This was far and away the closest I have ever come to dying while doing a task.
But I'm still alive.
Read on for the details.
But first click and play this for some music to read to:
I wanted to do this task right from it's conception. And all of the discussion about it was good and valid, and I love spelunking (and go spelunking more often than most people), but there really isn't any way to prove that a cave has been untouched. Most caves I've been to have been rock, and there's no way to really prove nobody's been there before. You can't leave a footprint on rock, and even if there was dirt and there were no footprints, that doesn't prove that people weren't there. The absence of data doesn't qualify as determining the inverse assumption to be true. So caves are out, unless I could be relatively certain that I had been the first to discover the cave in question, which I don't know how to do short of moving a giant boulder or something like Doktor Harmon suggests. So I ruled out caves quickly.
Then I thought of the desert. I happen to live near a lot of giant deserts, which is promising. Because of the inhospitable nature of a desert, it attracts very few humans. But again, there's no way to determine with any degree of certainty that no human had been there before, because footprints get blown over or covered with sand or whatever. And then the meta part of my brain kicked in, and I thought about when new sand covers the desert, it's a new desert. Walking on that exact same piece of earth separated by a year would have you experiencing a whole new desert. But the location would be the same, and I thought doing that would feel too much (to me) like cheating. But the idea remained with me. Getting under something.
The very next thing I thought about was the kind of desert nobody thinks about; the ocean. The floor of the ocean is the least likely place on this earth a current era human could have touched. It would have to be away from a good surfing spot, and away from a good swimming spot, and away from any good underwater architecture that would attract SCUBA divers, and away from any good fishing, or more specifically away from good lobster or crab or clam locations. A dead part of the ocean that nobody would have any reason to go to.
OK. Easy enough. So in preparation I got my waterproof camera case and packed it with me everywhere I went in the case opportunity arose where I could get out to the beach and go for a swim. Well on Wednesday May 28 I was scheduled to work all day at my theater, but at about noon I was kicked out because another group had the space reserved, so I had a day completely open, so I headed to the beach. On my drive out, I made a mental checklist of everything I would need. Camera, underwater case, I even thought to bring a brick to tie to my camera to keep in even in the water, because I learned while doing this task that the camera in the case is very buoyant and I needed to put a weight on it to keep it down during that ordeal. So I had a brick that I tied to the tripod mount on the bottom of the case. I felt prepared.
Then I got to the beach and as I was walking down to the shore I thought of a potential problem, what if where I swam to was too deep to swim to under my own power? It's pretty tough to swim down. I'm an above average swimmer, I was on a water polo team for three years as a teenager, I was a certified lifeguard, and a junior lifeguard before that, I have saved people from drowning before and I learned from my lifeguard test that the toughest way to swim is straight down. So while walking down to the beach I devised a plan to get me down fast and easy. I dreamed up an idea of a large rock tied to a big balloon, the balloon would keep the rock floating, and when I got to where I wanted to go, I would untie the balloon and grab onto the rock and let it carry me down. I did not have a balloon or a rock. But I just figured I would find both things on the beach. Maybe I'd use a trash bag for the balloon, who knows? And while I was walking and thinking of these things, I passed a vacant lot that had construction type materials, and it had three things that I liberated. I took a few cinderblocks, some wire and an old bucket covered in dried concrete. On the beach with my equipment I tied the cinderblocks together and tied them to the bucket. I grabbed the contraption and put my camera around my neck and walked out into the surf.
It was cold. Not San Francisco cold, but still cold.
I made sure the bucket was upside down and had air in it and then tested the contraption to see if it would float, and it did. Easily. So I pushed past the breakers with my equipment and began a shockingly easy swim out into the ocean. I tend to have a lot of hubris about my abilities in just about all fields, and swimming is one of them, but I thought it would be more difficult to swim out with all of the shit I was lugging with me, but it was rather easy. I don't swim as regularly as I once did and was worried that I might not be strong enough, but that turned out to be a non-issue. So seeing as to how easy I was swimming I decided to go further out than I had originally intended, because it was so easy. I have no idea how far out I went, but there were sailboats near me, and the shore was far away and the people on the beach looked like ants. I didn't want to go too far, and reach a spot that was too deep to reach, but I did a bit of research on the ocean shelf and knew that the deepest it got where I was going to be diving was 45 feet. And probably more like 30. I just kept looking at Palos Verdes to the South and Point Dume to the North and knew that I couldn't cross the imaginary line between them or else risk being in water as deep as 120 feet. That would be problematic. So I kept my bearings and when I felt that I was far enough out from shore (but not too far), I took a couple of pictures of myself out in the ocean trying to get the shore behind me, and it kinda worked with one of the shots. Then I set the camera to the continuous shooting mode, took a deep breath and tipped over the bucket and allowed it to fill up with water.
