40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#106: Lancaster DoubleTree

view down pool to stingray tilework on wallLocation: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Configuration: 2 lanes x 20 yards

Fee: Available at no additional charge to hotel guests only

My first indoor pool swim in six months happened here at the Lancaster DoubleTree in September, where I stayed in order to visit my mother — through two panes of glass, natch — in another first of the pandemic era. I’ve been back twice since, most recently with my tape measure to check the length because, yes, I am that much of a pool nerd. This is no time to be picky, given the paltry pool openings and hours these days, but this place is actually pretty good.

play pool with frog slide

The hotel — originally the independent Willow Valley Resort — bills itself as a golf resort with water park. Boosting its claim to the latter are the two lap lanes, rec area in the regular pool, hot tub, and spacious play pool that earned my young nephews’ stamp of approval. Also, check out the great murals all around the deck of the regular pool — sea turtle, whale, and stingray, oh my!

Lap swimming is a pleasure with the morning sun streaming through the eastern wall of windows. Although there are no Ts on the walls or backstroke flags, it’s easy to follow the line on the bottom and the ceiling ribs and pipes. The 20-yard distance was good for easing back to indoor swimming, even encouraging me to do some IMs. The water is a tad warm as you’d expect of a hotel pool. Depth ranges from 3 feet at the walls to 5 feet in the middle.

view from the other end of the pool

The CDC has indicated that chlorinated pool water deactivates the coronavirus, but nonetheless I’ve noticed a tendency of pools to be overchlorinated these days. The chemicals here are so strong that I end up with a dry, sore throat, which is a worrisome symptom in this COVID era. Today I drank diluted orange juice during my swim and had hot tea afterward, both of which helped.

During all three of my morning lap swims this fall, I had both lanes to myself and never shared the pool with more than two other people. Today it was just me the whole time.

During my most recent two days in Pennsylvania, the state implemented new restrictions for travelers. Whenever I’m able to return, I’ll be glad to do so for many different reasons, this pool being one of them.

hot tub with underwater mural

The wall art is especially nice in the hot tub alcove.




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Mohonk Mountain House Pool: Nephew’s First Swim

O. gets ready to get wet

The Mohonk Mountain House‘s beautiful 20-yard pool may fall short of the length needed for my consideration, but it scores big as the site of my nephew’s first swim. We were up there last week in celebration of his grandma’s big birthday, and little O. liked his first dip so much that he went back for more the next day. His aunt is very proud!

He likes it!We did two laps, me using a diagonal egg-beater kick to hold O. up on my chest, taking in the natural light and snowy views at either end. Look at his impressive concentration as he absorbs this amazing experience. We also enjoyed blowing bubbles with suitable sound effects, splashing the gutter, and finding the sunny spot. I feel certain that this won’t be his last pool as a zero-year-old.

Pool viewI also have to commend him on his venue selection. Aside from lacking five yards, this is a very tasteful, mid-2000s addition to the historic New Paltz resort, which previously had lake swimming only. Timber framing and muted tiles and lounge chairs give it a natural feel, and you can’t beat the views toward the Catskills from the large window banks on three sides. Plus, swim diapers are available free of charge. We scared the other patrons away had both pool and locker rooms to ourselves for this special occasion.

In case you swim so much that you lose your mental faculties, a helpful sign reminds you how to open the door to exit the pool deck. With our guest stay expiring, we made our exit, eager for more shared pool time.Instructions for opening a door


#32: Asphalt Green George Delacorte Olympic Pool

post-2008 looong swim

Photo by Neil Ohanlon.

Location: Upper East Side, New York

Configuration: 8 lanes of 50 meters, or various configurations involving 25- and 20-yard lanes

Fee: Free via Fitness Passbook

Fees to Date: $158.74

I can deal with hairballs, and I can deal with attitude, but they make for a demoralizing combination when at the same pool. That is why I am just not that into this Olympic-sized pool located a hop, skip, and a jump from my apartment.

The good news is that my visit here last weekend allowed me to do my last loooong swim in preparation for Stage 1 of 8 Bridges later this month. This will be my first marathon swim attempt since 2009, and I’ve enjoyed having the goal to focus on. I had planned to do the training swim at Manhattan Plaza so I could bask in the hot tub (hello, Iceland!) and sun deck afterward. Unfortunately, they turned me away; no guests allowed on summer weekends. Pondering the alternatives,  Asphalt Green seemed most logical, so that’s where I went. It has the advantage of easily visible digital clocks, helpful for keeping track of feeding times–something that would have been harder at Manhattan Plaza.

Because my trip here was on short notice, I hadn’t arranged to meet up with any friends, didn’t bring my camera, and didn’t want to “count” it. Part-way through, I got inspired to do the requisite laps of butterfly to make it count and decided I would therefore also have to do the blog post. The photo above is from 2008 after an even longer training swim; for a better sense of the pool, here are someone else’s pictures.

