Goin’ back to Cali

Well, I’m not exactly GOING, but I did GO! And it was awesome!

One of the perks of my profession is that I (usually) get to travel…a lot. Before the dreaded plague became our new normal, I was on the road approximately 50% of the time. And when I’m on the road for work, I always stash my cap, goggles, Duo, snorkel, and highly technological Ziploc baggie full of workouts in my suitcase. I hate to lose ground in my training, especially during spring when I’m full steam ahead on building kilometres for my summer swims. And my job often involves eating in restaurants and raiding the mini-bar late at night when I can’t survive without Pringles. Damn you, Pringles, and your crispy, salty, crunchy stack of freeze-dried mashed potato goodness.

Whenever I’m traveling, I search out open water swimming groups on Facebook to figure out if I can make a group swim happen, since it’s always nice to meet new fish. And failing that, I try to find a reasonably nearby pool where I can crush some laps. Swimmer’s Guide is a great resource that uses your geo-location to find nearby pools.

So I was very excited to learn that my new-ish job would take me to California for 2 weeks of meetings. And also that MY MUM (and MY AUNT and other family/friends) would be in Palm Springs during the weekend in between the 2 work meetings. I avoided the plague like the plague leading up to the trip, and was transported in a tin tube in the sky all the way to LAX where I promptly rented a convertible (a Jeep was all they had) and made the drive up the 405 to Ventura. And even though it was mostly freeway, I could smell the briny ocean air and felt the salt water in my bones. I turned right and jeeped past Casitas (apparently Johnny Cash lived there for a time) until I came to Ojai, and the beautiful Ojai Valley Inn which would become my oasis away for the next week. This beautiful complex is whitewashed adobe with stunning green spaces, surrounded by the Topa Topa and Santa Ynez mountains. It has several pools, but my favourite was the lap pool at the Spa. With 2 lanes and just under 25 yards, I had the pool all to myself all week and treated myself to a daily post-meeting swim under a palm tree.

The Spa pool at the Ojai Valley Inn

At the end of the week, I air-kissed my colleagues goodbye and set off for Palm Springs. The first part of the drive through the mountains was thrilling and scenic, with the remaining 2 hours a bit of a drudge, especially getting through San Bernardino. I’ve written previously about the year my family spent in California when my Dad did his Masters’ degree. My sister and I were 10 and 7 when we drove south from Saskatoon to San Diego, complete with a UHaul and my Mum, of course. After a long day’s drive, we pulled into San Bernardino and searched for a place to sleep before the last push to our new home. Upon seeing a motel sign that said “WATERBEDS!” (and the motel had a pool right out front) my sister and I lost our shit in the back of the Dodge Aspen and pleaded with my Dad to get us a room. We’d never slept in waterbeds, but we were both swimmers, so we knew we’d like it. At this point in our lives we had no way of discerning between a decent but affordable hotel and a complete shithole, but into the office went my Dad (he was so awesome) and we waited for him to come back with the room keys. In the meantime, an altercation of sorts broke out on the balcony above the swimming pool. The man and woman involved appeared to be more permanently entrenched at the hotel than regular old overnight guests, they weren’t wearing much (this may have been due to that lovely California weather but I don’t think so), and they communicated their frustration with one another with colourful language of the sort we’d only heard at slowpitch games. Our eyes grew as wide, and I think my Mum told us to cover our ears. The fracas culminated with the man’s final expression of displeasure, a deep, rumbling, back-of-the-throat conjuring of a giant ball of yellow phlegm which he spat from the balcony into the pool below. And it didn’t just pop from his mouth and straight into the water, but rather oozed its’ way south in a satisfying string. My Mum gagged as only she can, and just then, my Dad came running out, grinning with the room keys clutched triumphantly in his hand.

I don’t remember if we just drove away or whether there was an effort to return the room keys, but the story has become legend in our family and I couldn’t resist telling it here. I’d never seen a loogie horked so meaningfully before then, and I haven’t to this day.

Another awesome thing about our year in California was that we got to attend swim meets in exciting places, including Palm Springs. Our Palm Springs meet took place sometime in the early summer, I do believe, and it was so blisteringly hot that we had to be pulled out of the pool and carried to the grass after our races so we wouldn’t burn our feet on the scalding pavement. I don’t remember much else from that trip, so when I pulled into town on March 11, 2022, I was almost seeing Palm Springs for the first time. Using Swimmer’s Guide, I’d located a few options and was very much looking forward to cranking out a workout in the morning sun. But when I stepped on the deck of the Palm Springs Swim Center, I knew that I’d been there before. I knew that I’d been pulled out of that exact same pool over to that exact same grass, under the exact same shady palms. My exact same Mum was even right there on the deck! It all came rushing back to me in a flurry of memory, nostalgia, synapses firing, and missing my Dad. And I had a great swim, a refreshing outdoor shower, and a delicious smoothie.

