Mile Marker

Memory is a funny thing.

The first chill in the air after a long, hot summer snaps you back into autumn mode and a series of memories associated with the seasonal passage of time.  Another season prepares to turn. Another mile marker of sorts on the road of life.

Add in a specific task from the past with the cold, crisp morning air and the memory goes back to work.  The mind reaches back to assemble relatable images and fragments in order to present a usable flashback segment from this lifespan.

In this case, older me was driving to a swimming pool and the recall shuffled back several decades to younger me doing something very similar. Cold air and swimming find substantive space in my memories of high school swim team mornings.

I was always impressed by the teenage version of me for simply getting out of bed at 4:30 every morning for the late fall early winter high school season.  I would spend several  months crawling out of a heated waterbed into near frigid, rarified mile high air and then into an unreasonably cold recreation center swimming pool.

As an added bonus our coach insisted the team carpool as much as we could for bonding and accountability, team building, etc. Seniors on the team generally had to fit as many underclassmen as they could – or in some cases as many as they could stand, into their vehicles for travel to practice.

In my case, I was able to team up with Steve, my very good friend and fellow junior. A friendly face helped, but our driver was a senior who was not thrilled with the whole carpool concept.  His vehicle was a Subaru Brat. Our driver was Brad.  And Brad was a bit of a brat himself.  At least at the start of the carpool time.

If you’ve never seen a Brat, they are unique and in my mind, very impractical vehicles.  A micro pick-up of sorts, tiny in the front and a tiny open air ‘cargo’ bed fitted with a rear facing jump seat. On a high volume day, the car could uncomfortably fit two in the front and two more in the back.  During the first few weeks of travel to practice, me and Steve got the magical experience of the open air cargo area jump seat, while Brad was nice and warm up front.

Late fall and winter morning air, plus some windchill from a moving vehicle and there were some mornings when that unreasonably cold swimming pool was a welcome end to that journey to practice.  Eventually, Steve and I got to trade time up front with Brad, who eventually saw us as teammates and not cold cargo.  When it was snowing, we even crammed three of us into a space where three humans did not really fit. A mundane trip to practice becomes quite exciting when one has to quickly move their lower extremities out of the way of the driver’s hand trying to shift gears.

It was actually quite a bit of fun.  The whole swim team experience stays with me.  Many of us actually swam on two teams, the local city team and the high school team in order to push our conditioning to the limit.  At the apex of the season, we would hit five miles a day in the water.  I get tired driving five miles these days, much less attempting to swim such a distance.

Fast forward to today, and I still am able to be impressed by what younger me accomplished.  It brings out a series of memories and lifelong milestones or mile markers along the way.  Memories jump back to my first tackle in football, that first day of keeping my bicycle balanced to ride it on a regular basis, my first car, my first kiss, my first love, and my first time…well, like I said, memory is funny thing.  Flashes from the past triggered by a simple change in weather, like the morning with a chill in the air in any given year along the way.

I now hope the younger version of me is slightly impressed.  Three decades later I have found sanctuary again in moving across the water.  I am far slower than before, yet there is peace found in the rhythm of swimming at a reasonable pace.  I can think about what chores I need to get done, the stories I want to write and plan upcoming family events on an invisible mental calendar. And then I hit the wall and turn back, thinking more or less as I continue on my way.

It has only been two weeks back in the water, but it connects to all of those other times I spent moving from one end of the pool to the other.  In my head, five miles a day was once routine as we knocked out 5200-5600 yards in two hours.  Easy mode, right?

Well, old me nearly drowned himself topping 1100 yards in 45 minutes last week. Then I got to 1200 the next time in, then 1250 and this morning, there was something in the air.  It was more than a chill in the air.  There was an air of confidence too.

Young me was taunting the old man a bit.

After a brief warm-up this morning, old me crushed the timed lap by nine seconds compared to previous old guy workouts.  Take that younger me.

The pool this morning was a little bit colder than usual.  And I felt a little stronger.

I pushed along rather nicely and knocked out 1825 yards.  A mere 65-yards over a mile. But I’ll take it.

It is not as exciting as becoming a father or buying that first car, but a literal mile marker in the pool once again. Be it a mile marker in life, or in the pool, I may be hitting a few more new goals in and out of the water.  And maybe I’m just getting warmed up.

You go old me.

Swim on…