Waldo Wonderland


It's taken me a while to sit down and process the awesomeness that was our family trip to Waldo Lake this year. Since the first time I swam in Waldo, oh four years ago, it has fascinated me and terrified me. 

My first swim in Waldo was a combination of over-enthusiasm and under preparation. My partner and I were on a camping and mountain biking trip to Oakridge with another couple, and I was going through a triathlon phase. (Thankfully, one not repeated since. Running kills me.) I had a hand-me-down tri wetsuit that I thought would be enough to keep me warm and lend me some confidence. Instead, the squeezing of the wetsuit, the mesmerizing blue of the lake, and my disregard for the altitude change were a terrible combination, and I had my first real freak out in open water. It doesn't help that I was swimming alone, also a first for me. I distinctly remember the swim's awe coupled with panic, but something captivated me, and I went back the next day for a much shorter swim. When we left, I made feeling comfortable in Waldo my mission. That fall was when I began my journey as an adult learner that set me on the path to OT school (another story and maybe even another blog that I can sparsely update). The summers came and went, and Waldo remained a gem on the horizon. 

This year, I finally returned. 

If there was ever a barometer to measure personal growth as a swimmer and a human, it is my relationship with Waldo Lake. Since my first trip to Waldo, I have embraced long-distance open water swimming and cold water swimming. I have swum over eight miles in one swim and swam in water just a hair over 40 F; while I am proud of these accomplishments, they taught me how small and unsubstantial I am. Water doesn't care what you have done or how you think of yourself; it is merely. Water holds no judgment and takes no responsibility; those are human ideas we bring to the water. This time at Waldo, I had a better relationship with both. My first swim at Waldo was fantastic! I did get a little excited and swim too fast and got tired quickly. I felt mentally foggy, and my arms felt like molasses. Whenever I got far enough out that the lake's bottom disappeared and terminated in the Big Blue Empty, I got the strangest sense of vertigo. I *may* have forgotten that I was swimming in a mile-high lake, so I swam for an hour. I learned some lessons, got a good night's sleep, and came back the next day. 

I've had some swims I am proud of in my life for various reasons.  Some were particularly hard, and I pushed through. Some I got out of early always hard, but a point of pride for me is when I know to call it. And some that pushed an arbitrary boundary I was obsessed with at the time. Thinking back on it now, several days later, in my second swim at Waldo in 2020, maybe the most mentally challenging thing I have ever done. It doesn't fill me with pride as other swims do. I don't know if I'm proud of it in a boastful way that I have been about swims in the past, but I am proud of it for all the small decisions that I made during the swim, for the positive self-talk, and ultimately the trust I placed in myself. It was a truly humbling experience. I've paddled some challenging whitewater where split-second decisions made the difference, but those experiences didn't leave room for doubt, soul searching, or provide time alone in the echo chamber of my mind. This swim did. 

I changed a few things from the day before. Rather than checking in with my partner on the shore every 20 minutes, I decided to swim for 45 minutes out, come back to check-in, and swim for another half hour if I felt good. I shoved a snack in my bikini bottoms to eat after an hour. I single capped and used earplugs. I also told myself that no matter what, my stroke rate could not go over 60 strokes per minute, I had to keep it slow and steady so that the altitude didn't get to me. I kissed him on the cheek and slipped into the water, a few strokes around the corner, and I was alone. This time, I had a fresh mental map of the lake in my head with reference points from the day before. The first hour is always the hardest; its the amount of time it takes me to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. More than anything, I was uncomfortable being alone. This summer, I had a falling out with a swim mentor of mine and have generally felt discarded and alone despite social distance swimming with my pod. On this swim, I was utterly alone. Alone. Alone.Alone. But something happened. I wasn't lonely. Waldo was there keeping me company. I didn't need the support of my mentor or the strength I draw from my pod. On that swim, I was enough. After 45 minutes, I popped up, and two kayakers I had seen periodically in the distance paddled up to me. They were older ladies, probably in their late 60s. One of them said, "We kept looking for you to turn around, but you just kept going!" I explained that I was turning around now and they wised me luck. I remember hitting the 45-minute mark and not wanting to turn around, but knowing that I should stick to the plan. Swimming back felt like I had the wind in my sails. 

There's plenty more I could go on and on about from that trip, but I am a graduate student and have to do some studying tonight. I only have so much time to reminisce. The last thing I want to touch on is The Big Blue Empty. I am still petrified of the Empty, but I am a little less so after two of my friends showed up on the last day for a short swim. Both of them are free divers and had spent a good chunk of time in Tahiti the previous winter working on a pearl farm and diving every day. They are comfortable with The Big Blue Empty, and together they got me out away from shore. Wow. So intense. Defiantly not comfortable yet. 


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