This was by far my favorite of the four swims! I enjoyed the time before the swim, and I enjoyed the time after the swim! Oh, I also enjoyed the swim… but mostly before and after.
All the swimmers and kayakers and other volunteers met on the dock at the marina around 3 pm to discuss the course of the race and safety precautions and what would happen after we finished. There were a number of kids participating as a relay team, and a few youngsters that were completing the swim by themselves. I was very excited to see a whole group of people that loved the same thing, that were younger than I was. You would think that these long, strenuous events would attract younger athletes, but the reverse is normally true. I am always amazed when I overhear a swimmer talk about their grandchildren or ask what they do for work and to hear, “oh, I’ve been retired for years!” Anyways, I was happy to see all the faces there, regardless of age.
Once all the swimmers and crew had been shuttled to the start, Kent had to place two yellow buoys out in the lake for us to swim around (the only swim that required him to do so). We were all happy to relax and hangout on the boat launch for the next hour. It gave the kayakers plenty of time to decorate the boats with glowsticks and for us to anticipate the ominous looking clouds that were surrounding us. I personally enjoyed this time, because it was one of the last times you got a chance to see most of the swimmers before we all headed out our separate ways. Many of the swimmers were from different states and different countries. Everybody had travel plans the following day, so this was a chance to snap some photos and express congratulations to everyone that had made it as far as Roosevelt.
Once the buoys were set, the kayakers were all sent into the lake together (all three waves of kayakers), then the first wave swimmers lined up with their feet in the water… around 5pm Kent sent them off then immediately asked the second wave to line up, he checked that all the glowsticks attached to the suits and goggles were “cracked”, then sent them off! Finally, the third and final wave of swimmers were lined up, “30 seconds!” and then he yelled “Go!”. Half of us ran and dove into the lake, half of us timidly waded in and started to swim head-up.
It took about 15 minutes to find my kayaker. At this point my goggles were bugging me and kept filling up with water because of the way I had zip-tied my glowstick to them. I adjusted them as quickly as I could, then kept swimming toward the first yellow buoy, then around the second. Then I started the long trudge across the lake. I allowed myself to think, “Wow, what perfect conditions we are having! Wouldn’t it be magical to have perfect conditions across the whole lake?” I immediately regretted thinking this… the winds picked up, I felt raindrops on my back, I had to dodge my kayaker as he was blown sideways across the lake. The conditions were the worst I have ever been in! I was shocked. I was anxious. I was getting cold. I didn’t want to lose my kayaker under any circumstances. I started to backstroke and breaststroke, since anytime I tried to complete a freestyle stroke I was met with a giant mouthful of water. I was worried about all the swimmers in the lake, and if conditions were to worsen how the few pontoon boats could possibly pull out and find all the swimmers and kayakers in time. I know how important it is to stay calm when in the open water, I let the water carry me, I didn’t try to force anything during this time. I just kept my kayaker in sight, kept a pontoon boat in sight, and prayed that the storm would pass soon.
After about 20 minutes, the water smoothed out, my stroke smoothed out, I had some of my water and food then tried to make some headway across the lake while the conditions were good. Another hour passed, I looked up to gauge the distance from the dam. I felt pretty close, but didn’t allow myself to get too excited yet. The sun set, the wind picked up a little, I didn’t move for about 15 minutes… then I felt the wind change and felt a huge push in the RIGHT direction.
The sky was completely dark, and everything disappeared, except the glowsticks. I imagined myself blindly following the light. My depth perception was gone, so I was also zigzagging toward the finish buoy. I couldn’t “see” the water, so it also disappeared. I felt like I was flying! I felt like I was invincible. I couldn’t believe it, but at the end of swimming over 40 miles in 4 days, I felt invincible and strong. As improbable as the whole thing sounds, everything was perfect. I felt incredible gratitude for being where I was.