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”