One bitter cold sunny day I came upon a tall, balding man standing on the beach wearing nothing but a skimpy Speedo swimsuit and smoking cigarettes. He had an enormous belly, a tremendous leviathan of a belly; the kind of tight power belly a big man could even feel proud of. Yet he moved like James Bond in the movies. He smoked like Humphrey Bogart used to in the movies, too. Him and Katherine Hepburn, remember? This man stood barefoot before me in sand, pebbles, and broken seashells as he gazed across the Salish Sea from the shores of Carkeek Park. I estimated he was a youngish sixty. An icy breeze sliced through my coat and stung my cheeks.
It was freezing! A flurry of snowflakes fell, then stopped. We were in Carkeek Park in the northern half of Seattle. Puget Sound, part of the Salish, churned between here and the Olympics across the way. Over there short, jagged mountains punched up into the clouds. Another gust of wind battered me. I tried to sit among the beach logs to enjoy the views, and they were beautiful views, but I had to keep moving. I was dressed for a winter day. Dressed as if I was camping in the snow. After all, it was February, February in either the late 1990s or early 2000s. The man with the magnificent beast of a belly took another fierce drag on yet another cigarette, surveyed the vastness of nature, and nodded his head. No one else dared venture down into the fierce, blustery cold from the parking lots high up behind us on the bluffs.
To hell with being shy. Who was this fellow? I strode over to him and asked him. Where was he from? What was he doing? Or going to do?
“I am from Bulgaria,” he declared with great seriousness. “In Bulgaria I swam in the Black Sea every day! I swim every day regardless of the weather. Summer heat or Winter cold, I swim! I swim again the next day, too. Good for health!”
He pointed his gargantuan and robust abdomen toward the gray and silver seas and marched to water’s edge. His Speedo was so tiny on his taunt little butt. Without hesitation, he plunged on into the cold, ignoring the shock upon his genitals, and waded up to his waste. And like a whale he dove in and disappeared completely beneath the waters. Then broke the surface and stroked straight out into the Sound then began crawling alongside the coast.
I was astounded. I’ve heard of people such as him, seen photographs and videos of hardy souls plunging through snow and ice to swim nearly naked through bitter cold waters. Polar bear plunges and all that jazz. I, too, have been in extremely cold water during my whitewater kayaking days. Paddled many a river with snow up on the banks and ice around the rocks. But I was dressed for it as I wore layers of capilene inside my drysuit with a PFD and a neoprene hood underneath my helmet.
I stepped over the rocks and clambered across beach logs to the footbridge over the railroad tracks. As I turned to look back across the Sound at the Olympic Mountains the Bulgarian swam back in to shore and emerged from the waves as some Olympian God. He paused, bent over, dug around in his little bag nestled against a log, and pulled out a cigarette. Apparently he didn’t care how windy it was or how wet he was, he was gonna smoke! As he lit up, the big belly smoking man turned around to survey the sea again, one hand on his hip while the other calmly moved the cigarette to and from his mouth. I contemplated how much healthier this amazing athlete could be if he did not smoke. Clearly he didn’t give a damn. He was a Bulgarian year-round swimming man!
William Dudley Bass
Monday, January 7, 2013
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