Eight months pregnant in mid-September, Lori McLeod tries to coax her husband, Scott, into a cold mountain swimming hole.
“Aw, come on. It’s just water. You won’t melt.”
We were in Switzerland, in a mountain town called Interlaken. It’s a gorgeous tourist village at the foot of the Alps and between two large lakes (hence the name). Like the Smokies where water seeps from rock faces and moisture-laden clouds envelop mountains, it’s one of those places that can be just full of water—in addition to the lakes, mountain snow and glacier runoff feed the rivers, creating waterfalls that tumble from huge green cliffs. And it rains in sheets.
We had planned a cycling trip around one of the lakes. Lori and I would lead some of the younger folks who were traveling with us on the daylong jaunt. We had rented bikes the night before, packed lunches, prepared proper clothing, and were ready to roll early in the morning.
The day began cloudy, precipitously teetering between breaking up or building up. A sprinkle turned to a steady rain that became a torrential downpour. By the time we were about a third of the way around the lake, our clothes couldn’t take on any more water, the rain laughing at our so-called waterproof gear.
As the rain came down even harder, Lori turned a deaf ear to my suggestions that we turn back—not an option. Instead, what I got was the line above, a line that is an all-too-familiar part of life with Lori.
Along the route there was a short trail that led up to a waterfall that promised to soak those who got close. Already drenched, Lori took the kids and hiked up while I watched the bikes. The gaggle returned all smiles and giggles, wet and wetter.
We rode on, smiling and laughing like crazy kids as the cool summer rain turned to a bone-soaking chill. Just when I feared hypothermia might actually set in, we peddled up to a restaurant where the most delightful Swiss waitress, Rebecca, put our ragged, wet crew in a private dining room—smart girl—and we ate and warmed up. She cranked up the electric wall heaters and we ordered platters of fries, warm bread and bowls of hot soup. Still soaked but re-energized for the last leg of our journey, we got back on our backs and peddled onward through the downpour.
This little adventure is typical of life with my wife, especially the part that includes getting wet—and also the part about finding refuge just before the fun turns potentially dangerous. Lori loves the water, whether it’s an icy mountain waterfall or a chilly sprint into the ocean. She grew up in Raleigh, N.C., swam competitively, and she started sailing on the Carolina coast with her father while a teen. Remember that overwrought, futuristic thriller “Waterworld” in which the ice caps have melted, the world is underwater, and Kevin Costner has mutated to have gills? Lori doesn’t, but there’s been a time or two when I’ve wondered.
She attributes her zest for fun in the water to her father. She says it’s his example she’s following when migrating toward whatever body of water may be nearby. I remember when we were still dating and some of Lori’s relatives would visit Raleigh each summer and stay at the same Ramada Inn. While visiting the hotel, Lori’s father had forgotten his swimming trunks, but no worries. He was down to his boxers and in the pool without a second thought. The first time that happened I was a bit surprised, but over time I learned it was a sort of family tradition.
My children can attest to the fact that their mom inherited their grandpa’s genes and has added her own nocturnal twist. After dark at the beach? No problem, Lori’s in for a quick swim. Pitch dark in some quiet anchorage after dinner on her father’s sailboat? She’s “rinsing off” with a quick jump overboard. Freezing mountain stream in a month when one shouldn’t go near the water because it’s just too damn cold? Yep, she’s in, at least for a few seconds.
Once we had sailed into Beaufort, N.C., and had to anchor in the river because all the boat slips in the town dock were full. We cleaned up, put on nice clothes, and I made two trips rowing the tiny dinghy in order to get the whole family over to a dockside restaurant for a sunset dinner. When we finished, I was taking the kids back to the boat while Lori waited on the dock for my return. We heard the splash, and the kids and I knew before turning around what it was.
Impatient, dress still on (thankfully), Lori had dove in and suddenly surfaced beside our little boat. “I didn’t want you to have to make two trips,” she said, laughing, stroking toward the anchored sailboat ahead of my clumsy rowing while I imagined the dozens of surprised dockside diners standing and clapping at her bravado.
Many times those quick, spur-of-the-moment dips have been preceded with that plea to me, and I can hear it in my head clear as a summer mountain morning after nighttime rain. It always starts out with “Aw come on, Scott” and then, depending on the situation, just fill in the blanks: “It’ll feel great. Just for a minute,” or, like the time in Switzerland, “It’s just water, you won’t melt.”
That “Aw come on, just for a minute” is like the sirens’ call, but instead of leading to a shipwreck it has been quite the opposite—25 years of wonderful married life together. From the time we first started hanging out together as students at Appalachian State University in Boone, she always used that same imploring line. Many of our early dates were simply trips to one of those mountain swimming holes only locals frequent. Lori was usually the one heading up the adventure, the one who knew how to make the most of an otherwise run-of-the-mill excursion.
And now it has passed on to the next generation. This summer our daughter Hannah has been trying to round up friends for a nighttime trip to one of the mountain swimming holes around Waynesville. Like her mom, water equals adventure. I was traveling with her and a school group last spring, and I found out later that Hannah had led a midnight excursion down to a Spanish beach during a bit of a squall. And yes, she headed right into the water.
I was a chaperone on that trip to Spain and should have been upset at Hannah’s daring. But how could I? Instead, I imagined that line, only this time with a twist: “Aw come on, Dad; it’ll be fun.”