2003 Lake Michigan Diary

Blogs are in, and this continues to be my contribution. Again I will spare you all details of my life and thoughts except as has to do with Lake Michigan or perhaps swimming.

Tuesday, May 13 My first paddle on the lake, from Leone beach up to our Evanston beach. Cool, but a nice day, with lots of chop but few actual waves. There is evidence of lower levels with exposed beaches in places where there weren't before and the rock "islands" by Sherman Ave almost not islands at all. The surprise was that the water was 57. But there is lots of cold water around so swimming does not seem imminent.

Memorial Day, May 26 Oakton pool is supposed to open this morning, or so says the brochure. I'm there at 6AM but no one else is, including pool staff, proving either that I'm the only one dedicated enough to swim on a cold holiday morning, or that I'm the only one who read the brochure. Eventually Larry, the pool maintenence guy shows up, confirming the later. He promises me the pool will open tomorrow. He is right and Tuesday the pool is open but, surprise, the water is 66 and air is 49 so it is a cold start to the season. Only two other swimmers, and a few ducks. By Wednesday it is a very pleasant 70 in the water and 60 outside, its great to be back in summer, but only one other swimmer. Sadly the pool was not painted this year and looks terrible. But the water is still good.

Tuesday, June 3 The heater at Oakton pool can barely keep up with the cold nights, the water is back to 69. The Tribune today has a front page article on the cool weather, they quote one Bill Snyder, WGN's weather producer as follows:

As for anyone actually thinking about going in the lake, the water at the shoreline was 57 degrees Monday, one degree below last year on June 2. It could be up to six weeks before the water is tolerable for even the heartiest Chicago Swimmers. We'll see about that, Snyder.

Thursday, June 5 Email to Mike:

We might have missed one today. I stopped by our beach about 1PM after kayaking further south on the lake. Air in mid 70's and water near shore (I only waded in a foot or so) was 61, although I'm sure farther out agrees with my other measurements of 57. A bit windy, but no real waves. Evanston has not yet opened this beach, the fences are not up, bouy's not in and the winter signage has not been changed. Needless to say there were no lifeguards. There was a guy with the tractor cleaning the sand. Incidentally the whole shoreline stinks with dead fish. Other than me, there were two women sunning themselves. Perhaps the best news is that as of today the intersection at Oakton and McCormick is back to normal.

Saturday, June 7, Evanston Today seemed another nice day with light west winds, partly cloudy with a projected high in the lower 70's. Mike and I arranged to meet at the beach around 2PM, having ascertained that the beach did not officially open for another week. Upon arriving it became apparent that the local winds had turned to east and shoreline air temperatures were in the lower 60's. But it was still pleasant when the sun was not obscured by clouds and the east breeze would tend to keep the warm water close to shore. Mike arrived with our wetsuits, his wife having found mine at their house, with great difficulty we squeezed ourselves into them zipping each other up and did a wetsuit swim. We only went halfway, not so much because of the cold but because our suits were so tight it was hard to breathe. At the fartherest point in our swim the water was 58. As soon as we got back to shallow water, and there is lots of it due to the low water level, we stripped out of our suits and swam a bit in the quite comfortable 60 degree water in the shallow areas. We were in no hurry to get out and when we did we spent another pleasant half hour sitting on the beach.

Friday, June 13, Evanston No swim. This is the last day the beach is free so we decide to take advantage with an afternoon swim. The weather is not great at home but passable. But there is a dense fog over the lake with visiblility only about 50 ft. It would be easy to get out where we could not see shore and possibly get lost. But worse than that, the water was freezing. I took no reading but it was painful just to stick our feet in, so maybe below 55. And the beach was overrun with seagulls and white with seagull shit. We decided to pass on a swim.

Sunday, June 22, Promontory Point Finally a real swim! Being frustrated with bacteria closings and cold weather at the northern beaches we decided to try the south side. Ted Erikson, his dog and his friends had just gotten out of the water. They confirmed that this was indeed the right place for a good swim this time of year, they had been swimming for a little while already. It was a nice sunny day in the 70's with 62 degree water. We had a nice swim out and back, not quite all the way to the wall but about 2/3 of a mile round trip.

Thursday, June 26, Evanston A cold wet short swim. Mike has a rare weekday off so I agree to swim a little in the Lake as part of my taper for the meet Saturday. Forcasts of severe weather which threatened to kill the swim have been downgraded to light rain. After 3 consecutive 90+ days we hope for some decent water, Mike does not even bring his wet suit. We wait out a short period of harder rain in the car and head for the water in a cool drizzle. I'm cold before I even touch the water. It doesn't feel as awful as on the 13th so with some hope we wade in deeper. But the deeper we get the colder we are. Finally Mike dives in and I follow, but not for long, we don't even reach the halfway point, when I take a temperature reading of 57. We head back to the shore and relative warmth of the drizzle.