I was here when I was 11!
What one might call “Happy as Larry”

On Day 2, we ventured in a slightly different direction and headed for the Palm Desert Aquatic Center. The drive into this beautiful sports complex is lined with palm trees and makes one feel very fancy indeed, despite the very reasonable $6 USD admission fee. Having not swam in a 50 m pool since March 2020, I was overjoyed to do a 4km long course workout as the sun shone down on the sparkly water. It was very warm, but I was able to get out of the pool without being carried, even though my Mum probably would have if I’d asked her. She took some video – essential as I’m working out a few major stroke issues – and most of her photos only have half a thumb creeping into the frame. Still, what’s better than driving around to swimming pools in a convertible Jeep, WITH YOUR MUM!??

Long course, at long last!
Always bring your Mum to swim practice

I had to leave the desert and head to Los Angeles for further meetings, but I wasn’t as successful in finding lap pool times that would coordinate with my work schedule. It seems that March is just a wee bit too early for the outdoor pools. I did get close to the ocean, at least, and I did indulge in catching a few rays at poolside at my next hotel, the Sunset Marquis. No-one horked off the balcony at this place, thank goodness.

Not long enough to swim laps convincingly.
But perfect for this 🙂

It’s all in the balance, but it was good to be out in the world again, in a top-down Jeep with my Mum in the passenger seat.

I just want to see some palm trees.

I will try to shake away this disease.

(Santa Monica, by Everclear)

In With the NEW (3 months late)

I’ve put off posting for a long time, and I have no excuses other than the general ennui that many of us are feeling to some degree as the challenges of the pandemic continue to bork things up for everyone. And so, this post took me until today, March 1, to finish.

Nobody wants to read more whining about cancelled events, shuttered plans, or disrupted training. I’ve experienced all of those things over the last 2 years, but I’ve also collected a laundry list of excellent things that have happened despite the dumpster fire. So let’s focus on those, shall we?

Highlights of 2021 (If I dare….)

  1. Getting an early start in the lake
  2. My local pool was never closed
  3. Swimming in Vancouver with Debbie Collingwood
  4. Swimming off Texada Island
  5. New paddling people
  6. English Channel slot confirmed (September 2, 2024!!)
Seal spotting synchro with Debbie

What I’m Stoked About In 2022

  1. Hammer Nutrition Ambassador Program
  2. Sri Chinmoy Lake Zurich Marathon Swim
  3. Portland Bridge Swim
  4. Swimming the length of Slocan Lake
  5. The return of the Okanagan swims
  6. I think my neck is better

I was selected to be part of Hammer Nutrition Canada‘s Ambassador team for 2022. The fact that they’d choose a leathery old nugget like me makes me love them even more than I already did, since they’re always so nice when I phone them and ask them a million questions. I’m determined to get my long distance nutrition challenges sorted out this year, especially after last June’s puke debacle during my 6 hour Channel qualifier. I’m going to experiment with all the fun stuff, including adding electrolytes and recovery fuels. If you’re curious about Hammer products, you can use my 20% discount code – aerin20 – when you check out with your cart full of juicy gels and magic powders.

Training at Nancy Greene Lake

My list of upcoming swims continues to grow as events are confirmed. This anticipation fuels me on the daily and helps to keep me motivated to swim endless back and forth laps at the pool, staring at the black line and listening to the same songs over and over while plotting my escape from society. As of today, I’m confirmed for the Portland Bridge Swim and FINALLY, at long last, the Sri Chinmoy Lake Zurich Marathon Swim. Third time lucky? I’m betting on it. Most of my training will focus on this event, so I’m using the Slocan and Okanagan swims as preparation to the big event on August 7. And then, if I make it, I’ll embark on a 2 week bike trip with mein Freund for which only my legs will be needed, since you hardly use those in open water swimming.

I do feel weird about sharing this post, since world events are overwhelming and despairing, and I can currently only concentrate for 20 minute blocks, when I’m not doomscrolling or staring out the window. People are hiding in bomb shelters and held up at borders while I sit here waxing on about my upcoming European holiday. So I will stop there, and get back to work.

Please donate to the Canadian Red Cross’s Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal.

Lessons from the Ogo Pogo

One thing about open water swimming – it always teaches me something.

Sometimes it’s about myself. Sometimes it’s about my limits. Sometimes it’s about my limitlessness

Sometimes it’s about the lake.

Today was one of those days! Despite a truncated training season in Trail (for which I am grateful, because lots of swimmers could swim much less), I decided to attempt a 6 hour English Channel qualifier in Okanagan Lake. I did one last October, but Coach Brent and I wanted to do it again in a consistent sub-16 degrees as the rules require. I’d only been lake training for 2 weeks, since it’s been as cold as a witch’s tit around here.

