2001 Lake Michigan Letter

2001 Lake Michigan Letter

Dear Readers,

We haven't been in the Lake much this summer, and it doesn't look like we will be so regular as before, so rather than a full diary I'll just give you a short accounting of my activities so you will not think we have abandoned our open water pursuits. I may add to this later.

Friday March 2 found me in San Diego with some spare time so I went to check out La Jolla Cove where the ocean swimmers hang out. They certainly put us to shame. I got there about noon, the air was in the upper 60's with hazy sun and the water was (according to the lifeguard who is on duty all year) about 54. A middle aged gentlemen in business clothes appeared, did a beach change into some trunks put on a pair of goggles (no cap over his sparse hair) and disappeared into the water. I went and bought some lunch and ate overlooking the beach. About an hour later he reappeared and emerged from the water with bright red skin but seemed to be in no particular discomfort. He talked with several other swimmers preparing to swim in the same attire before he went to shower in the changing room near by. If I had brought appropriate swimming gear, especially a cap, I might have tried a quarter mile or so but I was not really in their league.

For a while in mid May the shore water did get to about 60 but there was a lot of cold water in the Lake (40's by the Milwaukee bouy) and there really weren't any nice beach days so we passed. The water cooled off again fairly quickly.

Our first actual swim was Father's day, June 16. The water was 58 but it was a nice day. We did a half swim.

The next Sunday, June 24, the day after my 1500, was also nice and now the water was 60, clear and flat. We did a full swim.

June 28 and 29 we did our first early morning swims, the water is now 61 or 62. The strange thing is that all the reporting stations, including the Milwaukee bouy, had the the temperatures much higher with 70's reported by the Chicago Lakefront. But Evanston seemed to have a persistent bubble of cold water. Thursday we did a full swim but Friday I forgot my swim bag. I was able to borrow Mike's spare goggles but he didn't bring an extra cap. I swam capless, La Jolla style, but was only able to last a half swim. The water was clear except for quite a bit of algae.

The next day, June 30 I swam the Racine Quarry Swim. A nice meet as usual but the water was 81 degrees with even warmer air temperature. Quite a difference.

July 7 I'm finally ready to compete with the Californians on their own turf. I came to LA to join my wife, who is here at a convention, for dinner. But while here, with nothing particular to do, I swam the Newport-Balboa Pier to Pier 2 mile swim. It was finally a lovely day, after a cool cloudy week, and the water was a perfect 68. There was a headwind the whole way and the water got very choppy near the end. It was nice to hear the Californians complaining, especially since I didn't think it was all that bad.

LA is really much more conducive to open water swimming. The long beaches allow you to go forever, if you wish, and the guards have a much better attitude. If you want to swim they let you swim, unlike the guards in Evanston and most of the Chicago beaches.


Update August 2, 2001

We had a couple of uneventful swims mid June, but mostly I have been out of town. More recently we have been in the Lake and had a few experiences of interest.

Saturday, July 28: At Evanston small (1 foot) wind waves remind me that while ocean swimmers may pooh-pooh our lake, it is the wind waves, not large swells, that make swimming difficult. And we have plenty of those. This day wasn't too bad with a South East breeze but we avoided the far (South facing) wall which seemed fairly turbulent. Even though we don't believe in the under-TOE of local lore we preferred not meeting up with him this day. But we did swim all the way to the near (North facing) wall which was completely calm.

Sunday, July 29: Today we decided to try Promentory point on the South Side of Chicago (Approximately 55th St). My real motivation was to have Mike help me retrieve my car from my son who had borrowed it. I was somewhat apprehensive as it was a foggy morning, and as you swim, more or less, straight out its not a good place to swim in the fog. But by the time we got there the fog had lifted enough so that we could see the whole area. It was a pleasant change of pace with calm warmish (72) water. At 8 AM we had the place mostly to ourselves but there were a couple of other swimmers.