Friday, July 4, Ohio Street We do the traditional Independence Day swim at Ohio Street, but it wasn't intended that way. We waited out a band of predicted thunderstorms early, then went to Evanston where the beach office had given out readings of 67 and 63 the previous two days. We then waited while the "birdman" communed with the seagulls on the beach, not wanting to interupt his performance. Finally we approached the water. Usually I'm the cautious one with cold water but today Mike was in first and immediately announced that he was not swimming. We did stick around long enough to get a temperature reading of 57. Since the Independence Day swim is important we decided to head south in search of swimmable water. First stop was Ohio street where we happened to be lucky in grabbing a parking place a block up Ohio St. from the beach near Starbucks. One toe in the water was enough to ascertain that this would be much more satisfactory. In fact, the water averaged about 65 with warmer and colder pockets. There were many other swimmers, a considerable number without wetsuits. We had a nice swim to the red poles (formerly "rusty poles") and back. By now the sky had cleared so we went to Starbucks for coffe and food, fortunately I wore my jammers today -- a t-shirt and jammers seems to be acceptable Starbucks attire -- but as the line was long and air conditioning full blast this was the coldest part of the day. We returned to the beach with our chairs and spent a pleasant hour on the beach without having to dodge the annoying briefcase bearing boys demanding money that populate Evanston. We then went for a second swim to Chicago Ave and back. A pleasant 4th of July.

Saturday, July 5 Promontory Point Decided to come back here again to excape the wetsuit crowd and parking headaches. No wetsuits, in fact, no swimmers at all when we arrived. A south wind was blowing and the water was cooler, 63 by my thermometer, and agitated -- a maytag day according to Mike. Evanston folks would have been convinced that there was an undertoe by the ladder and placed a policeman to keep people away. Our amusing incident was out of nowhere a lifeguard appeared in a rowboat as we were swimming near the first bouy. Mike was breathing the other way and didn't hear my yell, swimming right up against the boat, somewhat startling the lifeguard who was just out for a row and probably had not even seen us, a rowboat being a backwards boat. We were afaid she was going to tell us the water was closed or something but she just rowed on her way without so much as a 'have a nice day'. It was slow out against the wind to the third bouy but a quick trip back. While we were relaxing on the rocks two of the regular ladies arrived, one, more anal apparently even than me, had a thermometer. She ascertained it was 66 by the rocks but acknowledged that it was "not quite as warm" once she got out a little ways. We found out from her friend, who is not quite as much a cold water fan, that this woman swims in anything above 55 (and wetsuits are not worn at this location). We watched her swim alone to the second bouy and back, by the time she returned the wind had really picked up and the water was quite rough. "Great swim", she said.

Sunday, July 6, Evanston A quickie. We were going to take the day off but at the last minute Mike called and I decided 'why not?'. We didn't get to the water until 10 and we have to be out by 10:30 or it could get ugly with the lifeguards. It didn't feel quite as bad as Friday so we hurried in swam to the halfway point and back. The water was 61 and not all that uncomfortable, we would have done a full swim if we had time. Ms. Briefcase had a good book which was apparently more important to her than harassing us so we got a few rays too. Monday's paper had the alarming news that quartz dust in the sand has been classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. So we wonder how long it will be until the guards at Evanston require all patrons to wear dust masks while on the beach?

Saturday, July 12, Evanston Finally we go all the way. We know it is summer for real in Chicago as neither the Sox nor the Cubs are over .500, and to continue baseball analogies, we haven't really gotten past 2nd base all season. But today we went all the way to the wall. The water was only 62 but we have been quite frustrated and were determined to swim the distance. The way out was cold but by the time we got to the wall our bodies adjusted and by the time we got back we felt fine, although my thermometer said the same 62. A light swell made some waves by the shore but the swim was smooth. We eluded the new more energetic Mr. Briefcase and were rewarded with a nice morning on the beach.

Sunday, July 13, Evanston Wall to wall to wall. It appeared smooth and clear so we tried a little snorkeling on the south side of the near wall first, but it wasn't that great. So we started our swim at the near wall instead of mid beach as usual. Mike is not in great swimming shape yet and grumped a bit so I assumed we would end up back at the beach, but on the way back he felt energized and suggested going back to the wall. So we did. Water is now 64, about perfect. Mr. Briefcase got us today so a short beach stay, but that was OK because we needed to get home.

