Swim Report – December 6, 2020 – At the Cellar Door

The in-swim water temperature out at L1 came in at an even 40.0F yesterday – right at the border of the “basement” – a.k.a. anything in the 30Fs. Technically, the surface temperature came in below 40F, but that was likely due to a 38F air temperature that was distorting the reading.

The lake had some slight swells and chops, but I got in my usual 1/4 mile before engaging in the mad post-swim scramble to get dressed before the dreaded afterdrop arrived. Luckily for me, I managed to secure a rock star parking spot just on the other side of the pedestrian tunnel. So it was a very quick dash from L1 back to the paradise of a heated automobile!

Morning skyline
Sunrise!
One last look back

Swim Report – November 21, 2020 – November Skies Edition

Three of us made it out to L1 for an impromptu swim, and the lake managed to cooperate once again. The water temperature came in at 45F with a 40F air temp making things a bit nippy after we got out of the lake. But given these days of ubiquitous and ongoing lockdowns and restrictions, it was great to get back out to our big free public pool!

Late November skyline
Slight swells
Lake Monsters in their element

Swim Report – November 7, 2020 – Reunion

First in a series of very brief swim reports as I am way behind in these. However, despite the ongoing COVID-19 disaster, I have still been going out to the lake. These have been spontaneous and intermittent events – i.e. not any formal meetups – so hence the lack of formal notice here or on the OWC Facebook site. So here goes…

A few of us made it out to L1 on this Saturday morning, and it was a reminder of why we do this. The lake came in at a crisp 48F lake temp with a 50F air temp, but it was a perfectly sunny and clear mid-autumn morning. That meant a brilliant sunrise and amazing colors as only the Great Lakes can provide!

Dawn skyline
Ducks at daybreak
Sunrise swimmers
Jesse, Lake Monster 528 (congrats!)
Chilling out at L1!

Swim Report – October 3, 2020 – Omega Man Edition

After eschewing L1 since March, I finally got a chance to make it back to our world famous swim site while the lake is still withing striking distance of 60F!

Sunrise is at 6:50am these days, so it’s not necessary to rouse oneself in the wee hours of the morning. While this makes it easier to get moving, there is a trade off. Namely, you don’t get the solitude and tranquility of the mornings that fall on either end of the summer solstice. But “lucky” for us, this whole COVID-19 mess has severely curtailed lakefront activity – indeed, activity in general. So even with the later sunrise time, the L1 area and the surrounding neighborhood still had a rather post-apocalyptic feel with the absence of so many people out and about. However, the lake is still the lake, and it was absolutely wonderful this morning!

The air temperature came in at a crisp 45F at 6:30am, and the lake itself was a bit agitated with some light swells. But these only seemed vigorous because of the high lake levels. In reality, the lake was fairly calm and easily navigable – especially with a surprisingly mild 59.8F mercury reading (in-swim).

Before getting in the lake, however, I had work to do. The area around L1 had become perilously slippery due to the accumulation of algae and slime generated by continual immersion from the high lake levels. This made ingress into the lake nearly impossible without facing the risk of a fall on the declining slope leading to the ladder. So armed with my trusty bristle broom – and not caring about the bewildered looks of the occasional solo runner – I proceeded to give the concrete a good scouring to secure access to the lake.

I went in the lake with just my jammers, but I did use a neoprene cap to keep my head warm, and this made a big difference in my overall comfort level. Even with the slight swells, the swim was very easy, and I was able to practice my bi-lateral breathing – something desperately in need of improvement!

I was feeling pretty energetic, so I overshot the 1/8 mile mark and turned around just before the 1/4 mile point. In total, I’d estimate I got in a bit over 1/3 mile before calling it a day. I could have gone longer, but I had to get back home before Hurricane Joseph and Tropical Storm Nicholas arose from their autumn slumber.

Happy October!

L1 at daybreak
Clearing the swim entrance
The sun peeks through
Post swim skyline
Back at L1!

Swim Report – September 19, 2020 – Goodbye Summer!

Little Nicholas decided to sleep in this morning, so I took advantage of the short-lived calm and got in a swim out at Lighthouse Beach.

Ma Nature decided to put the Hammer of Fall down early with a 50F air temperature, but the lake came in at a very pleasant 64.2F. I was already dressed in my jammers under my sweat clothes, so I quickly doffed the latter and trotted into the lake while wincing on the cold, wet sand.

I swam straight east up until I was level with the end of the pier before turning north and following the shoreline. There were 1-2 foot swells that made it a bit tricky at times as I am mostly a right side breather. But they were regular enough that I could time them and not receive a souvenir mouthful of Lake Michigan water.

