The day was forecast to be a pearler with high cloud and light winds. Saturday August 25th, 2018. I stamped my foot and staked my claim ” this is our Triple Willy Day” I said to my Lake Willoughby Triple Crew.
We made our way to the lake to see for ourselves. Willoughby is an unpredictable lake and she often shows off showcasing a more feisty wind than the forecast predicts. Today is no exception. We were expecting no wind and were greeted by a festive little 6 mph wind jostling the water in a merry way, yip this lake is definitely excited that we are swimming today!
We make our way down to south beach at 7:00am with the plan of starting before 8:00am. Our course:
South to North
North to South
South to North
Our kayaks are prepped, feeds are mixed, hot tea is ready,shore crew is in place for turnarounds, the tracker is on, photographer set and all the gadgets are in place to measure wind speed, temperature and distance.
It’s time to start. I wade out past the south beach and gaze up at the rugged cliffs of Mount Pisgah on my right and Mount Hor on my left they are absolutely breathtaking. I slither under the water and begin my swim. Within 30 minutes I am directly beneath the cliffs, how they tower above me. This is my favorite part of the lake. Deep green Vermont foliage surrounds the rugged, jagged rock cliffs. Cliffs that were gouged out by glacial ice thousands of years ago. And the deep dark lake, 300 foot deep, I wonder just what the V shaped valley below looks like under these deep waters and just how big the fish and eels are down there!
The waves have kicked up and my mind snaps away from the majestic mountains and mesmerizing lake. ” Well this is going to make things interesting ” I giggle to myself. This lake is something else…..and that’s what I love about it!
An hour passes and I take my first feed, then 1 hour 30 and 2 hours. The North beach is in sight it is nearly time to complete my first crossing. I am surprised at how many Vermonters are out enjoying on the beach. I make my way onto the beach, haul myself up to my feet and clear the water. I turn and lock my eyes onto the lake “it’s time for crossing number 2” I declare to myself and in I go. This time swimming into the south wind that’s been building over the last few hours.
It seems like I’m swimming in slow motion as I make my way towards the cliffs and the south beach. It’s a 5 mile stretch give or take and it’s feeling much longer! The culprit is an excitable South West wind. The lake is playing with me. She is strong tossing me about and in return I am tenacious, never giving up..
As I approach the middle of the lake the temperature drops. I am swimming into the deepest part of the lake. The lake narrows. The wind is compressed between the 2 mountains and the winds blows much stronger. It feels like I am in a wind tunnel. It is slow going.
I long to see the sharp, rugged cliffs of the south part of the lake. A sign that I am within range of the south beach and the end of my second crossing. Eventually they appear and tower above me.
One mile until South Beach. One mile until my final turnaround. This is the one that has stumped me in the past. The long wade out of the water, clearing the water and the long wade back in. It stays shallow for so long. In the past I have felt my body chill and my energy drop at that very point. Today I am determined that I won’t allow that to stop me diving back in for a third crossing.
I swim in as far as I can. My finger tips start to scrape the bottom and I force myself to my feet. Now I am wading. I wade, wade and wade some more. Finally I step out of the water. This is it two crosssings complete just one to go!
I clear the water and turn to face back down the lake for one more time… ” Let’s do this” I shout to my crew!
Into the water I go for a third time. My body feels cool after standing on shore in the cooling wind. ” I’m going to have to swim hard to warm back up” it’s more of a command than a declaration. Off I go one more swim between these awe inspiring cliffs. Every time I swim by them they seem to hypnotize me.
I swim and swim, it seems to take much longer to get through the cliffs on the 3rd crossing. Despite this feeling I am making good time. I pass through the cliffs and the lake widens. I start to see the cabins and camps appear along the shoreline as I turn to breathe. I’ve been by them many times before and now I look for the familiar roof lines, the house with the flag pole and then there are the little cabins all lined up with little red roof tops.
I keep myself occupied looking at these sleepy little camps nestled along the shore. While all this is happening I can feel the wind pick up and the north beach my final landing get closer.
Time for a feed the menu today is cran- raspberry UCAN and Gatorade endurance lemon lime flavor. I’ver been alternating between the two. For treats dried apricots and peppermint tea.
“Last Feed” Margaret shouts out from her kayak. I tip back my last feed, the feed doesn’t taste too appealing but knowing it’s the last one makes me grin ear to ear. “There’s the beach” shouts Cynthia “your close less than 500 meters ” she adds. This is music to my ears and I put my head down and swim towards the beach and my wonderful shore crew Emily and John Haskins waiting to welcome me to dry land.
The water is getting shallow I can tell because the water is getting warmer. The North beach has a very gradual landing. Meaning it stays hip deep for a long time, then knee deep for a long time and finally you bottom out. It has a lovely sandy bottom and today the bright sun has warmed the shallow waters.
I can now see the bottom. It stays shallow for some time so I know there is still a ways to go. I pull hard and work on curbing my excitement…crossing number 3 is coming to a finish…a successful finish!
And then it happens I feel the sandy bottom with my fingers as I pull. I haul myself up to my feet and I begin to run.
I run and I run, my Triple Crossing is not done until I clear the water
And then it happens…my last step exiting my third crossing of lake Willoughby. 7 hours, 14 minutes and 6 seconds. After 3 attempts I land the swim and it feels amazing. I feel accomplishment, relief and mostly I am grateful for my pilot and navigator Cynthia Needham, crew Margaret Haskins, Emily Haskins and John Haskins and Phil White and Djanjo who has piloted me on so many Willoughby Crossings, he made it happen today.
Next up time to hug my crew, pack up and say farewell for now to this great lake. Should you get the chance to swim it my advice ” Do It ” and if possible more than once.
And Finally the whole team. With Lake Willoughby in the background.