Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 8

Here’s Ned‘s report from the final leg of the SCAR Swim Challenge, the 10 km night swim in Theodore Roosevelt Lake:

I woke early at Apache Lake (ok, not 4:00 am like the previous days) and headed over for breakfast. It was open water heaven: four of us at a table with no room for all the plates! Darren and Greg befriended the swimmers with “extra” (a word I never encountered in this sport before…) pancakes and French toast.

Lea, Barb and I headed out on the Apache Trail: dirt road through fantastic countryside. We arrived in the old mining town of Globe in time for an early Mexican lunch and early check in to a converted schoolhouse B&B. A relaxing day … for a change.

We arrived on time for the swim briefing and milling. Since we were expected to arrive back near midnight it was time to say a few goodbyes – a great group of swimmers, kayakers and other volunteers. Dave Barra had the eye of the tiger look and I gave him the eye of the aged back.

Another boat trip to the start – closer that the previous days but still looked long to me. All the previous swims were shorter than advertised and I wondered if we might make them up in Roosevelt Lake. I decided not to go with the zinc/sun cream and settled on the “Barra strategy”. I would not feed every 30 minutes, as in all previous marathon swims. Into the kayak bag went just two feeds for the swim, which I predicted to take 2 hours 30 minutes.

Kent had arranged for a slug of new local swimmers – you know the type: young, slim and rested. I forced myself to focus on Barra and ignored the new talent. I got a great start as we headed through a marshy area around and island. I can’t image anyone cut a closer line as I “cleared” a few old sunken trees/branches. Barra pulled up on my right – but faced longer swim around.

Darkness was settling and I started to just focus on the kayaker. Looking up didn’t give me anything but a few light flashes. Next stop was past a rock headland. In Cork, we specialise in rocks so I was determined to cut the closest line. Bam, left hand into the cliff: YES, a perfect line!

Two and a half thousand right arm strokes in, I called for the first feed: 500 ml of High5, and it was down in 8 seconds. Barra wasn’t winning this in my feed times!

I looked ahead and it looked a really long way off – perhaps 3 days of twisting canyons dulled my straight line distance gauge. In the pitch black I started to lose my mental strength and was hoping for a quick appearance of the bridge then dam. It was not happening. Arms burning and body sore from the previous hard 7 days – it was getting ugly. I could see a swimmer perhaps 25 m behind me and imagined it was Barra.

Finally and eventually he passed under the bridge and the lights of the finish were in sight. Then we hit what could only be described as a bit of “gritty” water: slime, leaves, branched and who knows what else. I could hear Kent yell “75 yards” and I soon hit the finish. It was head up and yelled over to the boat: “please, somebody tell me that Dave Barra isn’t there?”

I had lived in New York as a student and love the accent, but not tonight. Dave replied – the sound of his voice put me into temporary shock – I don’t remember the words. Up on the boat and a huge congratulations to him and the others in front and Joe from Colorado had pipped us both.

I don’t think it was close and I don’t think any strategy would have taken Barra that evening: he was Rocky Balboa that night. There WILL be a next time!

With the event over – it was my turn to hit the beer cooler. Some stayed to party – but I was off soon and in bed by 1:00 am. Well done Kent and all for a massive event. Four marathons in 4 days with the last a night swim … so cool.

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 7

Finally, Ned has sent on a few photographs! Here is his report from Day 3 of the SCAR Swim Challenge, the Apache Lake 17 mile swim:

I woke in a hotel room with no phone, no web, no fridge, no cooking facilities and no open restaurant. It must not have been a pretty sight: sitting on the edge of the bed, covered in the first lot of zinc waiting to dry, eating three day old spaghetti and meatballs out of the largest zip lock bag in the world – with my right hand (the fingers alone just didn’t do it). It must have been pretty bad because I think the CNN weather girl changed the station from her side.

Photograph – Ned Denison

Headed up to the start of the Apache Lake swim (Day 3).

Down to the marina and Kent had arranged 50 breakfast burritos. It settled well on top of the spaghetti and I got to meet Darren Miller (completed six of the Oceans Seven swims) and a big hug for Jen Schumacher. Darren wasn’t really up on the cadence of the swims and deferred on the burrito thinking we were swimming in a matter of minutes. The wind was cold/howling and Kent decided to run the swim with the wind (thereby denying me my best chance of taking Gracie). The kayakers were transported first up river and I went to sleep (with jeans, wool socks/cap, three under-layers and a hoodie) in the back of an empty U-Haul trailer. I woke to 27 swimmers (in summer garb) who had figured out the wisdom of my trailer and we chatted a while longer.

Photograph – Ned Denison

The crew in the back of the U-Haul truck, Ned sleeping in the back…

It was then up the river by boat – another 40 minutes or so and onto the starting beach. Everybody brought a spare suit for Greg – just in case.  Again, it was up the river to yet another dam another set of buoys.

Kent billed this as 17 miles and I packed 8 litres of High5. I sprinted at the start out of fear. Something in the water was making a menacing growl and I was thinking 6+ feet of BIG HUNGRY catfish. Gracie and Sarah again took off and Jen passed me as well. She didn’t give me even a small smile or a wave – so I gave her a little bump, just for old time sake. A fourth lady passed and at about 3 miles I had a big gap behind me. The next 30 minutes must have been crap because as we passed half-way my “lead” had reduced by 80%. It was time to decide what this swim was going to be. Was I just going to try and slog it out? Or was I going to pick it up a bit and not let them pass me (it is NOT a race)?  I just imagined it was Gábor Molnár behind me and picked it up a bit. I pulled away from all but one, who was like the terminator!