I was pretty sure that my fitness would hold up, since I’ve been doing a lot of biking and hiking (and pool sets). I was a little nervous about the temperature, but mostly because I am a big baby and I promised myself that I’d start taking cold showers in February, but really, fuck that.

We met at Brent’s house and lugged his canoe to the beach. I was excited to meet awesome Kelowna swimmers Phred and Mike, since group swimming is always more fun. We started off in the chop and headed for the bridge. I’d swam the bridge with Brent last year and was eager to battle the waves and freak myself out looking for the big black carp that hang out beneath it. I felt strong and confident all the way, and we passed underneath and had a lovely current that pushed us back to the other side in much calmer water. I took a feed at around an hour in.

Speaking of feeds, I have been using Perpetuem for my long swims for about a year now. I decided to up my game after deciding that pickle juice and Shok Blocks just weren’t cutting it. I’ve found the Perpetuem mostly palatable for swims up to 10 km, but felt slightly nauseous chugging it back for anything longer. I tried all the tricks – imagining that it’s root beer, or a Shamrock Shake, or holding my nose – but by the end of a long swim even the sickly sweet smell of it makes my stomach churn.

So with that in mind, I was prepared to do one last swim with the Perpetuem while I waited for my shipment of another product that I didn’t order in time.

With 2 or 3 feeds in my system, we headed south along the lake shore. Mike departed leaving Phred and I battling the very windy and wavy conditions, while Brent captained his canoe. With small craft warning conditions, we were the only crazy people in/on the water. Still, things were going swimmingly.

Until they weren’t.

If you’ve seen the film Stand By Me, you’ll remember the scene where Gordie tells the story of Lard Ass, who won the pie eating contest at the County Fair. Soon after his victory, Lard Ass downs some castor oil to induce a giant purple projectile vomit, which sets the whole crowd off on a mass barforama.

In an open water swimming context, I was Lard Ass and the castor oil was Perpetuem. And once I started really feeling the rocking of the waves, I had to hurl every kilometre and after every feed. I even tried to drink a can of Fresca, but that also came back up along with my breakfast bagel and the popcorn from the night before.

I continued to swim, burp, and spew, swim, burp and spew for another 2 hours. I thought I might crap my pants too, but managed to control myself, mostly because I didn’t want to anger the Ogo Pogo. I was miserable, frustrated, weak, and embarrassed. I was so confident earlier in the swim, even when we decided that the water temperature wasn’t cold enough for qualifier status anyways. My arms and legs and core felt great, but I could not shake that topsy turvy feeling every time I was horizontal.

I have no idea how Brent managed to keep his boat afloat, but he continued to encourage me, he didn’t laugh, and he didn’t ask me if I crapped my pants.

And then it was over. My big season opener. My test of consistent training. My much anticipated Saturday morning! I have no idea why I got so sick. Was it the Perpetuem, or am I prone to seasickness? Was it my ears? And what does this mean for potential ocean swims or Channel crossings?

So much to learn.

I spent the afternoon feeling crappy and replenishing calories (a delicious burger at Brent’s and then poutine and Gatorade), and researching anti-nausea medication. No matter what, I will learn as much as I can. I’m determined to find the right nutrition, and figure out how to not blow chunks in wavy conditions. I have been extremely lucky so far in my open water journey – no shoulder issues, great training pals, awesome coaching, excellent paddlers, minimal chafing…

I suppose I did learn that I can push through some discomfort, and that I can stay determined even when things go sideways and upside down (or at least when that’s what it feels like.)

I’m sorry, Ogo Pogo, for polluting your waters, but next time give me a break. I’ll be back in 2 weeks.

In Praise of Swimmin’ Women on IWD 2021

I woke up this morning, tired – and having cancelled my usual Monday a.m. swim. I’ve been a little unmotivated lately. I didn’t realize that it was International Women’s Day.

The great Gertrude Ederle

And then, as usually happens when I spend time scrolling the socials for news, opportunities, and a much needed dopamine hit, I started to see a whack of posts, memes, diatribes, confessionals, laments, and promotions heralding THE DAY. Not to be left out, I thought about a post that I’ve been pondering a while about something I’ve really noticed in my open water swimming journey, and I decided to bloody well write it before the inspiration faded, as it has so many times during the last few months when I’ve had something to say, and then didn’t in the end. Meh. Covid.

As a relative newcomer to this open water life, it’s become clearer and clearer to me that women – or SWIMMEN (if I may coin a word) – are the backbone AND child-bearing hips of open water swimming. My training partners have mostly been women. My biggest cheerleaders are women. My support teams have mostly been comprised of women. When I planned my Christina Lake swim last fall, 5 women appeared ready to help. I meet women when I travel to events. Sometimes, we sit on the school bus to the start line and encapsulate our entire swimming history in 4 minutes, and then we’re friends. For life. The upper echelon of this community also seems committed to support and share – interacting through the channels that connect us through this weird time in the world. Jaimie Monahan has commented on some of my posts, which flummoxes me, because if I met her in person, I would probably die a messy fan-girly death.

