Carkeek to Golden Gardens via Puget Sound

When my friend/coached athlete Amanda Stanley mentioned that she wanted to swim from Carkeek to Golden Gardens and that her husband Nick could provide a boat escort, I immediately took off my “coach hat,” put on my “friend hat,” and invited myself along. This route was actually proposed by Guila Muir (the woman behind Say Yes swims) earlier this year, but unfortunately we couldn’t quite work out the logistics back in January. I was excited to finally give it a go! Especially since the water in Puget Sound in June is at least a few degrees warmer than it was in January!

We checked tides and currents, coordinated our personal/work schedules, and ultimately decided to do our swim on Memorial Day at around 9:15 am, which was in the middle of a flood tide. We figured this would give us a nice current-assist. We also knew that wind might be a factor, but not much we could do about that. If things got really ugly, we figured we could always clamber aboard the boat and try again another day.

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Planned route
Memorial Day tidal currents

Tom decided he also wanted to come, so we made it a double-date: Amanda and I swam while Tom and Nick puttered along slowly next to us. So romantic.

Tom and I met Nick and Amanda at Shilshole Marina. We left our car right next to the beach at Golden Gardens so that Amanda and I could get in the car and start warming up as soon as we were done with the swim. Then all four of us hopped in the boat (a 13′ Boston Whaler) and headed up to Carkeek Park.  Water temp was 52 degrees F, winds were forecast at 7-11 knots out of the N/NW, with clear skies and air temps in the low 60s.

Nick and Amanda and the boat
Yayyyyy…. I can’t wait to jump off this boat into the cold water? (For me, the anticipation always seems to be the worst part. Once I’m in, it’s great!)
Nick and Tom


On the boat ride to Carkeek it became clear that the wind was picking up and starting to create some chop and rollers. Nothing major, but far from the glassy conditions that we’d fantasized about. Oh well – you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. At least the sun was shining and the air was relatively warm!

Nick pulled right up on the rocky beach at Carkeek, and Amanda and I jumped out. We looked south down the shore and decided to simply sight off Meadow Point (Golden Gardens is just around the point). And with that, we were off.

Thumbs up at Carkeek

Putting your face in cold water can elicit “cold shock,” or an uncontrollable urge to gasp and hyperventilate. I do my best to avoid this by intentionally exhaling as I stick my face in the water. I also try not to stand around talking about how cold the water is because that just makes things extra miserable.

Breathing out.

As we swam away from Carkeek, I felt a little jolt of happiness. This was fun! I was swimming side-by-side with a friend, our husbands were chatting away in the boat next to us, and life was good. Underwater visibility wasn’t great, but I could still make out beds of eelgrass waving beneath us, and surf perch darting here and there.

Oh yeah, now I remember, this is FUN!

We swam, and we swam and we swam. For awhile it felt like Meadow Point wasn’t getting any closer, and I started to wonder if I’d made some embarrassing mistake when looking at tides and currents. Were we getting pushed away from our destination? But soon enough, we reached the point and I recognized the sandy beach of Golden Gardens. Amanda and I did many of our training swims at Golden Gardens, so spotting the familiar beach pilings was awesome because we knew we were getting close.

Almost there!

At this point I was pretty much numb. When Amanda and I paused to check in with each other, my face was cold enough that I had trouble forming words with my mouth. Even so, at 60 minutes into this swim I was definitely more comfortable than I’d been at 20 minutes into a training swim several months ago. The effect that cold has on the human body is fascinating, and the body’s ability to acclimate to the cold over time is even more fascinating!

At approximately 1 hr 10 minutes we reached Golden Gardens. It was a bit surreal. The beach was packed, it was a sunny Memorial Day, and there we were stumbling out of the water like sea monsters, while perfectly coiffed mothers tilted their heads at us quizzically and held their toddlers a little closer.

Within a few minutes of getting out of the water, the shivers started.  Between my numb hands and the violent shaking, I had a hard time getting on my cozy swim parka. Eventually, though, I managed to get my jacket on and my swimsuit off. Amanda and I then sat in the car with the heat on full blast, shaking and grinning and giddy from our little swim adventure.

That weird look on my face is pure joy at the 90 degree heat blasting out of the car vents.

Tom measured our swim using the Strava phone app, and we were at almost exactly 2.3 miles. (On the Strava track, you can see a little blip where Nick and Tom went to check a crab pot. We didn’t swim with them when they did that. However, you can also see that Tom didn’t start tracking until we’d been swimming for a couple minutes, so I figure it all works out in the end.)

Our route

This swim has left me even more impressed by the many incredible swimmers out there doing marathon swims at least 10x this distance, and even more excited about all the potential human-powered adventures to be had on land and water!


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