9:45 PM EDT, October 27, 2013
We've been on borrowed time all fall. With temperatures unusually high in October, I luxuriated in outdoor swimming.
Every day that I swam outside under blue sky and big clouds at Meadowbrook, I knew cold days were coming: days when I'd have to push myself to put on a bathing suit inside a drafty house, days when I'd want my five-toed socks before putting on flip flops, days when the thick, hooded sweat shirt would not keep me warm before or after my laps.
In the days of long shadows and amber afternoon light, I peeled off that sweat shirt, popped in earplugs, wiggled a bathing cap over my head. I never wear a cap in summer, as my bronzing hair attests. When temperatures drop, a cap helps hold the body's heat when swimming through brisk water.
As I stroked through the water on the coolest days, I stayed to the far side of the pool. Tiny jets of warm water lined that long side. I approached the bulkhead, and water heated by afternoon sunlight met me. A quick turn against the bulkhead, then back down the side I went. Pushing off the far end of the pool, I positioned my feet so the jets hit each arch.
Few brown leaves fell in that far lane this fall. Some trees were lost after Hurricane Irene and more after Sandy. As much as I missed their shade this summer, I have not missed swimming through the dry leaves. No splashing breaststroke up the lane this year, only an occasional poplar leaf to toss out on the cement surround.
A morning swimmer in summer, I shifted to afternoon in mid-September. I tried to be by 1 p.m., when most lanes were free of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmers. Most days, that did not work, either because of my schedule or because of my reluctance to swim before the maximum benefit of sunlight on the water.
Some days, Olympian Michael Phelps would be stroking through the deep-water lanes, just as he did for years. It seemed as normal as ever. Some days, a French film crew shot footage of French Olympian Yannick Agnel, now in Baltimore to train with Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman.
The everyday atmosphere of Meadowbrook — women sunning in beach chairs, children learning to swim, lifeguards in sweat suits, a sandy beach around an ancient concrete pool — may, along with fine coaching and endless training, spin its magic on another generation of swimmers.
Certainly, the young racing back and forth like motorboats invigorate us lap swimmers. I find it curious how many diehard, outdoor swimmers are more than middle-aged. Are we seeking the fountain of youth in chilly waters? Are we testing our fortitude, and our hearts? Are we steeling ourselves for coming years or trying to fight them back?
On a frigid October evening, I ran into a fellow, far-lane lap swimmer, not at the pool but at dinner. She reported that just that morning, when outdoor air temperatures were 38, she tested the outdoor waters. The heaters had been turned off, so the indoor swimming area could be heated, but the outdoor pool was still open. She jumped in, then climbed right out.
I was not as brave. I stood out at the end of the pool and bent to touch the water. It was not the water that deterred me. I could have worked up enough heat swimming, but climbing out into biting air was not something I wanted this year. I headed inside and chose a lane on the far side, so I could look up through second floor windows onto blue skies and gold leaves and try to make peace with the changing season.
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