It didn't take long for the weights to drag me down. And I was going down pretty quick, but I kicked the whole way down, just to be sure I got down as quick as possible. I have no idea how long it took to get down, but it felt like about 30 seconds. When the weights hit the bottom, I swam for the bottom, touched the sand and tried snapping as many pictures as I could. But getting good framing and composition wasn't at the forefront of my mind, the pressure down there was pretty intense. My ears and eyes were under extreme duress. When I felt I had gotten enough shots, I kicked around and pushed off the bottom and kicked as hard and fast as I could for the surface. It felt like it took longer to get up than it took to get down. Maybe it was because I had less air in me on the return journey. But I made it up with relatively no problems.
I had done it! Success! I kinda couldn't believe it. My crazy scheme worked!
Now you might be thinking to yourself, wait, he said that this task brought him closer to death than any task previous. What the hell? Sure that was daring and risky and harrowing, but close to death? Pff. Well, you'd be right for thinking that. Nothing of what happened up until this point made me feel my life was in danger at all. In fact I was ecstatic at having done what I set out to do, and my little bucket/brick weight trick worked and I think I got some usable shots. So I started to swim back to shore. I put my head under water and began doing my best and fastest crawl stroke (or as good a stroke as I could manage with a camera strap around my neck). after a few minutes of this I looked up to get my bearings and make sure I was heading toward the landmarks I'd picked out for where my towel and glasses and keys were, and as I looked around it seemed like I was in roughly the same place. Maybe not. So I checked the horizon, lined up Point Dume with a mountain behind it and put my head under again and began swimming again. After about ten minutes of this, I stopped again to get my bearings and check my location against the landmarks, and found that I had made progress, but not much.
Not much at all.
And then I began to sense it.
The rip current pulling me out to sea.
I looked around to weigh my options. I could swim to Point Dume where I know the current kicks back around and I could get in rather easily, but that was about a ten mile swim (and then a ten mile walk back to my shit on the beach), I wasn't sure about the current South at Palos Verdes, so decided that it wasn't an option. Or I could just try to power through the rip current the mile or two back to shore and maybe get some help from some waves. That was what I decided to do. So I just knuckled down and swam as hard and fast as I could for as long as I could. Every time I got tired I went into a side stroke to conserve energy, but I never stopped moving. Because if I stopped moving I'd drift a little further out and negate some of the progress made.
I don't think I could go so far as to say I was scared, but I was definitely concerned. I knew that my strength was finite and the tide's strength was immortal. So I decided to just keep swimming.
And I did think to myself that my life was in serious jeopardy. And the next thought is that this would've been a much better completion for Nearly Pointless. I was in far greater danger here than I was for that task. But then I told myself that this one wasn't pointless or even nearly pointless. There was a point here. And I swam on.
I have no idea how long I swam, but I'm guessing in the neighborhood of two hours. When I felt the first swell of a breaker go past me, feeling the current change for even that brief moment was like taking the best drug ever (I would imagine). It didn't take long after feeling that first swell that I was able to ride waves back to shore. I have rarely been as exhausted as I was upon reaching shore. My legs didn't really work too well. I stumbled out of the water onto the beach and there was a woman with three children near and she looked worried. I must have looked... interesting. I took a picture of myself right then so you could all see how I felt at that moment. Exhausted, sore and completely drained. But still alive.
I thought about the fact that somebody could have touched that spot (as unlikely as it seems) I will go to the defense that if you happen to feel that I couldn't be sure that nobody touched it (and I can't prove it. I'm just going with the strong likelihood that it's been untouched) that it's not the same piece of ocean floor that somebody may have touched if somebody did. So I'm combining my theories about the shifting sand from the desert and the remote and inhospitable location. So I feel confident that I have completed this task as well as it can be submitted.
I have included every picture taken that day below.