Wild Water Swimming

By Susan Hales 

First, the pools are closed, and then the races are cancelled: no Lake Meridian mile race, no Omi mile on Lake Coeur d’Alene, no Flathead Lake Swim Series, no 1.76-mile Long Bridge Swim in Sandpoint, no 2.4-mile Coeur d’Alene Crossing, and (maybe) no 1.5-mile Lake Chelan Swim or 1-mile San Diego SharkFest. There will be no sharing pre-race tips and jitters. No starting horn blasts, adrenaline rush, frothy water, all arms and feet, pulling, twisting, slicing through dark water, and the over-all-too-soon race finish. So what now? 

Wild water swimmers love gliding through open water. The more experienced among us relish the challenges of cold, deep, dark waters; waves whipped by winds; and close calls with raging otters and territorial mergansers. Leaky wetsuits or foggy goggles? No problem. We like a challenge and we deal with adversity.  

We were made for these Corona Times! So what new challenges will we devise? What innovative ways will we connect, share tips and joys, and find purpose in our swimming? And how can we share our love of this sport to inspire new swimming adventurers? Here are some new challenges. 

woman swimmer, wearing a wet suit, resting on a large rock near the shorelines in Lake Pend Oreille, Idhao.
Taking a break on Lake Pend Oreille. // Photo by Larry Luton

How many lakes can I swim?   

My wish list of 25 lakes I’d like to swim just grew to 29. Of the first five, I can report that Fish Lake offers amazing giant lily pads in bloom and a round-trip distance of a mile. Medical Lake provides longer distances and sightings of great blue heron, painted turtles, ducks, cormorants, and red-winged blackbirds galore. Watch out for the wicked fun current on Spirit Lake, and please, someone tell me where the beach is on Cocolalla!  

My favorite, Lake Pend Oreille, gives me cooler temps and rocky cliffs plunge deep below the surface. It also offers channels, bays, miles of undeveloped wild shorelines, and very unpredictable winds for on-the-spot thrills or meditative nature wanderings. I am also tantalized by visions of new water adventures in Deer, Loon, Sacheen, Eloika, Diamond and Marshall lakes and the very small, warmer Round, Shepard, Mirror and Muskrat lakes. 

How far can I swim?   

Can 5.3 become 6 miles this summer? Soon, Pend Oreille water temps will reach balmy 60s. Who out there will join me to cover chunks of the 111-mile shoreline? All are welcome! For a world-renowned challenge, the ultra-competitors may seek a Spokane group prepping for English Channel crossings.   

How can I stay connected?  

When venturing out to the lakes, there is much we swimmers need to know. What is the water temp in Medical Lake today? How strong is the wind on Pend Oreille? Are there whitecaps?  

We have so many tips to share, too! How can you know if a wetsuit fits? How can you best defog your goggles? What are the pros and cons of insulated caps and gloves? Where can you get those orange safety floats? How do you repair wetsuit tears? How can you meditate while swimming? What other questions might you have?  

To stay connected during Corona Times and beyond, check out Facebook groups for wild swimmers in your area, such as Western Washington Open Water Swimmers or Oregon Wild Swimming. These groups, in general, are open to experienced swimmers and to those newly considering wild water swimming. The purpose is to provide a way to connect, share swimming tips and stories, congratulate each other, and keep the swimming community vibrant and strong. [Editor’s Note: As of this posting date, there were no Facebook public groups for “wild swimmers” in the Spokane area, eastern Washington, or north Idaho.]

Eventually the races will return. We’ll heave a sigh of relief and find our swimming world expanded by new wild water adventures, bolstered by Facebook friendships, and informed by our shared wisdom.

Susan Hales finds post-employment flexibility to be wonderfully freeing for swimming, cycling, kayaking, and hiking in summer and snowshoeing in winter. Wild water swimming is her absolute favorite activity. 

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