Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Into the wind...

We started at 8:45am and finished 14.21 miles and 8 hours and 40 minutes and about 125 energy bars and drinks later just off the seawall at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.

Mike Stevens brought a SeaRay40 - a gorgeous boat that was more than capable of handling the 13 swimmers we took on. We expected 11, but Derek showed up at the dock with 2 lifeguards who both resembled Michael Phelps - so we took 'em with us.

In addition, we picked up Bill Baedke and his 3 person Seadoo, which proved invaluable for the effort. Bill was able to corral all the swimmers who would get separated from the pack, which ended up being me quite often. Though I can swim a long way, it appears I can't swim straight very far and Bill helped to keep me on track.

The weather looked great - it was warm, the skies were clear and there was no sign of rain. The boat trip over was uneventful, but gave us a great opportunity to take photos, plot strategy, eat, etc.

Unfortunately, once we arrived at Gull Island, there was a steady 10-15 knot wind out of the southwest. Once we got out into the lake, the resulting 1-3 foot waves came directly at us and gave you the sensation of climbing up a 14 mile hill using only your arms. Whenever you would breathe, you'd come back down on the next stroke and slap the water - sometimes so hard your ears would ring. This happened to each swimmer on about every other stroke. Our ears are still ringing - its like getting slapped on the side of the head 10,000 times.

10 of us started the swim together, and after the first couple of miles we developed a pattern of about 6 people in the water at once. Again this year, almost every swimmer swam further than they had committed. The waves got bad quickly, and at the second break I had to come out of the water for a quick break. I was feeling disoriented and couldn't keep the boat in sight - even though they were traveling generally in a straight line.

Jenny and the lifeguards were setting the pace - with most of the rest of us somewhat bunched together at the rear. Bill and his Seadoo were close to us for much of the swim - proving a general feeling of comfort and a life-line to the boat, which almost always seemed far away.

This year something else happened that was different - I handed my distance crown to Jenny Birmelin. I got out of the water briefly several times in the first 3/4 of the swim, but after the 10 mile mark I took three 15-20 minute breaks, ending up at a distance of about 12 miles.

Jenny, on the other hand, stayed in the water the entire time, taking energy supplements and water about every 45 minutes or so. Here is a woman who has done numerous open water races and swims, including recently the Alcatraz swim, who can now add this 14.21 mile swim to her record of achievements. She was a rock - in an extremely difficult situation. It was honestly the hardest thing me or any of the other swimmers has ever done - including Jenny, who we now refer to as "La Machine".

The swim itself gets murky in the middle. It was just a tough, slug it out day. At times you'd get very frustrated with the waves and try to punch your way through. But they would always win. Sometime you could catch a little rhythm - for about 3 strokes and then you'd get slammed down on a wave and your ears would ring again. Pete seemed to be successful at doing the breaststroke, because he could go under the each of each wave, but that made breathing much more difficult and is a very tough way to get 14 miles.

Everyone was supportive and very helpful. It was a great, supportive, agreeable group. No one got upset about anything, no one complained about anything but the relentless waves, and no one took offense to the kidding that goes on all day. It would be a perfect team building exercise if you could find a group of execs who could all swim. And it would make a hell of a reality show episode...

This year was little frightening for me personally. Everything seemed generally OK until the final 3/4 of a mile when I took on a mouthful of water, and then 30 seconds later got slammed with another wave. I couldn't catch my breath for what seemed like an eternity. 200 yards from the boat and by myself, I struggled to get air. Slowly, I was able to force air back into my lungs one small gasp at a time. Finally I got my wind back. After a couple of minutes I was able to continue swimming, and I finished the swim about 30 minutes later. I would say keeping calm and thinking about Rickie were the two things that got me back.

We finished at about 5:30pm - thankfully the waves subsided for about the last 1/2 mile. Overall this was our most difficult swim to date. It will be known as the "year of the waves". I don't think we'll head into the wind again. If we get out there next year and face the same kind of wind, I think we'd make the decision to go from South to North, ending up at Gull Island instead of starting there. But that is difficult as well, since the Lake has about a 1/2 knot current that heads from the shipping channel and Gull Island down to the Detroit River.

We'll have better pictures soon. Check back in the next couple of weeks. Thanks again for all the support, encouragement and donations. It certainly is a great way for all of us to restore our faith in the human race and the ability of all of us to come together for a common cause. Now, if we could just fix Detroit...

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