Expect the unexpected.


The plan was for me to begin my swim at 1am on Sunday 5th August. Based on my fitness and training, we estimated the 22 mile swim would take me 12 hours. Because there is also a very important mental component to a swim of this magnitude, whatever we could pre-plan to benefit my state of mind was highly preferable.  Knowing that I could swim about 2 miles/per hour speed, the idea was that I would swim the first 5 hours in the dark (which I love), followed by a beautiful sunrise to lift my spirits when my body would likely have some difficulty and then enjoy a morning swim under the warm sun. By lunchtime I should have the shoreline of the finish clearly in view to motivate me and close out the swim. It was a great plan.

The 7 hours prior to my swim disappeared so quickly. I had hoped to nap for a few hours, but the excitement and the anticipation was too much. I was wired. And so, with the weather beginning to turn for the worse, I found myself glued to online weather reports.

Finally it was time to leave. As we began the 45 minute drive along the lake to the starting point near South Lake Tahoe, I couldn’t help but notice the dark and ominous sky through the massive trees. It was so eerie. The moon was barely peeking from behind the storm clouds and as I looked out the window of the car my eyes felt as big as saucers. The adrenalin in my body was beginning to surge. It was thrilling. Every couple of minutes, the pitch-black sky was punctuated by an impressive lightning storm. While most people were curled up on a sofa or in a bed in the safety of their homes, we set out on an adventure. “Who the hell swims during a lightning storm?” Joe laughed. “I do.” I replied with a huge grin. Lightning is actually a serious concern, and we just hoped (and gambled) that it would pass before 1am.

Arriving at the boat marina near South Lake Tahoe, the rain begins to fall and the wind picks up. Melissa, Mike and Joe load the boat. With the lightning becoming less frequent, we decide my swim is a GO. As I sit and try to calm my nerves I can’t help but check and recheck myself: goggles… check… earplugs… check… blinkie light on goggles… check… swimcap… check.

I know that I’m embarking on a tremendous personal journey, and I wonder what I’ll experience both mentally and physically during the next 12 hours. I half joke that Joe, Melissa and Mike are my doulas. I’m entrusting them with my safety and wellbeing and I know I won’t be able to complete this journey without them.

As we motor out of the marina towards Camp Richardson - the starting point of my swim - the rain pelts down but the mood on the boat is jovial. God I love my doulas. Arriving at Camp Richardson we dock the boat. It’s time for me to remove my cozy long swim coat and have Joe apply sunscreen and lanolin to protect my body from sunburn and chafing. I’m so amped up and ready to swim.

Joe walks with me along the dock to the water’s edge. “I’m terrified,” I confess to Joe. “You’re so ready” he replies. One of my biggest concerns going into this swim was the water temperature. Unlike my Cook Strait swim where I had purposely added at least 20 lbs to my frame for insulation, this time I had been unable to add as much additional weight. 10-15 lbs at most. Damn you, fast metabolism. I knew the water in Lake Tahoe was going to be at least 8 degrees warmer, but oddly enough it still worried me.

Standing at the water’s edge, Joe encourages me to dip my toe in. “I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised.” As instructed, I dip my toe. Oh, it feels lovely. Relief sweeps over me. It’s warm. My guess is 63-64 degrees, and I love it. “Just start whenever you want – take your time,” assures Joe. I look around at the darkness before me. I look at the stars with wonder. This is for you, Poppa. “Let’s do this,” I say.

I ease into the shallow water and put my face in the inky black lake. Breathe… just breathe... I try to comfort myself. Careful not to go out too fast I ease into my stroke. The sky is so dark. And I’m wearing tinted goggles. I crack a smile. Well, that wasn’t the smartest decision now was it, I joke with myself.

I spot the boat – lit up like a Christmas tree with colorful light sticks – and move towards it. With each stroke I reach into nothingness… an abyss that is, for all the adrenalin surging through my body, so utterly serene. I love this.  I feel so fit and so strong and feel my body power through the water.

My first two “feedings” at 30 minutes and 6o minutes arrive so quickly. Each time I swim up to the boat and take a sip of my carbohydrate/protein drink, Perpetuem. Strawberry cream flavor. Oh. God. That just doesn’t taste very good tonight. Something doesn’t feel right. As I continue swimming my body rocks side to side by the waves and the motion is beginning to make me feel terribly queasy. Oh. Shit. Here we go…