We started our swim feeling pretty cocky.
We’d already done it once the day before, while the lake was calm. Still, it had been breathlessly cold. Cold enough to make an intimidating ordeal out of crawling over slippery cliffs, jumping far enough to clear an invisible underwater shelf, and creeping through a dark, narrow tunnel known as the Birthing Hole, where water spews you out on the other end into a protected lagoon.
But we’d done it, and felt like bosses afterward, so we didn’t hesitate to do it again today, with the sun out and the water Caribbean blue and much warmer than yesterday.
Except it wasn’t as calm as yesterday. The waves were rowdy as a new puppy.
Which made the swim fun and exciting.
Until it wasn’t anymore.
By the end, three of us were clinging to a single pool noodle–me, Bryan, and our friend Matt, all of us trying not to look in the others’ eyes for fear of seeing our own panic confirmed.
Bryan pushed me onto the noodle and said “Go.” Nothing makes you confront trust issues like a mandate from your partner to leave him behind in order to save yourself from drowning. For being the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, it was shockingly easy. Something had to be done, and someone had to decide what it was, and there wasn’t even room for a lingering look of Ingrid Bergman-esque regret. Looking back at him meant swallowing another mouthful of water, and my stomach was already swollen with what Lake Superior had force-fed me.
The only thing I could do was fight forward, and keep my torso elevated on the noodle, and repeat aloud to myself “It’s okay” as an alternative to hyperventilating, and try to shove that Gordon Lightfoot song out my mind, the one that says “Lake Superior never gives up her dead.”
We all survived.