Somehow I managed to kick my body into “auto pilot.” At times I got lost in the metronomic rhythm of each stroke. One.. two… three.. breathe…. One… two… three… breathe. It seemed to work quite nicely for a while. The warmth of the morning sun felt delightful on my back, and the winds had finally calmed. Still fighting nausea, electrolytes with warm water topped up my tank at each feeding, with the occasional Gu, …until hour 9.
Suddenly, my body slams head first into the proverbial wall. Recalling this moment as I write, I can imagine the ring of stars circling my head like the cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote. But this was no joke. Scared and instinctively sensing this happened because I was so nutritionally depleted, I swim hurriedly up to the boat. I feel like I'm going to blackout. I close my eyes and feel my head rock back. Again, my body was betraying me.
Out come the “bag of tricks.” Joe hands me another Gu. Grasping the tiny packet while sucking the gooey gel from the packet I feel my body come alive. Pulses of energy literally zip through my arms and down to my fingertips. But still my head feels nothing. Pulling another “trick” from the bag, Joe hands me salted boiled potatoes. I had never tried chewing solid food while swimming, but some of my fellow swimmers swear by it. Treading water while chewing took precious time I didn’t think I had. I learned you can’t swim and chew food. Finishing my last mouthful, Joe jumps in the water behind me. “I’m going to swim right here behind you, in case something happens…I’m right here.”
Checking to see the distant shoreline, I put my head in the water and continue swimming. Breathing to my right I see Joe right behind me and I once again feel safe. “I can do this,” I reassured myself. Again this is just another speed bump. Keep moving.
Stopping. Starting. Stopping. Starting. My engine spluttered. There were times when I would simply lie on my back, look up to the sky and just float. Motionless. Then turning back over onto my stomach to swim, I glared at the distant shoreline, and cried. “I don’t think I’m going to make it!!!” I blurted out at no one in particular. “I don’t think I can do it.” Then, without thinking, I once again put my head in the water and resumed swimming. On and on this sequence continued. It was painstaking. But somehow my arms and legs would keep moving. Amazingly, my stroke count remained consistent. It was my head that was the problem.
Then out of nowhere I began to see colorful sails flutter out of the water and arc over my body, settling on my right. Like a short film it would loop over and over again. “I’m hallucinating!!!!!” I exclaimed to my crew. “Damn, and to think people pay money for that!” replied Silva cheerfully.
For the last 2 hours of my swim all I could think about was ice cream. An ice cream sandwich to be precise; I imagined taking that first wonderful bite through the chocolate chip cookie and into the soft and delicious vanilla ice cream. Oh, it was amazing. I could almost taste every flavor on my tongue. I can’t even remember the last time I had ice cream, let alone an ice cream sandwich. But my mind was telling me it had clearly been too long. I craved that ice cream sandwich so intensely that it became my one and only motivation to complete the swim.
The only way you’re going to get that goddamn ice cream sandwich is if you swim to shore. I told myself. That scrumptious delightful and delicious ice cream sandwich is on THAT shore… up ahead… and all you have to do is keep moving. On I moved.
Stopping to gauge how far I was from the shore, I hear Joe speaking with Silva. “What time is it?” Joe asks Silva. “It’s 4 o’clock” replies Silva.
“WHAT???! It’s 4 o’clock????!!!” Silva pretends not to hear me. He knows the news will be a huge shock. And he’s right. How was that possible? It was supposed to be a 12 hour swim MAX. And now, suddenly it’s 4 o’clock??!!! Silva continued to ignored me. Less than 200 yards from shore, I knew I had only one choice. I had to swim to that shore.
The last few moments of the swim are a blur. I was escorted to the beach by a fellow swimmer, Cliff Crozier, who had completed the same swim 2 days prior. Guiding me those last 25 yards to the shore was an incredible gift and I am forever grateful.
Emerging from the water, I was completely and utterly overcome with emotion. A crowd of friends and strangers clapped and yelled. Holding my hands to my face, all I could do was cry. I did it. I swam the 22 mile length of Lake Tahoe.
It took me 15 hours, 30 minutes and 28 seconds and allowed me to push my personal limit just a little bit further. For the rest of my life, I can point to Lake Tahoe a map and say, “I swam that.”
And I couldn't have done it without the love and support of my three "doulas": Joe, Melissa and Silva.
P.S.// I finally did get to eat that ice cream sandwich. And it tasted delicious.