Tuesday, July 31: Back in Evanston for an early morning swim we had flat but two-layer water. The top foot was a warm 74 but a foot under the surface it felt like the 60's. It was a very hot day, and that often brings in the cold water. The algae is quite noticeable lately, both here and on the South Side, and the Zebra mussels seem conspicuously absent.

Thursday, August 2 Big Storm: Today I checked on the weather channel at 5:00AM, light rain on the radar but all the thunderstorms seemed safely in Wisconsin and not expected into the Chicago area until afternoon. At the beach at 6:00 a visual inspection of the weather seemed to confirm this, so we set out in a very light drizzle. The water was calm, quite clear given the poor lighting, 72 with light chop. By the time we got to the wall we could see a storm brewing in the Northeast and even heard some distant thunder. We made haste to return with the storm following behind. We were on dry (for the time being) land in the mini-shower when the storm hit. At first it seemed like an improvement over the shower but then Mike realized that he had no convenient place to change for work. So we drove to the station in our speedos and I parked in a dry area under the tracks where we changed among the other commuters trying to stay dry while waiting for the train. The nice thing about the city is that nobody admits to noticing anything so it is like having complete privacy. As it turned out we should have left our suits on, there wasn't a dry place in the city. 3.5 inches of rain at the Evanston beaches and over 4 inches in the loop in about 2 hours.

Update August 21, 2001 Mike and I have been doing our swimming at different ends of the country, Mike in Lake Powell Nevada and me in Lake George NY. But we are back now.

Saturday and Sunday August 18,19, Evanston: More rain but our luck held with the rain either waiting for us to finish or, on Sunday, abating while we were at the lake. Both days we had time to sit on the beach and have coffee after our swim. We learned another lesson about how you really have to be in the waves to judge them. On Saturday there were just "ripples", as the paper called them, going out was fine but coming back we had to switch to a defensive stroke. Sunday we were on the front end of a North-East wind situation and the 2 to 3 foot waves looked nasty. We adopted our rough water strategy, instead of swimming up parallel the shore we swam directly into the waves for about 20 minutes and then turned around to swim back with the waves. But these waves really weren't that hard to swim against and the ride back wasn't nearly as much fun as we had hoped. The water temperature is around 72 now.

Tuesday, August 21, Ohio Street: As the sun rises later a strategy we have adopted is to drive to Ohio Street and then we could swim later with Mike still getting to work on time. But this strategy is not working presently as the only parking we can find is on streets with a 7-9AM parking ban so we have to be out of the water by 7 anyway. When I started open water swimming I used to think Ohio Street was the ultimate, but the more I swim elsewhere the worse Ohio Street looks. This is partly because the water is about 3 feet down from the wall and very shallow. This detracts from the view and amplifies the dirty nature of the water there. And the triathletes don't help. They have erected fucking lane lines in the water! This hardly enhances open water swimming! Already at 6AM there were a dozen or so of these wetsuited swimmers who bike down from Lincoln Park or somewhere not realizing that they pass better swimming areas on the way. Some of these black suited triathletes are undoubtably lawyers, this is the Chicago version of a shark in in the water. Its been cool lately and the surface was only 71 with, and this is unusual, warmer water underneath.

Update August 27, 2001

Saturday and Sunday August 25,26: Again dodging the rain, Saturday we again emerged from the water just in time to hear thunder, Sunday the rain departed just as we got in the water. But otherwise it was quite different, Saturday had a south wind, Sunday's wind was from the North. Both days the actual swimming was easier than we would have expected from viewing the waves but noticably faster with the wind rather than against. Water 73 both days.

Actually Sunday I had a choice of swimming with Mike in Evanston or swimming alone at Promentory Point since I had to drive my son down there anyway. I made the right choice. I thought it unusual that no one was visible in the water when I drove past the Point. I found out the next day that all the south side beaches were closed due to a sewage spill.