I have never felt marginalized or disaffected within the open water swimming community. The connections I’ve made through events, training, and even my social media presence have largely been with amazing and awesome women, who sometimes reach out just to extend a wave of support. The power of this community is that it is free of boundaries, free of bullshit, and full of heartfelt support. If you’re reading this and you’ve ever reached out to me, I hope you know how much it’s meant.

The great Lynne Cox

Here’s where I name some amazing SWIMMEN so shout these names RIGHT OUT LOUD and you can too: AS LOUD AS WE CAN:

Jaimie Monahan, Ali Gartland, Ella Chloe Foote, Chloe McCardel, Emily Epp, Deanne Steven, Debbie Collingwood, Suzanne Welbourn, Sarah Thomas, Beth French, Lynne Cox, Elaine Davidson, Alina Warren, Joanne Malar, Amber Honeybaker, Catherine Breed, and many, many others.

And let us honour:

  • the women who cross Channels
  • the women who cross Channels several times (my goodness)
  • the women who dream of crossing Channels
  • the women who support paddle
  • the women who drive the boats
  • the women who get their boat licenses the day before a swim so they CAN drive the boat and support their nieces
  • the women who share a lane
  • the women who can handle the cold
  • the women in the hot tub, laughing
  • the women who lend a cap when yours rips
  • the women who lifeguard
  • the women who volunteer
  • the women who drive their daughters to swim practice
  • the women who make Rice Krispie squares for their daughters’ swim meets
  • the women who swim through difficult times
  • the women who are just starting out
  • the women who break records, and barriers, in this sport and all others

We need more than just a day to remember and honour our commitments, contributions, and responsibilities, but let’s take these precious 24 hours and stand with each other, trailblazers and newbies alike and those in between. Or swim with each other. Just don’t touch my feet.

I won’t miss my other swims this week.

Strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them. And may we swim with them, always.

That Time I Swam Christina Lake

On September 12, 2020 at 7:10 am, I slunk my shivering, slippery booty into the shallow, South end of Christina Lake and began a 7 hour, 19 km labour of love. Of course, first there was a ceremony involving the unfolding of the Oru Kayak, party beads, an intimate lanolin + zinc + vaseline rubdown, Guitar Hero, the Marathon Swim Foundation Rules, O Canada, and Territory Acknowledgement (in full below).

Ladies starting their engines.

At around 2 pm, I dragged my tired, wrinkly, raisin-y, but very happy body out onto the rocks at the very most North point of the lake, and was showered with hugs and love from some of the very finest people one could ever meet. The kind of people who would also spend 7 hours (or a great portion thereof) supporting a friend with wacky ideas and crazy ambition.

What was it like? What did I think about? Why would I do something like this? Did you poop in the lake? These are the questions I’m most frequently asked.

Well, it was smoky. It didn’t start off so badly, with a morning that wasn’t clear, but wasn’t pea soup thick either. I’ve swam in smoky conditions before (Skaha Ultra 2018), but this year’s US wildfires have had us veritably choking during the last 2 weeks. By the time I reached Texas Point, the smoke was lowering to the lake and it continued to get thicker all afternoon. I could taste it when I breathed.

Despite all that, I felt great during each stage of the swim. I was very conscious of pacing, and I knew that I wanted to maintain a stroke rate of 66 strokes-per-minute for the majority of the swim. Robin and Sue supported me during the first 10 km. They rocked the kayaks with some awesome hair metal, fed me Perpetuem every 30 minutes on schedule, and provided much needed banter and encouragement along the way. It was a pleasure to swim between them and I hope that they will flank me again someday.

Mmm Perpetuem.

I swam past all the swanky cabins of the South end, aiming at the point closest to the Marina, and then Texas Point, where Robin and Sue would paddle in and switch places with Ali, and Mike and Andrea would hop into the boat with Shanna. At the 10 km point, I was still feeling fine! The feeds were going well, I wasn’t feeling any chafing, and I was still able to somersault with joy when appropriate. I was even relaxed enough to pee while swimming, which is a pretty great thing. If you’ve ever had to pee really badly and just said “fuck it” and let it go, that’s what it’s like. Ahhhh.

At some point, I looked up to breathe and was surprised to notice 2 new orange and green kayakers – 2 kayakers I did not expect, but kayakers that I love!! Elaine and Rob appeared as if by magic and made that halfway point push into the next 9 km much easier, since I was so surprised and happy and honoured all at the same time. If you ever think you might need some motivation during an endurance event, just arrange to have some friends surprise you half way.