Saturday, July, 19, Evanston A perfect beach day, sunny, light winds but not too hot. The water felt perfect at 65 degrees and the 2 foot swells left over from yesterday's northeaster were smooth and easy to swim in. There was lots of crud blown in and hanging near the beach and also by the far wall which detracted from the swim. Only after we were back and after Mr Briefcase had collected his plunder from the unsuspecting beach goers did the lifeguard announce that the water was closed due to "unacceptable" levels of bacteria.

Sunday, July 27, Elk Lake Oregon As part of my annual trip to the northwest I'm here 35 miles outside Bend OR to swim a 5K race. From a swim standpoint there is not much to report in this fairly small lake. The water is flat, a comfortable 72 in the water, 80 and bright sun in the air and about average in underwater visibility, neither crystal clear nor muddy. It was a long but pleasant swim. In case you are wondering how I did, I will just say that there are lots of fast swimmers my age here too, not just at Big Shoulders.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday July 31, August 1,2 Evanston Mike took a long weekend from work and I'm back from Oregon so, of course, we went to the beach. There were relatively ideal conditions each day, relatively flat, sunny with water at 67 Thursday and 66 Friday and Saturday. A bit cold for this time of year but very pleasant. We were allowed to stay on the beach Thursday but Friday even though we were the only people on the beach we were booted by the guard. If we were allowed to stay he would have to stand there watching the water, but with us gone he could go up and chat with the other guards and Ms. Briefcase. On Saturday we were booted by Mr. Briefcase but not until 12 o'clock when we were going to leave anyway. On Friday we observed a small seiche -- near the north red ball marking the swim area I noticed some unusual wave action. Investigating I found that the water was only ankle deep. It remained this way for about 10 minutes and then returned to the usual 8 inch depth.

Thursday, Friday August 7,8, Lake George, NY The thunderstorms broke long enough for me to have my traditional early morning swims. Water was 74.

Saturday, August 9, Norwalk, CT Looking for water, Part I. Visiting my daughter at her new house near the mouth of the Norwalk river. Looks more promising for kayaking than swimming, but at low tide there is 100 yards of mud between the beach and the river, so not much good for anything. I didn't go in.

Thursday, Friday August 14, 15, Door County, WI Looking for water, Part II. The idea was for Mike and me to grab campsite 3 at Newport State Park which Mike promised would be the best campsite on Lake Michigan. But we were just a few hours too late, someone else had taken it and the backup sites at Newport had been taken also. So instead we had a not fully satisfactory swim in shallow rocky Europe bay, much of it breaststroke in 2ft deep water, and later stayed at the rustic Maple Grove Motel. We hiked to campsite 3 anyway the next morning to find that since Mike had been there last the water level of the lake had receeded about 3 feet and what had been a lakeside campsite was now about 100 yards of marshland from the lake. Moreover the bay was mostly dried up, what was left was only a foot or so deep. The couple that had beat us to the site had already abandoned it because of the bugs, so we were just as happy to have lost the race. Newport Bay was a better swim spot with a sandy bottom and a good snorkeling reef so we spent a pleasant day swimmng, snorkeling and kayaking. The water was perfect, 68 and crystal clear, the bay staying relatively calm although there were some fairly serious wind waves further out.

Saturday, August 16, Door County Looking for water, Part III We started the day with a kayak trip up the Mink river which involved getting out and dragging the kayaks through several hundred yards of 3 inch deep water where the river met Rowley's bay. We were rewarded by a pleasant paddle and the sighting of a number of blue herons and a bald eagle. On our way back home Mike took me, a Door County first timer, to see Peninsula State Park on the Green Bay side of the area. At the beach it was hard to see the water for the mass of people and boats. We went for a rather unsatisfactory swim around the boats, the designated swim area being not only too small but too shallow also. The water here was in the upper 70s.

Monday, August 18, Evanston Back at our home beach after a long absence. Mike has an unpleasant medical procedure later today so is taking a sick leave day allowing an early swim. 74 degrees is our first recorded over 70 water temperature this season. A mild south breeze and some 2 ft swells were not unpleasant, but the water was very cloudy, especially relative to what we had gotten used to. The cucumber beetles are out in force by the water's edge.

