Catalina Channel Swim (8-7-08)

After years of thinking about it, months of planning, and days of extreme anxiety, I could not wait to start the swim. We had just spent the last two hours trying to rest on the boat ride from Long Beach harbor to Doctor’s Cove on Catalina Island. I had a headache, was hot, and the feeling in my stomach had me worried that if moved the wrong way I would be joining the crew hanging over the railing of the boat feeding the fishes last nights dinner. The winds were just over 10 knots and the resulting waves made it a bit difficult to walk around the boat without holding on. I sat down on the bench and Jim attached a light stick to the back of my suit and then I lay down for a few minutes. In the midst of the commotion of everyone helping with the kayaks and fixing up the drink bags Nate came over to tell me that Kate’s boat was at the cove and she was about to get in the water. I walked out to the boat deck and saw her standing on the beach with the floodlight shining on her. I have watched her walk into and out of the water so many times but to watch her this time I could barely contain my tears. I wanted to holler and scream for her but thought I might throw-up so I asked Nate to whistle for me and I clapped my hands as loud as I could until she had swam out of the cove and was on her way. Her whole boat and crew joined in the noise making as she cruised through the water with her usual grace and consistency.

With Kate now in the water, I knew it was my turn and I still had to put on the lanolin. I had only had one practice swim with lanolin and was concerned about its intense viscosity. Rubbing it on the skin was kind of like trying to spread taffy on a dinner plate. Kjirsten volunteered to help out and used a pair of Jim’s gloves to spread it around my neck, under my arms and on my inner thighs (basically any spot where my skin and suit would rub). I sat down on the edge of a cooler so as not to mess up any of the boat furniture and asked my sister to get me as soon as they were ready. I suddenly remembered that I forgot to put in my earplugs and scrambled back to my swim bag and spread the wax plugs over my ear. I think that bit of excitement was enough to get my intestines pumping and so I headed to the head for fecal relief. It was an additional mental relief because I had been worried about the possibility of having to poo in the middle of the channel.

Finally the kayaks were ready and in the water, the crew was ready and I was dressed and ready. Jim guided me to the edge of the boat and calmly told me that whenever I was ready I could jump in. The boat captain was shining a floodlight on the water and I could see the masses of kelp waving at me in the water and a long skinny silver fish swimming past the boat. Jim pointed to the shore and to the kayakers (Nate and Ed). I climbed up on the railing and jumped in feet first into the illuminated water. As soon as the water hit my face I felt an instant sense of relief. My hot pulsing forehead was soothed and my restless body calmed by the 70-degree water. I swam into the cove and walked up on the beach almost at the stroke of midnight. I rose up my arms (the starting signal for Jim) and headed back to the water. Just then, Dave emerged from the water to take my picture. I struck a quick pose and then eagerly walked back down to the water, not giving enough time for Dave to stuff the camera back in his swimsuit. I hopped in and started swimming, forgetting about the roped buoy line that rubbed over my back and making no attempts to swim around the beds of kelp that tangled around my arms and body. I looked for the lights of the boat and the glow sticks on the kayaks and swam. When I finally found the kayaks were next to me I looked back for Dave.

Dave and I were introduced through Forrest and met for the first time on winter morning swimming around the cove at Corona Del Mar. Dave was also preparing to swim the Catalina Channel at the end of August and agreed to be a companion swimmer and help out on the boat. On our previous swims Dave and I would swim head to head and as we rounded each buoy he would swim backstroke to give me the chance to catch up around the corners. But now in the dark night I could hardly see a thing and finding the green glow of a single light stick on Dave’s back was proving challenging. I decided to just keep swimming and Dave would find me.

The waves were bouncing us all around. At one turn of my head I would see the kayak and on the next it had disappeared beneath the crest of the wave. I could catch glimpses of light sticks that were either Dave a kayak or I thought maybe they were another boat out on the water. I felt confused and started lifting my head up to find my dad on the kayak. After 30 minutes I heard voices calling out and my dad moving his light stick back and forth and I knew it was time for a feeding. I lifted my head up and swam close to his kayak. Dave came over to us and told me he was going to get out for a while and get back in later. I said okay and watched him swim back to the boat as I took a short swig of perpetuem from a bottle that my dad handed to my. I asked my dad if he could move back because I could not see him but I knew that would be hard to do with the waves and the darkness. I quickly threw the bottle back into his boat and then put my head down and kept swimming.

