Little Red Lighthouse Swim - September 20, 2014

This weekend I went to New York and on Saturday I participated in the Little Red Lighthouse Swim put on by NYCSwim. A few years back when I lived in New York, I participated in some other races organized by NYCSwim, including the Statue of Liberty Swim and the Great Hudson Swim. I wanted to do the Little Red Lighthouse Swim back then, but I was training mainly at an indoor pool and was not the open water swimmer that I am today.

I was nervous before the start of this race. It was originally supposed to be about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers), but Hurricane Sandy washed out the old starting pier. Apparently the damaged pier was supposed to be repaired this summer, but now it will not be completed until this winter. I did not find this out until the day before the race when I checked the race website and noticed that the swim was now listed at "approximately" 7.5 miles.

The extra distance added a bit to my anxious feeling, but I did not think it would be a problem. Then, I arrived to check in and the race people told me my time would be unofficial because I intended to swim in jammers. I missed the rule on the website stating that only the small, traditional Speedo-type swimsuit was allowed. They told me I could still swim, but that I would be in the wetsuit category. This seemed crazy to me, but what I could I do? I did not like that my time would be unofficial one bit, so I jumped in a cab and went 30 blocks to a sporting good store on the Upper West Side. I ran in, bought an old-school Speedo, ran back out, jumped in another cab, and raced back to the start.

I was sweating and had just a few minutes to change suits, smear sunscreen all over my body, and apply Vaseline to my armpits. It was hectic and crazy, but the race organizers changed me out of the unofficial wetsuit division and back into the official time race. It would not have mattered to anybody else since I never would have won an award, but it meant something to me.

Shortly after 3:00 I threw my stuff in a bag and placed it in the designated grassy area for transport to the finish, I lined up and jumped in the water. The water felt chilly at first, but it was mainly because I was sweaty and burning up from all my running around. I think the water was about 68.5 or 69 degrees. Once I started, I never felt chilled swimming or even after I got out. The race instructions were to round the first dock and turn north, taking aim at the right stanchion (new vocabulary word) of the George Washington Bridge, better known as the GW Bridge.

With my goggled eyeballs just a few inches off the water, the bridge looked like it was 900 miles away when I first turned the corner to the north and tried to sight. The stanchion is very tall and I could see it when sighting almost every time. It was only when there were waves and chop that I could not see it. The race supposedly had buoys every half mile. We were instructed to pass within 5-10 yards of each buoy or we would be disqualified. There were swells, currents, and some wind chop though, so seeing the buoys was difficult. There were chunks of time where I saw no buoys or other swimmers. Then, out of the blue, even shortly after sighting and seeing nobody, I would run into another swimmer's leg. It was wild.

One of the most interesting things about the swim was the way the water changed. It was murky the whole time, but in the beginning it was nearly as salty as the ocean. By the end, however, it tasted like fresh water with just a very little bit of salt.

All told, I clocked it at 8.12 miles. Other swimmers with GPS told me at the finish that they measured it anywhere from 8.03 to 8.33 miles. My very official time was 2:57:25. There was a slight negative current at the beginning, but it quickly shifted and built positively as the race went on. This is clearly visible in my splits. I think Mile 8 was a little bit slower because I rounded the Little Red Lighthouse point and curved towards land, where the upstream current was a little blocked. That, or my arms were giving out.

It was something else to swim under that great big bridge and make my way by the Little Red Lighthouse. This landmark sits at the base of the bridge and was once going to be torn down. Only after the community of residents who raised their children reading the picture book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge organized to save it was it converted to a historical building.

Another adventure for the record book (website?) and definitely a confidence builder for me. I was on a high wandering around NYC after the swim. The next day I marched it the People's Climate March with 400,000 other people. That was just as amazing, although my arms were so tired I could not lift a sign over my head for very long.

Shoreline Marathon - February 2, 2014

Doug signed up for and ran the Shoreline marathon again. Bill did not sign up for the Shoreline marathon and also ran it again. Bob, Mark, and I rode our bikes down to cheer. Lots of people out. These pictures were around mile 24. 


