Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Curious Attraction of Chlorine

In the last place I lived, we were rich in pools. There was the one redolent of excess chlorine which made our eyes burn and our noses run, but it was often deserted and peaceful. Then there was the blissful saltwater pool, often full of aqua-joggers and so busy that I had to circle swim, desperately flailing the water in an effort to stay ahead. There was a regular group of us who gathered a few times a week to swim the tank, moaning our indoors activity but waiting for that sweet spot when our bodies floated perfectly, suspended ten feet above the bottom, a perfect alignment of body and water.

Where I live now there are two choices: the lake or the short hotel pool, which charges $5 per person per hour, and you have to call ahead to make sure you aren't displacing guests or a kid party. The lake is free, but the warmest it ever gets is about sixty degrees in August. Last year it never warmed up and we swam in wetsuits all summer, an ungainly herd of seals. Right now, with snow kissing the water? Forget it.

I like swimming, even though in the old town everyone passed me in the lanes, old, fat, young alike. (All except the 90 year old couple and the lady with a broken leg, but seriously. Can I really count them?) Learning to swim as an adult has left me with bad habits and a lack of technique, but there are times when it all works. My arms slice through the water, elbows high, my feet barely rippling the surface. It is at those moments that I can glimpse what life is like for a fish, my body just a sliver, a knife. It is like flying, only underwater.

So today I journeyed with a pal to the hotel pool. It was suspiciously cloudy and the rude donning of swimsuits was not too pleasant after being covered up safely all winter. We only had one pair of goggles between us so we shared turns using a kickboard and doing laps, only about five strokes to a length. I used to swim a mile and a half at a time, but here there was no way to guess our distance. A random hotel guest wandered through, staring.  Swimming, we remembered, was hard when you don't do it much. It makes you limp as a noodle, a feeling I have found unique to this form of exercise.

But a few laps and there it was, that moment, slipping through the curtain of breath and water. Though I much prefer the outdoors and a brisk mountain lake, I will take what I can get. I will take this weightlessness, the cessation of worrying about anything but stroke, breath and what is in between.


  1. YAY SWIMMING!! :)You'd so be my hero if you crunched through the snow to swim in a lake in the wintertime. Maybe the hotel pool will grow on you with time.

    I've been looking into getting a swim in somewhere, too. There's a gym (that has everything, even a coffee shop inside) for $80/mo nearby or a pool for $5/day that is 20 mi away. Neither option is attractive.

  2. Takes me back to Indian lake of long ago...where we spent hours in the water, swimming, messing about with boats, till we were wrinkled like prunes. It was warm, until the glacier-melt Wallowa, but also shallow and prone to swimmers' itch!

  3. I only pool swim if I have too (e.g. I have an injury that prevents running or other things). I find that if I swim hard enough to be breathing hard then I'm taking on water, I just can't keep my head clear of the water enough to get enough air unless I'm just leisurely swimming and then I feel like "What's the point?" and needless to say, I hate chlorine. I did learn to swim as a kid, and there were years when I virtually lived at the pool all summer. But what I remember most was how much I loved swimming underwater, not this crawl stroke stuff. I loved to dive for objects in the water, make up games with my friends, hold underwater tea parties. I guess I just never have felt like swimming works for me as 'exercise'. I just want to 'play' in the water!
    I'm fine with getting the occasional chance to swim in a still mountain lake in the summer, where it's about tranquility not exercise.

  4. I used to swim competitively, but since moving to Alaska, I hardly make it to the pool. I mean, really, with mountains and snow, who needs a pool? But every now and then I like to get back in and feel exactly what you're talking about. The weightlessness of slicing through the water...and the way you really only focus on the present b/c you have to focus to breathe...I really love that about swimming. Thank you for reminding me - I'll hit the pool tomorrow before work. :)


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