With Ali in the Oru, ready to guide and feed me, I pushed on toward Deer Point. The push to that Point, which is prominent from the water and looks much closer from Texas Point than it actually is, required a lot of mental gymnastics to just accept and carry on. What did I think about? Well, this is where I start to not think, and instead slide into a semi-meditation of moving arms and kicking legs and consistent bilateral breathing. This is where I start to find a real rhythm, and maybe allow a song in my head (Metronomy’s Reservoir, in this case) to take over a bit. I know that a feed is coming every 30 minutes, but 30 minutes can feel like a long time in the silence of water. I started to really look forward to those feeds. Marathon Swim Foundation rules state that the swimmer cannot touch the kayak under any circumstances, so I showed my appreciation with a little synchro love instead.

Couldn’t point my toe. Avoiding a calf cramp!

By this time, the smoke had lowered and thickened, and I realized that my shoulders were feeling pretty good. My lower back was feeling pretty good. I was still kicking a solid 2 beat. I was looking forward to feeds. I felt like I could swim a lot longer, so I knew that I was going to be able to do it.

And once I knew that I was going to be able to do it, the end of the lake became very far away just to test me. I have a technique when things start to hurt. I think about swimming at Nancy Greene Lake at sunset – my favourite time to swim. I think about how my hands and arms look when they enter the water in the golden light, sparkly and bubbly and effervescent. I imagine filling any part of me that is hurting with those golden bubbles, and how good that feels. It’s the closest physical thing to joy. I fill the hurt with the joy. 🙂

Come on golden bubbles of joy.

I passed the Point and knew I was nearing Shanna’s cabin on the East side. I could see the sandy beach that represents what usually is the end of the lake, approximately 1 km away – but other plans had been made. According to the map, the actual northernmost point of Christina Lake extends a little further up to the entrance to a creek where the salmon spawn at this time of year. The area is marked off by some white buoys. I could see the white buoys for what seemed like a very long time. I did not want to see any salmon making love.

The end of long swims is often like this – you can see the landmark you’re aiming for and your mind starts to mess with you. You think, “that can’t be much further than 500 meters, can it?” and then the next thing you know, you’ve been swimming another half hour and it’s time for another feed.

At long last, I could see humanoid forms on the beach. I could see the white buoys actually getting closer, and I could see Shanna’s boat at the edge. I asked Ali to guide me in, baby, and baby, she guided me through those white buoys into a soupy stew of lily pads and weeds……and finally, THE END!

The end is nigh.

One thing I did wonder while swimming was how I was going to get out if I didn’t finish at the beach. Shorter race events often see one running out of the water to cross the finish line – on land – at the end. These always give me anxiety because sometimes my legs are wobbly after being horizontal for a while and I’m scared of being that person who bails in a very unglamorous yard sale of embarrassment. Not that I expect to be all Baywatch, but I do worry.

Coming in hot.

Luckily, the last 6 metres were 30 cm deep thick, sludgy brown goo. I swam through that goo and slapped my hand on a rock on shore. And that reminds me, I didn’t poop in the lake during this swim, in case you were wondering. But something sure did, up at the North End.

Done! Complete! I stood up and did not fall over. I waved to my beautiful, cheering friends. Then I got back into the brown goo and Elaine towed me over to the beach, where people hugged me (even though I was covered in brown goo), put beads around my neck, and ushered me into a clean, white bathrobe.

Even a cloud of poop sludge can’t stop me from smiling.

And like that – the swim was over. 19.1 kilometers in 7 hours and 13 seconds. I’ll be submitting my documents to the official bean counter people in the next few weeks, and hopefully the swim will be ratified. That would be exciting. It was a great experience, from the training (trust the training!!), route planning, nutrition planning, support planning, to the delicious huckleberry margaritas served up during our post-swim celebration. I thought about my Dad every time I looked up and saw the sunrise. I slept like a baby that night and ate eggs Benedict the next morning, and then I had another swim.

I must effusively thank my special support squad. Shanna, Ali, Sue, Robin, Mike, Andrea, Elaine, and Rob….I bow down to you like Wayne and Garth before Alice Cooper. You made this swim possible for me. You made this swim amazing for me. Thanks to everyone who followed my little orange dot on the tracker, and sent messages (Ali read them along the way!), and cheered me on. And thanks Shanna for calling Scarlet and my Mum in the middle of the lake so I could hear their voices.

I also want acknowledge that I am grateful to have accomplished this swim on the unceded traditional territories of the Syilx tmixʷ (Okanagan), Okanagan, sngaytskstx tum-xula7xw (Sinixt), and
Ktunaxa ɁamakɁis.

What’s next? A whole bunch of cold water swimming in preparation for a long, cold swim. What else?

Countdown to Christina

Cue that cheesy song by Europe that we all secretly love so much….it’s the final countdown!

