I grew up swimming in the Pacific Ocean. The salt would burn my nose, but it kept me buoyant. The waves could be rough, but they delivered me to shore. Of course I thought about sharks and little stinging things, but never had an encounter. Perhaps it was the vastness, or maybe it was because it was all I knew of open water swimming, but I never felt afraid in the ocean.
Last May it was suggested I try a triathlon. That may not sound daunting to many, but it was for me. If you are running and get tired, you walk. If you are cycling and get tired, you stop pedaling. If you are swimming and get tired, you drown. It had been a couple decades since my last swim in a body of water without lines painted on the bottom. I decided that signing up for an open water swim refresher before the triathlon was a smart move, which it proved to be! I soon experienced the horror of a Michigan lake, swimming through weeds and algae so thick, one’s hand could not be seen underwater. My first experience with weeds wrapping around my legs and preventing me from moving forward sent me into a panic attack where my only defense was to flip onto my back and gasp for air. I dragged my defeated carcass to shore and questioned whether I could safely bike and swim after such a horrifying experience. After two more triathlons, the lake swim became something I looked forward to.
As a Californian, I think I have now made peace with Michigan lakes. The large ones are usually beautiful and clear, but the small ones, you must look out for! Michiganders love their lakes more than any ocean. Unsalted and shark-free, right?
Courtney Meyet is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Hillsdale College.