I’ve been training all year to swim the Golden Gate. It’s about the same distance on the map as the much more popular Alcatraz swim, but the currents in the Gate are even wilder – there’s simply no such thing as slack tide in this massive funnel where San Francisco Bay pours in and out of the Pacific every six hours. I finished dead last but only one of a few who swam in “skin” i.e. without a wetsuit, my time was still perfectly respectable, and I felt great throughout the swim and afterwards.
As a San Francisco native and lifelong denizen of our beautiful bay, swimming the Gate has been in my mind for some years. I put the idea off repeatedly, shelving it under “foreign concepts” and “unnecessary hardship”, but it persisted. This year I got the message again and finally had the courage to commit. I really don’t believe in putting things off, but it sure can be easy to do, especially when faced with a calling that requires truly new skills. There’s something else about swimming – it’s not fear, and it wasn’t just getting past the point where swimming was simply unpleasant because I wasn’t that good at it. Swimming requires a huge amount of head game.
This past Saturday morning was probably the most beautiful morning on San Francisco Bay yet this year: sunny, warm, and relatively calm. Absolutely perfect conditions and I had no fear, no anxiety. And yet during the swim I was constantly confronted with a voice saying “just call it, this is unnecessary, what are shu doing here, the current is pushing you the wrong way, what’s the point, there’s no need for this, why bother” even while another voice was simultaneously saying “wow, this is amazing, the water is perfect, I’m not tired, check out the view, no problem, you got this, it’s not even that far, this is amazing, no worries, have fun, you’re almost there”. I’ve experienced this before while climbing and perhaps I’ve just forgotten how that felt – or perhaps that’s why I stopped climbing. And I’ve experienced it more recently while paragliding, which almost made me stop flying. In both of those cases I can attribute a large portion of the feeling to the situation that those sports entail: halfway up a 1000’ cliff, or dangling in the middle of the sky from bits of fabric and string. While you might think being in the middle of SF Bay in nothing but your sunga is similar, I feel quite comfortable in the water, and so I’m left to face the truth directly. The truth is that it’s not the situation, and it’s not fear. It’s reluctance to sincerely accept a challenge of unknown dimensions. To not postpone, beg off, be distracted or unprepared, to not quit or fail. To not commit to try, but to simply say yes.
My dad said to me not long ago that he thinks I’ve had it easy. I think that’s bullshit. A lot of things have come fairly easily to me, and I give him credit for teaching me so many physical skills early on, which gave me a great deal of physical ability and self confidence. Swimming, however, has not come easily. It was hard to choose to do this, even though I wanted to. I don’t mean to make any more of this than it is – lots of people have swum the Gate, and for a decent swimmer it’s no big thing – but for me, this was a real accomplishment. And – I had an awesome time. Super fun to be able to do something like this and enjoy it!