What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Utah? Most Americans would probably answer 1. Mormons and 2. Great Salt Lake (maybe skiing or the Olympics for 3rd?).
I’ve lived in Utah for most of my adult life and the interesting thing is until 2011 I had never been to see the Great Salt Lake. I had driven by it, but not stopped to take a look and certainly hadn't swam in it. I would bet 80-90% of Utahns are like I was and had never set foot near the Great Salt Lake. This is funny because daily buses of Chinese tourists come up to take a look at it.
Why don’t people go to the Great Salt Lake? Well, the long and short of it is- it smells.
One blog said:
“Yea, I was going to say, who would want to stink like the Great Salt Lake!??! You can smell it as you start to drive near it. My daughter went on a field trip there, and her shoes stank for at least a week. A co-worker once went out there and her shoes stank up the whole office afterwards.”
Sounds pretty unpleasant right? WRONG!
I was in the ‘who swims in GSL?’ camp most my life, but in 2011 I discovered open water swimming and my life has never been the same. As great as pool swimming can be (I love any kind of water) there is something special about being out in nature where the water is unpredictable and full of surprises.
And no body of water is more unpredictable than the Great Salt Lake. It’s a totally unique and exhilarating experience.
You step in the water and your skin prickles. My friend calls it going for a quick pickle. Every pore in your body reacts and burns (people think it is like the ocean and it is not at all). It’s a wild experience but to me that is part of the fun of it.
There are so few times in life we can do something special and when I swim the GSL I can honestly say I’m 1 of only a handful of dedicated swimmers who have that same experience each year. That’s pretty cool! Plus, it really is beautiful.
The older I get the harder it is to be genuinely surprised by anything and each time I swim in the Great Salt Lake (or any open water) it feels new and unexpected.
Every year on the first Saturday of June my swim club Salt Lake Open Water (SLOW) sponsors a 1 mile swim in the Great Salt Lake and it is tough in every way. But it is also exhilarating. I have done it 3 times and each time goes down as one of the best days of my life.
To challenge and conquer nature is an experience every human being should have.
1. Make sure to go early in the summer (May and June) because later there are too many spiders and bugs.
2. Always go with friends when open water swimming and wear a safe swimmer so you are visible to boaters.
3. Keep a swim to an easy return level because conditions can change rapidly at the GSL (windstorms can come on and I’ve been in 6 foot swells without warning)
4. You will have brine shrimp (only living organism in the lake) on your body and suit but it washes right off. (There is a hose to rinse off in. Rest comes off in the shower. No big deal)
5. Contact SLOW on facebook and find out when swimmers are going and join in. There are members of the Wasatch Front Polar Bear Club who swim GSL year-round!
6. Have great goggles. I usually tuck an extra pair into my suit because you do not want to have goggle problems at GSL
7. Drink lots of liquids before and after because that salt will dehydrate you fast
8. Where possible have a kayaker accompany your group giving water, checking safety etc
9. Count your strokes. This has helped me so much with open water. The shoreline can feel like a mirage but when you focus on 20 more strokes, 50 more strokes, you will get there. I promise!
10. Sighting can be helpful but GSL is tricky since nothing grows around it that’s why best to go with group.
11. Smell does not last for weeks. Take a hot shower and launder your clothes in hot water and you’ll be fine
12. Oddly the smell is much worse just outside the lake than when you are swimming in it. I don’t know if you just don’t notice it but it really is a non-issue in the water.
13. Wouldn’t recommend shaving anywhere right before going in the GSL. It will burn!
I’m probably not making it sound like very much fun but swimming in the Great Salt Lake is an adventure. It’s something you can gather with friends and take on together. It’s a beautiful part of my home state and I recommend everyone give it a shot, smell and all.
Open water swimming also teaches me about life every time I am in the water. The shoreline can feel so far off but if I push through and don’t give up I will prevail. That’s one of many lessons I’ve gotten from the sport over the years.
Oh and you do float which is kind of cool!
Here I am getting interviewed after my 2013 race, which was incredibly difficult for me to finish but I did it! (Zoom ahead to the 3 minute mark for the interview)