I’m really excited about this swim. It’s been a rather interesting year, to put it mildly, and I’m ready for something fun and exciting and challenging and for me, that means I’ll spend around 7-8 hours swimming the 18.5 km length of Christina Lake, BC on Saturday, September 12. I plan to swim from the main beach at the Provincial Park to the very top end of the lake. I’ll be starting at 7 am, and finishing in time for a cold margarita (if I can raise my arms above my waist) on my friend Shanna’s deck. That’s the plan, at least. I’m going to wear my new Q Swimwear suit, and I’m going chug Perpetuem and other delicious Hammer Nutrition fuels to help me stay hydrated and not hangry. If you’ve been with me when I’m hangry, you will understand. That’s the plan, anyways.

Planning this swim has been an odyssey in itself, and I’ve learned so much through the process. It’s been complex and has given me a much needed focus this summer where all of my events were cancelled and travel postponed. I’ve been consumed with everything from understanding the rules of the Marathon Swim Foundation, confirming a support crew on the day, training locally and training while traveling, making sure I’m eating the right things and enough of them and not so much of the other bad things (nobody has even SEEN me on a pub patio this year)….and contingency plans. I’ve had to make a lot of decisions, down to the swimsuit I shall wear on the day (the Q Swimwear Mixtape), to the type of cake I will stuff my face with afterwards (Black Forest), whether I make it or not.

Mmmmm. Perpetuem.

In the end, all you can hope for is that you trained properly – enough but not too much. I’ve been so lucky to work with my coach Brent Hobbs on a plan that has been challenging to stick to, but ultimately has me feeling quite confident for Saturday.

Nancy Greene Lake – 17 degrees.

I threw my own travel wrench into the middle of the training plan with a trip to Saskatchewan at the end of August. I did my very best to keep to the schedule, but with swimmable lakes (without a zillion jet skis and not smelling of old man farts) a few hours drive away, I had to be strategic. Luckily, my awesome Aunt Donna and her partner have a sweet cabin at Anglin Lake. True to her nature, Donna completed and passed her boat exam the night before my 5 hour trial, and she captained this very critical training swim perfectly. Except when she ran into the dock at the end and crushed a man’s leg, but that was her first time. I also swam in Martin’s Lake (blech), Riversdale Pool (take me back!), and did a 3 hour current-assisted swim in the South Saskatchewan River (illegal, but you know I’m a rebel).

Anglin Lake
Very engaged support crew
The CAPTAIN of the ship
My Mum helped too!

I came home a few days early to resume a more consistent training schedule, and I’ve been out at Nancy Greene Lake and Christina Lake. Temperatures are dropping, but I’m still feeling great. My intrepid support crew is all set to go – THANK YOU SO MUCH ALI, SHANNA, SUE, ROBIN, ANDREA & MIKE! All that remains is to deal with tonight’s afterdrop, stretch, pack, and eat noodles to my heart’s content.

Full Moon Swim!

And lastly, I am not doing this swim for charity and didn’t want to ask people to dig into their wallets during what is a very challenging time for everyone. One of my motivating factors for attempting this swim was the death of my father last year on September 17. If you knew and loved him and are motivated to give, please make a donation to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation in the memory of Kelly Bowers.

If you’re interested in following my swim, I’ve set up a tracking page at https://track.rs/aerinbowers/ so that you can follow along. I know, I know, the US Open Women’s Final will be happening at the same time. I can’t offer any exciting sideboob or water barfs, but there will be a little orange dot making its way up the lake, and that will be me.

In Summer, the Song Sings Itself

So much for lamenting the loss of travel – summer in BC has been wonderful, and so has the swimming!

I’ve been working toward my BIG GOAL of swimming the length of Christina Lake on September 12. Otherwise known as the Bathtub of B.C., Christina is one of my favourite places to swim. The swim will be ratified by the Marathon Swim Foundation, if all planning goes well. It’s the best place for early season training, and it stays warm enough for the late season too. I’m 100% focused on this swim, and there’s lots of preparation to consider. And also lots of swimming to be ready on the day. It’s approx 19 km and I can do it! (I hope)

Route planning and existential ponderings.

I took a precious week off and did a 5 day kayaking trip on Slocan Lake (second favourite local BC lake) with my daughter and 2 pals. We paddled the 40 km top to bottom and I swam 5 km/day in Slocan’s beautifully crystal clear water. There was also lots of time for campfire laughs, nude-watching, flirting with our campsite neighbour, and…night swimming! We loaded up the Oru Kayak with lights and I swam under the stars and the moon in the quiet and inky blackness. Bliss.

Night swimming deserves a quiet night.
Beautiful Slocan Lake
Future album cover.

I’ve been training at Nancy Greene Lake most days, which is good because of the high elevation and the lower water temperature. It’s full of life all summer. Fish jump, and plant life stretches up from the sandy bottom. Swimming here feels like I’m a wee a drone flying over a forest. Apparently there’s an aggressive otter, but I haven’t seen him yet. I bet he’s seen me. I hope he introduces himself before the summer is over, and maybe he can teach me how to efficiently peel shrimp while floating on my back, because right now it’s a bit awkward.

