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A Double-Dipping Weekend: Lessons from the Cold

This past weekend, Selkie Sam and I had a double dip. On Saturday, we swam with Cyndi and Elizabeth, and on Sunday, we swam alone, but at the same time as Heidi and Tina. Both days, the water was between 43-44 degrees in the Oregon City Cove (also called Clackamas Cove).

The parking lot isn't marked, and looks ominous; anyone visiting should take the second exit off the rotary and take the unmarked "road" into the gravel lot. Swimmers park closest to the bike path to cut down on chilly walk time. There's a fence that you have to walk around to reach the bike path, and a few steps down the bike path, there's a dirt path down the embankment into the cove.

The cove used to be a Quarry, so there are structures that don't really make sense for a swimming hole without knowing the context. Still, on Saturday morning, you couldn't see the far side of the small cove due to the fog.

My goal is to stay relatively warm until I get down to the water, and due to the air temp being 33 degrees, I wore my parka, hat, gloves, and booties down to the water, and stripped my parka off only once everyone was ready to get in.

Selkie Sam, one of the seasoned ice swimmers, swims skins year-round, meaning she wears only a swim suit, one cap, ear plugs, ang goggles. Sam just wades in and starts swimming, which is something I have never been able to accomplish. While I was trying to get everyone to abandon the very cold swim with promises of warm beverages and sweet treats, she just got right in, and Cyndi followed close behind.

Elizabeth and I were the wetsuited swimmers of our group, wearing booties and gloves into the water.

This year is the first year I'm not pushing myself to put my face in the water once the water temp is below 50 degrees. My sinuses don't play nice with the colder temps and the vasoconstriction from the cold water on my face feels unbearable. On top of not enjoying any kind of tempurature changes (even cold to warm), I also have Raynaud's in my feet. I've found that wearing the booties is a game changer for me, both in keeping my feet a little warmer than usual, but also in protecting them from rocks as I get in and out.

It's not uncommon for swimmers to break toes (ask Sam about her ice swim + broken toe fiasco from a few years ago) getting out of the water due to not being able to feel their feet, and being a little wobbly/shaky. The entry point at Clackamas Cove is rocky with some toe-stubbers, and because I don't lose feeling in my feet with the booties on, I can feel out the entry and exit. Plus, it's 5mm of padding! These are booties I wear. I bought a size larger than I needed because I was worried about being able to get them off with cold, numb fingers, and although they let some water in, my body is able to heat it and my feet still aren't as cold as going without, and they're not too rough to pull off.

On Sunday, Sam and I went back to the Cove, despite originally planning for Hagg Lake, because we guessed the cove would be a little warmer than the lake with the cold overnight temperatures. It was sunny and the air was a few degrees warmer, so naturally, there were people fishing on the shore right where we got in. It's oddly satisfying hearing people ask "Are you crazy?!? Isn't the water too cold to swim?!?" and spectating while I inch into the water, hyperventilating and cursing.

Although there were other swimmers in the water, Sam swam alone, sticking close to the exit area. To stay safe, Sam stayed between the waterfall and abandoned boat house, and did 3-4 back and forths to get to between 800-1000m.

While Sam swam, I paddled about, keeping my head out of the water, but trying to stay moving. At about 15 minutes, I decided to get halfway out of the water to start reviving my hands by doing my shoulder burnout routine (which worked!). I was trying to signal to Sam to swim a little wider to avoid the fishing lines, and as she swam towards me, she told me she was cold and needed help getting out of the water. I told her to swim to me, and then helped her find her footing and clamber up the steep underwater embankment. Because my hands were working, I put her parka on her, grabbed the rest of our stuff, and started digging to find the car key. When we got back to the car, I made sure Sam was rewarming safely.

With afterdrop, there's always a risk that a swimmer may feel ill and unsteady on their feet, despite having gotten out of the water. Although I was a little worried about Sam, I saw she was operating as usual (stripping, singing, dancing to get warm), and I prioritized getting myself warm and the car started. We threw all of our wet stuff into Michael Quackson (Sam's mini Quackpacker) so the brown river water was contained in the trunk. Before we got into the car to drive home, we ran around the parking lot, did some jumping jacks and party squats, and make sure we were starting to warm up from the inside out.

One of the lessons learned this weekend: I'm adding bringing an extra container of water to dump on my muddy feet and booties (and to help start rewarming), as well as a small tarp or towel to stand on, as the gravel lot + wet clothes and shoes + muddy exit from the water left quite a bit of debris and dirt in our car.

Although I've swam back-to-back days (and even multiple cold swims in the same day), I forget how exhausting cold swimming is for me. I felt like I couldn't truly get warm again the entire day, and used a pair of rechargeable hand warmers in my slippers and in my gloves until I went to sleep. At night, I kept waking up shivering, despite the house being the same temp it's been for the past few weeks. This is very different from how I felt on Saturday evening, when I felt warm, almost to the point of being too warm, for most of the day and night.

Cold immersion or swim training feels different to each person, and it's so important to train the best way for your own body. There are swimmers who can get into ice cold water and just swim away, while others, like myself, are more limited in the degree of swimming and submersion we're able to accomplish. As long as you're being safe and enjoying the process, that's a win in my book.

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