Double Dipping at Ebey's Landing,
Whidbey Island, WA (Skins)
DATE OF SWIMS: 1/25/21, 1/26/21
I met local Whidbey Island swimmers at Ebey's Landing for two swims! At 45 degrees F, the water was the coldest I've swam skins to date. I also hiked and ran the bluff trail at Ebey's during sunset and sunrise. Ebey's has been my dream swim for a while and is my favorite place for a trail run - it's heaven on earth!
Video by @aqua.moose.pnw
Dream Swim: Accomplished!
Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is an absolute dream. Ebey's Landing is the country's first Historical Reserve established in 1978. The reserve is 17, 572 acres total and contains 14 working farms, 3 beautiful prairies and 450 historical buildings. Although Ebey's is a national park, 85% of it is privately owned and protected through local stewardship.
If you're curious to read more about the history of Ebey's Landing, I recommend the report from the National Park Service, "The Land, The People, The Place." The report contains in-depth information about the Ebey family who settled here in the 1800s, the history of the area's fertile agricultural land, archaeological resources and ethnographic information about the Klallam and Skagit Native American populations who first lived here before white settlers arrived and took control of the land.
I've trail ran and hiked Ebey's Landing many times, but never swam it. It's a perfect out and back 4 mile trail that winds along a bluff overlooking the Olympics, Port Townsend, Protection Island (a major tufted puffin habitat) and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If you're lucky, you can even get a view of Mount Rainier on a clear day to the south.
My boyfriend and I jumped in the water after a hike the last time we were at Ebey's Landing, but didn't actually swim any distance. Since Ebey's opens up to the strait, it's pretty unsheltered and gets a lot of wind and therefore, big waves. Swimming at Ebey's is wild. It's definitely not for the faint hearted. You're not swimming in a cove, and you're going to be swimming through large waves.
Savoring the last of my vacation before starting a new job, I decided to take a solo trip to historic waterfront Coupeville and spontaneously got an AirBnB in town. I managed to have enough time to also walk around Coupeville and check out the dock while it was sunny out! That's what happens when the sun stays in the sky for longer than 5 hours!
My main goals during this trip were to swim Ebey's and Keystone Jetty with locals, plus trail run Ebey's Landing. I luckily chatted with the Whidbey Island swim group a few days before going and we made plans to swim both areas one day after another. I was so grateful to have people to swim with - I would have been too nervous to actually swim Ebey's alone without knowing the terrain. I also convinced @aqua.moose.pnw to join me, making our swim adventures during my time off from work a grand total of three (Picnic Point, Bainbridge and Ebey's!) I was so happy she could join us, too.
I ended up loving my swim at Ebey's Landing so much that I asked the group that planned to swim Keystone Jetty with me if we could swim Ebey's again instead. In this post, I'll share the routes from both swims at Ebey's!
The stretch of beach (before rounding that point) you see in the photograph below is essentially what I swam over the two days (~ a total of 1.6 miles).
The Route - Swim #1
Ebey's Swim #1
I was pretty nervous and excited for my first swim at Ebey's. I knew the water would be about 45 degrees F. The air was 39 degrees F - air temps in the 30s as opposed to 40s always make the water feel colder too. Add wind, and you're in for a real skins treat :)
When we arrived at 12:00, it was partly cloudy. However, the area was still sunnier than it normally is in Seattle. This is due to the phenomenon of the "rain shadow." Coupeville and Ebey's Landing are two of the lucky places that are located within the limits of the rain shadow, this means these areas essentially get half the amount of rain and cloudy days that Seattle does. The rain shadow encompasses only a small area of the PNW. The rain shadow is due to the way warmed air moves over the Olympic Mountains. Needless to say, the entire time I was in Coupeville, it was sunny. Combine the sun with the waves at Ebey's - this swim is what I would imagine Hawaii to be like (minus 40 degrees in water temp!)
Gathering on the beach and getting ready, the group chatted a bit about the tides, current and rip tides in the area. One of the swimmers mentioned that she'd swam at Ebey's about 7 times before. She knew there were rip tides in the area but that she never experienced them since she always swims parallel to shore. Another swimmer mentioned that he is currently 75% done with swimming the entire perimeter of Whidbey Island! The island is 70+ miles around, so this is unbelievably impressive.
