On Saturday, July 21, I had the opportunity to join five other UC Davis-affiliated women to swim the Trans Tahoe Relay. The Trans Tahoe Relay serves as a fundraiser for Keep Tahoe Blue, but we also swam to support the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) and the Center for Watershed Sciences (CWS). The day was sunny, the water was cool, clear, and refreshing, the mountains ringing the lake were beautiful. It was an exhilarating, fun, tiring, and fulfilling day.
The Trans Tahoe Relay is a race that crosses the northern end of Lake Tahoe from east to west at a part of the lake where it is 10 miles wide. (The lake overall is approximately 22 miles long and 12 miles wide – it’s a very large and deep lake!). Teams are composed of six swimmers each, with a support boat. (We owe big thanks to TERC for providing us with a boat and to TERC’s director, Geoff Schladow, for piloting the boat). The rules are that each swimmer swims for 30 minutes, and then takes turn swimming 10 minutes each, until the 10 miles is completed. On our team, after our first leg each of us did two 10-minute legs, with two members of the team doing a third 10-minute leg. So, we didn’t break any speed records, but we were happy with our result anyway!
We didn’t all know each other before the race, but we were brought together by our love of swimming and our passion for the environment, with each of us doing research in an environmentally-related field. (My own areas of research encompass philosophy of evolution and ecology as well as environmental ethics).
I’ve done a number of open water swims, including one at nearby Donner Lake (2.7 miles), but this was my first relay, so I didn’t know what to expect. In some ways it was very much the same. You’re in the water, it’s often a little cold (we were told to expect 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit, but thankfully it was more like high 60s), and you’re just trying to stay focused, keep your pace up, keep going. In other ways, though, it was very different. In most open water swims, you feel very much alone, and that can be part of the challenge, to be “in your head” for such a long period of time. But here all you had to do was pick up your head to see the boat and your teammates, so you never felt alone.
And whereas my best time for the Donner Lake swim had me in the water for an hour and 23 minutes (and that was drafting like mad), here the swim was broken up into segments. In some ways that made it harder, as muscles tightened between swims and then were forced to be used again, but it also made it less mentally challenging because you knew that your time in the water was a limited, manageable chunk.
But I’ve left out one really big difference between a relay and a solitary open water swim: the time in between swims. Here whichever five swimmers who were not in the water got to hang out on the boat. We talked about swimming – how much swimming we’d done in the past, how much we were able to fit into our busy schedules now. We talked about our research, and learned about the interesting projects that each of us was engaged in. We ate snacks and recovered between each swim. And we encouraged each other and cheered each other on. No one worried about our time or how fast each person was going (something that is in any case impossible to tell without a GPS). Instead, we enjoyed the day, enjoyed each other’s company, and swam for a good cause. We were a true team. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it. 2019, perhaps?