I was five minutes away when I got the text message:
“Ya’ll know swim clinic is cancelled this morning, right?”
Nope, I didn’t know and didn’t care. Nothing was stopping me.
I pulled into the park, greeted the gate keeper, then drove slowly across the speed bumps to take my pick of an endless sea of open parking spots.
Then I heard sticks crackling under car tires as someone I didn’t know pulled in next to me.
He didn’t look like a swimmer, but who does, really? He stood near his trunk and slid on rubber booties as I gathered my cap and goggles. He was a portly, vaguely bohemian in his fishing hat, and sporting a scraggly beard.
I sized him up and decided to test his motivation.
“What brings you out this early on a Tuesday?”
“Oh, this is like my Christmas.”
Hmm . . . a mystery man. Does he love swimming so much he deems each day a holiday?
“It is a beautiful day.”
“Yeah, but it’s all because of yesterday.”
“Yeah, musta been 300 people out here. Cars backed up 20 deep.”
Yesterday was Memorial Day and and he couldn’t hold back a toothless grin as he reached in the trunk and pulled out a massive metal detector.
“There’s a gold mine waitin’ out there.”
As we talked, another swim clinic participant, Hunter, rolled in with a look of confusion on his face.
“Where the hell is everyone?”
The word was barely out of my mouth and he was in reverse shouting, “Okay, I’m gonna hit the bike.”
That quickly, I was once again alone with Harry the metal seeker.
He shut his trunk and I tried my best to remember the Georgia license plate number on the back of his faded gray Honda. “Plate number GHI . . . ” Damn, my memory is fleeting and I reasoned the gate keeper my best defense of my stolen car, or if I was the next body found floating in Percy Priest.
I was zipping my wetsuit when Sandy pulled up ready for her first swim clinic. I told her it was cancelled, but I was going in. We swam a while together, and I just kept going. A man and his lake enamored with endless opportunity. The cool water on my feet. The soft waves splashing my face. The unending invigoration offered by an isolated lake swim.
Occasionally I would sight Harry in ankle deep water near the shore. A man on his own mission, lost in a world of uncovering buried treasure. The endless possibilities. The gold at the end of the rainbow.
His questionable aura melted away with each stroke and he became a source of inspiration. He was on a similar quest for discovery. Passionate enough to rise before the sun and follow his dreams. Two men together, but so far apart, each reaching into the abyss for undefinable reward.
Post Script: Some people have expressed concern for the fact that I was swimming alone, but it should be pointed out that I swam back and forth next to a 200 yard orange “boom” (can be seen in the photo) that separates the deep water from the shallow. It was well within the no-boat zone and easy to touch bottom.