Case Inlet, Stretch Island 4K

DATE OF SWIM: 9/7/19

A self-organized swim adventure approximately halfway around Stretch Island in WA's Case Inlet. The water was warm, current fairly strong (against it the whole time) and skies cloudy. This swim included a ~30 foot bridge jump at high tide! Find out if Stretch was a stretch...

Route

Fair Harbor Marina, Grapeview WA to tip of Stretch Island 

Distance

~ 2.5 Miles (no tracker)

Water

Upper 50s or low 60s (definitely warmer than Alki)

Support

Kayaker, Motor Boat and Swim Buoys!

Outdoor Magazine-Worthy Action Shots by Fellow Adventure Swimmer Beth Mitchell

A Real Treasure

 

I first heard about Treasure/Reach Island in WA's Case Inlet through the Facebook group Western WA Open Water Swimmers. Someone had posted their route and asked the question - "is it normal for seals to follow me the entire way around the island?" 

 

Treasure/Reach Island is 2.2 miles around, neighboring Stretch Island is 4 miles. I knew all summer I wanted to swim one of these islands (the seals did it). Due to a pretty busy summer, I did not do a ton of research before this swim. Instead, all of a sudden the planned date came, I gathered enthusiastic swim partners and figured it would spontaneously work out.

 

A Supportive, Adventurous Community

 

My friend and I had originally planned to swim Treasure/Reach Island via a Doodle calendar. Note - the island has two names, but "Treasure Island" sounds cooler! The day before we planned to go, I posted a note on the Facebook group to see if anyone else wanted to join us. I ended up getting responses from three other swimmers - it was wonderful to see how ready this community is for a swim adventure! One of the swimmers even had a motor boat that would join us as support! We chatted a bit via Messenger and figured that since we had the boat, we might attempt Stretch Island. At least we had the flexibility and option! I was super grateful!

We checked the tides with the Real Tide App and realized it would be high tide when we arrived at the Case Inlet around 2 pm. From Seattle, Treasure/Stretch/Reach Islands are a ~2 hour drive without much traffic. Leaving a bit late from the city, we arrived at Fair Harbor Marina in Grapeview and met the other eager adventure swimmers around 3 pm.

What was so cool about this swim is that we didn't all know each other, but we all joined on this adventure together (and literally jumped off a bridge together). This proves the real power of this swim community. We trusted in the spontaneity of the trip, the joy of swimming, and my (lack of?) planning. 

At the dock, we made a micro-plan to swim from the marina to the Stretch Island bridge and jump off at high tide. Perhaps the most important plan of all! From there, we'd gauge what we wanted to do. I knew we got a bit of a late start and with my slow pace, I wasn't sure I wanted to swim around the entire island. I felt I was still recovering from the 5 mile Chelan swim - it just felt mentally so long and exhausting. 

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The Bridge Jump!

 

From the marina, we swam against the current to the bridge. One brave swimmer soul jumped first, then we all followed suit and jumped off. The bridge was a good 20+ feet in the air, it was pretty terrifying! I could actually count a second or two in the air before my body slapped on the water. 

Deciding to swim on, we kept sighting and going towards the tip of the island. I took forever, of course, compared to my swim partners. I could see they kindly waited for me patiently; I got increasingly frustrated in my lack of real swimming prowess. On the other hand, sometimes being slow can feel lucky - I had a private kayaking buddy along the way!

 

During the swim, I thought about how swimming is always a lesson in being easy on myself. I am not a fast swimmer (open water about a 45 minute mile). I've taken swim lessons recently with a coach, gone to Masters Practice many times, swam too many times to count in open water, but still I don't get faster. I keep trying, but I must be patient, try new things, and always keep learning. Sometimes it can be disheartening how slow I feel I swim - it's especially apparent when I'm around other faster swimmers. 

Despite my internal frustration, we all huddled together at the tip of the island once I arrived. I told them I was pretty much done - I needed to meet my boyfriend at 5:30 pm and his phone was broken. I had to go or else he'd think we all succumbed to the depths of the Case Inlet. They were so kind and understanding, leaving the decision really up to me as the organizer! I appreciated that they were easy on me and didn't get upset that I was so much slower! I know waiting can sometimes be frustrating too. 

 

I (somewhat sadly) left the group - they decided to swim around the whole island!. I was really proud of them, a little jealous, relieved for the boat, and excited to rest. As I cruised quickly by in the support motor boat, the strong current pushed them along in their direction. 

 

I was so thankful for the boat and the beautiful, windy ride that ensued! 

Outdoor Magazine-Worthy Action Shots by Fellow Adventure Swimmer Beth Mitchell

A Successful Swim

 

This experience made me think about planning, spontaneity, and the definition of success. Sure, I didn't finish the route that we decided to do. But, I swam more than we had originally intended - Treasure Island is only 2.2 miles and we swam about 2.5 miles. We also started from the marina, so the full swim around Stretch Island + the marina would be more than 4 miles (maybe 5?). Five miles, even 4 miles for that matter is a long swim! I have to be very prepared for swims of that length (enough food before, time, mental preparation). I have to remember this sometimes even if I'm increasing distance regularly. 

What makes a swim "successful?" Or any experience where you're pushing yourself to some extent, for that matter? I suppose it all depends on the intended goal. My goal is always to finish a swim, or at least finish what I planned to do. I realized setting a (realistic) intention based on truly listening to oneself can help avoid the feeling of failure. I knew ahead of time that I mostly didn't want to swim 4 miles - but I pushed myself to potentially try it anyway. Should I have listened more? Should I have been more realistic about my wants and honored them? Should we experience "pain" in order to reach new heights (no pain, no gain)? Where does that line get crossed - no longer "comfortable discomfort" (in the learning zone) but rather real pain? I thought about many of these same things when practicing yoga nearly daily for years. How much do we push ourselves? We must do it in order to get better. But how much is too much? This swim and experience was a lesson again in listening to myself - I just knew when I was finished with swimming and had crossed the boundary. 

This swim was successful for reasons other than finishing a specific route. I made new swim friends and in turn, built a stronger swim community; had another swim adventure with my boyfriend; experienced a beautiful drive by meandering waterfront; enjoyed an exhilarating boat ride around the full island (!); and got the chance to explore a part of WA that I had never been to. 

Stretch might have been a stretch, but the summer adventures aren't over yet. I may swim Treasure Island this weekend if kayak rentals work out! I also do plan to swim Stretch in its entirety if not this year then next!

Outdoor Magazine-Worthy Action Shots by Fellow Adventure Swimmer Beth Mitchell

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NOTE: I am not an expert and this site is meant to give you tips on OWS and some ideas for adventures. If you're really serious about OWS, a swim coach is probably helpful. Your safety is ultimately in your own hands. Be smart out there and have fun!