I continued to struggle to keep myself between my dad’s kayak and Nate’s. When I would turn to look for my dad I was blinded by the white light of the boat but when I would look for Nate I often could see nothing but darkness as his light sticks were obscured as he dipped up and down in the waves. I felt like I was a ping pong being batted between the two kayaks. I would get close to one and then veer towards the other only to find I was too close and then veer back again. On several occasions I ran into the back of a kayak (the next day I noticed a small bump on my head the likely result of these cranium/kayak collisions). The disorientation was a little frustrating, but I remembered that Forrest had told us that this process of learning to swim with kayak guides and swim companions was like a dance and it just takes a while to figure out what your partners are doing and then things will go much more smoothly. I held onto that thought as I kept swimming.

The disorientation may not have improved drastically by the time my sister jumped in the water to join me, but I did feel a lot better about it. When she was close, I could see the green glow of Genevieve’s glow stick when I breathed to the right. However often I could not see if she was in front to the side or behind. Sometimes I would figure it out by accidentally running into her or she into me. Jim was amused by our pauses to apologize to one another mid stroke and dubbed us the “sorry” sisters.

After a few feedings, it was time for my dad to get out. Nate escorted my sister and I ahead as my dad went back to the boat. As we swam ahead of the boat the water became darker and the bioluminescence from the tiny marine creature became stronger. With every stroke there were streams of tiny sparkles that appeared like slow motion firecrackers in the dark water. I could hear the noise of the boat fading behind us. I lifted my head up to see just how far away from the boat we had traveled but Nate and Genevieve encouraged me to not worry about the boat and that it would catch up and so we kept swimming.

Not long after the boat caught up, I started to hear a strange clicking noise under water. At first it was faint and then startlingly clear and loud. At the moment it became loudest my sister bolted up out of the water and hollered “I think I just saw something”. I saw her looking behind her perhaps to see if that something was now following us but there was nothing to see but dark water and dark sky. I soon realized that the strange clicking noises were from dolphins (Genevieve later told me that one of the dolphins swam so close under her that she could almost touch it).

At the next feeding Kjirsten jumped on the kayak. I immediately recognized her ponytail illuminated by the lights of the boat and the green glow sticks. By this point we had abandoned using the glow stick as a signal to stop for a feeding as I was having so much trouble just seeing them let along seeing them being waved back and forth. Instead Nate would just holler “emily emily emily emily emily” as many times as necessary until I lifted my head up. Once we were stopped my sister said she would be getting out at the next feeding and I knew that we had been out there for over 2hrs.

I decided not to wear a watch for the swim and asked the crew to not tell me what time it was or how far we had traveled but I always had a rough idea of things based on the appearance of the sky and the rotation of the swimmers and kayakers. I also knew that Karin was scheduled to swim with me until sunrise. So when I saw her jump in I knew it was sometime around 3am.

I stopped for a feeding and felt my stomach turn over. I was worried that the drink mix was making me queezy and then I was worried that the waves were making me sick and finally decided that it was the diesel fumes from the boat that were making me sick. I tried to burp and fart and all these helped and tried to swim closer to the outside. At the next stop Nate asked how I was doing and I commented on the exhaust. Karin remarked that she was noticing it too and that made me reassured that I was not sea sick and the drink mix was not making me ill. I just needed to wait for the winds to change and the exhaust to go away and I would feel better.

I started looking up to the stars when I turned to breath. They were bright and glowing and I could see Orion. As time went on I saw them turn to grey and slowly fade. As the stars faded the kayaks became more visible. I could see the outline of Kjirsten and Nate on the kayaks and could see the flower pattern on Karin’s swim cap. I knew that the sun would soon be rising and was very relieved. The water turned from black to grey, and finally to blue. By the time the sunrays were shining on the water I could see the most amazing crystal blue colors and the bouncing waves of the nighttime calmed to more gentle rollers.