No sign of my otter.

I did a 10 km training swim at Christina Lake last weekend to get a feel for the distance and the landscape of what will be the second half of the BIG SWIM. My friend Shanna paddled for me from Texas Point to the northernmost end of the lake – and graciously allowed me to glamp at her lovely cabin.

A room with a view!

And now – I’m en route to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for a few weeks. I’m looking forward to exploring some new lakes and swimming some long distances in my home province, and having my Mum do my laundry. YES!

Maybe she’ll even do some support kayaking for me….Mum?

Oh, Here I Am

Where did I go? I’m not even sure! Have you seen me?

Oh, here I am, trudging out of the lake covered in weeds, mascara smeared, nipples pointing in opposite directions…and dragging my Swim Buddy behind me like the world’s saddest whoopee cushion. Did you miss me?

The last 7 months have gone by in a blur. I’ve had a lot of blogging false starts. I’ve felt like writing, and then I didn’t. I’d think about a post, and then I’d get busy, and then I’d get hangry, and we all know what happens when I get hangry.

And then a global pandemic happened (WTAF), the pools closed, and I didn’t really know what to do.

This wasn’t in the plan!

I’d been swimming in the most diligent, consistent, and committed fashion of my life. I’d been working with my Kelowna-based coach (the amazing Channel Swimmer Brent Hobbs) to improve my technique (which was apparently “of the 80’s” – go figure!) and increasing my distance weekly: 4 swims a week with one LONG ASS 10 km pool swim on the weekend. I was making regular practices with my local Masters Club, getting workouts in while traveling for work, and even competing in my second Master’s meet in Vernon, BC at the end of January. I smashed my times and really felt on the up and up and up….

My last pool swim in March at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre.

I was focused on swimming a ton of events leading up to the Sri Chinmoy Lake Zurich Swim in August. I had a yoga plan (thanks KERRY!), a strength plan (thanks ANDREA!), plenty of motivation, and even my sandwich-tossing support team figured out (HI SCARLET AND THOMAS!). But when the pools closed, I was at a loss. I figured the best thing to do would be to keep my fitness up, and having a Haus-German with whom to spend much of the lockdown ensured that I got out skiing a lot. Snow is frozen water, after all.

Then all swims were cancelled. I experienced existential grief and angst. I wasn’t easy to get along with. What a year. I was always anxious, always hangry. My gills were closing. 

This coincided with the busiest period I’ve ever had in my career.  Working in education technology means that I have morphed into a 3 inch version of myself who lives in Zoom 12 hours a day and may or may not be wearing pants at any given moment.  I can no longer see more than 2 metres ahead of me, which is ok because that’s how far apart we’re supposed to be anyway.

And then finally, it was mid-May and I decided to stop being such a big girl’s blouse and get in the fucking lake, no matter how cold. 

IT WAS COLD.

SO COLD.

(but I learned that I really, really like it!)

Brrrr

No wetsuit for me – as per Coach Brent. The sanctioned swims I’ve planned do not allow it, so I’ve relegated my sleek Orca rubber to the closet, where it sits in wait and may come in handy for fighting/committing crimes.

Early season training couldn’t come soon enough, and I headed out to Christina Lake as much as possible to test my cold boundaries and gradually increase my time in the water before meeting up with Coach Brent and Channel Swimmer Emilie Epp in Kelowna for the first LONG ASS cold water swim, where I swam for 2.5 hours in 13 degrees. It was exhilarating, even if my hands turned into lobster claws and I couldn’t get my car key in the lock. I couldn’t feel my own face, but that’s ok because we’re not supposed to touch faces anyway. 

As it’s gradually warmed, I’ve had lots of lake time at Christina, Slocan, Okanagan, and Nancy Greene. I did a short bike tour with The German, and I bought a super cool, easily transportable, foldable Oru Kayak to encourage support paddlers to join me in the beautiful BC sunshine (and thunder and lightning and rain….June was pretty wet!).

I’ve finally been able to swim with Coach Brent this week. He took me on a sunset cruise under the Kelowna Bridge (both ways), which was reminiscent of that scene inThe Perfect Storm – and I loved it. We talked about goals – I’m still planning to swim the 18.9 km length of Christina Lake – and one REALLY BIG GOAL that I am not ready to talk about yet.

So much depends on whether the pools open this fall/winter. So much depends on getting more than one hour in a lane.

So much depends on everyone wearing a fucking mask and washing their hands and not partying on houseboats and not hugging each other.

Navigating this new normal is not easy, but doing it in the water is making a lot of difference for me. Better thinking, natural exhaustion, fresh air…

I really missed this. I’m glad to be back. Let’s go for a swim.

Open Water Life: 2019 Year in Review

Farewell 2019. I’m glad to see your buttcrack as you saunter off into memory with your pants pulled halfway down.

