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?

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.

Gear Review: Finis Duo/Finis Neptune Underwater MP3 players

Music and swimming. These things go together like peanut butter and jam and bread before a big race.

I first came across an MP3 player for swimming a few years ago at my first Lake Chelan event. A woman I was floating around (and probably peeing) with at the start had these weird yellow headphone type things attached to her goggles and the sides of her head. I was drawn like a moth to a flame.

My life changed in that one moment. I do not speak of this lightly, having experienced a few life changing moments, including my first eyebrow wax, insoles, a good blender, a reading light that attaches to my book, and the baguettes from the new bakery in town. But yes – a life changing moment.

I told my Mum about this divine invention, and my Mum, being the fountain of awesomeness she is, ordered me one for my birthday.

Talk about a game changer. Now, instead of the OCD counting and intense problem solving that accompanied my workouts, I could have my TUNES piped directly into my head while swimming. Music! To swim to!

I music to everything, from driving to walking to sleeping to cooking to (Ed. note: Censored).

My first Finis Neptune arrived in the mail and the heavens opened. Harps harped. Angels moonwalked.

The little black and yellow contraption connected to my laptop and it was relatively easy to move MP3 files in to create a playlist. However, the Neptune was not without its annoyances, including that my laptop wouldn’t recognize the device and I was never really sure if it was charged. The tiny connective prongs had to be cleaned regularly in order to charge. Licking them hardly ever worked.

Still, I used that Neptune through miles and miles of pool workouts, and several races. It travelled with me and became a true conversation piece at events (especially during peeing at the start.) It wasn’t ‘t perfect, but damn, I LOVED it.

Pumping up the jam, pre-Long Bridge Swim in Sandpoint, ID.

Concocting the perfect swim playlist became a bit of an obsession for me, just as I obsessively curate playlists for showering, driving, running, skiing, and (Ed. note: Censored).

There are some workouts where you really want to be chilled out, for which artists like Sufjan Stevens or old Cure just hit the spot. But when you’re brimming with adrenaline during a race or event, the hi tempo new wave hits of the 80s or 90s punk might be better ear fuel for the day. I’m truly partial to swimming in a gay disco, it seems, or a Scandinavian coffee bar.

I have tried to listen to podcasts during my pool workouts too. In between my lap counting and stewing over quandaries to solve, I’d only hear a few words and completely miss any story or plot line or argument. Some people swear by podcasts in the pool. I would only swear that it seems like a waste of good thinking time, since music provides the perfect background and tempo and you don’t need to concentrate to get the benefits.

Probably listening to Toto. 

I also find that audio quality of the swim MP3 players can leave much to be desired, and if a podcast isn’t perfectly mixed and mastered, it is difficult to reliably hear what’s being said. And in the era of #fakenews, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Once my Neptune finally conked out, I upgraded to the Finis Duo. I looked at other brands and models but decided to stick with the Finis bone conduction audio technology, which means that the little “pads” attach to my goggles and sit on my upper cheekbones. Somehow, this ensures that the sound pipes right into my ears, if not my actual brain. I wasn’t keen on earbuds, since I’ve always hated swimming with ear plugs. Brain conduction audio becomes loud and clear as soon as you’re submerged in water. Miraculous, really. Other swimmers don’t even need to know that you’re a massive Toto fan.

The Finis Duo

The Duo doesn’t have as many playback options as the Neptune, nor a track display, nor a battery life indicator. You just have to keep it charged and hope that there is enough juice to last through your workout or your event. It promises up to 60 hours, and I’d say that it succeeds during the height of its powers. I ran through my 3 hour playlist several times during last summer’s Ultra and Kootenay Lake swims. It’s not perfect, but damn, I LOVE it.

However, after a year a half of heavy use, it wasn’t holding its charge very well (not that you can actually gauge whether it’s charged at all), and the left headpiece started making a horrible, garbled droning sound. The wires looked fine, but it was toast. I knew I’d never have added Alice in Chains to my playlist (YUCK), so I contacted the fine folks at Finis and they agreed to send me a new one for half price, even though the warranty wasn’t valid any longer.

I thought this was rather generous, and it prevented me from doing any further research into replacements or other options. So – if you’ve used another underwater MP3 and liked it, I’d love to know about it.

I’m pumped to crank the tunes back up during my swims again, after a month of swimming with my own thoughts. And while these thoughts have been mostly happy, nothing beats powering through the last 100 metres of the last set to “8th Wonder” by The Gossip.

Here’s a swimming playlist that saw me through most of last summer and fall. I hope you like it!

https://open.spotify.com/user/ez5jwi2xqn2h8k9ai8ul705zb/playlist/2gMx6x2T9Q4vvP6k9ybSmA?si=24ozoJQpRq-m96V4EKWrag

Enjoy! (This one’s made for shuffling.)

Shakespeare, who was a great swimmer and looked so hot in his Elizabethan Speedo wrote: “If music be the food of love, swim on, swimma!”

I have to agree.

You can order your own life changing Finis Duo here. Please let me know how you like it.