Jim called from the boat to Karin that it was time for her to get out and after another feeding Kjirsten also exited the water. I figured it was breakfast time for the crew but I could not see or smell anything. (They were all intentionally careful to not eat out on the deck in front of me –but Nate still managed to smell the tantalizing odors of warm breakfast of bacon and eggs while he begrudgingly chewed on his Cliff Bar).

Nate and I cruised along and I felt a second wind. I could see. I had made it to daylight. I was not running into anything. I was calm and comfortable. The waves had settled. My arms felt good. My head felt good and my stomach was calm. I knew that if I had made it this far I could make it all the way. All I had to do was keep going one feeding at a time.

Next Genevieve jumped in on the kayak and we continued to cruise though the blue water. I could see jellyfish below me and pieces of kelp on the surface would occasionally brush by. On one turn of my head I saw a bird (that looked like a Pelican) to my left side. I thought this was a good sign that we were nearing the coastline. At another of the feedings Genevieve told me that we could see the lighthouse and I paused to look ahead.

There had been several land sightings on the swim. The first was when Nate excitedly reported in the middle of the night that he could see the lights of LA. The second was at a feeding where I could see the swirling light of the Pt. Vicente lighthouse and now in the clarity of the morning we could all see the mainland in front of us and the lighthouse perched on the cliff of Palos Verdes.

I told myself I could not get excited yet and knew that we still had a ways to go. I thought about hiking up mountains or over passes in the Sierras and how even when you could see the top it was still very far away. I used to stare at the snow and refuse to look up until I had reached the top. I thought of the lighthouse like those mountaintops and decided that I would not think about being close until I could make out the outline of the rocks on the beach and so onward we swam.

Karin and Dave jumped in the water to join me. Karin called out “You are going to be in the middle of a Karin / Dave sandwich” I loved looking to each side and seeing a friend; one on a kayak and one swimming each direction that I looked. I felt so lucky to have so many wonderful people supporting me and sharing the experience. As we swam the water temperature dropped to 64 degrees. I had been so worried about that cold water current but when I finally felt it I was relieved. The water felt refreshing compared to the biting 48-degree water of Lake Berryessa in the winter or the chilly swells of San Francisco Bay’s Aquatic Park.

Stephanie took over for my sister on the kayak. I was glad to see her in the water. I knew that she had suffered seasickness on the ride over and hoped that some time on the water would sooth her stomach. I watched her purple suit and tan sunhat as she kayaked by our side.

I could sense some excitement on the boat and saw that the girls and my dad were dressed in their swimsuits and moving around. I could not contain myself at this point because I knew that meant they were preparing to jump in and swim and this meant that we were very close. At the next feeding a flurry of bright colored caps and suits bounded off the boat and speckled the water around me. It was like a great swim party. I could see my dad, Christine, my sister, and Kjirsten all gliding through the water and Stephanie and Nate smiling on the kayaks. Karin boarded the boat to take pictures.

Nate handed me a bottle and gave me a serious look. He told me that this was my last feeding and that I could NOT receive any help from anyone getting up on shore. (He later told me he was worried that I would get disqualified and we would have to do it all again). I said okay and put my head down and headed toward shore surrounded by the colorful entourage of family and friends.

I was so excited to finish but I felt sad that my mother would not be at the beach to greet us. I had made an error it telling her which beach to go to and had realized it as we approached the shore. I hoped that she could see the boat coming in and I thought of her standing on the shore knowing I would not get to see her in person until we were home.

When we were almost at the shore I lifted my head up. There was someone standing on the beach taking pictures. He was right at the edge of the water. As soon as my eyes came into focus I realized it was Forrest. I was thrilled. My dad and Dave swam up behind me and Nate waited off shore. They advised me to take it slow walking up the beach.

