Note To Self – Stop Reading the Paper Before Open-Water Swims

Following my daily routine this morning before our weekly open water swim at Jordan Lake, I pulled up my hometown newspaper (The State – Columbia, S.C.) on-line and, over a cup of coffee, read up on my Gamecocks, the chronic ineptitude of city council, the daily circus that is South Carolina politics and other local news. It was about time for Melissa and I to head out when a headline titled “Beware the alligator gar” made me do a double take. Against my better instincts I succumbed to morbid curiosity and clicked the link. Seems a 4 ft long, 27 pound Alligator Gar fish was found in Lake Wateree, near Columbia. That was bad enough, but the article went on to say that the Alligator Gar can grow to as long as 10 feet and can weigh as much as 200 pounds, dwarfing the native and plenty fearsome enough Long nose Gar. The Alligator Gar is native to the Mid West and has never been found as far east as the Carolinas, which indicates that some brilliant ass goblin purchased the fish online and, finding it less than charming, released it into public waters. The article clarifies the origin of the name “Alligator Gar” by explaining that the invasive species is “…big and thrashes around like an alligator.” Not exactly the mental imagery I wanted to entertain on the drive over to the lake, much less during the swim, yet in some dark, self-destructive corner of my sub-conscience, I knew before even clicking on the link that I would obsess about this fish during the entirety of our swim.

The Alligator Gar is only the latest incarnation of shadowy, malevolent lake creatures that dominate my imagination during open water swims. Typically I imagine actual alligators. Nonsensical though it is in the Raleigh area – alligators are only present in the coastal areas of North Carolina – I find myself constantly thinking of alligators during open water swims. I think of what I would do if one emerged from the murky depths and grabbed an arm or, God forbid, a leg. Poke it in the eyes! I think about news stories I’ve read about alligator attacks and I constantly wonder (continued)

The dastardly Alligator Gar smiles for the camera

Alligator, no doubt, scanning lake for swimmers

just what might be out there beyond the cloudy two or three feet I can see in front of me. Once you wander into the lake, beyond the roped off swim area and into the deep water, your constant thought is similar to that which grips you in the darkest hours of the night while tent camping in the deep woods – that you are no longer 100% in control of your environs and that you very well may have given up your place at the top of the food chain. It’s a disconcerting thought and one that we in the air-conditioned, remote-controlled, wired-in 21st Century don’t have to entertain very often, and when we do, only by choice. Strangely enough though, that may also be part of the appeal. I am always left with a modest sense of euphoric relief upon exiting the water – as though I’ve gotten away with something. And maybe, just maybe, all this paranoia has made me a faster swimmer. After all, the North American alligator typically only cruises at 1 mph. Not that I have ever done any research on this topic (while sitting saucer eyed in front of a laptop late at night.)

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