Out of Control

A few weeks back a core group of swim friends rode our bikes onto the Port Townsend ferry. With swim gear in overstuffed backpacks and saddlebags, we set out for a short exploratory swim along the southern protected bay at Fort Worden. 

Before we left, one of our more gregarious (but smart) friends sent me a text, saying “We should swim around Point Wilson.” He’s very fastidious, and supplied a course map, approximate distance, tides, all the goodies to plead his case.

I read the text and said out loud, “Oh hell no. That ain’t happening.”

Point Wilson, located within Fort Worden State Park, is the farthest tip of the Quimper Peninsula (and yes, I had to look that up). Its lighthouse juts out into the shipping lanes of Admiralty Inlet, and like any point, the water hauls ass through there.

This trip was my idea. I’ve sat many times at various waterfront taprooms in PT, pint in hand, thinking, “We should swim here.” 

There’s many places like that for me, places where I’ve seen bodies of water and thought, “Yes, we could swim this. We need to come back here.” But usually I leave it at that, a good idea I never act on. And I could fill this page with all the reasons and outs I give myself.

Which is why I thought biking to PT and swimming the shallow bay at Fort Worden, in February, toward Point Wilson and back, was a huge accomplishment. 

All my gear warming in soul-sustaining sunshine before the swim.

The bike ride was short, and soon we were on the beach ready to go. We started against a tough current, seeing that same damn clam shell on the bottom over and over. As we worked toward the point, the tight grip of the current began to slowly release us, until we were being pulled in the opposite direction, ever-faster toward the point.

Let me be clear: common sense was happening. We were shallow enough to stand up, we were staying together, and we were communicating. I stood up, ready to turn back while I could. My swim buddy was walking to shore, the water running past her legs like a river. 

The friend who had sent me the morning text stood as well. I realized he’d probably plotted this entire thing from the get-go, the sneaky bastard. We watched the two strongest swimmers of the group continue around the point. 

They didn’t get pulled out into the shipping lanes, they didn’t appear to struggle. They flew. They smiled. They did some butterfly. They were gorgeous.

The conservative side of me still wanted to turn around. I wasn’t as fast as they were. I don’t have a good kick. I didn’t know where we’d end up, or how we’d get back to our stuff. I was supposed to be leading this trip, so I had to be in control, be the responsible one. My usual why-I-can’t mantra.

But two weeks earlier, I’d found out I had breast cancer. I was mad, because I’d done everything right to prevent it, and it got me anyway. I felt helpless. My life felt out of my control. 

Calm bay at Fort Worden, looking toward Pt Townsend, the conservative route.

I was that little kid riding on the pretend cars at an amusement park. I thought I was really driving, but turns out my car was on its own track the entire time, no matter how carefully I steered. I felt incredibly let down and seriously pissed. 

Screw conservative, I thought.

So I smiled at my two swim buddies, who were waiting for me to make the call. I did some sort of what-I-hoped-was-cool but was probably dorky circle in the air with my hand. Then, I did a little dive in and simply let go.

And oh hell yes I flew around that point. The water was moving so fast I eventually gave up swimming and just floated, watching the sand formations below me change with the current, a container ship cruising past so big. 

There was bull kelp and seaweed and iridescent somethings in neon purple below us. Small children cheered us from shore. I picked my head up, laughing. I’d felt out-of-control fear for the past two weeks. This was out-of-control joy. 

Then we were completely around the point. We got out and walked across the campground to our bikes, everyone grinning and shivering and shouting, “Did you see this? Did you catch that?” 

All the endorphins, not to mention wetsuits, caps, and goggles, made idiots and spectacles of us. It’s my favorite part of every swim.

We rode back into town, warmed up and laughed ourselves silly in a clothing-optional community hot tub at a local spa. Note: do not sit in the corner of the spa closest to the clothing-optional community shower, because a large hairy man will inevitably drop the soap. 

Lovely way to warm up, but beware the proximity of the shower…!

Before catching the ferry back, we grabbed greasy cheesy burgers at one of my favorite small bars. I sat with a pint in my hand, my right breast still growing cancer cells, my stomach still sore from all the laughing. Everything was happening, and it was alright.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

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