Like any self-respecting cult, ours has a charismatic leader. Our matching flower caps were her idea.
We’re a loud bunch, anonymous in the dark. Because that’s when we dip into Austin’s Barton Springs pool. Before the sun rises, while the moon still watches; before dedicated swimmers knock out pre-work laps; before entrance fees are collected; before the sun has warmed the air, if never the water (70ish degrees F constant temperature; that 68 degrees you’ve always heard is a myth).
Some, like Ginny, transition immediately into submersion with nary a shiver; others, particularly me and Beth, step, pause, step, pause, until there’s no other option but to take the plunge. I’m the one cursing the cold.
Then, we jog. That’s the activity: aqua jogging, or water running. The pool is deep, so no murky bottom touches a toe; staying upright and maintaining a running position–arms pumping, legs churning–is completely unfettered. No water weeds wrap around feet.
In the early morning mists, the pool feels immense; its edges disappear. The whole place belongs to us. Our only obstacle, the occasional swimmer splashing by in the dark.
As we move, we talk. Conversations range as back and forth, back and forth, we tread. Uproarious laughter provides an additional ab element–and we laugh a lot. Sometimes topics are serious (the angrier or more impassioned, the faster those legs move). Most mornings, there’s a smattering of spontaneous singing, whether actual songs (like “Gloria,” to serenade our so-named companion) or ad libbed (Julie’s “swimmers in the mist/exchanging glances” from this morning is still ringing in my ears).
As day peeks over the dam, Barton Springs remains peaceful. Austin’s skyline, silhouetted between old oaks and stabbed by downtown’s jagged “Jenga” building, turns gold, then pink. Gradually, the moon slips away. The water’s boundaries return. Random birds swoop and alight for a morning paddle.
The pool wakes.
Between water and air temperature, schedules, and varying amounts of body fat, our morning water time is limited to about an hour. Shriveled fingers, stiff hands, shivering–all indicate it’s time to make a dash to the deck. One by one, we climb out and shuffle toward carefully arranged towels, parkas, fluffy socks, mittens, and fleece-lined shoes, always in that same spot, lined up, closest to the stairs. Finding the right combo of disrobing and reclothing is the holy grail of these winter pool mornings. Julie, with her sense of style and expert online shopping skills, searches for the right equipment to restore body warmth. By March 1, she jokes, our winter pool ensembles should be perfect.
After leaving the water, in about 20 minutes, deep cold sets in. We dash to cars and whatever’s next for the day: hot showers, work clothes, a cup or two of steaming coffee.
What remains: a warm, inner glow from a morning sunrise with friends.