I went for a swim today and a handful of buoys short of the halfway point I realized I was really rather cold. Like shockingly cold. As in, maybe this is a little dangerous cold. I skirted the buoys and headed back to where I started, some half-mile away.
I started to scan the water and the shoreline for help. No boats nearby. A few houses off in the distance with people enjoying themselves on the docks. A handful of swimmers, all very far behind me.
This is how people drown, I thought. They get in trouble and slip quietly below the surface, unnoticed. I can't believe I'm going to die a few days before the Ironman while the kids eat lunch at a picnic table. This is really going to cast a pall over the race.
I was starting to freak myself out. I kept seeing a swimmer off my left shoulder but every time I looked up, there was no one. Just lake, trees. Can you hallucinate from the cold? I thought it was only heat that did that.
I lifted my goggles from my eyes and swam breaststroke to calm my breathing and the panic, but I didn't seem to be making progress and I kept getting colder. I'm swimming in place like a goddam Popsicle.
I made it back, obviously, 31 minutes after I left. The water wasn't THAT cold, 73 degrees, I think. Most people swam the course in full wetsuits, but not everyone. I saw several people without them and they made the course without seizing up from cold and fear.
So, what the heck happened? It's a glorious lake, maybe only second to Walden Pond for open-water swimming. No thrashing athletes jockeying for position, no currents, fresh water.
On the drive up to Lake Placid, I had a silent freak out about crossing a tall bridge in Maryland. I started worrying about it before we even left our house in the dark. By the time we were a few miles out, my hands were sweating and I was a nervous mess contemplating pulling to the side of the road to let Kent ferry us across. But then what? If I did that, I'd never cross myself again, I thought. I'd become the person too scared to cross bridges. Which is fine. People have phobias. I get that. I just don't want that particular one. I don't want to be the person who can't swim across lakes either. Now, I feel like I might be.
Do you think there's something about aging that makes us more fearful? Maybe my body chemistry has changed to make me more anxiety prone?
My first surprise, distinct panic attack hit me on the side of a gravelly mountain top in Denali on our honeymoon. Like panic attacks, it was totally irrational and no flood of calming words could ease me through it. We turned back from the summit and a prized view of Mt. McKinley from a different vantage point. I'm still a little bummed about that, but I try not to hold on to the regret as it leaves such little space for moving forward.
And yet, I feel oddly the same today. What to do, what to do?