In which a migrant laborer gives up drugs for Lent, attempts to swim to an island, and gives Buddhism the once-over.
Like many smokers of drugs, my lungs are much used and possibly abused.
Combustion and deliberate inhalation of plant material or chemicals is a particularly fast and effective way to get a psychoactive substance into one’s body but the negative effects are often instant and obvious.
Coughing and pain were my two main ones when consuming cannabis, altho whenever I was racked by a particularly vicious spasm I would think of Bridget Fonda as Melanie in Tarantino’s ‘Jackie Brown’ who opined thus:
“Coughing’s good! It opens up the capillaries. You know, when you cough you’re pulling in air, or in this case smoke, into parts of the lungs that don’t normally get used. So coughing’s good, it gets you higher.”
Not sure of her science however after the convulsions subsided I would usually be high so I always associated coughing with something positive.
That is until my throat started to feel like it was closing up and I would on occasion lie in bed wheezing like an old man.
Like my old man for example, who smoked cigarettes and then a (tobacco) pipe for a couple of decades.
Since switching to a vaporizer however things in the cardio department improved dramatically.
For those not familiar with the process the cannabis is not burned but heated up and one only ingests active ingredients as opposed to all the other pollutants created when you set fire to something.
Perhaps counter-intuitively I would enjoy exercise after a hit, altho ideally after a good half hour warming up with a few inexpertly executed yoga poses.
The first time I tried my vaporizer I got so excited while listening to Rihanna’s ‘Only Girl In The World’ on my ear phones I blasted faster than I had for years along a conveniently downward-sloping stretchin a local park.
Inhaling anything apart from oxygen is probably detrimental to athletic performance but after ceasing the daily toking on a short pipe I felt like I got my lungs back, and maybe the buzz of the pumping pop spurred me to exert myself more than previously.
Consumption of cannabis also seems to combine well with sea swimming, altho obviously without musical accompaniment.
Instead I jam my ears with waxy plugs designed to keep the water out and try to feel the water.
There are three main variables - temperature, chop and swell.
According to the Greater Wellington Regional Council it’s probably around 17 degrees Celsius out there altho in my experience it varies a lot depending on how fine the day has been.
I do wear a wet suit and cap but it still feels cold when I first get in, for the first few seconds anyway.
I’ve not got the post-swim shivers too bad this season but would really like to avoid hypothermia, especially as one of the first symptoms is confusion.
Take a few slaps to the face and you could easily drown, aka “the New Zealand death”.
It doesn’t matter how fit you are if your lungs are full of seawater and I’ve only recently worked out how to adjust my stroke to the conditions.
A few times I’ve been fully pounded and unable to continue more than a few minutes.
However then I just turn around and came back, which is a lot like going downhill when on land.
Suddenly all the sea’s kinetic energy is on your side and with the buoyancy of a suit it’s like you’re paddling a craft.
It’s an awesome feeling especially if the sun is shining and you’re being followed by curious gulls.
I really feel like I belong; I like to imagine I’m a sea creature chasing seals for sport.
However I have experienced paranoia about what else I may be sharing the sea with.
I’ve seen dolphins on numerous occasions but not in the relatively shallow waters between Eastbourne and Makaro / Ward Island, and never orca or sharks altho both are known to inhabit these waters.
If I spotted any kind of fin, round or pointed, I would probably shit my suit tho of course I understand I’m more likely to be struck by lightning than be bitten by a fish.
Despite that sharks are on my mind and also on the minds of others.
I met some guy down the beach who pretended he’d seen one, tho only as a joke, and again when I was in Lake Wanaka a comment about sharks was the opening remark of another bloke passing on a surf ski.
Several other people I know who swim are scared they might encounter one.
So why are they on minds so much?
Presumably they represent something beyond their real world threat.
If the sea is the subconscious, then what are sharks?
A reminder of mortality perhaps.
We know they’re a predator that’s bigger and better than us in their territory.
No gasping and blowing bubbles for them - sharks have mastered the trick of extracting oxygen from seawater as it passes over their gills.
If I could do that too I would wiggle thru the ocean like the Man From Atlantis rather than thrashing about on the surface in my comparatively ungainly manner.
That said I have increased my range, having completed a couple of two kilometer plus sea swims recently.
So I could probably make to the island I gaze at from the shore, I just have to make sure I can get back.
Painting by Michael Smither