together in open water, he could cross the English Channel in about four and three-quarter hours.

In addition to a swimmer’s speed, wind and tide contribute considerably to the crossing time. Le Manche is subject to semidiurnal tide flows. As in San Francisco Bay, there are two high tides and two low tides each day. This produces an oscillating current known as a tidal stream. Each day, the current flows north on the two flood tides and south on the two ebb tides. Since the swim is west to east (starts in France no longer being sanctioned), the tidal current is mostly perpendicular to the swimmer. If all goes well, the current will push the swimmer one direction for about half the swim. Then, the current changes direction and pushes the swimmer the other direction for half the swim, resulting in a safe landing at the closest point, Cap Gris Nez. The land recedes east on either side of the cape and with the complicating factor of tides, a swimmer missing the preferred landfall may take some extra hours to complete the journey. This is why it is so critical for the pilot to have a reliable account of the swimmer’s speed in order to calculate the proper jump time.

In addition to twice daily variations, the average amplitude of the tides also modulates roughly twice a month. When the moon and the sun are on opposite sides of the earth, the full moon appears in its entire splendor. With the sun tugging on one side of the earth and the moon tugging on the other, the Channel and San Francisco Bay experience the highest high tides and the lowest low tides. The phenomenon repeats itself when the moon and the sun occupy the same side of the earth and tug in unison. From the earth’s perspective, the moon is at its “new” or “dark” stage. Mariners call the extra large swings during these two phases of the moon spring tides. In between the full and new moons are the two half moons. The relatively smaller swings during this period are the neap tides. Most swims are launched during the neap tide windows in order to minimize the potential for miscalculation or mishap. However, strong (or desperate) swimmers and experienced pilots will happily tackle a spring tide crossing.

Viewed from above, a swimmer’s track across the face of the earth will be more or less serpentine depending on the strength of the tide and the speed of the swimmer. As witnessed from a global positioning satellite, this course is the “ground track.” The ground track may cover far more than the strict twenty-one statute miles across the ditch. That doesn’t mean that the swimmer is swimming any farther, though.

Imagine a river one mile wide with perfectly straight sides running exactly north and south. If the river is completely still and a swimmer crosses on a due east trajectory, the “water track” will be precisely one mile and the “ground track” will be identical to the water track. With a strong current flowing south, the swimmer will still swim one mile through the water by maintaining a 90 degree angle to the current. The difference is that the landing will happen farther south, making the ground track and water track diverge. If the swimmer completes a mile in thirty minutes, the crossing will take thirty minutes regardless of whether a current is flowing or not. If the current happened to flow the same speed south for fifteen minutes and then suddenly reverse and flow north at the opposite speed for fifteen minutes, the swimmer would wind up on the shore at the same place as if there were no current. In this case, the water track would be straight and the ground track would be convex or peaked.

Based on this trigonometry, pilot’s will generally try to “T the tide,” keeping the swimmer perpendicular to the current. This is not a simple matter of maintaining an east-west heading. Undersea ridges such as Le Colbart and The Varne will subtly alter the current direction. Also, depending on the time before or after high water, the current will shift as it fills or exits bays and rounds promontories. Mike Oram has posted a brilliant introductory exposition of the vagaries that shape a pilot’s decisions throughout the crossing in the Channel Swimmers Google group. He is especially lucid on the topic of tidal diamonds.

Wind is arguably the most important dynamic in a successful swim. It affects water movement and can make the surface rough and choppy. It takes some practice to maintain a smooth and powerful stroke when the water is bouncing around like a wash load set to “agitate.” Wind is also whimsical and capricious. As anyone who follows the local weather report knows, experts can often fail in their predictions.

Knowing these few details doesn’t alter the fundamental admonition to the aspiring channel crosser to “shut up and swim.” Even with the array of electronic navigation equipment available, it is the pilot’s instinct and experience that provide the reckoning to meld the myriad ingredients. Mr. Oram shrewdly suggests that the swimmer concentrate on being the engine that the pilot is steering to success.

Back on Track

Thursday 11/12/09

If a successful English Channel crossing were an incredibly complex and sophisticated bank vault time lock, then several tumblers have clicked into place for me in the last week. Swim window set? Click. Pilot booked? Click. Registered with CSA? Click. Air travel booked? Click. Joined South End Club? Click. Stroke clinic? Click. Sample crossing food? Click. Just another hundred or so tumblers need to click into place and next autumn I’ll be standing on the western side of the English Channel in goggles, one standard swimming cap, and one standard swimming costume. The vault doors will swing open and the time will have arrived to shut up and swim.

Even with work-related travel interruptions, I’m managing to swim more each week than I have in ten years. I still worry about the gargantuan difference between a three mile swim and a twenty mile swim, but I’m betting that adhering to a disciplined training program will address that hurdle.

I profited from stroke instruction last week at the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club. This counts as my fourth lesson since Moose Lodge fifty-two years ago. It was yet another humbling experience in what promises to be a staggering series of exercises in humility. The instructor has successfully swum the English Channel and she had incisive suggestions. It feels like my stroke is generating more power and leverage than before. It’s also making me sore in new places.

