#009 Swimming a Mile

In and around the lake

Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there

One mile over we’ll be there and we’ll see you

Ten true summers we’ll be there and laughing too

Twenty four before my love you’ll see I’ll be there with you

John Andrson & Steve Howe

One of the highlights of my 10th summer was Boy Scout camp. I’m racking my brain to remember which camp it was. I’ve googled and looked at satellite images and I’m pretty sure based on proximity to home that it was Camp Mahonegon. I have this image of getting on a bus with a duffle bag or backpack and waving at tearful parents as we pulled away, but I’m thinking maybe that was a something I saw in a made-for-tv movie. 

I don’t remember which of my friends were with me at camp that summer, or who my tent mate was. But I remember the tent, the cot, our section of the camp, our scoutmaster, how our troop combined with another troop complete with a bugler from another part of the state, coming up with a name of our patrol (which I’ve forgotten). I remember waking up at dawn in the cool, damp mountain air to the sound of reveille and the smell of bacon and pancakes and hot syrup far off in the distance. That almost-heavenly aroma grew thicker and stronger as we walked in formation down the dirt road, through the trees, down the hill to the dining hall by the lake. 

That’s where the camp director, looking all official and ridiculous in his adult Boy Scout uniform complete with kerchief, like some overgrown AC/DC wannabe, made the announcement about the mile swim. On the penultimate day of camp, in the lake beyond the diving dock, boy versus buoy, there was to be the annual challenge of personal aquatic endurance. 

I felt confident I could swim a mile. It didn’t seem that far. The camp director said most scouts who attempted it would complete it in less than an hour. I had to do it! I knew how to swim!

Romney had a community pool. Miraculously, that little mountaintop town of 1,753 people, only 9,800 residents in the whole county, had a sweet little pool. It was small. Nothing Olympic-size about it. We didn’t swim laps. We just splashed and played and held our breathe and dove down to retrieve pennies off the bottom. The summer between first and second grade, I took lessons. I got my Tadpole certification. 

But wait, there’s more! Set in stone, in and beside that little cement pond for several summers of the early 70’s was my love for two things, a love that remains to this day.

First, frozen pizza. The aroma of frozen pizza cooking to a golden-burnt perfection in that industrial toaster oven so had me standing in line just after the whistle blew for adult swim. I loved how the pepperoni slices curled up around the edges, the thin crust was crunchy and the cheese glistened like a little oil slick, served by random teenage girls who cared more about their own looks than they did about me and my fascination with them and my pizza. This was pre-Red Baron and prepubescent world. 

Swimming makes me hungry. Swimming makes me really hungry! Even as an adult when at various times I’ve made a feeble effort to incorporate lap swimming into my exercise, the steps taken to alleviate my additional hunger afterward outweighed the benefits of the cardiovascular effort. 

The day came for the mile swim on the Saturday before camp concluded the next day. Well after breakfast had digested, about 10:30 or so, we headed to the cold lake as the sun was just beginning to warm things up. I looked around and I was the only scout of my tenderfooted young age that was making the attempt. All the other swimmers were older, taller, built like Adonis’s, full of testosterone and confidence. 

I had thoughts of backing out, but thought “drowning before dishonor.” The whistle blew, we waded into that same murky mountain lake water I’d splashed in all week. It felt so cold. Usually we swam in the afternoon. We ventured out behind the diving platform and started laps around the buoys. 

I started at the back of the pack and was soon lapped by scout after scout. Time vanished as one stroke followed another. I wished I’d eaten a bigger breakfast. I felt I had made a big mistake. Eventually I found a rhythm. One by one that pack of swimmers thinned out as scouts completed the mile. Then, I was the only one left. From time to time I’d look up at the lifeguard in the rowboat keeping an eye me. I’d like to think he smiled at me with encouragement, but he probably just wanted lunch. 

Then, after an eternity, I heard him say “one more lap.” I was done, I was spent, My groove had turned into a grind. I’d wanted to quit for a while. But I could squeeze out one last round of the markers. 

When I came to shore, only a few people were waiting. There was no hero’s welcome for my last place finish. Everyone was at the lodge nearby having lunch. I was too tired to care. The camp director told me my time was 1:29:30. I had beaten the hour and a half mark!

I made my way over to join everyone else to enjoy what was left of the cold burgers and fries. What I really wanted was frozen pizza. 

At the court of honor that evening as all the merit badges were handed out, it was announced I was the youngest scout to ever finish the mile swim. I had proven something to myself that Saturday in July of 1973. I learned that when I really, really wanted something I could accomplish it. 

But life’s not always that easy. I’d eventually learn that there is such a thing as failure. Teenage girls serving pizza wouldn’t return affections, friends would be false and betray you, jobs wouldn’t work out in spite of best intentions. You could suffer like hell in the desire and effort to swim against the current. If we’relucky, we will live to tell the tale. And if we’re really lucky, life will have handed over other gifts, with hindsight perhaps even more valuable that what we were seeking. 

My eventual move to Indiana put an end to swimming and scouts. The country high school that I would attend a few years later offered neither a pool or calculus. I quit Scouts after just a few meetings, not clicking with a new crowd. 

Puberty was a comin’. And what does any of this have to do with Glen Frickin’ Campbell, anyway?

Next week, I’ll dive into that second love I spoke about while hanging beside the Romney Community Pool.

In the meantime, ✌🏽❤️🖌

Thank you for reading. If you haven’t yet, please follow this blog using the button to the right. 🙏🏽

4 thoughts on “#009 Swimming a Mile

  1. Life presents you with many “mile swims”. Keep your pace, and try not to drown! This story is awesome, and I learned something I had never known about you my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

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