Swimming with Rattlesnakes


I’m on a boat, waiting to swim the Rattlesnake Island 3 k. (2014)

I’m writing this on a plane on my way back to Comox, BC. My work takes me back to the Island this week, and I’m looking forward to chalking up a few more swims in the local aquatic centre. I made a quick executive decision to not bring my wetsuit on this trip, after some research that told me that the local lakes around Comox will still be a bit too cold for training. This may be true, or I might just be a wuss.

By June I have usually been in the lake a few times. Christina Lake is often the place for my annual first foray into the open water outdoors. It is always awesome to feel that chilly briskness on my face and hands. That first wetsuit pee is also very nice. This year I’m either a little less brave OR it’s still too cold. Following a strict training schedule in the pool is also my focus, as I strive to get my kms in and build for the longer events coming up this summer. Cold water training will have to wait a week – or at least until I’ve made it through at least 5 cold showers in preparation.

Last week I trained 3 times, including one midweek session that was 4800 metres. I could not consume enough carbs in the 2 days that followed (toast fans, are you out there? Can I get an AMEN?) and finished up the week with a short Saturday night session that focused on drills – specifically my underwater pull. Rather than throwing my shoulders into each stroke, I’m working hard to develop the water feel in my pull through fist drills, doggy paddle (yes!), and sculling. My early swim coaching taught the centreline pull technique so I must undo this tendency to pull to the middle and then out and down. I’m an avid reader of technique tips, and right now I’m finding TriSwimCoach and Swim Smooth blogs to be helpful.I did a little experimenting with mid-swim feeding this week during my longest training session. At an hour in, I popped a Blox gel and wasn’t completely disgusted.

My previous longest swim was the Rattlesnake Island 7k in 2015. Although I finished the swim in relatively good time, the event was marred by my own poor planning, my inability to feed during the event (I would have hurled), and the inexperience of my support canoe – who yelled at me and ran me over several times. That’s another story.

The Rattlesnake Island Swim offers 2 distances: a 3k from a boat that takes you out to the actual island, and then hop off, and swim back. Or the 7 k, which is a challenging out-and-around-and-back. I’ve done both distances and have to put this event down as one of my favourites. It happens in the middle of August each year, when that scorching Okanagan sun is at its hottest. The boat ride for the 3k is a ton of fun, as you get to meet and chat with many of your fellow swimmers and soak in the positive nervous energy as the boat makes its way toward the Island. If it’s your first time, you will definitely wonder whether there are actual rattlesnakes on the island, and whether or not they will be slithering around in the water when you jump in. If you’re doing the 7k, you will start to freak out when you approach the island, in case the snakes are waiting for you. The cheeky organizers even include a realistic plastic snake in the swag bags, just to fuel your dreams the night before the swim.


(Side note: I am terrified of snakes. Even snakes on tv. Even cartoon snakes. Even worms in the grass after the rain. So I count this swim as a major effort to conquer my fears, even as I worry that a snake will wrap itself around my neck and make its way down the front of my wetsuit and then bite me repeatedly for 2 hours…and I won’t have my inhaler with me etc etc and I will faint in the water…)


Let’s move on from the nightmare, shall we?

Telling people that there ARE terrifying snake encounters during this swim helps to limit the competition.

What actually happens is that the water is beautiful, and the swim around the island is spectacular with rock formations below and the morning sunlight playing with the colours – blues, greens, yellows. And then, every time you drive that scenic stretch between Kelowna and Penticton, you get to point out the island to your captive car-mates and brag that you tapped that, twice. And that you fought the snakes and survived and thrived.

I will be sad to miss the Rattlesnake Island Swim this year, but I’ll be just a few kilometres south swimming the Skaha Ultra on the same day.

I’m determined to get the feeding aspect right this year.

And I am determined to put on my big girl panties and get in the lake. Just give me a few more degrees of sweet, sweet warmth. And some more toast. And some anti-venom.

One comment

  1. Sandy Bowers · June 6, 2018

    Sounds beautiful when you get in your zone…and just swim your heart out!


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