The air temperature was 46 degrees as I waded into the river at 6:30 on Tuesday morning. I’m sure the water temperature was warmer than that, but it still snatched my breath away when I took a standing dive and plunged into the briny, brown Penobscot. The date was September 22, the last full day before the fall equinox, and by definition the end of the 2015 Summer Swim Challenge. Along with my newly wedded husband, Douglas, I had completed 94 consecutive daily swims in natural water.
Our daily dunks began on the solstice, June 21, getting off to a gritty start because the weather was still cool and rainy, more early spring than summer. It was a real effort, sometimes, to summon more than grim determination to git ’er done. But that’s why it’s called a challenge, right?
As the weeks passed and the weather warmed, these short swims became a welcome part of the daily routine. Often, I wandered across the street to the river shortly after sunup, before I was quite awake, letting the shock of the cold water snap me into alertness. Sometimes I stopped on my way home from work at one of several other regular swimming spots — Lake Wood on Mount Desert Island, the busy Toddy Pond boat ramp in Orland, a secluded spot on Lower Patten Pond in Surry. Weekends often found me splashing around in Casco Bay. On a trip to Aroostook County, a friend led me to Jacuzzi Falls on the Fish River. Driving home, I dipped into Madawaska Lake in Stockholm.
A couple of weeks ago, headed to southern Maine for my wedding, I stopped in the rain for a quick plunge into the Little River outside of Belfast. Honeymooning on Monhegan Island, we swam in Lobster Cove and, on a particularly calm incoming tide, in a seaweedy pool on the mainland side of Manana Island. I can recall each of these spots in detail, but as a whole they meld into to a watery impression of a season in Maine.
The swim challenge serves no real purpose. There’s no glory attached to it. It’s certainly not a fitness program. But it has provided a small bit of problem-solving for each day, a modest success, a unique marker of the incremental passage of summer. Now that it’s over, I’m a little at sea.