The Estes Park Center of the YMCA of the Rockies has 860 acres of mountains nestled beneath Longs Peak. Most of the land is pristine, with only hiking trails to show human presence. The vast majority of the buildings, which include lodges and eating facilities, cabins, a theater, administration facilities, a “longhouse” (a roofed enclosure that provides walking and running space during winter months), various craft buildings and an indoor swimming pool, are clustered around a high mountain meadow — the altitude is 8,010 feet. It is one of the crown jewels of the YMCA system, which has been visited by quite a few of the 20th Century Presidents of the United States, European diplomats, and (most important) ordinary families looking for realistically priced accommodations, lots of outdoor activities and good inexpensive food. It must sound a bit as if I’m shilling for them, but I’m truly not. I’m simply a member, entitled for a fairly reasonable membership cost to swim year round in their very large indoor swimming pool.
Swimming is my favorite exercise. I’m not exactly clumsy but I’m not exactly not clumsy either and walking or hiking on uneven ground scares me. After several serious falls in the last few years, my fear of falling has grown. But if you’re in a swimming pool, how can you fall? I can push harder, either walking laps or swimming them, and not worry so much about such accidents. Much more than that, I have always hated sweating. I know that sounds stupidly girly-girl of me, but there it is. Sweating itches, attracts dust, makes you filthy and messes up your hair. Contrary to propaganda, women do not glow (except possibly Rita Hayworth, of whom this was said by her then husband Orson Welles). Women perspire and some women, like me, sweat. In a swimming pool, my hair is already messed up and wet, there is no dust, and if I’m sweating, how can anybody, even me, ever tell? And finally, instead of finishing a hike and then having to come in, shower and change in order to go out for errands or simply being with others in the world, after finishing a swim, I’m right there with a locker/shower room and my clothes packed up and ready for me. A shower, towel-dry my (very short) hair, get dressed and I’m ready for anything, oxygenated, invigorated and clean. Because the Y’s pool is heated and indoors, I can exercise and enjoy myself any day of the year without reference to Estes Park’s high winds or snowstorms or cold. Water temperature is kept at about 85 degrees and the temperatures in the locker rooms are just about that, so it’s a pleasure on a cold, blustery day to come in to the pool building and strip down to my bathing suit, not a penance. The pool is big. It has one area over ten feet deep, but most of it is no deeper than five feet, with the shallow end at about three feet, making it ideal for families to play in the water with their children. It is also easily divided into lanes for lap swimmers.
Estes Park has a municipal indoor swimming pool, but it costs more than the one at the Y and its hours are much more limited, because the municipal pool is used by the school district for swimming lessons and meets with other schools. (Our high school swim teams compete at a fairly high level, on the whole, for such a small school.) So, if you want to swim at the municipal pool, be prepared to get there at 11:30 and swim fast, because open swim is over at 12:30. At the Y, open swim takes place each day from 12:30 to 5:00 and from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. There are also classes and there’s lap swim times as well. I really do sound now like I’m advertising for them, don’t I?
But, although we have a fitness center in town and it wouldn’t hurt me at all to join and do some weight training, the reality is that if the swimming pool out at the Y didn’t exist, I would turn into a slug in the winter. It is too cold and windy for an indoor girl like me to enjoy walking or hiking outside (I’ve always had the strong feeling that the outdoors is a wonderful place to look at), and (as said above) I don’t like to sweat. Walking or swimming through the water exercises the muscles of my arms as well as my legs and torso, gives me an aerobic workout, and, if I use some of the water toys the Y has available, I can even get in some resistance exercises. It’s also wonderful for a person like me who has excess weight still to lose and who isn’t as limber as she used to be, because in the water it is easy and safe to stretch and extend legs and arms, bend backwards or sideways and in all ways loosen and limber one’s body.
And that’s not all. Walking or hiking can be quite solitary, which is, of course, one of their charms in such a beautiful place. And so it can be at the swimming pool. There are times in winter when I’m the only person in the pool, which can be really enjoyable: quiet, peaceful and it’s all my space for the time I’m there, to swim, cavort, tread water, float, do what I like. But mostly there’s always someone there (besides the lifeguards, of course, who are always there and have always been pleasant to talk to, although I’m sure they find my walking (or swimming) up and down a little boring). Sometimes it’s an elderly couple, walking back and forth, enjoying the water and the use of their limbs just as I am, and we’ll chat and exchange stories. Other times, and more often, are whole families, with mama holding the baby (festooned with a life jacket, one of the rules) and introducing it to the water, and the older kids splashing and shrieking around daddy, who’s got one of the water toys and is throwing it back and forth to his kids. Get a larger family group and there’ll inevitably be a game of keep away or of Marco Polo. I can’t quite see the point of this game, since from an outsider’s perspective it seems to consist only of one person yelling “Marco” and somebody else yelling “Polo”. I’m sure that’s not all there is to it, but close observation seems to indicate very little more. The swimming pool staff have stretched strings of banners over the pool at two points, in both shallower and deeper water, so when a group of high school age kids come swimming, there is suddenly (and always) a game of volleyball, which is usually a lot of fun to watch.
As I plow my way through the people enjoying the pool, I have been head butted by a toddler, backed into by a three giggly girls at a time, and nearly flattened by somebody diving into the pool (that time, the lifeguards were there in a heartbeat, because diving is strictly forbidden–some boy will either not know or figure the rule doesn’t apply to him, but that happens only once, the lifeguards are quite strict). Sometimes the lifeguards will play some (very loud ) music, and if there are people in the pool having fun, of course their voices echo in the big building. I duck under the water for some momentary peace and quiet. But mostly it’s a lot of fun watching people enjoy themselves. Sometimes I’m asked to take part for a little while in a game of pass the ball in a circle, which is about my speed. Nobody has asked me yet to take part in a volleyball game or in a game of keepaway and I’m just as well pleased. So it’s not just necessary exercise, it’s a fun thing to to do. And it always lifts my spirits.
If I’m fairly alone in the pool, it’s a great time to simply be. There are windows along each wall looking out at the mountains, with Longs Peak a sentinel over all. There are trees outside and often animals, elk, marmots, whatnot, ever changing. I get my zen on, and can stay in the moment (always hard for me to do) better while swimming than in any other place or situation. Or alternatively, it’s a good time to ponder an issue, plan a future, dream a dream.
Maybe if I’d been able to get out there to swim the last couple of days, I would have been better able to write a post for this blog this past Thursday and Friday. I could not seem to get started these last two days, and I thought my beginner’s luck at writing this blog had run out and I was hosed. So, yet another plus for swimming!
Part of my view as I drive out to the Y is given here in a picture I took last summer.