“Are you training for something?” The voice came from up on the boat ramp. My kayaker D and I had just returned after a trip to Bad Creek Falls and back, over four miles, and I was still finding my land legs. I looked toward the voice and saw a woman with a paddle in her hand.
“No,” I lied.
“Oh,” she said. “I thought you must be training for a triathlon.”
It’s summer now at the lake. The winter was cold and quiet, and my kayaker and I were often the only people on the water. But with the warm weather, other people have returned, splashing and paddling and asking me questions. I don’t have any problem with the splashing and paddling, but I don’t understand why they ask me questions. I don’t go to the lake to talk. I certainly don’t go to the lake to talk to complete strangers.
The most common question people at the lake ask is, “Are you training for something?” I hate it. My kayaker knows I hate it. Every time someone asks me I can feel her looking at me, hoping that I don’t say something that can get us thrown out of a state park. I don’t hate the question itself; if we were at swim practice or at a party chatting about swimming and you asked me, “Are you training for something?” I would say, “Yes,” or “No,” and talk about it. I’d even ask you if you were training for something. It would be polite.
But to ask me as I swim for miles in the world’s most beautiful lake, “Are you training for something?” suggests that you have no understanding of what is valuable in life.
The question assumes that what I am doing right now is not worthwhile in itself. It assumes that I must have some other larger purpose because the only swimming that is meaningful is swimming that is timed, with a marked course and rules, where you get a t-shirt and maybe a medal at the end. And it angers me because I think swimming to a waterfall and back in a beautiful lake is sufficient in and of itself. I don’t need any rules or timing chips or any more t-shirts to make it worthwhile.
Am I training for something? I guess so. I have events coming up in the fall. But that’s not really why I’m swimming. What on earth could be more important than this?
It’s all far too much to explain to a random person at the boat ramp.
I don’t feel bad about lying to the woman on the boat ramp. There is a long tradition of watery beings lying to people who ask them silly questions, and if that woman isn’t up on her folklore, it’s on her.
The question keeps coming, though, and I’m working on other answers. Recently my kayaker and I went straight across the lake, and when we got to the other side, a family was grilling out on the little beach. A man asked me the common (and related) question, “Are you training for an Ironman?” I said, “The swim portion of an Ironman is only 2.4 miles.” His family laughed. He looked contrite. Then he offered me a bratwurst, which was nice, but I declined. I had to swim back. It was just under five miles round trip.
And then, another day, we were out at Bad Creek Falls again and met two kayakers there. We had seen them at the boat ramp, so they knew how far I had swum. One of them oohed and aahed over me in the way some people do. The other asked, “Are you training for something?”
“This,” I said. “This is it. I train so I can do this.”
They nodded. We exchanged pleasantries. My kayaker and I headed on.