It all started last Fall with these words…….
” Hey Paula, want to join me for an Ice Swim this Spring?
” Yes”, Paula replied.
We waited for winter to pass, it was long and harsh, the local lakes froze over……
We took cold showers, swam indoors and trained for speed, in preparation, to swim 1 mile in 41 degrees or less I was going to have to swim FAST!
Is it Spring yet?
April rolls around, it’s time for outdoor swimming, but is there any ice free Open Water swimming to be found?
April in Vermont can bring, rain, sleet, snow, sunshine or a combination of all, now for the drum roll, what did April bring this year…… cold snarly weather and frozen lakes, time to get creative in finding some water, turns out my favourite local open water swim location The Green River reservoir is still frozen solid, so time for plan B…..
Plan B: The Pond
Plan B is a swim in my friend Margaret’s pond, Margaret takes the thermometer home to report on the current water temperature, ” 46F”, she announces the next day, ” good enough to get started” I say and we plan a swim at Margaret’s pond.
The swim day arrives and before I know it, we arrive at Margaret’s pond, the air is cool and the water looks dark and ominous, I study the pond closely, it is a lovely pond, quite sheltered from the wind, it is narrow and has some pretty rocks on the side to sit on if one were simply spectating, the length looks about 175 meters round trip, I notice that one end is deeper than the other, Margaret shows me and Paula where they normally get in, I declare my goal of 15 minutes and head to the edge of the pond, Paula is ready to get in too. I edge my feet in, my toes grip firmly on the bottom, ” It can be a bit slick underfoot”, Margaret warns me, as she is saying the words my feet begin to slide forwards, I change my stance and the sliding stops, ” Well Margaret, I am a piddle about person when it comes to getting in the water, no dive and dash for me, I like to walk in waist deep, pause for a bit, and then dive under”, as I am saying the words I start to slide uncontrollably forwards, deeper and deeper I go,” Nooooooooo”, I holler, as I am accelerating forwards like a kid on a slip’ n slide, ” clearly time to swim”, I think to myself with a smirk as I plummet under the surface, the cold hits my face like a ton of bricks, it feels like my skin is on fire, my jaw clenches shut, even my teeth ache, ” temporary discomfort”,I think to myself, with that I bury my head low in the water and focus on thundering up and down the pond, I want 10 laps today, and that’s how the swim goes, Paula and I swimming up and down the pond, one, two, three, four, I count the laps in my head, five, five, hold on did I already do the 5th one? Before I know it 10 laps are up and it is time to get out, I swim to the side and haul myself up the slippery bank, a quick change and I am bundled in warm clothes, hat, and a hot tea in my hands, what bliss.
So that’s how the preparation swims go, we build up to 25 minutes in the pond, the coldest water we hit is 39 degrees fahrenheit in lake Champlain, each time we emerge from the icy waters our skin looks the color of lobsters in a pot.
The week before our big day we head to Lake Champlain to measure a potential course, Tricia from Little River Survey Company joins us with her specialised GPS equipment, it measures to 1cm accuracy, Paula and I hold the Trimble.
We meet Captain Don Couture and go over the course and safety plan, both Paula and I plan to have a kayak guiding us, along with Captain Couture’s boat ” Priority 1 ” as our support boat, on board will be Tricia Kules measuring the course, Sue Ellen Booher, medic and Gerry Kittle first mate and land surveyor, what a crew…
Our big day arrives, Friday April 26th, as is often the case things don’t go to plan, the water is not the right temperature in Mallets Bay where we have planned to swim, Captain Don comes to the rescue searching Lake Champlain for suitable water, he finds it at the Burlington Waterfront, Lake Champlain, Vermont, we meet by the coast guard station and load into Priority 1, the time has come, my first ever International Ice Swimming Association Swim, the plan to swim a continuous mile swim with no assistance, on the boat is Captain Couture, Gerry, Tricia, Sue, our medic, our observers, Margaret Haskins, our kayakers, Paula and me, we tow the kayaks to our start location near North Beach, our kayakers load into their boats, it is time to strip off my warm cozy clothing…
Goal Declared, 1 mile at 41 degrees fahrenheit or less…
The water is an average of 40.8, we have our required conditions, we have to get swimming withing 10 minutes of the temperature measurement, no time to piddle about now, I strip of my clothing, a small shudder as the last layer comes off, I pull on my cap, ear plugs in, the chatter from the crew is now just a mumble, Cynthia is already in the kayak, her relaxed upbeat smile beaming from the boat, Paula splashes in the water, she is off swimming already, I edge my way to the swimmers platform, I have been eating all day to ensure a full warm belly and keeping well hydrated, that helps me better tolerate the cold, I definitely don’t want to be swimming with a full bladder though, that will take a lot of energy and heat to swim with, so I dangle my feet in the 40.8 degree water from the edge of Priority 1’s swimmer platform and pee, sorry Don!
Into the water I slide, I lean into the frigid water and fire up the engines, my plan to ” Fang it”, as we say down under, I am going to give it my all and swim this bad boy as strong and fast as I can, and with that I snapped into race pace, WHOSH.
I scan my body, my thighs feel like someone is running a hot iron up and down them, my forearms feel like sharp blades each time they slice down deep in the water to pull, my feet feel heavy, I continue the scan, ” mind, how about you?”, I check in and notice how relaxed I feel, my body is on auto pilot, it is doing what I have trained it to do, race! My mind is aware of the cold and not alarmed by it ” Oh this again, I remember this, a little discomfort, we swim hard and strong, then get out of the water, warm up and have hot chocolate, bring it on!”
So that is how it goes, Cynthia paddles beside me smiling, she brings out a few tricks along the way to make me laugh, a bright orange octopus, a yellow duck, all the things you’d expect during a swim! Meanwhile I follow her every move, smile now and then and let my body ease into the performance zone, what fun!
Well we swim and swim, we leave North Beach, pass the Ferries at the Burlington waterfront, past the coastguard, past the no swimming sign, ” boy we have come a long way, I wonder if we are close to a mile?”, I think to myself, I keep swimming, I know that I am not to stop until I am told too, I swim, and swim and swim, my body is still functioning, I notice my head starting to ride high in the water, I catch myself and plunge my face down deep into the icy Lake water.
Cynthia starts looking behind her, I want to look up and see what’s going on in the worst possible way but I resist temptation and keep swimming, then I notice a humming in the water, it’s Priority 1, she is here is to pick me up, WAHOO! Cynthia signals me to the boat, I swim towards the steps and pause for a moment, WAAAAHHHHOOOO I yell, then reach for the steps, into the boat I go, my ice swim is over, time to get warmed up. Margaret and Gerry are there to help me, my hands are useless so I stand there being dressed like a small child, I keep interrupting Margaret, ” No Questions” she states, not until we get you dressed. I stand tight lipped, holding back my question obediently, I try again ” Did…”, again I have to wait to ask my question. Finally it is time….
“Did I make it?” I ask through chattering teeth,” You bet you did”, Margaret gives me the biggest hug, I feel warm inside.
Check out Ice swim footage here….
How Far did I swim? 1.197 Miles
How Long did it take? 30 minutes and 38 seconds
What was the water Temperature? 40.8 degrees fahrenheit
What’s up Next? Manhattan Island Marathon Swim
Will I have fun in NYC ? Here is a hint, full story coming soon…