The travel from Juneau to Sitka was a quick and painless mid-morning 20 minute flight on Friday the 2nd of August. I was traveling with my Mom – Lisa, and my youngest brother – Trevor, both of whom were also competing in the swim the following day. We had a nice afternoon in Sitka sightseeing and relaxing at a family owned lodge on the dock. The event organizers decided to have a salmon feed / potluck that also served as the pre-race meeting. The dinner was located right next to the Salmon hatchery and was a beautiful evening! There were hundreds of jumping fish right in front of the building we were meeting in… incredible.
The next morning was very leisurely – we were able to sleep in until 7:30 and didn’t need to actually leave for the start line until around 8:30. In true Alaskan style, the rain returned on race morning, luckily it didn’t matter so much to us – we were going to be getting wet one way or another!
The plan was to start the 5k swimmers “around” 9:15, or about the time the first 10k swimmer would be rounding the buoy to start their second lap. So, around 9:10 we all waded slowly out into the water as we watched for the first place 10k-er. As we were cheering and watching from shore, a large head popped out of the water very close to the swimmer… “Oh, that’s just Earl” Kevin (the race director) said coolly, “he’s a sea lion that likes to hangout in the harbor, he won’t bother Patrick (the swimmer)”. I thought this would’ve been really cool to hear/see IF I wasn’t about to swim the exact same course that Earl and Patrick were on… Oh well. The start whistle blew and we all took off towards the breakwater.
For how small this race was, the start was particularly vicious – I was being jostled around quite a bit, especially by two other swimmers. The three of us took off, away from the pack. I let the two other swimmers set the pace, which was pretty quick. They seemed to know the course well – I later learned that one of these swimmers had actually set the buoys . . . I would hope he knew where he was supposed to go!
I made it out of the harbor area with no Earl sightings, and had connected with Jeff – my kayaker. I was still following the two bobbing pink caps in front of me, but somehow I found myself in the middle of a dense kelp bed, denser than anything I had previously swam through. At one point while navigating through the forest I was almost completely out of the water, the kelp was so buoyant and hard to swim through I thought I might get stuck in it . . . I gave up on trying to find a clear path and just muscled through it, after a couple more minutes of swimming though the thickest water ever, I made it out and felt like I was flying!
After getting through the dense kelp, I was able to swim through the other beds with relative ease, swimming with my head up or looking forward so I was able to plan ahead and find a clear path before I was trapped in another dense area. When I rounded the farthest buoy the water temperature dropped quite a bit and the chop increased – it wasn’t anything awful or unexpected and was managed with minor adjustments to my stroke.
I decided to hang onto my 3rd place until I rounded Battery Island and was sure I knew where I was in regards to the course. While rounding the island I followed very closely to the two pink caps in front of me, they were seasoned on this course and knew how close we needed to be to shore in order to avoid the kelp. This part was very rocky and filled with dozens of varieties of starfish to look at! It seemed a little sketchy to be swimming so close to such a rocky area while the waves were crashing around us – but it wasn’t for very long and the waves were realitively small.
After rounding the island it was a straight shot to the breakwater right outside of the harbor. I increased my power with each stroke, doing this helps me keep my breathing under control while speeding up my pace. I passed the first pink cap shortly after the island, but had to chase down the next cap for a few minutes. I checked my watch – :53 minutes had passed since the start. I felt I had roughly 1/2 mile left in the race. I felt strong and within another minute or two had passed the 2nd pink cap.
Another minute passed and I was back in the harbor, I could see the final turn buoy, but Jeff kept steering me straight into shore. I knew we were supposed to turn one final time and then swim straight into shore, but sometimes things change while the race is going on, so I stopped briefly to ask Jeff where I needed to swim to, “Straight to shore!”. I put my head back down and did just that! Another minute passed, Jeff yelled at me to swim towards the turn buoy, I didn’t stop to ask any questions and just did what he said. So with a little confusion I swam where he pointed – back out towards another buoy, and THEN I swam straight to shore and through the finish buoys.
Overall, I was very pleased with this swim, having my mom and Trevor swim and travel with me was a blessing – they kept it interesting and more importantly FUN! They both had great experiences for their first ocean swims and I was glad I was able to share the day with them. As always, we are all a part of Team FARA and are raising money to help fund research for the rare degenerative disease that is currently incurable. As of right now Team Ryan and Owen have raised $6,795 to help this cause, I hope to raise much, much more in years to come.
Thanks for reading and supporting,