I then made a very big mistake. Kent had said that the marina was the second or third point and I calculated the remaining number of right arm strokes. The sun was hot, the jet skis scary and the damn terminator just kept coming. At one point, my kayaker wasn’t sure if we went to the right where the three killer jets skis emanated or to the left where we could see a gap. She studied the map while the terminator kept coming and coming. She declared less than 2 miles through the invisible gap and off we went: I reset my counter to 1,400 right arm strokes. She handed me the last bottle maybe 100 m in front of the terminator (now probably just a skeleton swimming) and when I saw the finish it was “sod the drink” and sprint (ok, it was thrash wildly and gasp) the 500 m or so. It was 6½ hours or so… On to the boat and cheering for the terminator, who suddenly morphed into Liz Fry. We were fifth and sixth and Liz was the first with a cold beer. The sound of the beer opening was barely audible to me with ear plugs standing next to Liz – but it brought Greg O’Connor flying around the corner at an Olympic pace to claim the second and third beer.

We headed back and passed cheering all the remaining swimmers. Mo gave the biggest wave and the buzzards had by now come to the same decision as the rest of us – Mo had 20+ years of world class swimming left! My arms were seriously hurting but I still managed to find a massage table … and go back for seconds.

Photograph – Ned Denison

Mo Siegel – there are now “awards” but he isn’t doing too badly!

Dinner was festive and it was the absolute reminder of the swimming marathon class I had been enjoying. At least two of the kayakers are world class swimmers! And perhaps as special, I was swimming with some of the swimmers who contribute the MOST back to the sport: Greg – Boston Light organiser, Liz – Swim the Sound and Dave – 8 Bridges, and there were others: Gracie, Becky, BarbCatalina organisers … and others.

Mo was clenching his fists ready to go back to battle the bed bugs when Liz, Bob and I confessed to 20+ river bites. Mo calmed and headed off before he found out that nobody else had a single one. The start mystery was also solved: Darren missed the breakfast burrito and his stomach was growling after the 2-ish hour start gap. I was close: 6+ feet of BIG HUNGRY DARREN … a sound which will give me nightmares and probably affect the wildlife birth rate in the canyon for years to come.

A very pleasant evening was drawing to a close when Dave casually remarked: “I am taking you tomorrow, Denison”. Shit, the 10k night swim might not just be star gazing.

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 6

Here’s Ned‘s report from Day 2 of the SCAR Swim Challenge in Canyon Lake:

All the swimmers and kayakers (and kayaks) were transported upriver to a start location a few hundred metres from the dam (for the next lake up).  I was in a sleek speed boat with some world class marathon swimmers!  Towering cliffs, cactus and soaring buzzards – very cool, and this place is now in the top 10 locations I have EVER visited: Yosemite, Okavango Delta, Ngorongoro Crater, etc. The trip took a long time and I did wonder – are we really going to swim all this?

The boat transport required two trips so we hung out on a small beach for an hour or so. Again, I tread carefully when going to pee as any hiss and rattle may not be trouble with my old plumbing. As we started getting into our suits and putting sun block on (in my case – again all over zinc) a ripple of fear and revulsion spread through the crowd of nearly fifty.  It was threatening to knock Canyon Lake out of my top 10 and well down to bottom 10.  Greg O’Connor had forgotten his swim suit and was threatening to swim naked. Liz Fry looked ready to scramble up the cliff. I produced a spare set and basically saved the day. This kind of evened it out my “swim cred”  – as earlier I was the only one to lay on the ground to take a nap before the swim, providing a kind of jungle gym experience for a few hundred ants.

Again, we swam upriver to the buoys below the dam and went on “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”.  I held the lead (it is NOT a race) for a good 112.5 m before Gracie went steaming by. Twenty minutes or so later, I think, Sarah passed me with Dave Barra hot on her heels. I picked it up and stayed with them.  The pulled away and I was 1% cheering Dave for taking on the ladies and 99% trying to remind him, by telepathy, that it is NOT a race.

I stopped the 1% cheering when they vanished from sight around not one but two corners. The day was hot (what else) and any boat traffic resulted in echo waves. Despite the frantic waving of Cimarron, my kayker, I was half thinking to insist on my right-of-way as the passenger tourist steamer (fake steamer) entered my narrow channel. I eventually moved to the canyon wall.

Things improved as I found Dave two miles into the swim. It was a great finish – earlier than I thought. Call it a sharp right then a 500 m sprint into another buoy line in front of another dam with a cheering group of earlier finishers and volunteers. I climbed on (about 4th and first male home), congratulated Gracie and the others and joined the cheering section. Soon so many came in that we needed to off-load onto a transport boat and headed back in.

Cimarron brought her massage table and YES, I was first home! We again snacked and chatted in the sun and could see Mo Siegel coming in strong. At 60+, Mo is an inspiration and took no offense to his personal flock of circling buzzards…

That evening we moved to the Apache Lake “resort” by long, twisty dirt road … and went off the grid. Kent arranged a sightseeing boat and we saw the desert stars – MAGICAL.