Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Catalina Channel Swim 2013


In the extremely early morning hours of the August 12,2013 I faced one of my fears-- I swam 21 miles in the dark, in the ocean. If I am rather frightened of the ocean, specially at night, why would I choose to spend 12+ hours in that water swimming? Because there are few things in this world that I love more than swimming. I have Also always felt that I should face my fears and overcome them, and that is exactly what I did when I swam from Catalina Island to the Los Angeles area of California.

Although I had trained extensively and felt that I was actually much more prepared for this swim than I was for my 2012 English Channel swim, it still came with it's own set of worries. Just 2 weeks before my swim my shoulder that gives me endless trouble got so bad that I could no longer use it at all. It would send searing pain through my shoulder even picking up a pillow. With the help of my chiropractor and several days of being very sore, I was able to get it much better. The problem with that was that it was only 12 days before my swim, and I couldn't swim for at least three, maybe four days after my should had been worked on. This was very worrisome to me. Now, don't get me wrong, Oregon is great, but I know how family trips go with my family, so spending the week prior to my Catalina swim in Oregon was not on the top of my to do list. I was able to find a pool that worked out pretty well, but finding time around my family's crazy schedule was a different story. I was at least able to get three workouts in, but not the six that I had been hoping for. So why not swim in the ocean, I mean after all we were staying in a campground right on the coast. There was one problem (at least it seemed like a problem to me, others might not feel the same way), the water was between 48 and 50 degrees depending on the day. Swimming in water that cold when it was only 60 degrees outside did not sound appealing to me. Between the shoulder and the family vacation I had only been in the water four times in eleven days! Oh no, now I am supposed to swim 21 miles and be okay!? I needed that swimming... 


On Sunday August 11th I arrived early at the docks; I wanted to be ready. I made my way to the Outrider and introduced myself to my observers and boat captains before going back to get my gear. Apparently I am unusual; at the meeting with the CCSF observers and the boat captains, the observers really questioned my not wanting to use a kayak or support swimmer at all during the swim. They kept saying, "It is not mandatory, but we strongly encourage you to have one, for extra safety." Um okay, but if I am not used to it, why should I break my routine; now is not the time to do so? 

Watching the sea-lion while
 getting ready to jump in. 

We had a two and half hour crossing over to the starting point at Catalina. I didn't think I would be able to get any rest, but I tried anyway, just as I started to doze off, my dad came and woke me up, saying we had about 20 minutes left. With swims like this I have confidence that once I hit that water I will finish the swim, mainly because of my do or die attitude, but I still get those awful pre-swim butterflies. This time was no exception. I had to remind myself that I was well trained and well prepared; I could and would do this!

Upon the arrival at Doctor's Cove, I looked around trying to see where I would start. All I could see was pitch black. "It's okay, I'll have those bright lights just like I did with the English Channel," I thought to myself. Just as I stepped out on the platform, ready to jump in and swim to shore, a sea-lion chasing a flying fish swam just in front of me. I am not afraid of sea-lions, but the idea that if they are in the water, other meaner things are in the water too scared me. The crew was all saying how cool it was that I would be escorted to shore by a sea-lion, but to be honest, I was a little freaked out. I asked the captain if he would keep the big spotlights on. I didn't say, it was because I was scared, but I'm sure he knew. "We'll see what you think after half an hour of swimming." He told me. It took me another minute-- or maybe two until I worked up the courage to jump in. I was physically ready and I had mentally prepared, but some aspects of it you can't prepare for, they hit you just as you are about to do this crazy thing. The ocean life wasn't the only thing , making me hesitate. I knew that once I entered the water, there was no turning back; I would be in the water at least ten and a half hours-- probably more; once I got in, the only way out for me was to walk out on shore, I would never stop. It was a lot to take in. Finally, I jumped, but not until boat Captain Dave threatened jokingly threatened to throw me in 

The glow of the city in the distance during the night time.
As I expected, once I hit the water I was just fine. The water felt warm and I could see the shore easily. I did give an involuntary squeal when I reached the kelp, but I was fine. I swam to shore, stood up, turned around, looked at the boat, took a deep breath, and put my arm up in the ready position. Then with a step into the water I started my long swim across the Catalina Channel. Captain Dave was right, who would have thought, seeing the spotlights helped me feel safe, but they made it really hard to see the boat; all I could see was the bright light. Within five minutes I was sick of it. "This is ridiculous! I am fine! Just get that damn light out of my face!" I thought. "My first feed is not for 30 minutes, so I guess I'll have to put up with it until then." As they had presumed, I had them turn the lights off. Swimming in the dark like that was amazing. I could see four things, the three glow sticks attached to the boat, and the bubbles from my pull that were lit up by the glow stick attached to my back. I felt like I was alone out there in the world, and for some reason it felt really peaceful. I really loved it. I would watch the glow of the bubbles each time I pulled, thinking it was so gorgeous. Occasionally when I would be on the crest of a swell, I would be able to see the glow of L.A. ahead of me. I felt like I was swimming to the light. Also, the glowing ball of a jellyfish is pretty cool to see in the pitch black like that. I saw several of those, fortunately for me none of them stung me. I even accidentally grabbed one as I pulled back, but my hand felt fine, maybe it didn't have tentacles.

