They Don’t Know What They’re Missing

Lake Michigan is beautiful year ’round, but there’s only a short window of time when it’s warm enough for enjoyable swimming. This summer, with its record-high temperatures, that window cranked open a bit early. This hit home for me on Saturday when my husband and I went kayaking. Wading into the water with my boat, the warm water lured me in. We’d had a fair amount of rain in the preceding days and Bender Park, where we put in, was closed for swimming due to the high bacterial count, but I made a mental note that the season had arrived.

Exchanging end-of-day pleasantries with a colleague this evening, I mentioned that I was looking forward to a swim in Lake Michigan before commuting home to Wauwatosa. “Where are you going?” my colleague asked.

“To Wind Point,” the public park and beach just about 1/2 mile past Wingspread’s front gate.

“Don’t you need to be a member?” came the reply. Responding to my dumbfounded stare, the question was followed with “You mean Wind Point Pool, right?”

“No.” I said. “The beach.”

“You mean North Beach?” North Beach is one of Racine’s big success stories. Nearly a decade ago the city fixed leaking sanitary sewers, installed wetlands to treat storm water, and initiated a beach-raking program. North Beach, right in the heart of Racine, attracts thousands of visitors each year. But it wasn’t where I was headed.

“No,” I replied. “Wind Point. Right here. You know, with the lighthouse.”

“There’s a beach there?” …..

This sort of thing has happened to me before. A few Augusts ago there was an elderly gentleman sitting on a park bench overlooking the shore when I went down to swim. He was still there when I came out, wrapped in my towel and headed for my car. He stood up, intercepted me and politely said “May I ask what you were doing out there?”

“I was swimming,” I responded, wondering why this needed explaining.

“I’ve been coming here all my life and I’ve never seen anyone do that before.” Really? His comment caught me off guard. Admittedly, during his lifetime he would have witnessed Lake Michigan’s darkest of days. No one would have wanted to swim when dead alewives were washing ashore. But I don’t know which of us was more shocked – him at seeing me swim, or me at hearing his surprise.

To clarify, I know I’m not the only person to swim from Wind Point’s shores. During our summer conferences there are usually a few mavericks who will take a dip, and sometimes I’m there with them. I’ve had more than one guest, native of the Great Lakes but now living on the East or West coasts, who are like a sturgeon homing in on their native waters, determined to immerse even if it’s May and the water temperature has barely passed 55 F.

And it’s not as if people aren’t at the beach – they just aren’t swimming. My unofficial observation is that the most frequent activity is photography – senior pictures, engagement photos, photography students, lighthouse enthusiasts, that sort of thing. There’s always someone there with a camera. Heck, I once was among them – Susie Seidelman and I were down there last year so that she could take the blog’s banner picture. (No, I don’t normally write from the sandy shores.) In addition to the photographers, you might see family picnics, a couple taking an evening stroll, or paddlers launching kayaks.

But apparently you don’t see many swimmers. They don’t know what they’re missing.

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