The pool opened in my neighborhood shortly after I moved to New York. It aspires to send New York swimmers to the Olympics, a worthy goal that is still a work in progress. The name comes from another building that is part of the site and used to be an asphalt plant, and I suppose the green is the artificial turf field. The complex has become quite the lively little corner of Yorkville. I was a joined in 2007-2009.

Having said some nice things, it is now time to present my main complaints.

How bad are the hairballs? Well, Westchester John has named the biggest one  Willard after the 1970s B movie of man versus rat. He reports that the masters team swimmers joke about lost toupees when they encounter particularly sizable specimens. Relief is on the way in August, when the pool closes for its annual cleaning. Why they don’t clean more often (and less disruptively) or have their Scuba class or lifeguard trainees rescue the hairballs I couldn’t tell you.

How bad is the attitude? Like the hairballs, it comes in different shapes and sizes. Some of it is turf related; space is very tight due to the number of schools, clubs, teams, tri groups, and other programs that have assigned times, leaving scant room for members. Lap swim is often squeezed into just four lanes, so there is a lot more bickering about space and etiquette than you might expect at such a large pool. That schedule is further reduced by frequent closures for meets and special events.

Equally frustrating is the antagonism between members and management. When I was a member, I felt like management constantly belittled us, poo-pooing legitimate concerns, taking its time on maintenance and repairs, and imposing restrictions that detract from the pool experience. One rule they implemented made circle swimming mandatory and disallowed the splitting of a lane by two swimmers, for example.

Maintenance projects drag on interminably (much like the building of Asphalt Green’s new pool in Battery Park City, which was supposed to have opened months ago but keeps being delayed). I remember tile work on the deck, for example, that had diving boards taken out of use and “caution” tape all over for what seemed like forever. The membership cards didn’t work to open certain necessary entrances for a long time after system upgrade. An on-deck sauna did not function the entire time I was a member, and an underwater viewing room seems to have been repurposed for storage. A digital display screen that used to show the time and other information was always a few minutes off, and rather than fixing it they stopped using it to show the time. For $100/month, you’d think there would be warm water in the showers, but the temperature was often cool or fluctuating. The “solution” was to post signs admonishing members to “please be patient” while showers warmed up. Um, if I get through my entire shower and it’s still not warm, I don’t think the problem has to do with my own lack of patience.

Two years of cold showers, broken saunas, in-lane cat fights, and hairball dodging was enough for me, and I gave up my membership after my 2009 marathon swim training was over. It’s taken me a while to find ways to hit the same yardage tallies, requiring traveling farther from home but costing less. Oddly, I am now grateful to Asphalt Green for being so mediocre. If I liked it any better, this project may not have ever come about, and I would have missed out on many wonderful experiences.


Not a Pool: West Side Y Small Pool

West Side Y small pool
Janet had helped me plan my swim at the West Side Y so that I’d finish up when the so-called small pool was available. Previously unaware that this pool existed, I was excited to see it–and it did not disappoint. Entering from the showers at the upper left corner above is quite simply breathtaking. Look at the beautiful Spanish tiles, painted arches, colorful windows, and dramatic Neptune mosaic (bonus points if you figure out why it’s rated PG-13). If the skill and love that went into this pool were more common, the world would be a much happier and prettier place.

Neptune mural

At 20 yards, this pool might be used for laps at a lesser facility, but here it is the teaching pool, and the water is kept at a warm, learning-friendly temperature. We had to leave when a gaggle of extremely cute young children paraded in for their swim time.

Piecing together information from various sources, I believe that both pools were built at the same time as part of the 1930 building that the Y moved to from its 1896 home on West 57th Street. The new facility was the largest-ever Y up until that time. The architect,  Dwight James Baum, had a thing for Romanesque and Moorish styles, and he was not shy about expressing himself in this commission. His flair and attention to detail are evident throughout, including the marble columns and arched doorways on West 63rd Street, ornate chandeliers in common spaces, and that medieval-style door we saw in the larger pool. Alas, his masterpiece was being built as the U.S. economy slid into the Great Depression, and the small pool’s ornamentation was in question. None other than King Alfonso XIII of Spain came to the rescue, donating the tilework to ensure that the small pool was outfitted according to Baum’s splendid vision.

Hannah,Janet, and stained-glass windows

Some 75 years later, the tiles were showing their age, and again Spain stepped in, this time at the behest of a Y member originally from Spain. A 2006 restoration was completed with more than 600 hand-painted tile pieces created by a Spanish company called Adex. It’s an interesting story that I couldn’t do justice to without lifting it entirely, so I recommend you check it out: Tile Restoration of the Spectacular Spanish Pool of the West Side YMCA.

I’m counting this as not-a-pool because it is not set up for laps. I should point out, however, that the pesky rope separating deep end from shallow end did not deter one lap swimmer while Janet and I lazed around on floaty noodles. I should also point out that, pools aside, this entire Y has a truly wondrous array of offerings. The international organizations Achilles Track Club and Elderhostel both started here, the Writers Voice has its home here, there are overnight accommodations, a pre-school, and all the other fitness and community services one expects from a YMCA. I highly recommend a visit.