Climate Change - Sure It Is a Problem, Let's Fix It

Climate change is back in the news and it is time we all get used to it. I know many people do not get worked up about the climate change threat. I wish more people would respond to the issue emotionally, as Bill McKibbon and I do, but that might be asking too much (MicKibbon 1989). Instead the world and all its creatures may have to rely on cold, hard reason to convince the powers that be that collectively we must acknowledge the reality of climate change and act. For all but the most selfish, I am confident the growing body of scientific evidence will be enough. The question that remains is: Can the convincing be done soon enough?
The headline grabbing climate news continues to be extreme weather. Extreme drought conditions now blanket the Southwest and parts of California are likely to roll through January (typically one of the wettest months) with zero precipitation. After recently suffering the frigid temperatures of a “polar vortex,” much of the rest of the country is now experiencing another major cold snap. The nation escaped the 2013 hurricane season without another catastrophe, but the effects of Sandy (and even Katrina) will be with us for years to come. And while the U.S. was spared, the Philippines was not. Scientists are just beginning to uncover the significance of climate extremes (Smith 2011). Forecasts, however, confirm what anyone paying attention has noticed, weather extremes are increasing in frequency and severity and will continue to do so.
The doomsaying that often accompanies the climate change conversation is essentially rooted in caution. Scientists do not fully understand the effects of extreme climate events (Smith 2011). The consequences of crossing ecological response thresholds, where an important species collapses for example, are sufficiently worrisome, however, to warrant additional investigation. Given the high stakes, humility begs us to act conservatively until there is a better understanding.
Scientists already confirm that climate change is affecting the natural world and threatening species in a measurable way (Paresan and Yohe 2003, Walther et al. 2002). When observed in combination with other factors such as land-use changes, the risks for species are stark. Where a species might once have migrated northward or southward, up or down in elevation, or inland, the options are increasingly constrained by the barriers of human development. Precaution dictates that we not follow the economists who discount future risks. Rather, we should heed the biologists who consider the importance of weakly measured phenomena that are likely to persist and grow.
The discussion of climate change turns really gloomy when examining the what-if scenarios. National security analysts are among those counted upon to plumb these frightening depths. In 2003, two such scholars, Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, considered the U.S. and global security effects of an abrupt climate change scenario wherein the weather system humankind has known for all recorded history is interrupted (2003). Taking care to ground the proposed scenario in historical reality (such interruptions are observable in studies of thick ice), Schwartz and Randall foretold consistently harsh weather, economically devastating storm events, reductions in agricultural productivity, forced migrations due to flooding and sea-level rise, and disputes over natural resources. Ultimately, the scenario envisioeds a decreased global carrying capacity where limited resources would lead to war, exacerbated by disease.
The direst predictions are not pleasant to consider. It is impossible to quantify the likelihood that the events Schwartz and Randall describe will play out. Yet when we consider the possibility that this scenario is what we might leave coming generations, it should give us pause.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is in the process of releasing its most current assessment report (IPCC 2013). The first of three sections was released in September 2013. In it, the IPCC reports that global warming is “unequivocal” and that it is “extremely likely” (signifying with greater than 95% confidence) that human activities are the cause. Reuters and the New York Times recently reported (here and here) on the leaked third section of the IPCC report, not officially due out until April 2014. In it, the IPCC describes a world where the available time to respond to dramatic climate change is limited and the anticipated costs of future response and mitigation efforts are high. In short, the world’s climate experts increasingly foretell risks of the Schwartz and Randall variety.
What can you do to respond? For starters you can examine your own lifestyle and plan to personally reduce your ecological footprint. If you find it does not make sense to personally act, you should consider supporting others who are in a place to do so. While I am a renter and do not have a roof on which I can personally install solar panels, I recently invested $1,000 through Mosaic in a 645 kW solar installation on a bee farm in Red Bluff, California. Write a letter to a policy maker asking that fossil fuel industry subsidies be redirected to renewable energy. Ride your bike to work. Divest your investments in fossil fuels and encourage institutions with which you are associated to do the same. Do something, anything. And when you do, leave a comment to give other readers ideas so we can learn together what to do instead of simply wallowing in the mud of our climate predicament.
Works Cited:
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (2013). Working group I contribution to the IPCC fifth assessment report (AR5), climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Accessed online at:
Parmesan, C  and Yohe, G. (2003). A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature, 421, 37-42.
McKibbon, B. (1989). The end of nature. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.
Schwartz, P. and Randall, D. (2003). An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for United States National Security.
Smith, MD. (2011). An ecological perspective on extreme climate events: a synthetic definition and framework to guide future research. Journal of Ecology, 99, 656-663.
Walther, G-R., Post, E., Convey, P., Menzels, A., Parmesan, C., Beebee, T.J.C., Fromentin, J., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., and Bairlein. (2002). Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature, 416, 389-395.

Corona del Mar Swim - January 11, 2014

Avalon Benefit 50 Mile Run - January 11, 2014

Saturday morning at 5:00 AM, Bill raced in his 15th Avalon Benefit 50 Mile Run. There were 298 finishers this year. Bill got third in his 60-69 age group, in a time of 10:48:44 (Bib No. 412). Bill says he ran the first half a little fast (who could have guessed?) and then ran out of gas around mile 30. In true Tridiot fashion he slowed down a little and embraced the suck for several more hours. Congratulations, Bill.