How I Almost Had a Nervous Breakdown on Vacation

Dan and I camped this weekend in Chama, New Mexico, as our friends got married there on Sunday. No, the nervous breakdown had nothing to do with the fact that I was trying to get pretty for a wedding at a campground. That was a success, for the record, flat-ironed hair and all. [Ladies: I recommend placing your makeup in a tightly sealed tupperware in the cooler should you find yourself in a summer/camping/wedding situation]. I think it was well worth it, when you consider the amount of points I have stashed away for later use. Just imagine the myriad situations where I might play the “I Camped For Gene and Vanessa’s Wedding” card….

Anyway, I did what any self-respecting triathlete would do and threw a swim cap and goggles into my bag were I to have the opportunity to swim. It turned out our campsite was on a clear, calm blue lake, surrounded by pines and mesa views. Late Saturday afternoon I decided to head out for a swim. I told Dan I would be back within an hour and half and trotted off to the water’s edge. I swam easily for meters and meters and meters. I don’t know how far it was but at the 30 minute mark I decided to head back. I looked up to sight the shore every once in a while, swimming steadily back to our campground. Or so I thought. I knew I was swimming in a rough approximation of a straight line but I was a little confused when I looked at my watch again. By my watch, I should be back at the shore within about 3 minutes. But looking ahead, I would certainly need a kayak or a miracle to get there that fast. I resigned myself to the fact that I probably made more of a zig-zag than I thought and kept swimming. The closer I got though, the more it just didn’t look right. I didn’t recognize any of the boats lined up on the water’s edge and I couldn’t locate Dan. He said he would be reading in his camp chair on the shore, but I couldn’t see him.

There wasn’t much to do but keep swimming. The sun had gone behind a big cloud and I was COLD. I noticed the cove extended to a point on my right. I decided the cove on the other side of the point had to be the cove from whence I came, so I changed course. When I got close enough, I called out to a man standing on the point, “Is that Island View?”
“The island’s over that way!” He pointed to the little island in the middle of the lake. I tried another tack, “Which campground are you staying at?” I ventured. He replied, “Brushy Point West.” Oh Christ. Brushy Point West was seriously far away from Island View. I had to clarify. Maybe this wasn’t as bad as I thought. “Is that this beach?” Affirmative. Shit shit shit shit shit. “Can I use your phone?”
“It’s back at the truck.”
I hesitated before saying anything else, waiting for him to offer to take me back to the truck so I could borrow his phone. He said nothing. I got out of the water and started walking.
“You’re one heck of a swimmer,” he called out.
“Thanks” I mumbled. I was walking quickly but I wasn’t sure where I was going. I was cold, wet, barefoot, wearing a bikini and sure that Dan thought I had drowned. I had no way of contacting him, nor did I have a way of getting back to our campground. I knew I was about a 5 minute drive away… at 40 miles per hour, that is about 3 miles, which is about… a mere 2 hours of swimming, provided I didn’t get lost. My eyes were brimming with tears. Calm down! You are a grown woman. You are not crying. Stop it!!!

Thanks to a healthy dose of self-administered tough love I was now a functional adult, on a mission. I would ask the next person I saw if I could borrow their phone. I approached a lady sitting at a picnic bench.
“Excuse me? Ma’am? Would it be possible for me to borrow your phone? I was swimming and I got lost and I need to be back at Island View which is one campsite away and I was hoping I could call my boyfriend and get him to pick me up?”
According to the kind lady, there was no reception but she was more than willing to give me a ride. I accepted and waited patiently as she explained, “I just need take do this shot before we go.” She swirled an amber liquid (whiskey? scotch??) around in a plastic cup and drew it to her lips as I tried to mask my horror. Hurriedly, she explained, “Oh its not like I’ve been drinking or anything… I just… I had already poured this and if I don’t drink it now, then… Then the, um, the ants will get it, you know.” What choice did I have at this point? I smiled and said “Oh sure!” cheerfully, as if taking a shot before getting behind the wheel was totally normal. I just wanted to get back to Island View before Dan totally freaked out. Meanwhile it was an hour and a half since I’d left and I knew he assumed I was in serious trouble.

As we ambled down the road toward Island View, in the distance, did I see what I thought I saw?? My car? Coming right toward us???
“Can you honk?? I think that’s my boyfriend!”
Indeed it was Dan, coming to fetch me. I jumped out of the car, thanked the lady, scurried to safety, and apologized profusely to Dan who indeed had experienced a panic over whether I had drowned and how to proceed. Luckily some other campers had been watching me with binoculars (yes this is totally creepy but I feel the ends more than justified the means in this case). They watched every misstep (misstroke) of my debacle and finally called to Dan, “Is that your wife?” He told me he initially ignored them, not realizing they were talking to him. Again they asked if I was his wife, and this time he listened. Although he didn’t have a watch, he’d finished his book, which in Dan-time means its been a while. He had no idea where I was and he was on the verge of jumping in to find me and he was considering calling the Chama police or rescue. The binocular guys invited Dan to come have a look, and sure enough it was me. According to Dan it was not long until he saw me get out of the water. It was then that he got in the car to come pick me up. Crisis averted….

On second thought, I might not play the “I Camped for a Wedding” card for now Dan has the equally potent “I Thought You Were Drowning, I Freaked Out, Relied on the Kindness of Some Binocular Toting Potentially Creepy Men, and Rescued Your Cold Wet Ass.”

Lesson Learned: It is not only important, when open water swimming, to sight your destination but also remember to sight the place from whence you began your journey.

4 thoughts on “How I Almost Had a Nervous Breakdown on Vacation

  1. rob says:

    P, Wow. You could’ve called that post, “When you do open-water swimming in an unfamilar lake, it pays to have a really good boyfriend.” That had me on the edge of my seat wondering how you were gonna get back.

  2. Natalie says:

    Kudos for staying calm. After my 1st open water swim, I can’t imagine calmly getting out of the water and assuming you would know what to do. You rule for staying cool like a cucumbs!

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