Overall, I got in just under 1/3 mile before having to exit the lake and get back to the King of Fuss. Happy Autumn!

Dawn colors
Sunrise!
Sun worshipers

Swim Report – July 30, 2020 – Balmy Swells

The arrival of little Nicholas has not kept me out of the lake, but it has certainly greatly curtailed when and how long I can go out for a swim.

Until things get a bit less hectic on the home front, the best that I can do is to try to sneak in a quick weekday swim at a local beach – which is exactly what I was able to do here. Given the extreme tardiness of this report, I’ll just hit a few key points and keep this short.

Bottom line, I had a 74F lake temperature and an identical air temperature this morning out at Lighthouse Beach. It was rather wavy as the pictures show, but I managed to bang out 1/3 mile before I had to get back. Luckily, the swells were fairly regular and predictable, so I was able to find a swim rhythm and not exhaust myself in the waves.

All in all, a great morning at the beach. I wish I could get out more!

Warm waves at the beach
A fantastic show to the east!

Swim Report – June/July, 2020 – (Re)Open Water Chicago

Being that we are now smack dab in the middle of the month of Messidor, it’s long overdue for an update from OWC central. So here goes…

First of all, there are unfortunately no planned OWC meetups for the time being as I cannot possibly predict how many people would show up were I to publicly post details on any planned get together (and we tend to get MUCH larger turnouts during the summer months). Simply put, there is no way to effectively limit turnout to a manageable level while concurrently ensuring that our meetups are complying with the myriad of COVID-19 restrictions presently in place along the Chicago lakefront with respect to organized sports gatherings.

While I am disappointed by this, I am very fortunate in one key area – OWC is merely a social swim group and not at all integral to maintaining my livelihood. I cannot say the same thing about all the various multi-sports events producers and training organizations that rely on athletic participants during the summer and early fall for their respective operating incomes. Many of these businesses are owned by people I have known for years and consider to be good friends. The sad reality is that they have all been absolutely decimated by the COVID-10 fallout, and several are never coming back.

So while you all may have different opinions on the merit of actions taken by various governmental entities during this pandemic, you should at the very least recognize that there are lives and livelihoods that have been permanently altered or even destroyed all in the name of safety and public health.

Whether this turns out to be justified or not in the long term is still under intense debate. But in the meantime, kindly spare me the politics and polemics – especially on the various OWC public platforms.

OWC and its amazing community of swimmers has now entered its 14th year (hard to believe!). During this ongoing adventure, I’ve been a straight shooter to anyone who’s wanted to be part of the Lake Monster tribe, and I’ve never charged anyone a dime to come out and swim with us. So if you disapprove of the OWC philosophy or content (or humor), go find another outlet for open water swimming. Lake Michigan is a big lake with plenty of options – feel free to jump in it on your own terms.

So now that we’ve cleared that plate, let’s talk about swimmin’. As with my last formal swim report in March, I’m combining multiple outings into one posting for brevity/efficiency – but mostly because I have been insanely busy these past few months on a number of personal and professional fronts. So here goes…

June 19 – I managed to sneak out to Lighthouse Beach for a sunrise swim and got lucky with some great lake conditions. I had tried to get in a swim the week before, but the lake had been a bit wavy after some t-storms. However, the wait was well worth it as we had a crisp 61.4F lake with an amazing show to the east:

June 28 – I got antsy and decided to explore some alternate swimming sites in the city as L1 had become Area 51, with the city of Chicago unceremoniously fencing off our world famous swim spot. So I found a secluded spot early in the morning and got in a swim in a wonderfully calm, 63.8F lake:

July 3 – A more lengthy swim at Lighthouse Beach just this morning in a blissful 73F lake:

That’s it for now, folks! I’ll keep posting updates here and on the OWC Facebook site. Bottom line, nothing has really changed from my end other than we’ll likely continue to see a kibosh on group swims. But that shouldn’t stop any of you from getting in your open water fix individually – at least for the short term!

Swim Report – March 29, 2020 – North Shore Channel

The city of Chicago closed down the lakefront late last week, so going out to L1 to get my open water fix was a bust. However, there were no authorities patrolling the North Shore Channel near my house!

Being shut it for the last couple of weeks started out as frustrating but soon became intolerable when it became apparent that my Sunday morning meetups out at L1 would be postponed for an indefinite period of time. For those of you outside of the Windy City, Mayor Lightfoot decided to bring the hammer down and ban all activity on the Chicago lakefront – including any congregation near our world famous swim site. So bottom line, Open Water Chicago became Closed Water Chicago until further notice by executive fiat.

