New: Book Report: Swimming to Antarctica

Yesterday, I was walking to the library. A cold wind blew. A light rain started to fall. I considered fetching my rain jacket out of my backpack, but talked myself out of it. I thought What would Lynne Cox do? and then I smiled and walked faster, letting the heat of excersize chase the cold from my bones, flexing my fingers to keep the blood flowing.

It started raining harder. I grinned, and raindrops ran into my mouth. I walked faster, glad to be awake and alive and out of doors.

Then it started raining even harder. And I thought I'm not--I'm not Lynne Cox. She's way harder than me. And I ducked into a transit shelter and waited for a streetcar to take me downtown.

What inspired such folly? Well, I was returning Swimming to Antarctica to the library.

This book turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. It's Lynne Cox's autobiography. Lynne is a long-distance swimmer. She swam the English channel, the Cook strait, the strait of Magellan. So you might think that her autobiography is something like "So then I kept swimming." But there's a lot more to it than that.

Actually, when she talks about swimming, she makes it pretty compelling. She swims in the ocean, and there's a lot of variety in the ocean. No, really, there is. There are waves with different shapes, different feels. There is ice. There are dolphins; there are sharks. She encounters all of these, and describes them in a plain, yet compelling way.

But there's some stuff that's only tangentially related to swimming, and that's pretty interesting, too. I'll mention it here, since I don't think I can fool you into reading this excellent book by telling you "she describes the water really nicely".

She arranged to swim to Big Diomede Island, in the Soviet Union:

...the place I wanted to swim to, was a listening post--a military installation equipped with sophisticated devices that monitored our ships' and submarines' movements in the Bering strait and beyond, as well as a state-of-the-art tracking system for spying on our aircraft and missiles. It was unlikely that the Soviets would allow any American to land on their spy island.

So, the commies had a SOSUS-like system. That's interesting.

There are interesting anecdotes about doctors and their studies--they wanted to know how Ms Cox was able to tolerate long swims in cold water. So there's the story about the 40-foot long rectal thermometer. And the time the doctors had trouble getting readings from her after she swam off the coast of Alaska--because of interference from the gold dust that clung to her legs.

Just don't get so caught up in the book that you lose the sense to come in out of the rain.

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Posted 2005-12-18