There are a lot of things that happen during my 70km swim; some of which were expected, and some of which were unforeseen. What was most surprising to me during though, and to this day still overwhelms me, was the dedication and commitment of my crew members. Each member had personally invested of them self to ensure both Alex and I succeeded. What I learned most of all this year is the extent to which there is no such thing as a solo swim.
My day started at about 7:00 am, several hours before I jumped into the water of Cowichan Lake. After a quick breakfast my partner Ray and I hit the road and headed for Maple Bay to pick-up a double kayak from Wilderness Kayaking Co. The owner, Nancy, kindly donated it to us for the swim. By 11:00 am the kayak was strapped onto our vehicle and we were headed for Lakeview Campsite in Lake Cowichan.
By noon we had arrived at Lakeview. There was a flurry of activity at the basecamp and on the beach as safety escorts, paddlers, swimmers, observers and our on-shore support crew prepared for the start. Although I knew how many people would be there to help it was still an incredible site to see. I knew when I saw everyone I would be well taken care of over the next 30 hours and was comforted knowing that everyone would be as much a part of the swim as Alex and I.
In the moments before I stepped into the water there were three key things that happened. The first was a surprise visit from Jill Schulze, an incredible swimmer and a good friend. Jill lives on Salt Spring Island, just off of Vancouver Island where I live and where the swim was taking place. She had come over and was going to jump in for the first bit of the swim. I was so happy to see her as it had been a few years. Plus I am always inspired when others come out to join in. It makes me want to do and be better.
The second thing that happened was a quick chat with my new found energy healer and good friend Niki Hughes. Niki had been very instrumental in helping me prepare both physically and mentally days before the swim. In a nutshell, I was a mess and she fixed me! She had come to the lake for the start. With all of the activity around me I was having difficulty focusing – and I needed to prepare myself. Niki knew. She took me aside and said “there is a lot more out there then what is going on here.” It was the right words at the right time. In the grand scheme of things my swim was really just a small part of my life, and a really teeny-tiny part of what was going on in the world that day. I relaxed and began to focus.
The third thing that happened was a difficult moment. I had to say goodbye to my partner Ray. He had been there with me all year getting me to every practice and paddling beside me at every lake workout. He took care of everything at home so I was able to focus all of my non-working time on training. He made sure I was safe and didn’t push myself toward an MS attack. He would not be part of my starting crew and I would not see him again until I reached the halfway point at Heather Campground in the morning. Although our pending reunion at Heather was incentive for me to reach the halfway mark, as soon I left him on the beach I could feel there was something missing. It was as difficult for him as it was for me.
Alex and I stepped into the water from Lakeview Municipal beach at 2:40pm, Friday, August 22nd and began our swim. Our lead crew included a safety boat piloted by Matt Piechnik and crew members M.J. VanBergen (Chief Safety Officer) and deck hand Denis Martel. Jen Alexander, my observer, was in a double kayak with my good friend Carol Pilon. Alex’s observer/paddler team was Marie-Claude Trudeau and Veronique Lepage. Carol Pal escorted by kayaker Bruce Scott and Jill Schulz were also in the water. Carol would be challenging herself to her first ever 10km swim and Jill would be in the water for the first 2 to 3km. Emma Beckwith and Lise Bugeaud, OC6 crew mates from Ocean River Paddle Club, were both in OC1s and would be paddling “Sherpas” for the entire 70km.
The weather was beautiful and the water easy with gentle ripples. We swam our way up the south arm heading for the Education Centre. I could see Jill the entire time. I was so happy she had joined me in the water. It gave me the perfect boost for the start.
When we arrived at the education centre, about 2km in, Jill quietly slipped out of the water and swimmers Lauren Westmacott, Selena Light, Martin Figel, Dale Robinson and Rod Carmichael all jumped in. They would be swimming the next 10 kilometers with us.
As we made our way up the arm the waves began to pick-up. By the time we reached the education centre, about 5 kilometers into the swim they were moving quite nicely, pushing us towards the shore. It made our feed-stops every half-an-hour a little bumpy but the water was really quite fun to play in.
Waves amuse me. I like watching the “under-waves,” the water that lay below the surface as the waves pass by. It’s usually darker water from the shadow of the surface wave and often causes me to look again to make sure it’s not a boat or something else. It keeps things quite lively.
The waves continued to pick-up and turned into chop. Alex and I made our way around the shoreline of Honeymoon Bay while the other swimmers b-lined it for Gordon Bay. Every now and again I would see people standing on their dock watching us. If it was time to stop for a feed I would say hello and have a quick chat. I wanted people to be aware of what we were doing and why.
By about 7:00pm we reached Gordon Bay. Alex was always a little ahead of me but not enough that I couldn’t catch up during breaks. I could see Lauren, Selena, Martin, Dale and Rod on the shore. They made it! They had all swam 10km, and for all but Dale this was their first time. I was thrilled!
Alex and I made our way around the bay and through the narrows. The sun was starting to go down, the air temperature was beginning to cool and the waters had calmed. The swim was getting easier but I knew the darkness of night was just a few bays away.
More to come ….