11:30pm Phil calls us all together to announce the swimmer pods and boat assignments, we gather around, me, my crew and this extraordinary group of people are all ready to embark on the expedition, there is excitement in the air.
Phil begins by announcing how much this swim has contributed to raising funds for IROC, the local community center, how friendlier the borders will be if even just for one night and talk of sighting Memphre, Lake Memphremagog’s equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster, here with us tonight is a fascinating Newport resident, Barbara Malloy who has seen Memphre 7 times in her lifetime, the most recent in 2005.
In 1816 a local inhabitant named Perry sighted the animal as it swam past the settler and his wife. Perry described a creature much like a sheep shorn of its wool and possessing 12 to 15 pairs of legs!This sighting is definitely at odds with the general description of the animal seen hundreds of times since. Most observers agree that the animal is dark-grey or black and measures between 15 and 45 feet-long, possesses a horse-like head and is a very swift swimmer.
BACK TO THE MEETING….
” We begin in 30 minutes, there will be a lead boat with a spotlight to follow, and a boat to patrol between the swimmers, we will be starting in three pods, Phil goes on the read the names of swimmers in each pod, Jennifer Dutton, Elaine Howley and Greg O’ Connor are in the first pod, all strong swimmers with a wealth of experience between them, next is David Dammerman, William Shipp, Emma Otto- Moudry and me, Emma is the youngest swimmer at 16 years old, a strong swimmer with a some challenging Open water swims under here belt in 2011 already, final pod is Liz Fry who has recently returned from a 2 way crossing of the English Channel, John Humenik and a relay team of Alison Meehan and Shannon Keegan.
Phil briefs us all on the importance of feeding, he tells us there will be a bull horn every 30 minutes at which time all swimmers are to feed, all the kayakers have been handed out a list of instructions including a map and how to monitor their swimmer for signs of Hypothermia, finally ” we sadly lost 2 support boats for the expedition we have one support boat per pod, Swimmers and kayakers meet your support boat driver, get readyto swim and load up, we start midnight Newport time”
With that me and the crew move towards Peter Stuart, he is driving the support boat, I am processing the following…..” I have mentally prepared for 2 swimmers per support boat, reality tonight is that there are 4 swimmers, not ideal and raises concerns of ” what ifs”, what if the pod splits apart by more than minutes?, what if all 4 swimmers get pulled from the water, can we fit on the boat?, I scan the group, my crew and our preparation and make a decision, ” I am swimming tonight and enter the water at my own risk” and with that I go about my final preparations, cap on, goggles, ear plugs, light stick and next up grease, ” Deb, don’t hold back on the grease”, she doesn’t, she applies thick wads of it on my neck, under my arms, under my suit line, she covers my shoulders and thighs, the grease is hard to apply, it is not warm enough out for it to soften, I shudder in the cool wind. Phil calls all the swimmers together at the slipway, Deb is kayaking first, she loads into the boat, it is laden with blue lights, she looks like she is on a carnival ride, I give her a final push, ” see you in a bit” and shove the boat, it doesn’t move an inch, Bill one of my fellow pod swimmers is quick to lend a hand, Deb is launched, it is time for me to swim…..
We watch the kayakers paddle out, tick, tick, tick, tick, the clock is ticking on how long I have been standing in the wind with only my bathing suit on, my body temperature is staring to drop, I need to get moving and soon. To add to the discomfort after my 500 mls of maxim, bottle of Gatorade and bottle of water, I need to pee bad, I walk towards the water, my feet and ankles are in I start to pee down my legs, ” time for a photo swimmers, line up”,shouts Phil, I look up at the swimmers all lining up at the top of the slipway, “aww man, I am going to be the only one in the photo with pee down my legs….Oh well”, and I line up anyway….um, I’m the one in the back.
INTO THE WATER……..
It is time, me and my pod watch as pod 1 enters the water, ” we are going to try and swim together for the first while” say Bill, “OK”, I reply and we enter the water, I am excited, I can’t wait to start swimming and feel this lake. The wind is blowing, the water feels turbulent….