Still, there were highlights among the lowlights. Aren’t there always? Swimming offers me the most consistent vehicle for balance. No matter what’s happening, I always feel better when I’m in the pool. Even if I’m just floating around, thinking “Look at where you are in the world.”

Highlights

  • Swimming in beautiful European lakes during my summer bike touring adventure. Eibsee, Walchensee, Lake Sils, Starnbergsee…beautiful, clean bodies of water that felt so amazing and rewarding after long days on the bike.
  • 312,000 training meters.
  • Second successful Skaha Lake Ultra Swim. I was slower, and it hurt more, but I made it across the finish line and scarfed a giant sandwich and kissed my kid who paddled the whole way beside me.
  • My first open water swim in Sweden – the Riddarfjardsimningen – was exciting and fun and a great way to build in a destination swim with a holiday I’ve wanted to take forever.
  • Getting the green light to swim the Sri Chinmoy 26 km Lake Zurich swim next August. This will be my focus for 2020. I’m gonna give it my all.
  • My 6th Across the Lake Swim in Kelowna, and fastest to date. 4 more and I get that coveted silver cap!
  • The Lower Columbia Masters Swim Club – an opportunity to swim locally with great friends. I didn’t make as many practices as I’d have liked, but I did get to swim with the team for FrightFest in Kelowna in October. I’m lucky to have such a sweet community of fellow open water enthusiasts.

 

Lowlights

  • Being sick and tired for 3 months after my Dad passed away put a major dent in my training and my annual kilometer goal.
  • My Dad passed away. I don’t know that I’ll ever get over it, but I hope he’d be proud of what I hope to accomplish in my swimming goals.
  • Not organizing a swim in Copenhagen while I was there. Not that I didn’t have any fun. And now I have a good reason to return!
  • Cancelling plans for the Slocan Lake and Christina Lake swims, which would have been really awesome additions to my summer events. I need to remember that summer is only really 8 weeks long and that there are only so many things that one can do. This one was pretty busy.

 

2020 Goals  (resolutions come later…. once January has a chance to pull itself onto the deck)

  • Sri Chinmoy 26 km Lake Zurich Swim. I’m going to do it!
  • Portland Bridge Swim
  • Christina Lake – a good warmup for the above longer events
  • 7th Across the Lake Swim
  • Cough up the dough for a proper training smartwatch
  • Consistent, focused training that will take me into the Lake Zurich swim in the best shape of my life. I’ve found a Kelowna-based coach and I am so excited for this man to kick my ass!
  • Yoga, biking, skiing, and all the other cross-training activities I love.

 

Look at where you are in the world. Not so bad, is it? I wish you all the best for 2020.

You’re Gonna Eat Lightning

Well, let’s end this year on an unexpected note, shall we?
Last year, having really upped my game in the long distance swim department, I applied for a place in the Sri Chinmoy Lake Zurich 26 km Marathon Swim.
I didn’t get in, but was told by the organizers that swimmers are rarely chosen in their first application attempt. They encouraged me to keep applying and I put it on my list for 2019. The date came around in September, and I dutifully sent in my info with very low expectations and a tiny glimmer of hope that I might make the cut. And a tiny glimmer of terror that if I was selected, I would have to swim 26 km. In one go.
On December 15, I checked my email just as Air Canada was making love to me sideways over a barrel with a cancelled work flight and sure enough…I have a place! I read the email over a few times, laughed twice, shit my pants (figuratively) and then immediately told my VIPs, followed by Facebook and Instagram.
So what does this mean?
The swim is 26 km in Lake Zurich. That’s in Switzerland, in case you slept through geography or are American. Just kidding. I love Americans.
Here’s a little illustration of the route.
Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 7.58.57 PM
26 km is a long way. I assume that if I’m even physically capable of such a feat, it will take me at least 10 hours. I have signed up for the wetsuit category, but I may rethink this as I connect with others who have done the event.
I’m looking for a coach to start with in January – someone who will work with me on stroke technicalities, a training plan, and some accountability. I’ve put some feelers out there and hope to meet my Mickey Goldmill in the coming weeks. I’m totally prepared to run after chickens and everyone knows that grey sweatpants and a toque are already part of my training style.
Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 11.26.30 PM
I don’t know if I can do it.
I don’t know if I can’t.
I don’t know how much fondue I will eat at the finish line.
I don’t know if I should plan a little bike trip before or after.
I don’t know much, but:
  • I know I love swimming, especially in lakes.
  • I love a challenge. Especially a big one.
  • I love Switzerland. I had a taste this past summer, and I’m excited to go back.
  • I need a big goal to focus on in 2020.
  • I will have a boat, but I do need a support person in it to throw me snacks and water and tell me to not die or cry. This person may have to either wear a diaper or control their bodily functions for up to 12 hours. I’ll be taking applications soon. Not everyone at once!

I’m going to eat lightning and I’m going to crap thunder. Knowing this makes a hard year a bit better.