Saturday, August 23, Evanston Tom and Amy from the Penguins join us today, perhaps not the best day to show off our little beach. The end of a small northeaster left 2-3ft swells, marginal conditions for a full swim. But full swim we did, but in deference to our guests we headed to the end of the wall and turned around there rather than our usual ceremonial touching of the wall. Visibility is always tough in the waves so it was hard to see where everyone was, but we all made it back, albeit separately. The water was very comfortable, about 75, but very cloudy as one might expect. It was a nice sunny day so after Tom and Amy left Mike and I settled ourselves on the beach. When the lifeguards came on duty they "closed" the water due to claims of bacteria, but Mr. Briefcase still insisted on his $7. We moved ourselves just to the other side of the snow fence, which, given that we couldn't cool off in the water anyway, was just as nice and more convenient to the car, water fountian and restrooms and farther from the bugs.

Sunday, August 24, Evanston This was to be family day, bringing our wives, but neither had gotten out of bed by departure time so it is just Mike and me. There is still a residue of wavyness together with a south breeze making it a bit difficult to swim back, but Mike felt energetic so we went all the way to the south wall. The water is still very cloudy and was about 74 but as we approached the south wall we felt cold water coming in. By the time we left the beach the water had dropped to about 72. The briefcase of the day didn't bother with the beach sweep so we could stay as long as we wanted, which wasn't very long although it was a nice day and the wind kept the bugs away.

Friday, August 29, Evanston Cloudy but still reasonably warm air temperature. A bit wavy but not too bad. 7 degree water. It was quite buggy but we did sit out on the beach for a while, Mike's wife joined us. A sea gull adopted us, hoping for handouts, and attacked any other bird coming within 15 feet of us. We were gone before the guards came, leaving the beach completely empty for them.

Saturday, August 30, Ohio St. No swimming for me this weekend because my grandsons (age 3 and 4) and their parents are in town and we must entertain them. At the end of a day at Navy Pier I did take them to the beach just for a look. They were supposed to go wading but did not understand the concept, especially with waves, so got completely wet. Unfortunately I had no swim stuff and, being more mature, so my wife insists, had to stay dry. But I did get a water measurement at 74. Not really a pleasant day but the boys had fun.

Labor Day, September 1, Ohio St. Rainy with a easterly breeze. We wanted to visit Promontory point one more time this summer and thought it might be OK there since the swim area is well away from the surf zone. But there was a gale blowing, which does not make me happy, and waves breaking on the rocks we would use for entry and exit, which did not make Mike happy. So we decided to head back north. After circling the area a few times near Ohio St, we were about to give up finding a place to park and just get a Starbucks and call it a day, when we scored a recently vacated spot. We walked down to the beach in t-shirts which we left in a plastic bag by the bike racks. We were the only swimmers around (it is now about 9:45AM). About as rough as we have ever seen it in this area, waves tried to form but with all the interference from the walls simply became large chop, some peaks were 3ft high. We did go to the poles and back. Coming back we were aiming for the lifeguard chair but kept getting off course, when we got close we saw why: the guards were moving it off the beach, an end of season ritual. My water temperature reading was only 68. Getting back we found our shirts stolen, we did recover the empty bag where a homeless person had been, but was no longer, sitting. But our shoes were still there. Fortunately we did have extra, and warmer, clothes in the car (air was 63 with light rain). A hot cup of coffee hit really the spot.

Wednesday, September 3, Evanston Small craft advisory, the forecast said, 2-4 ft waves building to 3 - 7. But the wind was from the west which usually means the first several hundred yards from shore will be fairly flat. So we went for our first 5PM swim anyway. In fact the storm was a dud, not much in the way of waves even farther out, perfectly smooth where we were. Post Labor Day swimming is a joy, no lifeguards to hassle us, no briefcases to demand money, no reports of bacteria in the water and no dangerous jet skis. But no one told the flies the season was over, and even though we didn't have time to sit out the flies came and bit us in the water. The water was a perfectly comfortable 70 degrees.

Saturday, September 6, Ohio St, Not So Big Shoulders. The conditions were perfect for the Not So Big Shoulders 4.2K race, a not too hot sunny morning, light winds, flat water with a 69 degree race time water temperature. Unfortunately it made for a quick, not so interesting swim, leaving participants on the beach at 10 AM with nowhere to go for an after swim beer. As a meet director myself I do appreciate the work that goes into putting on this race. The date was chosen by the calendar, always the weekend after labor day, so was not the meet organizers' fault that the weather was perfect.

