Black tinted goggles and tears.

Our plan is to jump into Lake Tahoe at 5am and swim across the width of the lake - all before 11:30am. With a distance of 11 miles, the swim should take us about 5 hours - arriving back on terra firma just in time for previously scheduled commitments. Our friend Jamie Patrick will join us too, as he prepares for his Tahoe 360 swim; an incredible 68 mile circumnavigation swim around the entire Lake Tahoe next month.

All of a sudden, I'm awoken mid-dream by the phone ringing. It's 3:50am. And it's Jamie - on time and waiting outside. Feeling tired and sluggish from only 4 hours of sleep and the effects of 6200 ft altitude, it's difficult to extract myself from my bed. Nothing like training at sea level for an altitude swim...

Upstairs, it's a frenzy of activity. Joe and Jamie are drinking coffee and prepping the Perpetuem drinks. My swim buddy and his kids, Michael and Matthew (who will crew for us on the boat), are happily making oatmeal. It's 4am. God, we must really be crazy.

We arrive at Sandy Harbor State Park, on the east side of the lake and it's a beautiful summer morning. 60 degrees, and a little windy, but beautiful nonetheless.

Unfortunately the rental boat arrives over an hour late, which shortens our swim; we have to be done by 11:30am. Still, we're all excited to swim. The sun is now beginning to rise from behind the mountains, casting a glorious glow across the water. It's stunning.

My swim buddy motors the boat out of the cove, as Jamie, Joe and I get organized. Goggles, earplugs, and my New Zealand flag swim cap. Check. I joke around with Matthew and Michael who will be our onboard "videographers" and crewmates, handing us our Perpetuem drinks during our feedings, every 30 minutes.

My swim buddy stops the boat about 20 yards from our starting point: an enormous granite rock protruding out of the water. Jamie and Joe dive in.

"Come on!! Come on Miss Chambers!!" coaxes Joe. But I sit on the edge of the boat hesitant to jump. Maybe it's the altitude I tell myself. I feel a little spacey and definitely sleep deprived. But still… Ok. Just do this. Jump!

The water in Lake Tahoe is incredibly clear. I put my face in the water and marvel at dozens of granite rocks 20 feet below. It’s otherworldly. The three of us approach our starting point. My swim buddy and his boys deliver an enthusiastic countdown. "5… 4… 3… 2… 1!!!!!!" Our adventure has begun!

Swimming in fresh water is quite different from salt water. Lacking the buoyancy I enjoy in the San Francisco Bay, it takes me a while to get into my groove. Turning to breathe, I catch a glimpse underwater and see Jamie on my left and Joe on my right. 

We have some really fun moments along the way - I love this - the three of us are swimming the width of Lake Tahoe!

The first couple of feedings seem to come and go effortlessly: the boys are terrific crewmates and as we stop every 30 minutes for a drink of Perpetuem we share many laughs.

As I swim, I feel like I'm floating through space. I feel like an astronaut – weightless and drifting hundreds of miles from Earth. It’s a glorious feeling. The sun is shining and the air temperature is beginning to warm up.

But something doesn’t feel quite right. The wind begins to pick up. It’s blowing between 12 and 15 knots and the unrelenting waves slap against my face as I breathe.

I continue swimming across the deep cobalt blue abyss beneath me, and my mind wanders. I wonder what lies in the depths beneath me - 1700 feet below. Swimming in Lake Tahoe amazes me, and it’s odd not to be on the lookout for sharks.

 

Thoughts of my beloved Poppa begin to creep into my mind and my heart begins to ache; he passed away just 2 weeks ago and I think of him often.

And, all of a sudden, tears well up in my eyes, and I begin to cry. I just cry. Swim and cry. Rather than fight the tears, I surrender and let myself cry. I keep swimming. Very soon, my head begins to ache and I feel as though someone has hit me between the eyes with a sledgehammer. The pain is unbearable. But I keep swimming.

I keep stopping to lie on my back briefly in a futile attempt to will the pain away. Everyone wonders what on earth is happening. “I have a massive headache… it must be the altitude,” I lie. Fighting back the tears for the remainder of the swim, I’m relieved to be wearing black tinted goggles… because with these goggles, no one can see me cry.


P.S// We swam 4.5 hours and completed 9 miles. All in all a good training swim.

 

Kim Kirby

London, UK