I also bought a book that one of the swimmers wrote - "Getting to the Water's Edge on Whidbey and Camano Islands - A Field Guide to Shoreline Access and Facilities, Parks, Marine Life, Stewardship, and Natural History of Island County, Washington." The book is a fantastic resource on all of the public access points for swimming and hiking tidal lands. It specifically notes the mileage of public beach to swim or walk for each park on Whidbey Island. I recommend this book for anyone looking to plan swim routes on Whidbey!
I'm always so happy to make new inspiring swim friends!
We started our route from the parking lot and swam north 956 yards, basically to where the trees start on the bluff, and then swam back. The rest of the group wore wetsuits, they were far ahead of us and also swam a little further at 1000 yards.
At about 10 minutes in the water, I could tell the water was significantly colder than Alki. Entry into the water was not any more difficult than it is at Alki, surprisingly. However, at 10 minutes, my arms started to numb completely. I couldn't feel them at all after a certain point and I felt like I was moving slowly. My face also felt completely numb, normally that never bothers me, but it felt colder than ever before. It's so interesting what weird things our bodies do in cold water. Skin swimming is an endless journey in learning about our bodies, limits, boundaries, and also knowing when we can push past them. I knew I wanted to play it a little safe, especially since I was in a new location and the discussion of rip tides worried me a bit.
My friend @aqua.moose.pnw has a lot more cold tolerance than me, she was able to stop and take some awesome photos (all of the perfect action shots are hers!) and even got some shots of beautiful bull kelp. I attempted to get a photo of the bull kelp but it was too cold and my hands still have not figured out how to use the GoPro with gloves on.
I stayed close to shore while I swam through the gigantic waves; I could see the bottom the entire time I swam. This made me feel safer. I was combining a lot of things here to potentially feel uncomfortable - 1) a colder water temp, 2) a new location, 3) skins, and 3) a pretty advanced swimming location. I ended up swimming only 28 minutes. I got out of the water feeling so happy to have accomplished this swim but also a little disappointed that I didn't even reach 30 minutes.
That night, I went back to check out Ebey's at sunset and did a short 2.5 mile solo hike to the bluff and a little beyond. I reflected on the swim earlier, looking down at the beach amidst the gold, pink and blue hues of the darkening sky. I realized I wanted to try it again. I knew the water a little more now, I felt a little more comfortable with the terrain.
I texted the group - can we swim Ebey's again tomorrow instead of Keystone? They obliged :) I figured I could come back to swim Keystone another time.
Later that night, I had a conversation via Zoom with my marathon/ice swimmer/friend Melissa and shared my thoughts on limits and the difficulty in knowing when too much is too much. She boosted my confidence and assured me that I can probably do more than I think I can. Sometimes we can comfortably push ourselves out of our comfort zone. This is what swimming skins teaches me with each stroke. It teaches me to be acutely aware of when I've reached a limit, to be acutely aware of when I'm getting close to that limit, and also knowing when I can handle more. This is not an easy lesson, sometimes I feel like my mind plays tricks on me and I'm actually okay, but fear takes over.
I made a decision that the next morning: I would not let fear take over. I would instead make a conscious effort to be safe, but push myself just a little more. I knew I could do it.
Action Shots and GoPro Images by @aqua.moose.pnw
The Route - Swim #2
Ebey's Swim #2
The next morning I woke up early and went back to Ebey's, this time for a sunrise 4 mile bluff trail run. I loved every minute, but I couldn't wait to get back in the water and try swimming Ebey's again.
The same group of swimmers met again at 12:00 and this time the sun was out even more than the previous day. I felt so lucky!
This time we swam in the opposite direction, south away from the bluff. We turned around before we got to the point. I ended up swimming 1300 yards, I consciously tried to go further even when my mind was (mostly irrationally) telling me I shouldn't go anymore. I knew I could do it and I knew my fear was setting in. The after-drop on the previous swim at 956 yards was pretty minimal, so I knew at 1300 yards that I would be okay, especially with more sun and the acclimation of the day before. I ended up swimming 32 minutes at 45 degree F.
When I got out, I still felt a little disappointed, like I could have done more. I felt if I lived on Whidbey or if it wasn't my last day on the island, I would have gone again the next day and tried to swim for 40 minutes. I suppose this is what they call Type A fun? :)
Swimming skins is also a reminder to relish in the joy of accomplishing small incremental goals.