Need adventure? Swim naked at Barton Springs

Pam LeBlanc, Elli Overton, Heidi Armstrong and Cate Brooks Sweeney (clockwise from left) swam a Naked Mile at Barton Springs Pool under cover of darkness this morning. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
Pam LeBlanc, Elli Overton, Heidi Armstrong and Cate Brooks Sweeney (clockwise from left) swam a Naked Mile at Barton Springs Pool under cover of darkness this morning. Photo by Pam LeBlanc


I’d bet money that the guy swimming across Barton Springs in a full-length wetsuit before dawn this morning never guessed that four completely naked women had just glided past him.

But that’s what happened during today’s Naked Mile.

I blame Heidi Armstrong for the shenanigans. She blames fellow swimmer Francine Fowler. Some point at a couple of guys on the Longhorn Aquatics swim team at the University of Texas. A pair of aqua joggers might have had something to do with it, too.

Regardless, Armstrong mentioned the idea of swimming a mile, under cover of darkness, across Austin’s famous spring-fed pool, to me and I couldn’t rip off my clothes quickly enough. (Well, I did wait until I got to the pool.) It’s my Year of Adventure, you know.

In the end, four of us gathered at 5:45 a.m. today to test the waters, unencumbered by so much as a stitch of clothing. We did wear caps and goggles, and until the last moment, I snuggled under a thick furry deck jacket to ward off the chill. (One of my friends insisted I looked like a flasher as I stepped out of it into the dark.)

But the build-up was tense. I woke up early, wondering if I’d freeze. I swim 2 miles almost every day, but in a heated pool. What if I couldn’t make the entire mile?

Cate Brooks Sweeney, aka “The Naked Librarian,” fretted that her skin was so white that her rump would glow as if it had natural bioluminescence.

Elli Overton, aka “The Naked Olympian” (she represented Australia in swimming at three Olympic Games), at first planned to keep her suit on. We talked her out of it. Literally.

Heidi Armstrong, aka “The Naked Captain,” woke up every hour on the hour all night long (“like I had a flight to catch,” she said) in anticipation of our adventure.

A couple of other people were swimming when we arrived at Barton Springs. We walked down the steps and headed to the far end of the pool, so we wouldn’t make ourselves obvious. The darkness cloaked us, though. We slipped off our clothes and eased into the water, like mermaids heading home.

I’ve always loved to skinny dip – not because I’m an exhibitionist, but because it plain feels good on the skin, and seems natural and freeing. I like to peel off my suit and jump in the water after dawn waterskiing sessions, and always plunge into ice cold lakes and streams without clothing when I’m backpacking.

But the Naked Mile marked my first fiber-free foray into a pool that draws thousands every day during summer months. And while women are allowed to go topless, I’m pretty sure total nudity is frowned upon, at least during daylight hours.

Once in the water, we kept moving, to hold onto our body heat as long as possible. We zipped back and forth four times, glowing white torpedoes powering through an oasis as dark as the night sky.

Armstrong put in a half lap of naked backstroke. I took a few strokes of butterfly. Overton cut through the cold with the most beautiful stroke, and Sweeney, who swam from Alcatraz to the San Francisco shore during a race last summer, freaked out about what might lurk below.

“I had a couple of thoughts I had to get ahead of before they ruined things, like what a morning it would be to finally spot the eel, and I hope there aren’t any nibbley creatures swimming about,” Sweeney said. “Mostly I just felt rather serene – and, maybe, low maintenance?”

We agreed that the cold water made us hyper aware of what parts of our bodies were at the surface and which ones were submerged. We loved not needing any gear. We savored the last lap especially.

“Poor unlucky blind salamanders!” a friend quipped on FaceBook afterward.

Our mile complete, we stood near the edge, laughing that we had a secret nobody else knew. We climbed out, wrapped ourselves in towels and sipped hot tea from Thermoses.

We can’t wait to do it again. But we’re not saying when.

Author: Pam LeBlanc

Pam LeBlanc writes about fitness and travel for the Austin American-Statesman. She has worked for the Statesman since 1998 and written her weekly fitness column, Fit City, since 2004.

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