Sunday, September 7, Rodgers Park I was up for an easy warmdown swim and Mike, who had gone for a long bike ride earlier, was also in favor of a light workout. So we took advantage of the Chicago guards being gone to swim south towards Chicago. After some freestyle, some breaststroke and some bottom walking we arrived at the Howard St beach, Mikes old stomping grounds. After a nice conversation with one of the few beachgoers Mike decided to walk around the neighborhood looking at names on mailboxes to see if any of his old friends still lived there. So we walked up Eastlake in just our swimsuits and bare feet. Just short of Juneway Terrace Mike spotted an old friend, Tom, working on his building wearing an Evanston Masters T-shirt. After we talked for a while I realized that this was Tom the kayaker who sends out almost daily emails on the kayak group list. I had never actually met him in person before and had not realized that he was also a masters swimmer one age group down from me. It seems a shame that someone who lives 50 yards from the beach prefers to swim sprints in a pool while I live far a way. After a long chat we went to the Fargo beach for a short chat with Tom's wife and then a quick swim back to our beach. Total elapsed time for the 1.5mi swim/walk was 2.5 hours. I should mention that these Chicago beaches are very rocky and not ideal for entering or leaving the water. Back at our beach there was the largest and happiest crowd we have seen this summer, but being able the use the whole beach, not just a small area in front of the guards made it more pleasant for everyone. It is really a shame that we have come to the point where the purpose of life guards is to hassle beach goers and not to facilitate their enjoyment of the lake.

Wednesday, September 10, Evanston Macho Man Swim to the backside. This was supposed to be perhaps the last truely nice swim of the year with a photo op at the end. But nice it wasn't, although pleasant at home there was a stiff south-east wind off the lake. The waves were not huge, they were not really wind-blown, but they were there and hard to ignore. It was not an easy swim up, but do-able enough that we went to the wall. Actually not quite, the waves were breaking on the wall which is a dangerous situation so we aimed for the end of the wall, but Mike reasoned that since we swam all the way here we should touch it, so we swam around to the other side and touched the backside. It figured to be an even harder swim back and that was the case. After a long time Mike stopped and looked around and yelled at me "we're only at the f***ing cherry picker?" Obviously, we made it back eventually, round trip of about an hour, compared to the usual time of about 40 minutes. The water was warm though, 71 overall and warmer still near the wall. I had hoped to take a picture of me sitting in my beach chair next to a calm lake, sort of like the Corona beer ads. I even brought one. But it was not calm and we had lost the light by then so I was for heading home, but Mike thought we should at least drink the beer. So we went back to the beach with our chairs and split the beer. It tasted so good. So good that we had to stop on the way home at a Mexican restaurant and have some more Coronas and some enchiladas, blowing off the dinners our wives were no doubt keeping warm for us.

Weekend, September 13-14. I have been having nose problems so went to the doctor. He says I have swimmer's nose. The membranes inside my nose have been irritated, probably by the algae, and have swollen closing off my air passage. Fortunately there is a steriod spray for this and no reason to stop swimming, but since the weather was not pleasant I took the opportunity to rest and let my nose heal.

Wednesday, September 17, Evanston The nose is fine. I received the following from Tom the kayker:

...expect the waters on the lake to be cold Most of the surface water seems to have left for other locales and we now have some serious bottom water on our shores I spent a few hours at and around Dempster St. Beach and the water felt like it was in the mid to high 50s... But, swimwise, Tom is sort of a Lake wuss so Mike and I discounted this and went swimming anyway, especially since it was a lovely fall day. We figured water in the mid 60's. The truth was in between, the water was exactly 60, our lower limit of tolerance. South winds and 2ft waves but not bad. We went to the halfway mark and back, spending the remaining sunny minutes on the beach sipping on Leinenkugels.

Saturday, September 20, Evanston To the wall and back. No, not that wall, the near wall. And even that was iffy. The water is now 55-56 and it was painful getting in even with wetsuits. Of course, for us, getting into wetsuits was painful enough. Starting 50 ft from the wall we figured we could make it, but after turning it didn't feel quite as bad so we swam to the end of the beach and back to the wall again. Probably 15 minutes altogether. The water was flat and as clear as we have seen it all summer, a nice bright sunny but cool day. Unfortunately Mike had to go so we did not get to sit out, so a less than completely satisfactory end to the season?

PostScript: Saturday, October 4, Evanston Being a fairly nice October day, Mike, his wife, and I went for a farewell visit to the lake. We brought wet suits just in case, but at 51 it was too cold to even think about going in. We waded a bit and sat in the sun. It was pleasant but sad.

On my July 12th report I made a nasty remark about the Chicago baseball teams. In retrospect it was probably unfair as this year both teams, especially the Cubs, were still playing serious ball well after we were no longer swimming. But alas, this is Chicago and as surely as the water temperatures plummet in the Fall, so do the fortunes of our baseball teams. Like the Sox and Cub fans, all we Lake swimmers can do for the next few months is "wait until next year".

Barry Dayton's Lake Michigan Diary
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