Deeper we wade in, I am thigh deep, the rest of the pod dives in and starts swimming, I take one final look down the lake, into the darkness, ” If I can see it I can swim it”, I think to myself, my eyes strain, all I can see is darkness, the circus of lights on the kayaks and that one big memorizing light of the lead boat…..swim to the light, swim to the light and with that I dive under the water.OFF TO A ROUGH START….
Waves and swell, I begin to process what I am feeling, blackness, turbulence from the swimmers next to me, light blinding me as I breath to the side, I can’t tell if I am with my pod or not, I am swimming hard to warm up from the chill of waiting on the slipway, it feels good to be in the water. ” Where’s Deb”, no sooner had I thought it there she was, strong Deb in Cynthia’s cheery bright yellow kayak, I feel relaxed with her there with me, I settle down and get about powering through the waves, I feel strong, I feel in control. As we move away from Newport and the shelter of the slipway the conditions begin to change, the head wind has tansfromed this lake into a battlefield with 3-4 foot waves hitting the support boats and kayaks head on,dousing them with water, easier for me to navigate than the boats I suspect, Deb and I have trained together in plenty of waves together, I know she can handle them, she’s done it before. I see the Deb’s light giving me my feeding signal, our plan is for hot feeds, meaning the kayakers pour 150 mls of hot water into my feed cup at each feed, it is hard to execute, the wind and the waves are jostling the kayak all about, let alone being able to see the pour line on my cup, I wait for my feed, I am getting cold. I down the feed and swim on hard to warm back up, Deb drops back, I start to slow down, I stop and look for Deb, I swim, I stop and look for Deb, ” I can’t slow up, if I do Hypothermia will rear it’s ugly head, swim hard, now”, I tell myself. I swim and swim, unsure of where I am, I sight and am blinded by the big light of the lead boat, I swim on, I stop and tread, ” Deb, Deb”, I shout, I swim on, ” Deb, Deb”, I shout again, I hear a voice in the distance behind me, ” I’m back here, Swim”, I know what she is telling me, so I look forward and regroup……
” alright, here is where I am at, I am separated from my kayak, there is no sign of my support boat, I don’t know when I will get another feed and it is dark, I can’t see, I just saw a boat drive by, I hope they see me and I am not hit…. mind time for you to assist” , my mind kicks into gear, ” You know this, you’ve been trained for this, remember the Torture swim in Ireland, they told you to put your head down and just swim, do it, it is the only option, swim hard to catch another swimmer and kayaker, you’ll have company and you will be more visible”
Pep talk over, I swim hard towards the big white light, I see the big white light is getting closer with every stroke, ” great there is a kayak”, I swim towards it and settle into the kayak’s left side, within moments there is only blackness again, rats, how did that kayak get away from me so fast?”, I swim hard to catch up and settle in on the left side once more, again darkness, finally I realize that the kayak is only lit from the right side,” swimmer must be a right side breather” I think, I swim on and get another Kayak in my sight, I am searching for a match, someone I can swim along with at a pace that will keep me warm but not so fast that I blow up, I slot in alongside another Kayak and stop, ” do you have a radio on you?, I am separated from my kayak and support boat, my name is Charlotte, can you radio for support please?”, I put my head down and swim hard to warm back up, I come across yet another kayak, I swim along with them, ” I feel like the ugly duckling that doesn’t fit in”, I am bouncing from one kayak to another trying to find a home, then I slot in with one that feels just right, like Goldilocks and the porridge, this was JUST RIGHT, and with that the kayak stops to feed their swimmer, ” Do you have a kayak?”, asked the kayaker, ” No, I don’t, how many feeds have you had?”, I reply tothe kayaker, ” Do you have a radio”, I ask, ” Yes” the kayaker replies, ” My name is Charlotte, I have been separated from my Kayak, can you please radio a support boat”, then I put my head down and swim on. I swim and I swim, I can feel my stomach gurgling, it wants food, I have not gone along empty handed though, I have had a few good mouthfuls of lake water on my journey so far.
Will I find my kayak and crew, how long til I get a feed and can I keep the cold at bay? I’ll keep you posted
Courage is not blindly overlooking danger, but seeing it and conquering it