More Marathoning With Matthew Moseley – Pura Vida Swimming Across The Golfo Dulce
Matthew Moseley, a communications strategist and author in Boulder, Colorado has completed four unprecedented swims over the course his open water career.
The sun was rising at 5:00 am on the steamy Golfo Dulce as my goggles snapped into place and I slowly waded into the warm water. An abyss of 21 km of swimming lay ahead. There were 10 racers, most of us painted white with zinc and grease, and each with our own support kayak. Many more were competing in the 14 km, the 5 km and 1 km.
I first heard about the swim from Joanie Kleypas, a scientist in Boulder, Colorado, experimenting with growing and harvesting coral in the Golfo Dulce to replenish and strengthen endangered reefs. She told me it would be a great long distance swim that I would enjoy.
My daughter, Amelia, was also turning 11 on August 3rd, the day of the race. For Christmas, Santa Claus gave us a Father-Daughter trip for sloth sleuthing and adventure swimming.
The Golfo Dulce, which translates into Sweet Gulf, is a beautiful bay surrounded by the Osa Peninsula just above Panama in remote southern Costa Rica. It is home to whales, who calve there, dolphins, turtles and many other species.
It is a tropical jungle above and under ground: wet and wild.
My kayakista assigned by the race was Jafet Montero. His family owns the bakery on main street where he rises at 2:00 a.m. each morning to bake bread before nature guiding. He took us around for two days prior to the race in our little Suzuki 2-door, 4×4 Blanco Jimmy to see sloths, monkeys and wildlife. He and his girlfriend, Adri, showed us the very best of Costa Rican hospitality. Amelia was in sloth heaven.
But I was already struggling in the first 7 km due to opposing currents. What should have taken two hours was stretching into 4.5 hours. I estimated the whole race would take 6 hours, but at this pace it would take 12 or 15 hours. I wasn’t prepared for that kind of punishment. Plus the jellyfish stings were bringing me down. The time had come for some serious soul searching.
I was exhausted and too tired for being at 8 km—with 13 km left to go. We took stock of the situation. Maybe I should get out? I wondered aloud. Jafet said, “Let’s go another 3 or 5 km and see how you feel and where we are.”
We had been feeding every 30 minutes with small bites, but it was time to amp it up. I ate some fresh pineapple, a protein bar, Stingers and drank a lot of electrolytes. I meditated and got my head into the game. I put my head down and just kept swimming. Amelia was waiting for me on the other side.
At 10 km the water in the middle of the Golfo Dulce turned smooth like a swimming pool. After many hours in the water, the brain turns into the “Blue Mind”.
Blue Mind is a term coined by Wallace J. Nichols, to describe how the brain is positively influenced and changed by water. It’s why people enjoy taking baths, surfing or just sitting by a lake or river. Being in and around water is scientifically proven to make people happier.
As I swam on, I thought of the pure joy on Amelia’s face when she saw her first sloth. “Ohhhh…” she just stood there mouth agape. We had talked about that moment for so long and there it was. Then a family of the endangered Titi monkeys came leaping by on the canopy that surrounded us and took us in.
My mind was as blue as the Golfo Dulce. There were no more jellies and I relaxed into my stroke. I focused on the beauty of the water. I stopped fighting and started smiling. This was the moment I was picturing. I thought of Amelia’s birthday and how I just wanted to hug her on the other side.
In open water swimming, I’ve come to expect the unexpected. In swimming, as in life, things rarely go exactly as planned. This was certainly true of this race. I just kept swimming. Breathing 3-5-7 strokes. Dancing on the water. Swimming like a butterfly. Free and easy.
Suddenly, we were past 16 km and knocking on the door of 17 km. The Dalai Lama says the two most important words in any language are Love and Gratitude. I love my life, family and my work. I was grateful to be in the beautiful water of the Golfo Dulce and feeling it’s magic. I was alive.
We passed the final red buoy at 20 km and Jafet was laughing and whooping.
I could see her clearly now at the finish. Amelia had talked about how someday she could come back to harvest coral or maybe teach English. She was undergoing her own transformation. This birthday wasn’t just another day from 10 to 11, but an opening of horizons and relationships. This swim was for her.
But no matter how much I enjoy swimming, I was feeling the full effects now. Electric currents from the jellyfish stings pulsated through my body. I was chaffed on my armpits and shoulders from skin on skin and had a severe burn on my lower back, but otherwise I felt great.
My arm touched the finish in 9 hours and 6 minutes. Amelia jumped in the water and I hugged her under a pouring rain. Our challenge was made more sweet by the joy and elation of the moment.
Crossing the Golfo Dulce was Pura Vida Swimming—the pure life.
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