Swimming in open water that is influenced by large tidal swings, it’s pretty difficult to gauge improvements in speed. At some point, it’ll be helpful to develop an accurate determination of how fast I actually swim. That will be crucial information to allow my pilot to do the best job possible to guide me to a successful crossing. I’m sure that experienced pilots can judge a swimmer’s speed precisely within the first thousand meters. Having a reliable indicator ahead of time, though, might allow the pilot to take advantage of an alternative starting point or capitalize on great weather outside of a neap tide window.

My swim window is set for September 28 through October 9. We are scheduled to leave for England on September 21 and return October 6. As with so many of the choices presented in this quest, Lindsay and I discussed the options at length. Many of these discussions are critically assisted with the medicinal use of martini.

One of the considerations for this schedule was the availability of award travel. We have accumulated a pile of points and miles in various programs and this is an excellent way to defray the not inconsiderable expense of the expedition. Another consideration was the amount of time I could reasonably spare from work. The window falls at the end of a calendar quarter which already presents a quandary in the business world. A pivotal consideration was the time required to recover from jet lag.

I have easily flown over a million miles. This includes many flights across the Atlantic (usually by way of the Arctic). Many years ago, I even flew red eye flights as common occurrence. That was then. Now, I feel like hammered dog effluvium after a cross-country trip. With this schedule, I should be fully recovered and raring to go by the 28th. It was a little unnerving to book a return before the end of the swim window. In this matter, we’re relying on the charm of the 1-slot. If the gods laugh at our plans and I haven’t swum by October 5th, we’ll just have to adapt, adjust, and overcome. This is nominally an infantry incantation while I’ll be swimming, not marching–but the sentiment seems apt.

Nutrition Cornucopia

Tuesday 11/10/09

I ran on the high school cross-country team in Midland, Texas in 1968. I was the fifth person on a four-man team. That was probably because there was no sixth person in the school interested in running cross-country. Nutrition consisted of a half-pound bottle of 500 mg salt tablets (assuming someone remembered to bring the bottle from the locker room to the track). Temperatures regularly reached the triple digits in Fahrenheit. Common wisdom dictated that with all the resultant sweat, our body salt could use some reinforcement. We also had some belief that water was a good idea, too. The coach propped a five gallon water jug on a football blocking sled. If the salt bottle was there, we had the complete hydration and electrolyte recovery system for anyone who felt the need. There was plenty of adolescent discussion regarding the performance-enhancement properties of salt tablets. Were three enough? Was one too many? A sports performance researcher might describe it as an early clinical study without a control group.

Like Rip van Winkle, it’s been forty years since I paid attention to evolutions in the sports nutrition field. Unlike the awakened Rip, I did have some clue that changes were taking place. In the 1970’s, playing hours of freestyle Frisbee in the brutally hot and humid summers in College Station, Texas, we gulped many jars of newly introduced Gatorade. When I swam from Sausalito to San Francisco with Pat M, we ate GU every thirty minutes chased with water. Since we misjudged our tide and wound up swimming three and a half hours to reach the opposite shore, we had plenty of time to get into a GU rhythm. On our English Channel relay, Cliff Bars kindly donated product for our crossing. However, nothing really prepared me for the state of the modern nutrition marketplace.

Lindsay and I visited the Sports Basement store in the Presidio on Saturday. They had set aside what was probably twelve hundred square feet for sports nutrition products. There were bars, chews, gels, and powders. There were multiple products in each category from vendors such as Crank Sports, Amino Vital, LaraBar, Pacific Health Laboratories, Sharkies, Hammer, Nuun-Active, Jelly Belly, and 18 Rabbits. And, of course, there were flavors—chocolate, vanilla bean, banana, strawberry, raspberry, espresso, mocha. I didn’t check closely for every choice, but there may have been a kumquat flavor as well. The only brands that were familiar were Cliff, Cytomax, Gu, and Carbo-Pro. Surprisingly, with this myriad of options, they didn’t carry Maxim. We discovered later that Maxim is marketed almost exclusively in Europe.

But wait! There’s more! With this many nutrition choices, it’s only logical that there should be myriad choices for delivery vehicle. There were a staggering number of water bottles from which to choose and these were the simple kind not counting the Fuel Belts, CamelBaks and handhelds. They had various lids, logos, and labels. Some had handy built-in rings to attach a line so that the bottle can be flung to the swimmer from the boat with confidence of retrieval. I was even able to determine how to open some of them. One thing they all had in common is that they were guaranteed to be TOTALLY FREE of BPA! I checked with WIKI later and discovered that Bisphenol A is abbreviated to BPA and is something a prudent person should well avoid.

We left with a small bucket of Carbo-Pro powder and a BPA-free, flip-top bottle. This choice was driven more by desperation than by discernment. I wanted to try a powder since gels tend to stick in my mouth and I knew that Si Bunting had used Carbo-Pro successfully. Lindsay also recommended alternating feedings with Ensure as a protein boost to complement the pure-carbohydrate product. Given the geriatric character of the aspirant, this is probably appropriate.

