I’m back in Chicago after a salubrious fortnight in Southern California – a week with my in-laws in San Diego followed by a week with my folks in Goleta/Santa Barbara.
It was unseasonably rainy and, when sunny, unseasonably cool, but I didn’t mind. The stretch of south-facing coast between Point Conception and Ventura – with Santa Barbara at the center – is my favorite place in the world. Even the worst weather rarely precludes enjoyment of its blessed terrain.
With holiday pool closures, schedule changes, and polluted ocean waters, finding a place to swim was an often frustrating quest. In San Diego I swam twice with UCSD Masters and once at the YMCA near my in-laws’ place. In Santa Barbara I got in twice with the S.B. Aquatics Club age-group team (coached by my longtime friend Mark) and once at Los Baños pool’s open lap swim, where I coincidentally ran into two former S.B. Swim Club teammates who were also in town for the holidays.
On New Years’ Eve, friend-of-the-blog Rob D. drove down the coast from Arroyo Grande. My wife and I gave him a brief tour of the sights before descending upon Butterfly Beach in Montecito for a swim. Rob took a thermometer reading of 54F, which is 4-5 degrees below my wetsuit threshold for any more than a brief dip. So I went with a sleeveless wetsuit. Rob, of course, was sporting his usual zebra-striped mankini.
We had hoped to swim around the point west of the Biltmore and towards East Beach, but were stymied after only a few hundred yards by a thick wall of kelp. When we got back even with where we’d stashed our stuff on the beach, Rob noticed a seal checking us out from just a few yards away. He seemed a little too curious for comfort so we decided to swim it in.
From there we cruised back up the 101 to Goleta Beach which, as the southern terminus of Fairview Ave, is the closest patch of coast to my childhood home. By this time it was getting on towards 3pm and, with the sun lower in the sky the air temperature was back below 60. We opted out of a second plunge and instead just hung out near the water and talked for awhile.
All told, it was an excellent adventure that I hope we’ll repeat someday soon! For more pictures & words from the day, I’ll refer you to Rob’s account. While you’re there, be sure to read about his epic 10K Avila-to-Pismo polar bear marathon swim, which he undertook the very next day.
It’s been over 12 years since I’ve lived in Santa Barbara full-time, but more than any other place, it still feels like home. I always have mixed feelings about leaving, especially when it means returning to the Midwest in January. But I packed away an ample supply of warm California vibes, and until Lake Michigan thaws in late spring, they will sustain me.