Arizona, my oceanless home state, didn't provide a lot of opportunities for open water swimming. Even the "rivers" in Tucson are just dry riverbeds full of tumbleweeds.
So what the heck was I doing in the middle of the bay, about to swim 1.5 miles from Alcatraz Island back to San Francisco's Aquatic Park?
The view of Alcatraz from the water is unparalleled. For 360 degrees all you see is water, the island, the Bay Bridge, the city and the Golden Gate. There's no better way to feel immersed in San Francisco.
More than 700 people from 43 states and 17 countries completed the swim. On the ferry, I met people from all over the world, and the sense of community is instant. Although many groups host annual swim races in the bay, this race, organized by Enviro-Sports, is in its 23rd year and attracts upwards of 1,000 athletes. When you wake up at 4 a.m. to jump into the bay, you have an immediate level of respect for the other enthusiasts around you.
3) The Challenge
Yes, I'm quoting baseball coach Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) from "A League of Their Own," who famously said, "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it." Feeling like you've done something few would try gives you an enormous sense of accomplishment.
The race website warns: If "your heart is beating rapidly and your breathing feels out of control, this is perfectly normal." Swimming in the bay makes you feel so unbelievably alive. It's a rush that's hard to replicate.
5) Historic Journey
When you have an opportunity to visit a historic federal penitentiary and replicate the famous escape route that's been filled with intrigue for 75 years, who needs more reason than that?
I should note that open water swimming is difficult, and you shouldn't do it without training. I was in the water for over an hour and definitely started shivering at the end.
A good training schedule and proper gear are a must. Other than that, it's like climbing a mountain; the very best part is the view from the top.