What About Sharks?

Friday 11/6/09

Sharks do cruise in San Francisco Bay. A couple of times, in moments of stark irony, I’ve seen a sea lion slinging a three and a half foot leopard shark from side to side like a dog with a rag toy. They would flip the shark in the air, catch it back in their mouths, and continue to shake vigorously. Once, on a Gas House Cove swim, a fisherman at the Roundhouse on Muni Pier hauled a small shark directly over the head of the swimmer I was piloting. The shark disappeared quickly over the concrete railing and no one other than the fisherman and I (and the shark) saw what happened. There are at least eleven species of shark in the Bay, but none are hazardous to humans.

At least, that was the popular theory until recently. In the San Francisco Chronicle this week, Peter Fimrite reports on a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The study is purported to be the most detailed analysis to date of the great white sharks of North America. The researchers recorded multiple visits within the confines of the Bay. Apparently, due to migratory habits, these visits typically happen between August and December. According to Barbara Block, a professor of Marine Sciences at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station and co-author of the study, "What we see on our acoustic monitoring devices is that the sharks stay pretty close to pinnipeds.” Whoops!

Most swimmers don’t worry about sharks in the English Channel. The NYC Swim web site offers answers to frequently asked questions regarding a swim across the “ditch.” They emphatically state, “There are no self-respecting sharks in the English Channel. It’s too far north and too cold.” This sentiment is echoed on other sites. On the other hand, Philip Vas from the South-East Fisheries Center, Miami Laboratory, reports in the Environmental Biology of Fishes journal that the shark catch of 1978 in the western English Channel included 118 blue sharks from the fishery at Looe in Cornwall, UK. In fact, the website for Looe proudly proclaims the town is, “the headquarters for British shark fishing.”

According to Wiki, “blue sharks are considered dangerous and have attacked humans. While they are one of the 20 or so species of shark considered dangerous, they rate on the low end of that spectrum.” Wiki then drily remarks that a citation is needed. They do have a citation for the claim that, “As of 2008, there are only four records of blue shark related human fatalities.”

Sharks don’t rate high on my list of concerns. I’m much more concerned about jellyfish, weather, shipping traffic, training schedule, feeding regimen, and jet lag. If I can get these things right (and have luck with the jellyfish, weather and shipping traffic), I’ll take my chances with the sharks.

The Thrill is Gone

Wednesday 11/4/09

It is another strong flood today and the critters are really out in force. Packs of four and five young sea lions roam through the water snout-to-snout like a gang of adolescent boys. Pelicans are more numerous than any of us can remember. A pack of sea lions enveloped a swimmer at the Goal Posts. They didn’t harass him, but they certainly gave him a start. Until the last couple of years, no one paid much attention to the Bay pinnipeds. After all, we’re the interlopers on their turf. For many years, the sea lions congregated at Pier 39 and cruised through Aquatic Park only infrequently. Now, there are an increasing number that seem to have made the cove their stomping ground. In the last couple of years, people have been bumped and even bitten from time to time. One woman required 14 stitches for multiple bites and a comprehensive antibiotic regimen. Other than a seal, hopefully playful, nudging my feet insistently ten years ago, I’ve been pretty much left alone and hope to keep it that way.

The temperature is dropping a little each day, now. It’s around 56 degrees and should be about 53 by Thanksgiving. I’ve been swimming two miles a day since Sunday with a day off on Monday. What a slog! The second mile seemed interminable and I had mild, stage-one hypothermia when I got out of the water. I’m definitely going to have to start pulling my swim hat down over my ears.

The initial buzz has worn off and fourteen or so hours of swimming is looking quite daunting. In the beginning, the sheer excitement of committing to the swim provided ample exhilaration. Then there was the drama of booking a pilot and procuring a slot and the warmth and encouragement of fellow Dolphins. Starting a blog and a web site for the first time contributed to the euphoria of new conquests with periodic adrenaline bursts. Now, the prospect of almost eleven months of training stretches before me like one of those endless, straight, desert roads we traveled on vacation in Nevada.

Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers developed a psychological testing instrument known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It measures the behavior preferences of individuals along four dichotomies. One of the dichotomies is a person’s preference for “closure” or for “process.” A person who prefers closure is most comfortable when a decision is taken, when a milestone is achieved, when a journey is completed. A person who prefers process loves having options and keeping them open. This psychometric questionnaire is very popular in the business world. I’ve taken the test three times in the last fifteen years and, every time, the results have shown me to be decidedly closure-oriented. The whole Channel attempt is an opportunity for me to practice embracing process.

I saw Peter Perez in the sauna today. Peter’s training for a Channel attempt in August and he had a delightful helpful hint for embracing process. He said that while he is swimming, he is working on thinking, “there’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here.” Face down in the cool, clear, salty water; completely isolated from phone calls and worldly demands; this is the best place in the world.

Being closure-oriented, I know I’ll feel much better once I’ve made a training schedule. In the meantime, I’ll just keep swimming two and three miles most days, get a stroke consultation, and see about doing some interval training in the pool. This is starting to seem like quite a process.