Surviving 2020

Not everything bad happened in 2020. This was how the lockdown led us to install a swim spa, which was indeed very good.

In January 2020, we watched the daily COVID count rise and the world lockdown. Dale and I followed pandemic news reports on various channels, most reporting the same thing—hospitalizations, deaths, latest medical treatments, and possibilities of a vaccine in a year. It was difficult to escape. Some channels, such as Fox News, called the whole thing a hoax. In our tiny town of Julian, with a population of 2500, neighbors heard of no one who caught it, so, to many residents, COVID—like spirits, ghosts, or aliens—simply didn’t exist. That changed when one resident nearly died from COVID, eventually returning home in a feeble condition attached to an oxygen tank.

For the month of March 2020, we hunkered down on our mountain enjoying the spring snow and reading. Dale and I cleaned the closets, attic, and garage, amassing piles of donations for Habitat for Humanity or Goodwill for when they were ready to accept things again. I sewed masks for friends and family. When we needed a break from the snow, we hiked remote trails in the Anza Borrego Desert. I experimented with New York Times recipes. Thanks to my sister-in-law’s active sourdough, I baked lots of bread. We Face Timed with family and friends, including a Zoom sing-along for my niece’s birthday. I planted a field of lavender and pruned the oaks on our property. Dale practiced Bach’s difficult Fugues. We both studied Spanish on Duo and Rosetta Stone. And I swam at Ventura Cove.

When I swam in the bay, I wore my Farmer John wetsuit—a sleeveless long wetsuit—that carried me through the average fifty-eight-degree water. As I did my laps circling the buoys, I realized I could survive this shutdown no matter how long, so long as I had a place to swim. I felt supercharged each time I jumped into the cool water. It cleared my head. It was addicting.

December workout at Ventura Cove.

On one of my many trips to Ventura Cove, I noticed a flotilla of seals at the mid-point of the five buoys. Six senior citizens, ranging in age from late 70s to mid-80s, were outfitted with hoodies, long-sleeved full-body wetsuits, gloves, and booties. They reclined on personal floatation devices in the middle of the bay and solved the problems of the world. As with the rest of San Diego, the nation, and the world, their workout facilities were closed due to COVID, so these seniors improvised. They met every morning at nine to relax and reconnect—rarely swimming, mostly floating—but they managed something remarkable. They made the best of a horrible situation.

As restaurants, businesses, and workout facilities gradually reopened in the summer of 2020, I continued my workout regimen at the beach. The raft of seniors also persisted with their morning ritual. Come November, winter ocean upwelling plummeted water temperatures to the low 50s, so rather than abandon my routine, I indulged in a full-body wetsuit, like my senior mentors. I wanted to keep going, especially during the Santa Ana heat waves that swoop in the fall along with California wildfires. November smells like a late summer campfire. My invigorating swims washed off some of that ashy taste. But commuting an hour from Julian became unreasonable as gas prices crept up, so I researched the costs of a pool, installation, and pool companies. Besides giving me a place to swim, the pool could serve as a water storage tank for when the next fire raged on our mountain. Our own home was rebuilt after the Cedar Fire in 2003.

San Diego Pools gave me a starting estimate of $70,000 for a basic no-frills pool that would nestle nicely on the side of our house. That estimate included plans and permits, excavation, soil hauled, plumbing, electrical, shotcrete (steps and benches), waterline tile, coping, bottom finish, site cleanup, filter, pump, and lights. Their portfolio was beautiful, and I was almost convinced. The price, however, did not cover site prep, jackhammering, hardscape, a pool cover or fencing, and the upgrade of the main electrical panels.

My main stopping point was that rock removal was not part of the package deal. Our house is built on rocks, surrounded by rocks. Everywhere you look are rocks. Mostly granitic, a few showing signs of weathering, the rocks range from ten-pound shotputs to massive ten-ton boulders. Planting a garden works with above-ground planting beds, built on—what else—more rocks. Rock walls form our fences. The cost of pool installation would skyrocket as soon as the trench digger attempted the first hole. I abandoned the dream of an inground pool.

Above-ground pools, my second option, command a graded flat surface. Add in the rental of backhoe equipment and a person to do the work. I checked out Amazon and those pools require permits or fencing by the county. The cost continued to escalate, and now I dealt with a backlog of county permits and inspections. Apparently, people working from home decided a backyard pool was a swell idea. That’s when my brother, John, solved the problem. He usually does. He’s brilliant.

            “Have you checked out a swim spa?” he asked. John, a former competitive swimmer, and SD City lifeguard, knew what he was talking about.

            “Next time, I’m in San Diego, I’ll check them out. I want to swim in one first. Do you know a place where I can test them out?”

            “Call The San Diego Spa and Patio Store ( They might let you try out theirs, even though it’s still a pandemic.”

I showed up the next week along with my suit, towel, cap, and goggles. The salesman, Jeff, let me hop in and swim against the different speeds in their floor model, a California Spa. I was hooked and convinced in less than five strokes. The California model was too short for me since like my bro I swam competitively, but Jeff recommended the Endless Spa, giving me an additional four feet to stretch out. I signed the contract without ever swimming in that version of a swim spa, but I had a long way to go before this could be a reality.

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