STAGE 1 – 18.3 Miles

The Day of Uncertainty

While standing in the parking lot of the bridge finish, waiting for the bus to pick us up and bring us to the start, I couldn’t help but feel absolutely nervous. What was I nervous for? I had swum long distances…I had swum short…I had swum in complete darkness. Every event, no matter what the distance, makes me nervous. I know it will hurt, I know it will be hard, but the predictions one can never really make are how hard it will be, how much it will hurt and what else can happen.

The bus ride was pretty benign as I listened to my music and tried to settle my nerves. I tried to listen to the songs I wanted to play in my head. Once we got to the landing, the bus was unloaded and the boat was loaded. Kayakers met swimmers, swimmers met swimmer and the race directors gave instructions. This is how each day will go. This will be the routine for those of us attempting all 7 stages. Speaking of our little family of 7 stagers, it is a wonderful group. A group that you want to be around, to spend time with and get to know on an individual basis. Each swimmer unique in his/her own way. Mo’s trait is his honesty. He says what he means and means what he says. He does not sugar-coat things. He is the pioneer in this group.  He will swim the 120 miles.  If he doesn’t make it to the bridge one day, he will swim until they pull him and then GPS track his location and drop him in the water the next day.  Then there is Bridgette. Her humor and positive attitude are so loved and appreciated. She’s also a great and seasoned swimmer.  You want to be around her any chance you get.  Karen is someone you can sit and talk with for hours and never get bored. Her fingers translate her mind beautifully on paper too! She is an experienced open water swimmer who, you can tell, really understands what she is getting herself into.  James is one swimmer I have not had the pleasure to really meet yet other than before the start…I’ll get back to you on him. Last but certainly not least is Anna. My daughter shares her name…I knew she had to be special and she is. Anna is quiet and humble but when she speaks and smiles she holds your attention. Anna is also a beautiful powerhouse of a swimmer and her humble nature instantly makes you a fan. Now that you have met everyone, on to the swim.

Stage 1 - preparing Knowing it will be a long week

The air was cold, 55 degrees cold. I didn’t want to take off my clothes to jump in. I did of course, but I didn’t want to. All nerves, one by one, the 12 swimmers jumped in. I politely let the men go before me because I didn’t want to be sitting in the water too long (is that mean?). When I jumped in, I was pleasantly surprised. The water temp was a lovely 70-71 degrees. Rondi gave the countdown and we were off swimming.

After a few minutes I could not see the other swimmers, everyone tends to spread out a bit across and personal space is established. It did not take me long to get in synch with my kayaker. She was very conscientious and met me on all the requests I had asked of her (tell me what to do, make sure I take in enough fluids, and keep the middle of the kayak in line with my vision – done, done and done).

The start was nice and smooth…dare I say, flat? But then, like all good things, the flat ended and the chop started. The chop seemed to last, off and on, for most of the swim, but I had other things to worry about like the fact that I was getting cold! The cold started to creep in around mile 9. I didn’t want to tell my kayaker but I did. I told her around mile 10. By my next feed she let the boat know and they asked if I could continue. I said yes. The CIBBOWS have taught me a great deal about cold water, signs to look out for etc. I put my head down, tried to think about other things and kept moving my arms. My thoughts, as I was swimming through head-on wind chop at mile 10, were: “what did I get myself into signing up for all 7 stages?” And “I can’t imagine how I am going to do this tomorrow.” With those thoughts, I put my head down and swam. When I got to my next feed, I looked up and saw the bridge. It was a burst of newfound energy for me, mentally and physically but…

Lesson 1: Never expect that just because you can see the bridge, that it is close. IT’S NOT!!!!

Stage 1 - our view as we approach the bridges

The bridge as it looks when we are approaching

Rookie move on my part, I thought I had about 30 minutes left…WRONG. I heard over the radio I was 7 miles away. The chill in my bones returned. I put my head down resigned to not let the cold stop me.

As an aside, this is my story. With the exception of 1 other swimmer, who has absolutely no body fat, no other swimmers felt cold when they got out. Mark, an Aussie training for the English Channel which he will be swimming this summer, was disappointed it was not colder!

Another thing to remember is that the cold hits people at different times, in different ways. Sometimes water can be colder and it’s fine for a person, sometimes water can be warmer and it’s not.

Eventually, I did make it to the finish, I did get on the boat, and I was greeted by a supportive crew and Anna. She wasn’t cold and she didn’t look as beat up as I felt. Rondi gave me some warm water and the shivers subsided. As we watched and waited for the other swimmers to finish, cheering them on, feeling their achy strokes as if they were mine, I felt relief.  The day of uncertainty was over; however, the day of trepidation was already starting to seep into my mind.