Honestly, I was so caught up in my swimming that I didn't even notice that I was swimming against the current and was going incredibly slow. My figured speed was about 2 mph (which didn't quite turn out accurate due to the current at the beginning). Every third feed I would get solids, this helped me keep track of time; that is until they missed the solids on one feed and then later another feed. I completely lost track of how long I had been out there. Normally I don't mind just going, but for some reason, losing track of time made it seem interminably long. I really had a hard time with that, I kept thinking, "I have been swimming forever, am I even close yet?" I am sure the fact that I had been going against the current and had started out at only 0.9 miles and hour added to that feeling, I just didn't realize at the time. Just around dawn my knee really started to hurt. "Ugh, are you freaking serious!? Good thing it's not too bad." That thought came too soon. The pain grew more and more as time went on. At one point it would just lock up and hurt so badly I couldn't even use my leg. I was also really concentrating on pulling with my left arm, because often my right arm does 85% of the work, and I didn't want to make my already injured shoulder worse. I could tell that my left arm was working just as hard as my right arm, the problem with that was that my left shoulder wasn't used to working that hard for long periods of time. About 12 miles into the swim my left shoulder started hurting badly enough I could barley pull it around. "Just go, just go dammit!" I kept thinking, making myself work through the pain. When it would get too bad, I would say a little prayer that my knee and shoulder would continue work without too much pain so I could finish the swim. This would help me on for the next while.

Dawn had just come, but it still wasn't very light outside, when I suddenly heard high pitch squeaking all around me. DOLPHINS! As I looked at my family on the boat they were all pointing, and I knew the dolphins were close by. I didn't see them, but on my next feed, my dad told me they were only about 30 yards off. I heard dolphins underwater three more times! It was so cool! Dolphins are my favorite animal and I have dreamt of swimming with them since I was a little kid. Dream come true! It was so foggy I couldn't see the coast forever, but maybe that was for the best. The swim always seems so long once I can see the coast; it is very misleading, you feel like you are almost done, but really you have around three hours left. Finally at one point I could see the cliffs, and guess what, I was right; two and a half more hours of swimming after that. For the last hour and a half the sun finally came out. It was warming on my back, which was nice, since the water got colder closer to shore. I had been pushing about 75% to 80% the whole time, but the last hour and a half I really tried to pick it up. I pushed 90% that whole time. That is a long time to sprint. At that point I was swimming at 2.6 mph. 

The last stretch of the swim.

As we got closer to shore my siblings all emerged on deck (they had all insisted that they wouldn't get seasick and wouldn't use the patches, but they all did get seasick and had to sleep until the patches started working.) Now my whole family was there. My siblings are all very loud, so I was really surprised at how quiet they were. They didn't really cheer my on, they just calmly watched. Even Alex, my personal cheer leader only yelled out once or twice. I know I told them, I hate the cheering while I'm swimming, and I do, but didn't they know not to listen to me. I hate cheering after swimming that long, but it really does make me do faster. Finally I was close enough to the shore to head there without the boat. I could see Gordon on the beach and the Muaina family. I picked up the pace, giving everything I had left. I stumbled a little on the rocks as I got out, they are big and awkward. Once I cleared the water, I turned around, looked at the boat, and put my hands up for victory. Gordon took a picture for me and asked if he could swim back out to the boat with me. "Hell yes!" I thought, even though I just said, "Yeah of course!"

Getting back in is hard, so it was nice to have the company back out to the boat. I pulled myself into the boat, and as I sat in my towel getting warm with my hot chocolate, my brother Devin noticed blood running down my hands. I had pulled big chunks of skin off my fingers as I climbed out. Oops, at least they didn't hurt. I wasn't really hungry, so I just chatted and watched the dolphins on the boat ride back to the marina. Once I was safe on the boat, my family told me that they saw a single grey fin poking up out of the water, just a little bit ahead of me while I was swimming. My dad told me he was pretty sure that it was a sunfish, but my sister Celine, the marine biologist and Captain Dave thought it was a shark....hmm. Oh well, I'm still alive so all is well.

My goal time was to be just under 12 hours. My time was 12:15:00. I can handle that time. Not quite my goal time, but I'll survive. I found out after my swim that I was swimming against the current for the first 6 to 7 miles and I only averaged .9 mph. By the end there not a current either direction and for the middle I averaged 2.4 mph. The last couple miles I held a 2.6 mph average, so I finished harder than I started. The water was 68 degrees at the start, and right around 67 for most of the swim. At the end by the shore the water temperature was 65 degrees.

Celine, Devin, and my parents asked me which swim was harder. I don't really know, because every swim is different. I was a lot warmer and was more comfortable with night swimming this time; it just felt so long. My shoulder and knee causing me hell were no fun either.

I was really impressed with the great crew and observers. They were great. I am so grateful for my parents who were out on deck to full 12 hours. For the English Channel I never go my chart, so I was stoked about getting my chart.I was really happy about getting the chart right then at the marina, because last year I never got my chart. Back at the house I didn't have my steak and potato dinner until after my long shower and nap.
Front: Renee, Celine, Joelle (swimmer), Alex, Camille, Lynn
Back: Don Van Cleve- CCSF observer, Devin, Steve Dockstader- CCSF observer
At Universal Studios the next day my siblings thought I didn't look like I was having as much fun as they thought I should have. Well, the soreness that comes with a 21 mile swim may have had something to do with that. Walking around all day when your knee doesn't work and when all the skin is gone from between your legs isn't ideal. Also being a crowded area with lots of people and bumpy rides is not good for shoulders that hurt to be touched. Despite the after soreness, every second of it was absolutely worth it!