It is about 7pm, August 22nd and Alex and I have now been in the water for 4 hours. We are right on schedule. We have just rounded the corner from Gordon Bay and have passed through the narrows. The sun is beginning to set.
There is something quite magical about being on the water as the sun and moon cycle through their phases. My ever-changing environment is one of the many things that keeps me motivated throughout the swim. Each hour brings a change in the color of the sky, water and mountains that surround me. It also brings a change in air and water conditions.
The air temperature is beginning to drop and the water flatten. The sun is hiding behind the mountains and the sky has dimmed. It is not dark, but I know it is coming.
My escorts, Carol and Jen in the double kayak and Emma and Lise in their outriggers have surrounded me as I swim into the night. Alex is not far ahead. Barb and Bjarne, my favorite west-coast couple, are now escorting her.
One of our pilot boats pulls up beside me. There is chatter and activity. I look up to the boat and there she is – Claire Skillen, a.k.a. Claire bear – wearing her paddle uniform which includes a backward baseball cap and life jacket. She is standing behind the pilot preparing to jump in the canoe. I was thrilled to see her and glad she would be paddling the night portion of the swim. Lise, Emma and I head off as Claire and Carol Pilon, who has been an outstanding escort, make the kayak switch.
Jen Alexander has remained in the kayak as my observer and Claire is now sitting in front of her as the navigator. The crew in the pilot boat has changed from Matt and MJ to Dalton, Ron and Ingrid. The sky continues to darken as we move further into the night. I continue to stop every half an hour to feed switching between peanut butter sandwiches, pre-workout drink, protein bars and tea. My stomaching is beginning to tighten and unbeknownst to me shut down. I swim on.
As I swim deeper into the night the sky grows darker. It is becoming increasingly difficult to swim as I can’t see in front of me and every time I look at the boat beside me I am blinded by the little turtle light that is meant to guide me. Lise is on my left side. I notice her light under the water and ask if she might place it below the boat so I can see where I am underwater as the above water world is making me nauseous. What lay below looks beautiful and peace full; with Lise guiding the way I am able to swim on.
At about 2 am, not even half way through the swim, I hit a wall. My stomach has become so tight that I am not longer to take in food and am having difficulty swimming. I know that if this doesn’t change I am done. Luckily Jen has a trick up her sleeve called Canada Dry!
For the next two hours Jen fills a small squeeze tube with ginger ale and tosses it over to me to drink. She tells me that it will reset my stomach. For the first hour I stop every 10 strokes and drink what is in the tube. The tightness in my stomach begins to loosen but I am still not able to eat. Jen tells me to not worry as I have had plenty of calories in the last 12 hours. I continue to follow her instruction and oddly enjoy the time on the water; I am able to star-gaze and spend some fun time with two incredible women. As time goes on I increase the amount swimming time and eventually getting back on track however I can no longer see Alex or the pilot boat that is ahead of me. I swim on.
I spend the next few hours looking to the sky for falling stars and watching for signs of light. I still can’t eat and I can feel the cold beginning to set-in. And then, at last, light! I can see it slowly making its way over the mountains. We have made it through the night!
I looked around to assess the situation. Emma and Lise had headed off to the left toward Deadman’s Island. It seemed odd so I thought I ought to remember to ask them when I have a chance. In the mean time I could use my imagination to conjur up all kinds of stories to keep me amused as I swam on.
Not soon after day broke Alex appeared. She had reached the halfway point at Heather Campsite and was headed back up the lake. We both stopped and greeted each other. She looked cold and tired and said “I have to keep moving” so we each swam on in opposite directions.
It took me a good hour to reach the half-way point after swimming by Alex. My night-time tummy trouble had left me about 2 hours behind her.
I was careful not to get too close to share as I didn’t want to risk touching the bottom. Ray paddled towards me and I could see Bill Burton one of my English Channel teammates on shore ready to jump in.
I said good-bye to my night crew and hello to my morning crew, Ray and Brad McKibbin – one of Alex’s Army mates. Bill jumped in and swam toward me. The 4 of us then set off toward Cycus. Although it was light the sun was not quite out. I was desperate to feel the warmth of the sun on my back. I could feel the cold and was still unable to eat.
Bill and I swam on stopping every 15 minutes to half-an-hour. It was a beautiful swim and I was grateful to have him in the water beside me. He stayed off to the right and behind me so I couldn’t catch his draft, but I was always aware that he was there.
As we continued on could see the Picnic Islands. I wondered how it was that Bill was still swimming as he was only meant to swim for 3 or 4 km and we had swum over 10. When we next stopped I asked him if he wanted a boat to pick him up – he said no. I was impressed!
It was a beautiful morning. There was no wind and the water was perfectly flat. We were just past the Picnic Islands when it happened. I fell asleep on the water.
More to come …