I remembered this exit from helping on Michele’s crossing and knew I was lucky to encounter this beach with low swell. I waited for the surge to move forward and I took a few steps and when it pulled back I grabbed onto the rocks and held on. At the next surge I was able to walk all the way up the beach and stand up next to Forrest. Everyone hollered from the water and the boat and the official time stopped at 9hrs and 35 minutes.

I wanted to jump up and down but as I started wave with excitement I lost my balance and had to hold onto Forrest’s shoulder to not fall over. He asked me how it was and I told him it was the “best swim ever”. I stared back across the ocean back at my friends and family at the water and the rocks. I could not believe that I had finally done it. I had swum from Catalina Island. I had swam from a place that seemed so far away that we used it as a measure of air quality (because only on a good day could you ever see something so far away) and Nate had kayaked the whole way too.

My dad joined me up on the beach and Forrest took our picture. I was so happy that he had been with me. I had to thank him for this whole idea in the first place and was thrilled that he was there standing on the beach with me at the end. Forrest took a few more pictures and then told me to get back to the boat and get warm. Before I left he pointed on the water to the boat the Bottom Scratcher (Kate’s boat). I was relieved that she was close to shore and wanted to talk to her but knew I would have to wait.

We all headed back to the boat and climbed in for the trip back to Long Beach harbor. We were all relieved and excited after an amazing adventure.

Thank You all my dear friends and family and supporters that made this possible. I could never have done this without you.

Stinging Seas

Experiencing the ocean seems is not complete without a few stings. In the last month I got to experience stings from a jellyfish and a stingray. While swimming in Aquatic Park in the San Frasicso bay my arm met up with a jelly fish and my stinging skin quickly let me know that they were not friends. The sting did not last long but left marks on my arm that looked like the burns I used to get from being careless with the wood-burning stove except they were in tentacle patterned slashes across my wrist. By far a much more painful sting was the stingray that found my foot at Seal Beach. This beach is famous for its large population of stingrays that are attracted to the warm waters of the San Gabriel river that are released into the ocean at the jetty. I was aware of their numbers and had called back to Kate "remember to do the singray shuffle" as I slid my feet across the sand. Seconds later I shuffled right into a stingray that stuck its barb into my left foot. The pain was immediate and rather intense. On the actual wound it felt like a cut but my whole foot hurting and I felt a little shaky and like I was sweating. Kate helped me back up to the dry sand and a nice man helped us. Another man jogging down the beach alerted the lifeguard at the other end who picked us up in his truck and back to the station where I could soak my foot in hot water. The lifeguard told us that the barb on the stingray has a protein that enters the bloodstream when they slash their barb against your skin. This protein (which is killed in hot water) acts like a poison and is the reason for all the pain. As I was soaking my foot, two more stingray victims came into the station and we all sat side by side soaking our feet. The lifeguard told us that on any given day they have 20-30 stingray incidents (and those are just the ones that are reported). He told us on a good day they have only 2-3.
In a very strange way I feel even closer and more comfortable with the ocean after my two encounters. Perhaps if I let a little baby shark gnaw on my ankle I can finally get over my fear of underwater teeth.

Lake Tahoe 16 miles (7/12/08)

