Swim Report – April 2, 2016 – In Like a Lion

The month of April had a rather ferocious start, essentially plummeting us back into winter for a couple of days. The air temperature was a very brisk 33F at 6:30am, and the cloud cover was more reminiscent of early March. So I wasn’t expecting to see much improvement in the lake.

To my surprise, the water temperature reading came in at 46.8F – a significant jump from last week. So given this positive turn of events, I once again ditched the fullsuit in favor of just shorts, boots, gloves, and my hood.

Since I wanted to get a point-to-point 1/2 mile in this setup, I opted for a “dash and splash” – i.e. a 1/2 mile jog to Oak Street Beach followed by a 1/2 mile swim north.

When I reached the beach and began to wade out into the lake, I noticed immediately that the water was WAY more comfortable than the air. And my hands and feet actually warmed up soon after I started swimming. So while I don’t think that the lake has turned over yet, I suspect it’s going to do so pretty soon.

The lake was very calm – almost flat – so the swim north was quite easy. Plus I was able to get in some bilateral breathing practice since I wasn’t having to contend with waves or chops. In short, it was just like swimming in a pool – except that it was almost 40F colder than most pools!

Overall it took almost 20 minutes to get back to L1, and I passed Tim and Fred along the way (they did the whole out and back mile). Once I got out, I changed into my dry clothes right away, packed up my stuff, and briskly walked back to my car.

It was about 10 minutes before I warmed up enough to be able to drive adequately (it’s normally not a good idea to drive while shivering uncontrollably). But even with this minor discomfort, we were still able to once again beat the storm and get in a swim while the good weather held out!

L1 at daybreak



Crescent moon (with bonus seagulls)


Sunrise sequence




Clear and sunny out at L1!




The Weissmuller Pavilion: A New Chicago Park District Project for 2016

The L1 open water site is about to get swim lockers – and a whole lot more!

One of the lesser known projects of Mayor Emanuel’s lakefront trail redevelopment plan involves a complete overhaul and redesign of the Chess Pavilion. Originally built in 1957, the iconic limestone pavilion has been a popular summer gathering place for generations of masters and novices alike. But over fifty years of water’s-edge exposure to winter conditions has taken a substantial toll on the beloved lakefront landmark.

In mid-2015, the Chicago Park District commissioned a civil engineering firm to conduct a failure analysis on the Chess Pavilion. The results unfortunately uncovered serious structural damage to the Chess Pavilion – so much so that the Park District will be officially condemning the structure later this month while preparing the site for demolition.

Chess Pavilion (current structure to be demolished)

Chess Pavilion_2016

While this is certainly a heartbreaking development to all of us who have become very fond of the Chess Pavilion over the years, there is a silver lining to this misfortune. Namely, the Park District is going to replace it with a public use facility designed primarily for Chicago’s large and growing outdoor swimming community.

In May 2016, the City of Chicago will break ground on the former site of the Chess Pavilion for a brand new facility – the Weissmuller Pavilion.

Weissmuller Pavilion (exterior design)

Weissmuller Pavilion_2016

Named after Johnny Weissmuller, Chicago’s most famous competitive swimmer, the Weissmuller Pavilion will be specifically designed to cater to the unique needs of swimmers and beach goers at both North Avenue Beach and Oak Street Beach.

The Weissmuller Pavilion will still retain the open air community feel of the Chess Pavilion, and the Park District will preserve the embedded chessboards on the concrete embankments for those who still wish to get in a match out at the lakefront.

But the new facility will have a much heavier focus on swimming, and it will include unique features such as swim changing rooms, lockers, and hot showers – all within a short walk from the L1 swim site!

Weissmuller Pavilion (locker room layout)

Weissmuller Pavilion_2016_Interior

While the completion timetable for the Weissmuller Pavilion is still being finalized, I have received word from the Park District that it should be in place and fully operational by mid to late August of 2016.

And it is my understanding that Mayor Emanuel – who is an active swimmer himself – has taken a personal interest in expediting the completion of the Weissmuller Pavilion.

Perhaps he will be equally as proactive in coming out to L1 to get his Lake Monster number?

Swim Report – March 26, 2016 – Holy Saturday (and Happy Spring!)

My alarm didn’t ring this morning, so I had to hustle out to L1 whilst still in a sleepy haze. Luckily, I made it just in time for the sunrise!

Mary Ellen and Louise were already out at the swim site, and Walter and Fred arrived a few minutes later. The lake was very choppy, so I had to take several thermometer readings to get an accurate temperature. The final verdict – a blazing 43.3F!

Since we had a clear morning with lots of sunshine, I went with just my shorts, boots, gloves, and hood. It was a bit bracing the first minute or so, but I acclimated fairly quickly. The chaotic chops made swimming a frustrating challenge, so I only got in 1/4 mile before calling it quits.

Nevertheless, it was still a fantastic morning out at the lake. Spring tends to bring out more people who we haven’t seen for a while, and our meetups are always mini-homecoming celebrations this time of year.