Update September 3, 2001

Friday, August 31: This time we were rained out. Not from rain this morning but from the previous night. So much rain had fallen at my house that I was convinced that the locks had been opened to drain excess storm water and sewage into the lake. So, since this was the last morning for the outdoor pool, we swam at Centennial pool rather than the lake. As it turned out, I was right and all Chicago beaches from Ohio St. north were closed until Sunday at least. Actually, as the Chicago Park district expained on their beach website "The beach is not CLOSED, it is the water that is not suitable to swim in. Although beach patrons are not able to swim in the lake these particular days, they are welcome to bask in the sun from the sand and enjoy the concessions and the cool lake breeze."

Sunday, September 2: Evanston has lifted the ban on swimming at Lee street so we are back in the water, somewhat later in the morning than usual due to the holiday. Pleasant weather, 71 degree but murky water with a slight sewage taste but otherwise uneventful. After the swim we were enjoying our morning coffee when a Park Ranger ordered us off the beach which, he explained, was closed due to bacteria. We wondered what sort of bacteria would be located just at this beach and would be so virulent that the beach as well as the water had to be closed. We don't know what it is called but we suspect it looks something like $$, as in the fee being charged at Lee St.

Monday, September 3, Labor Day: The water was not much clearer but tasted better, now the northern-most Chicago beaches are also open. The 70 degree water looked mostly flat with slight swell, which was confirmed on the way out but the waves were more noticeable on the way back. We noticed areas of "quicksand" on the Lake bottom, places where we sunk into the sand. Mike thinks these are places where sand has drifted but not yet packed, I think these are areas where the high water table is seeping into the Lake. An amusing incident occured as we were drinking our coffee (we came earlier today so as to be off the beach by the arrival of the bacteria at 10). A woman in the water had left her belongings in a bag near the water's edge. A dog visiting the beach came up to sniff and before we, Mike, I and the dogs owner, could yell NO in unison, the dog lifted its leg and left a yellow stain on the swimmer's dress. Leaving stuff unattended on the beach can be risky.

Update September 7, 2001

The following appeared in a Chicago Paper:

Apparently this happened at our beach. Perhaps the source of the famous Under-Toe?

Update September 11, 2001

Sunday, September 9, Big Shoulders: Once again my swimmers luck held with the weather. We had storms before and after the race, but it was calm, albeit cloudy during the race. The water was much calmer than I had expected given the recent heavy winds with just a bit of wavyness near the bouys, including the near one. A good 71 degree temperature. They used the same course as last year which came as a surprise to me since it would be hard to clear if lightning erupted. So it is still about 10% longer than the courses used for the first 9 Big Shoulders. The first lap was long and I seriously considered switching to the 2.5K next year as I suffered through this lap, dreading having to do it again. But the second time is much easier as I know that everytime I pass a landmark I won't have to see it again this year. So by the time I'm done it didn't seem so bad so I probably will sign up for the 5K again. I'm liking Ohio Street less and less and this time the rain left big mud puddles near the wall where we sit which did not add to the ambience. There are lots of nicer beaches on the Chicago Lakefront and I wish Big Shoulders would move, perhaps to 63rd St or even a move to 12th St. or North Avenue might be better: somewhere with a nice beach house and better parking. By the way, I hear Leo, who did not show up for his 11th swim, was sighted elsewhere today and he is apparently OK.

Tuesday, September 11 PM: It was not very patriotic of us to go to the beach while our country was under siege but the weather was awfully nice and both of us being kicked out of work had to go somewhere. The shock was that the water is now 63, the cause being, maybe, too much south wind. Fortunately we both had the foresight to bring our thermal caps so we had a nice swim to the wall and back, but the 2 foot waves that seemed so friendly on the outbound trip were much less so on the way back.

Update Sunday September 19, 2001 Today is probably a fitting end to the season. A beautiful sunny day but on the coolish side, air right around 70. With the lifeguards and Mr. Briefcase (who collects fees) gone for the season we could come later and both our wives decided to join us on the beach. The water was still 63 but felt a bit cooler than Tuesday. But we went all the way and had a nice swim which we shall remember fondly all winter.