On your Mark!


If you’ve never had the pleasure of attending your child’s first swim meet, please–join me.

The weekend started with a hike. I’m not sure they all start like that.

“It’s going to be a fairly, flat, easy hike,” says Coach Soares. I learned on that hike Coach Soares has penned and published 7 hiking books over the years and, while writing those, would hike 25 miles a day. Are you kidding me?

The driving road to the hiking location gradually became more and more narrow, which meant two cars could not pass at the same time. Occasional bike riders made that even more exciting. When we got to the hiking location, Coach announced the “Cliff Lake” hike was off and this new hike was on. (We’d somehow missed the turn.)

This hike was anything but flat. I exercise daily, but my hair was wet with sweat and I was panting like I’d just ran 10 miles (not that I do that.) We started at 11 and ended at 5:30 and moved at a fairly fast clip without rests, excepting our final Lake Helen destination. Nobody knew where we were, but drilling our hiking author masquerading as a swim coach I discovered this to be called the Trinity Divide. We were on the Seven Lake Trail (and we passed about 4 of those lakes) which crossed the Pacific Rim Crest and dropped down (and I do mean dropped) to Lake Helen. The lake was isolated and serene, the pine trees reflecting in the glass water to create a double forest. Some team members swam. Some wandered. Some practiced skipping rocks. I took great shots, but in an uncanny incident, my camera card cracked the third morning of our trip, especially unfortunate since I was writing an article for the Valley Post and supposed to provide photos. (A little scrambling around Sunday gave us the few shots we got.)

It was phenomenally picturesque all around to be sure and I only fell on my butt once while trying to scale a manzanita sort-of path thing. I felt misled–but I’d go again…even though my legs still hurt three days later. And talk about dirt. I had nasty, dirt ankle rings.

As we arrived at the High School football field, the sun was setting. We’d eaten with the team at Bob’s Ranch House (pretty much all man first names for all things in this town like Ray’s Food Place, Ed’s trucks, Scott Valley…you get the idea). We decided it was fate that the place closest to our truck was open and that must be ours. Close transport of all that stuff.

Remember “Friday Night Lights?” As night came, those were the lights shining straight into our tent and lighting it up like a Walmart! We seriously had to move the shade dome in back of the tent to block the glare. It became obvious why nobody had taken the spot as this was the passageway for all activity.

Our blessing, though, was our kind neighbors. They were campers. Good campers. Good neighbors. They had a stove. They percolated coffee. They were like real live campers…and they liked it. The Streges made our camping trip fun.

The other good news is that we were sort of close to the girl’s locker room. You did need to walk by three really loud snoring tents and a motorhome with puke rolling down the side, but running water was right on the other side. There was toilet paper the first two days.

You really have two choices on personal hygienne: shower in the open high school style showers or don’t shower. I tried to sneak mine in after the morning rush, before the evening rush while nobody was looking. And only one in 3 days which was disgusting.

The meet itself was quite a deal. The kids head over at 7:30 a.m. and get their events written on their hand in sharpie so they don’t forget. (Just when I thought I’d broke my son of that habit, too.) The swimmers are in the pool by 8 a.m. warming up. Parents are getting in timer chairs, or officiating, or working in snack bars, or sitting at the timers who-check-the-timers table or just hanging around under “First Up” shade covers, which line the pool like LA condos.

For first timers, there is a lot to learn. I, of course, filled out the meet sheet on the light side so our son had only one race the first day. This did not stop him from sitting pool side the entire time both days, never to leave a sporting event while people are still there.

Swimmers start oldest to youngest in each type of event. Events are divided by stroke and distance. There is a whole posting system where the heats, lanes and events are put up on a wall and all the kids and parents hover about like ants on watermelon trying to figure out where everyone is going. Next to that hangs the results of who is winning and what their times are.

Meanwhile, there is a huge barbecue going in the background. It starts at 9:00. Cookies the size of a small planet and all kinds of snack bar food abound. Parents flank the pool cheering on (sometimes obnoxiously) their kids.

The little kids have a variety of reactions. Some, as young as 6, go like heck. Others cry and want to get out. Others swim two strokes then hold onto the lane line and stop. And repeat. The big kids swim with such beautifully-tuned strokes you feel like you’re at the Olympics.

You have lots of time between races (especially if you are only doing one) to eat planet sized cookies and get to know people. It’s a very social thing for such an individual sport and I loved the families more than any other sport we’ve ever played. Friendly, inclusive and fun.

After the races, people do a variety of things. Jordan just wanted to play with the kids: soccer, slip and slide, ultimate frisbee, whatever. The parents wandered to such find Etna establishments as the brewery or old fashioned drug store. Some stayed behind and watched the kids. I felt like I was living in a kibbutz.

I don’t really get camping. Planning for days, unpacking, setting up, packing again, unpacking–all while we’re packing to move our home. But Jordan’s words when we got home summed up why we went, and why we enjoyed it, “I miss the Scott Valley meet.”

Yeah, bud. I know how you feel. We’ll always fondly remember our first meet.

Note: Despite the fact my camera card has proved non-recoverable, you can read the article (and my scrambling shots) in the Anderson Valley Post either this Wednesday or next: http://www.andersonvalleypost.com/

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