Before we know it, we’ll have the whole summer gang back out at L1 again!



Mary Ellen and Louise pre-swim


Post-swim class picture


Walter, Lake Monster 398 (congrats!)


This morning’s video

Swim Report – March 19, 2016 – Last Winter Meetup!

I met up with Mikala, Mary Ellen, and Tim out at L1 this morning for our last winter swim of 2016. The lakefront was a bit more turbulent than last week, but the water temperature came in at a surprisingly tepid 42.4F – just what we were hoping for. So we donned whatever neoprene we had at our disposal and hopped into the drink.

I played it a bit more conservative this week and added a neoprene top to my shorts, hood, gloves, and boots. But I could probably have gone without the top as the water was quite tolerable. And by “tolerable” I mean that it no longer generated that searingly painful sensation on one’s exposed skin that it did just a few short weeks ago – a welcome change.

The 2 to 3 foot swells added an element of challenge to the swim, and the bicep tendinitis in my right arm was squawking a bit more than usual thanks to the extra exertion. So I decided to turn around just shy of the 1/4 mile point.

The inevitable afterdrop made its grand entrance about 10 minutes after exiting the lake, and it had a stronger bite thanks to a complete absence of sunshine. But there was plenty of good conversation to pass the time before we all finally “broke through” the shivering.

And while I’m sure we’ll have some more chilly mornings over the next month or so, it looks like we can finally say goodbye to the sub-40F lake. At least until next December!

Skyline at dawn





Lake Monsters in their element


Post-swim, pre-afterdrop


A brief spot of sunshine!


Swim start video

Swim Report – March 12, 2016 – Early Turnover?

Our world famous swim site was completely enveloped in a curtain of fog at 6:15am on Saturday morning. Given that the lake temperatures had been hovering in the 35F – 36F range in recent weeks, I was not expecting much when I fished the thermometer out of the lake. However, I admit being taken quite off guard when the mercury read 43.5F – a jump of six degrees since last week!

Given the more favorable lake reading and the 44F air temp, I decided to ditch the neoprene top altogether and just go with the shorts, hood, gloves, booties, and a healthy slathering of petroleum jelly. And since I was feeling particularly ambitious that morning, I sprinted down to Oak Street Beach so I could do a point-to-point 1/2 mile.

The lake entry was actually quite tolerable, and that extra 6F really made a difference during the swim. There was a bit of a southbound current that produced some mild chops on the way to L1. I found myself steering off course every now and then due to the intermittent jostling around. But it was more annoying than exhausting.

I finished up after around 20 minutes (I am a slow swimmer), and began the now infamous process of furtively changing back into dry layers in anticipation of the inevitable afterdrop. And while it came on rather sharply and lasted a bit longer due to my limited swim gear, it was not nearly as menacing as it had been in February.

Happy Almost Spring!

Ethereal skyline


At the beach




In-swim pics



Post swim


Pre-swim video

Swim Report – March 5, 2016 – Overcast Chill

I met up with Tim out at L1 just before “sunrise” on Saturday morning. Unlike last week, we did not have the benefit of a bright sunny morning. So we suited up quickly in the 35F air and gritted our teeth as we climbed down the ladder into the 36F lake.

As with the last two weeks, I had opted to “burn my ships” and leave my wetsuit at home. So my swim apparatus consisted of a short sleeve neoprene rashguard (1.5mm), neoprene shorts, hood, gloves, and booties.

Given the complete lack of sunshine, the first few moments in the lake were nothing short of bracing. Nevertheless, we got horizontal as quickly as possible and started pounding out swim strokes on our way south.

I made it just past the 1/8 mile mark before turning around. I was very comfortable in the water. However, as in the past, the real deal breaker was my fingertips – which had gotten quite numb by that time.

I stepped up the swim pace on the way back to L1, and got out very quickly. As expected, the afterdrop was much more vigorous given the overcast skies. But our recovery time keeps getting quicker every week.

Looking forward to Spring!

Overcast morning


Rock star parking!


A Dangerous Lake in the Winter

Dave was out at the lakefront yesterday and took this photo over by Diversey Harbor:

Diversey Harbor_28Feb2016_1

He sent me the pic along with these comments:

The break wall straight ahead is the Diversely Harbor wall where the 18 year old boy was washed off by the huge waves into the lake last Thursday. The police and fire department dive team gave up looking for him on Sunday morning.

The crowd you see still out there are the family members of this young man. Can you imagine the agony they must be going through right now?

The stark reality is that Lake Michigan is dangerous and merciless, particularly during the winter months. If you or a loved one falls into the sub-35F lake, you’ve got about a minute or so before your system completely seizes up and you sink to the bottom.

Whenever we come out for a lake swim during the winter, we are very deliberate about it, and we prepare extensively for the conditions we expect to face. And even with all these precautions, we will sometimes nix the swim entirely because the lake conditions are just too perilous.

Bottom line, unless you are fully prepared for a sudden immersion into these extreme temperatures, stay away from the lakefront this time of year.