When we arrived to Lake Tahoe on friday morning the smoke had settled across the Tahoe basin and it was difficult to even see the water from the road. After suffering through a week of central valley heat with temperatures over 110 and thick smoke in the air, I was starting to feel like I would never again have a breath of cool clean air. We went for a 2 hr swim and both Kate and I felt our lungs burn and got out of the water with a headache. By then I was seriously doubting that we would be able to do our long swim that weekend as planned. Luckily, when we woke up Saturday morning an overnight wind had cleaned up the smoke a bit and you could actually see across the lake (far from normal air quality but a vast improvement). We decided to give it a go and if the smoke settled in again we would quit early. My dad dropped us off at a private beach in front of the Hyatt at Incline beach. The man standing guard kindly let us in (which he was not supposed to do) but told us to hurry. My dad drove to the end of the road and Kate and I hopped out barefoot and in our swimsuits, passed the groups of excited hotel guests and down to the water. While we fussed with our caps I measured the water temp at 66 degrees. Starting out the swim we had to navigate around boats, boat anchors, and piers, until we cleared the private docks of incline beach. We both decided in our head at that point that we did not want to have to return that way. After 2 hrs we arrived at Sand Harbor. We came up near the shore and looked around for my dad who was there to meet us with his kayak. Kate spotted a man that had a hat like my dads and we took of following him for a bit but then stopped at some rocks to look around. Finally we saw my mother atop a rock near shore waving to us and pointing to the spot on the beach where my dad was getting in the water. I was starting to shiver (which is really silly in 66 degrees - and not a real confidence boost) and was relieved that we found each other and were on our way. My dad stayed with Kate for a while and I followed the contour of the shoreline. I would swim into over and around beautiful rocks and schools of tiny fish. The water tasted wonderful, although not as clear as normal lake tahoe (because of the ash build-up in the water) and was an amazing color. When we got to the mansion at the water's edge (apparently the home of an eccentric whose land is now managed by the state) Kate swam ahead and I followed my dad in the kayak for a while. He guided me on a little loop out away from shore where the water color turned darker and a richer blue and then looped me back to shore where Kate was swimming. By that point my dad had been on the kayak for 2 hrs and nature was calling and I imagine his back and butt were getting tired. So, he boated into secret harbor (not a very big secret on a Saturday - but still a beautiful place) and took a rest. Kate and I continued on towards skunk harbor. I made it to the point that juts out from the cove of the harbor and could see the house where we had started our 3 hr swim a few weeks back. Satisfied that at that point a return trip to sand harbor would equal 16 miles I turned around to find Kate and my dad. Passing secret harbor, my dad kayak up along side me and we chatted for a minute and he gave me another stash of food and drink. He kayaked back with us until the mansion and then after replenishing our supplies for the last time he boated back to sand harbor. Kate and I really wanted to swim all the way until 6pm so we decided that may mean passing the sand harbor beach or doing a short out and back along the beach. I chose to swim out to the rock point at the end of the beach - say hello to a seagull perched on a rock - and then head back to shore. When I got to the end of the buoy line in front of the beach I looked around and saw my dad on the shore. I was very excited, actually thrilled, and swam up to the beach to meet him. About 6 minutes (and at exactly 6pm - Kate was exact with time) Kate came up onto shore. I measured the water again and the late afternoon temperatures were in the low 70's (70-72). Even though the conditions were pretty mild, I was very excited to have accomplished a 16-mile swim and we were both very lucky to have the support of my family and the cooperation of the weather.

Lake Michigan (Ohio Street Beach)

After a weekend of hectic travel on planes, trains, and automobiles I finally stepped into the water at Lake Michigan. We had taken the weekend to visit with Nate's Illinois family and celebrate Cousin Joe's wedding. Nate had been battling a strong fever but my only excuse was jet lag when we sluggishly walked down to the shore at Ohio Street beach. A brief but strong shower of rain had nearly cleared out the large group of triathletes that were congregated there only an hour earlier but I was comforted to see a few swimmers suiting up near the cement wall and a steady stream of runners, bikers, and walkers on the bike path that followed the water's edge. I knew I must be in the right place. Nate agreed to walk along the water and take a temperature reading for me further out and I promised to make it a quick swim and stay near the wall. I admit I felt a bit of California pride getting in the water in my hot pink bikini amongst my fully wet-suited counterparts. The water felt great and the waves had a longer roll to them more similar to the ocean swell than the short crested boat chop of the Sacramento area lakes. The waves had a push instead of a punch and the clarity was surprisingly high. I did a loop out to the harbor opening and then headed back. About half way back I ran into a man standing in the middle (it was only about 4 ft deep in some places near the wall). He was catching his breath and we chatted for a bit then I headed back to shore. Although it was short, it was a fantastic swim. There were great conditions, people all around, nothing funky in the water, nothing to be scared of, and not to cold. It was the perfect swimming porridge for Goldilocks - it was just right.

