We all have birthdays and each of us celebrates the day in our own way. My preference for my birthday celebration is taking a swim, often a memorable swim, in good company. So a group of comrades, fellow swimmers, joined me on September 6, Labor Day to have fun in the Columbia River for my 87th birthday. (My actual birthday is on the seventh, but I like to celebrate on Labor Day: It is my fantasy that my birthday has been proclaimed a National Holiday, maybe Joe’s Day.)
Four other swimmers joined me boarding Mark’s boat at 0730. Mark Sepulveda, D.C., had volunteered his boat and to pilot for us, and his wife Tracy took on the incredibly difficult job of staying on a board and guiding us all the way. We drew lots for our swim order, and I got lucky with the last leg.
Our route? At 0834 our first swimmer, Erin, went into the water by the north shore of the river, about a quarter mile east of the I-205 Bridge and swam the first 15-minute leg, passing off to Jillian after speeding under the bridge. (Like kids yelling when the car goes through a tunnel, we love to turn onto our backs and shout when we swim under a bridge. Nothing wrong with acting like a kid sometimes.) Jillian took us past the east end of the runway at PDX before tapping Dena for leg three. Dena brought the team as far as the runway tower at PDX, then came David, who got us in the vicinity of Broughton Beach where we had boarded the boat this morning. Finally, it was my turn to swim. We were about halfway to our end point. At my age I do not remember how to hurry: that was long ago. Long strokes, no intention of getting fatigued, enjoying the swim, I put in my 15 minutes and turned it over to Erin again for round two.
During the first half of the swim there were plenty of fishing boats at anchor in mid-river. Not easy to tell how successful they were. As it got later boat traffic started to pick up. Fishermen were speeding on their way home, either celebrating the $200 salmon that they had bagged, or angry because they did not bag one. Mark skillfully snaked us through the oncoming traffic. Erin, Jillian and Dena brought us closer and closer as we approached our second bridge. On David’s second leg he relished the opportunity to swim under the I-5 bridge, turning on his back for the tribal yell. On my final leg I swam under the third bridge, the railroad bridge, and I got in my back-stroke yell.
Erin is a strong swimmer, and so is Jillian. The rest of us less so, but we were a team, each carrying our piece of the job. All the way, Tracy stayed close to each of us on her board as we put in our time in the water. Mark is a great pilot, and no one contributed more than Tracy. We swam, for sure, but because it was a relay, we did a lot of chatting in the boat. With five swimmers, this is how we handled it: The “Next-Up” swimmer had the responsibility of keeping a close watch on the swimmer in the water. The rest of us relaxed, snacked and yacked. Good company. That is a luxury that most swimmers do not experience, because our solitary sport does not often give us the time to chill with each other.
It was also a sightseeing tour. You would not believe the array of huge, magnificent mansions on the Washington shore, east of Vancouver. Some of them were more like high-end hotels. As we moved to the west, the mansions got smaller, finally morphing into condos and apartments. On the Portland side the size of the runways at PDX seemed much longer than what we experience in the few seconds when our plane lands. Just shy of downtown Vancouver there remain the bones of shipyards that built ships for the US Navy in WWII. Then the final two bridges, I-5 and the railroad bridge down-river from it. In the air above us Canada geese were on the move, ospreys were patrolling their territory, and swallows did the job of clearing the air of gnats.
Photos can be found here: