I’ve been humbled by a swim test.
It was one of the first rites of passage at Camp Lassen, a gathering for Cub Scouts way out in the boonies near Butte Meadows.
Scouts and their parents arrive and immediately go down to the ice-cold lake, hop in and attempt to swim two laps between the dock and the shore.
Seems easy, right? I thought it would be a breeze. I love to swim in Lake Tahoe, even earlier this summer when it seemed colder than usual. I used to sit in the hot springs near Mammoth, and then roll in the nearby snow just for fun.
I thought I was pretty tough. Until now.
A., who is now in the webelos, and I were at camp with his pack – 26 Scouts and 24 parents. Most of us were game to at least give the water a try on this sunny afternoon.
But it soon became clear this was no ordinary test.
Kids and adults alike were jumping in the water and immediately hopping out. They hit the lake and in a flash they were back on the dock. Some kids even cried. The adults looked stunned, and perhaps cried on the inside. Only a handful of swimmers did the whole test.
That’s when I got nervous.
A. and I hit the water at about the same time.
He swam like a maniac down to the turnaround point, and then made a smart move and got out of the water. No mas.
I was following him, and at the turnaround point, I was already struggling. The water was the coldest I’ve ever dealt with, and felt like a thousand needles on my back. I quickly turned around and set my sights on the dock. About half way there, I was having trouble breathing. It was as if my lungs had shriveled up. It was starting to feel numb. I made it to the dock, but just barely. I crawled out and stopped for a moment, hoping the sun would thaw me out.
There was no way I was going to do another lap to pass the test, and I was gladly classified as a beginning swimmer. I knew when I was licked.
A. and I met up afterward near the dock, reunited like long-lost buddies. We shivered and were glad to be on dry, warm ground.
There was no shame. As father and son, we gave it a shot. But this time, the lake got the best of us.