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August 14, 2006

Mine! Mine!

(Administrative note: With my triathlon less than 4 weeks away, the next several posts will have a more noticeable tri-vibe than in previous weeks. Reader discretion advised.)

Friday evening found me at Wharf #2 of the Monterey Harbor, pulling on my wetsuit before heading out for an open-water swim. It was a nice evening by Monterey standards, with an overcast sky, air temperature in the high 60s, and a relatively warm water temperature of 62 degrees.

(Before you ask…yes, I was alone. More on this in another post.)

It had been quite a while since my last open-water swim, so I wasn’t sure how my stroke would feel. I started off fairly easy, and was pleasantly surprised to find that everything felt much smoother than anticipated. All that yardage in the pool must be paying off.

I maintained an every-third-stroke breathing pattern, stayed relaxed in response to the unpredictable swells and chop, and kept a steady course toward the faraway building I was sighting (one advantage of swimming in Monterey Bay is the curvature of the coastline, allowing swimmers to see land in the distance on three sides). Everything was going, well…swimmingly.

Seals are plentiful in the bay, and I’ve become accustomed to seeing their dark, rounded heads poking above the waves to stare at me as I turn my head to breathe. Sometimes when they are especially playful, they’ll criss-cross underneath my path, or swim parallel to me, keeping their head above water to keep tabs on my progress.

When I first started swimming in this ocean, it was somewhat unnerving to encounter various sea animals dashing in and out of my field of vision. Over time, though, I’ve learned to relax in the presence of the creatures that dwell in these coastal waters.

On the other hand, creatures of the air torment me incessantly.

Such was the case on Friday, when approximately 30 minutes into the swim, I noticed a gray seagull swooping down to within a couple feet of my head. He seemed to coordinate his descents so that he could see my face from close range whenever I turned to breathe.

There’s a back story involved here. For the sake of brevity, let’s just say that I have some, um…issues with birds. A checkered history, to put it mildly. (If you really want the long story, I wrote about it here.) So a hovering, possibly aggressive seagull directly overhead nearly put me into panic mode.

He stayed close above, repeatedly diving toward me for nearly a full minute before flying off toward a group gathered just offshore. I had a brief respite before the return of a different, white-and-black seagull, who also dropped in to get a look at me, coming nearly close enough to touch at times.

I was perplexed as to what could be causing such behavior. In my weary state, I envisioned a conversation amongst the nearby group of birds:

Bird leader: Hey – that looks like a wounded seal. Maybe there’s some scavenger fish nearby. Someone go check it out.

Gray seagull: I’m on it.

Bird leader (as gray returns): Well? Do we have a meal?

Gray: Nah…it’s some dude. Trying to swim, I think.

Leader: Really? That can’t be. Nothing swims like that. Is he wounded? Maybe there’s some scavenger fish anyway. Someone else check (white seagull departs).

White seagull (returning): No scavengers. It’s a dude. He looks bad, though. Let’s check on him later.

Luckily, it was only another 15 minutes before I was safely on shore, and the birds decided to go try their luck elsewhere.

I’m not exactly sure what being harassed by waterfowl says about my swimming prowess. Maybe I should be flattered to be mistaken for any type of seal – even a wounded one. Maybe I need to consult Stronger for some tips on my form. Or maybe I just presented a strange curiosity that the seagulls found interesting on an otherwise routine evening surf patrol.

All I know for sure is that they managed to make my relaxed evening swim significantly more nerve-racking than I intended. And they certainly haven’t made me grow any fonder of birds.


jkrunning--Just Keep Running 8/14/06, 9:43 AM  

OMG!! I would've freaked out about the seals. That is why I wouldn't be good in a tri. Even fish scare me.

susie 8/14/06, 9:57 AM  

wounded seal...funny, Donald! Great post...

Deene 8/14/06, 10:16 AM  

hilarious movie, these lines come to mind:
"From this moment on, you shall now be known as Sharkbait."

Darrell 8/14/06, 12:20 PM  

I think I stick to jumping in the pool in the back yard. Nothing to worry about there except maybe the dog jumping in on top of me.

Love the seagull conversation.

angie's pink fuzzy 8/14/06, 12:48 PM  

hahahaha!!!! "just keep swimming"

My sis and I used to play with the seals in Monterey Bay. Always cool.

Anne 8/14/06, 3:04 PM  

I know this happened near Santa Barbara and not Monterey, but I kept thinking of that woman swimming in seals at Avila Beach who was eaten by a shark. If batty seagulls are confused, blind big fish might be too. I do think it's cool that the seals take such a liking to you, though.

stronger 8/14/06, 3:52 PM  

All they were really saying is "mine, mine, mine, mine".

I think we've established they would mistake me for a seal...
"Looks like a seal alright. But I don't think she's wounded."

"Yeah, that's just a swimmer dressed like a seal. Look...all she can do is kick like a seal because her wetsuit is too tight! Ha ha ha ha ha!"

Think the seals are saying, "Hey guys, all we have to do is outswim that guy"?

craig 8/14/06, 9:55 PM  

"I could probably still pick this particular goose out of a lineup..."

Acutely paraniod, eh? Too funny Donald. I love the unexpected stuff that happens while running.

angie's pink fuzzy 8/15/06, 8:16 AM  

Mountain Man Steve at http://mountain-man-steve.blogspot.com/ just reported an attack of seagulls while trail running! What's wrong with the birds? Did someone put something in the water?! ;)

backofpack 8/15/06, 8:56 AM  

I'm with you Donald - I've always had an irrational fear of birds. I blame my Mom - she was attacked by an angry rooster when she was a kid and passed it on to me. On the other hand, somehow, when it happens to you instead of me, it's funny!

Eudemus 8/15/06, 10:05 AM  

Seagulls are evil! However, they are not the only birds that have given me issue. I once had a (non-seagull) bird follow me squawking for almost a mile on this same levee trail. I guess that's what I get for running in a bird sanctuary.


TriSaraTops 8/15/06, 10:19 AM  


I am so jealous you get to swim with seals!

But I am NOT a bird fan, either. That would have freaked me out big time.

Fe-lady 8/15/06, 1:48 PM  

My guess is that you don't like the Alfred Hitchcock movie "The Birds"- Maybe if you read "Johnathan Livingston Seagull" you will learn to like those flying sea-rats!
(Me, I think they are pests!)

teacherwoman 8/15/06, 4:21 PM  

4 more weeks?!?! Good luck!

Bex 8/15/06, 10:27 PM  

Bird would unnerve me. I would shake my fists at them and yell, but that would disrupt my stroke, wouldn't it. Re sea creatures: I admire your equanimity while in the water. What kind of sea creatures?

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