San Francisco Bridge to Bridge 10K Swim Race Report

I arrived in San Francisco on Saturday afternoon. I proceeded directly to Aquatic Park for an easy swim, and to check out the water temperature of the Bay. While the Alcatraz buoy measured 57° F, my dip in the Bay convinced me that swimming naked, skins or bareback as it is known, was clearly the way to go. Out of the 46 swimmers jumping in the water the day of the race, 13 of us swam without wetsuits so I had plenty of company.

The pre-race meeting went great with Bridge to Bridge 10 Kilometer Swim messenger bags among the goodies handed out that morning. It was also great to meet the famous Bob Roper who instilled confidence and enthusiasm in all of us. 

Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 12.38

Photograph by Guy Stilson

Following the pre-race meeting we all gathered outside and posed for the obligatory group shot.  I made sure I stayed bundled up to conserve body heat, including wearing my lucky purple fleece cap. After a little hooping and hollering, we all walked to the nearby boat.

Screen shot 2010-07-14 B at 12.38

Photograph by Guy Stilson

Our boat headed out into the Bay, and the 55 degree air temperature and the low hanging clouds reminded me that it was summer in San Francisco. As the quote says (often incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain): "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco". While we cruised toward the Golden Gate, it was clear that we were blessed with good water conditions for the swim. 

It quickly became time for the jump. One by one we climbed up onto the platform along the railing in the stern of the boat and took the plunge. The 6' jump from platform caused me to sink about 4' deep where I was pleased to find that I was not in for an "ice cream headache".  I swam to the surface and off I went.

Screen shot 2010-07-14 - 9

 Photograph by Guy Stilson

It was recommended that we head out into deep water and aim right up the middle of the channel between San Francisco and Alcatraz Island. Stroking comfortably, I found the gently rolling waves provided more of a challenge than I expected. If I sighted ahead at the wrong time all I saw was the back of a wave. I adjusted my timing, looking ahead at the crest of the wave to stay on course. The swim was suppose to take advantage of an incoming tide, but it seemed like I was just crawling along at first. Then as I closed in on Alcatraz, I began to notice the skyline of San Francisco was moving by at a rapidly increasing rate. I have swum Alcatraz 3 times, including a double crossing, so it was very strange to see Alcatraz on one side and San Francisco on the other, and realizing I was not swimming toward either. The course was due east, but turned abruptly southeast toward the Bay Bridge as we swam past Fisherman's Wharf. Unfortunately I failed to turn sharply enough and found myself in a current on the scenic route to Oakland: an experience I shared with a number of others. I sped up my swimming toward shore and moved back onto the proper line to the finish. After being slowed down by an eddie near the base of the west tower of the Bay Bridge, I climbed on board our boat. I felt energized by the swim and the company of the other swimmers, knowing we had the shared experience of taking on a very challenging swim in the San Francisco Bay.

Screen shot 2010-07-15 Route 2b

However, the most memorable experience of the swim arose while looking up at the Golden Gate Bridge as we passed under it. While I waited for my turn to jump in the water, it was impossible not to reflect on the scores of people who have jumped to their death from the Bridge. Many of their stories will remain untold, but the finality of their acts is both sobering and tragic. It is the loss of these individuals, and the pain felt by those left behind, that have set me on my goal to raise suicide awareness, as well as fundraise for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Please take a moment, and make a difference by going to my Donate page and making a contribution to the AFSP.

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