Fortunately for me, I had an inspiration on Friday night while ruminating about this sudden reversal of fortune. While the various municipal authorities had shut down the lakefront, they had completely ignored the Chicago River and its various man made tributaries which were designed to manage the combined sewer overflows (CSOs) generated by rainstorms similar to the one we had on Saturday. So seeing an opportunity, I decisively pounced!

I was able to to get access to the channel via a canoe launch – although I had to jump the fence to get out to the dock. Once at the swim entry area, I stepped down and eased into the murky water. Given that the North Shore Channel is more shallow and less voluminous than Lake Michigan, the water temperature tends to be much warmer. So while I wasn’t able to get an official in-swim temperature, I estimate that it was in the 40F – 45F range.

I swam out to the center of the canal and then made a hard left turn going north. It was pretty easy going as there was a significant northbound current that was exacerbated by some heavy gusts. So I knew that I would have my work cut out for me on the return leg. But boy was I in for a surprise!

I turned around at the 1/4 mile mark and began the hard slog against the steady current. Visibility was next to zero as the channel was replete with silt and various forms of debris – both natural and man made. I was about 50 feet from the dock when I suddenly heard a low and deep gurgling to my right. Much to my horror, there was a large CSO drain pipe that was getting ready to discharge a heavy volume into the channel just ahead of where I was swimming. So I turned on the burners with an adrenaline kick and sped towards the dock on fear-fueled rocket ride. I had just got my hand on the platform when I heard the high volume gush of the standpipe behind me. So I scrambled over the edge and swung my legs up on the dock right before the wave of CSO effluent flooded the swim area.

Having just beat the devil, I figured this was more than a sign to call it a day. So I gathered my stuff, hightailed it back to my car, and sped on home where I immediately indulged in a lengthy hot shower punctuated by multiple generous applications of Dr. Bonner’s tea tree oil soap.

Take note, all you authoritarian killjoys – outdoor swimmers will always find a way!

The compliments of the season to my worthy masters, and a merry first of April to us all! ~Charles Lamb (1775–1834), “All Fools’ Day”

Trail down to the swim site
Let’s do this!
Swim entry point
In swim shot taken by a friendly spectator!

Dual Swim Report – March 8/15, 2020 – Spring Forward!

Way late on this swim report, but like you all I have been mired in managing the chaos and disruption from this whole COVID-19 thing.  Nevertheless, the rapacious demands by the general public for updates on OWC’s winter shenanigans do not wane even under these extraordinary circumstances…

Bottom line, we lucked out on the 8th as we got a clear morning with a very calm lake.  The official stats were as follows: 36.4F lake temp, 39.0F air temp.  I got in 1/2 mile in my truncated winter gear setup. 

March 15 wasn’t so lucky.  We had a brisk wind from the east that generated some higher volume swells with rogue waves that would occasionally top L1.  So we threw in the towel and went home.

I will likely not be out at L1 organizing anything for the immediate short term given all the emphasis on limiting public gatherings. This is not to say that I won’t occasionally sneak out to some local beach so as to provide a much needed respite from the doldrums of domiciliary incarceration (addicts gotta addict). 

So thus concludes my brief missive – stay tuned for more updates.  And happy Spring!

March 8 – morning skyline
March 8 – sunrise sequence
March 8 – undeterred swimmers!
March 15 – a different story!

Swim Report – March 1, 2020 – Late Winter Chops

The good news (it’s all good news) is that the lake temperature seems to have bottomed out and is now on the rise (albeit slowly). The in-swim mercury came in at 34.0F on the nose, a slight increase over the past few weeks. But the increasing daylight seems to be nudging Lake Michigan higher – or at least preventing a relapse.

I got out to L1 just before sunrise, and there was a brisk wind from the south that produced some lively chops. But the swells were fairly low volume, so I decided to go with a neoprene shorty versus a fullsuit. The first 3-4 minutes of the swim were somewhat painful on my exposed forearms and lower legs, but I acclimated quickly and managed to get in just over 1/3 mile.

Getting in and out at L1 was a bit tricky as the area leading to the lakefront was a sheet of ice on a decline. But that was the most challenging part of the swim – not the actual water conditions themselves! Regarding the latter, I could tell during the swim that we still have the “winter layer” in place. This is the colder top layer that forms in late November that typically has a murky green-gray color. Once the lake turns over in April, we start to get more clear water from below.

Given my scaled back swim attire, I had a bit of an afterdrop post-swim, but it was gone by the time I reached my parked car. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to seeing the lake punch through the 40F ceiling soon!

Late winter skyline
Sunrise sequence!