Swimming with the Lagoonatics (July 4th Weekend)

In my mind there is no finer place to swim than the lagoons of Humboldt County. The people are fabulous and the scenery is beyond compare. I truly feel at home when I'm there. The Humboldt Lagoonatics are a dedicated bunch of swimmers that frequent these brackish waters and every year they have put together a fantastic adventure swim/hike crossing Big Lagoon, Dry Lagoon, and Stone Lagoon. This year there was another great group of people hiking and swimming. We all started out just before 9am. The hikers headed north on the sand and the swimmers followed along in the water. The waters have a wonderful feel and the taste has just enough of the ocean without the overwhelming fish odor and just enough of the freshwater without the overwhelming algae funk. After about 2 hrs we all met up at the north end of the Lagoon and paused to rest and have a snack. We also had the treat to watch a group of whales traveling north and several harbor porpoises feeding in the surf at the beach. Some of the lagoonatics also came upon a marbled murrelet (an endangered seabird) sitting on the shore at the tide line. The bird did not move but occasionally opened its eyes. Karin called in her contacts to see if there was anything we could do to help and in the end it was decided to leave the bird where it was.
NEXT we walked about 3 miles past Dry Lagoon and up through the coastal forest and down to the cove at Stone Lagoon. From there the hikers hopped in kayaks (that we had placed out there the night before) and swimmers put back on their suits and headed about 1/2mile across to the parking area on the east side of the lagoon. When all had returned we piled into our cars and returned to Big Lagoon for a potluck BBQ celebration.

June 7th & 8th family swims

This weekend we were in Long Beach visiting family, friends and the ocean. On Saturday we went to Seal Beach and my sister swam along the shore with me for about an hour. The water temp was warm and had the usual cloudiness. On Sunday we all went to Bolsa Chica/Sunset beach. Mother brought her multi-colored umbrella for a shade covering and it served as a good marker for our starting location. Jim and Nate went out into the waves on the sponge board and the surf board and dad, sister, and I went for a swim north along the beach. Dad kayaked while Gen and I swam. It took us 30 minutes to get to the watertower looking house at sunset beach and then 40 minutes to get back to the umbrella. Next nate hopped in the kayak and dad swam and we went south along the beach for 30 minutes and then back again to the umbrella. For the last lap dad went back to the beach and nate escorted me one more time up to the watertower house and back. The inflatable kayak that we were using was very uncomfortable for him and did not steer well and he was struggling the whole time. So after the 3rd lap we got out and all headed up to the umbrella.

Overall it was a great swim. The water clarity was about like Seal Beach (not so clear) and the temperature felt a touch colder. We saw a few dolphins at the start of our swim but beyond that no other wildlife sightings other than a few birds gliding over the ocean waves. There was enough wind and wave surge that kept it exciting and forced us to stay off shore a fair distance. With foggy sky and murky water I felt a bit nervous swimming there at first. In part my nervousness was likely the newness of a beach where I had not previously swam because on the 2nd lap I was already feeling better and by the 3rd felt as comfortable as being at Seal Beach on a sunny day (which is about as comfortable as I get in the ocean).

Natomas Swim (11miles) 5-31-08

Sunday afternoon Kate, Jack, and I set out from the Sac. State Rowing center for a swim at Lake Natoma. Nate and Sarah joined us in kayaks. There was very little wind and the water was calm and in the downstream part of the lake was a comfortable temperature. However when we got about 2.5 miles up stream the temperature started to drop . As it got colder, Nate gave us come cups of warm honey with an energy drink (perpetuem) to help keep us warm. We swam up almost to the corner before the beach at Negro Bar and then decided to turn around and swim back to the warm waters for a while. When we reached the end of the rowing center buoy line Jack and Sarah headed towards the rowing center and Kate and I went back up lake for another lap around the island. The last trip down the buoy line always feels endless. This time I tried to watch the colors on the buoys and know that when they changed color I had made it farther and before long I could see the white tents of the rowing center on my left. We both got out of the water feeling pretty good. I was tired and hungry but the swim felt pretty comfortable. That night my left elbow and right wrist started to ache but by morning that ache was pretty dull. I'm glad we conquered a new distance (about 1/2 the distance of Catalina) - now just add some wind, waves, darkness and sea life and we're all set.