And what’s more, don’t let any friends or family members get anywhere near the lakefront – especially if there are waves or swells!

Remember, Mother Nature has unlimited energy she can throw at you. You won’t win.

Swim Report – February 27, 2016 – Greyhound Edition

Other than the colder than expected air temperature, this morning’s L1 adventure was pretty much a carbon copy of last Saturday.

Four of us made it out to the lakefront and were greeted by sunny and calm conditions. The forecast called for 15mph wind gusts, but they were fortunately nowhere to be found. So we waited for the sun to reappear above a stubborn line of clouds and got geared up for our entry into the lake.

As with last week, I went with the short sleeve top along with neoprene shorts, boots, hood, and gloves. Plus I had a secret weapon with me that turned out to be a game changer.

A recurring issue has been cold water circulation in our gloves during the swim. This time I added some neoprene cross training wrist bands over the edge of the gloves and tightened the seal using the attached velcro straps. As it turned out, I had very little cold water circulation and was able to swim the entire 1/2 mile quite comfortably!

The real challenge was definitely the afterdrop. Because of the chillier air temperature, it came on much stronger and stuck around much longer than last week. So I ended up doing several sets of wind sprints to help expedite its passage.

Yet even with all these challenges, it was still a fantastic morning. And the swim – as always – was as amazing as ever.

I almost wish we could have a late Spring this year!



Ice Monsters pre-swim




Swim Report – February 20, 2016 – Early Spring?

I’ll keep this brief since it’s so nice outside right now, and I don’t want to spend any more time inside if I can help it!

Mary Ellen, Tim, and Danny showed up at L1 at 6:30am – just in time for another magnificent sunrise. I came out a bit earlier so I could get my now routine pre-swim coffee at the cool Old Town Starbucks on Clark Street (versus its more pretentious cousin a few blocks away). And as luck would have it, I managed to snare rock star parking on Astor Street!

The swim area around L1 was flawless. Friday’s strong west winds had blown all the ice out from the shore, so we had a clear space to indulge in our winter outdoor aquatics. Plus we had a completely cloudless sky which made a HUGE difference while out in the lake.

The surface temperature reading of the lake came in at 35.4F. However, the final in-swim thermometer reading came in slightly under at 34.8F. Nevertheless, this crisper lake temperature was more than tempered by a 46F air temperature.

Given these conditions, I went with the hood, boots, shorts, and gloves along with a 3mm short sleeve neoprene top. It was slightly uncomfortable on the exposed parts of my arms and legs for about a minute, but that soon subsided once I got moving.

In contrast with our previous swims this winter, I didn’t have any discomfort in my fingertips while in the lake. This was due to the higher air temperatures which kept my fingers from reaching the freezing point. So absent this barrier, I was able to do a 1/2 mile swim in total without having to make a premature exit due to glove failure!

In sum, another lovely day out at the lakefront. And if you didn’t get in a swim, I hope you at least got up early to enjoy the morning!





Mr. Sol’s grand entrance




Ice Monsters!




February or July?


Today’s video compilation

Swim Report – February 13, 2016 – Deep Freeze

Steady eastern winds almost kiboshed our early morning swim outing on Saturday. Fortunately for us, we had a reserve swim spot!

L1 was as picturesque as ever at sunrise – but entirely unswimmable. While the swim area was relatively ice free, the shore and ladders were all completely encased in ice thanks to constant 4 foot swells. And while these would have been swimmable (and quite fun) during the summer, they were too perilous to try navigate given the extreme cold. So after taking a few shots of the photogenic horizon, the Ice Monster caravan headed north to Montrose!

We were preparing for the south wall to be a total bust as well, but our spirits lifted once we rounded the curve by the harbor mouth. The lake seemed fairly ice free in this area, and it was mostly protected from the swells – all good signs!

After parking our cars, we went out to the south wall to scope out the scene. As luck would have it, the swim area was calm and clear, and the ladders were mostly ice-free! So we returned to the sanctuary of our heated vehicles and suited up for the swim.

As bizarre as this sounds, it was actually quite a joy to get into the 32F water. That was because the 6F air temperature was really quite uncomfortable. So once we were able to clear most of the ice off of the ladder, we wasted very little time starting our swim.

I swam due west towards the harbor mouth and made it about 100 feet before running into an impassible area of slightly submerged ice. So I decided to do long laps between there and the swim exit ladder.

As typical this time of year, we had ice crystals form on our hood, gloves, and boots during the swim. This added an element of mirth to the activity, but it also hastened the brutal chill onto my fingertips. So even with the new 7mm gloves, I could only stay in the water for about 10 to 12 minutes before it became too unbearable on my hands. Apart from that, I was quite cozy in the rest of my winter gear.

So if any of you glove manufacturers can come up with a product that can keep our fingers warm for longer than 15 minutes, please let us know!

A tale of two ladders



Ice Monsters at the south wall



Warming up in the lake!


This morning’s video: