Keep Portland Weird? Absolutely!

I’ve had so many swimblogging false starts lately. I’ve written half-finished product reviews for everything from suits, haircare for habitual chlorine offenders, and swimming MP3 players . I’ve thought about writing about my nutritional challenges during long events and long training sessions. And I thought about writing about recovery from injury after going through some shoulder struggles a short while ago. None of these topics really seemed to light me up, but I did do something cool on July 10, and I thought you should know about it.

After 2 long years of Covid cancellations, the Portland Bridge Swim was finally a GO! I signed up for the 2020 edition of this unique event way back in 2019 when the Earth was green and the dinosaurs roamed, and there was no global plague to mess everything up. The concept: swim the 12 bridges of the Willamette River right through urban Portland, Oregon, with a healthy current assist and an official US Master’s Swimming Association designation. 11.8 miles (roughly 19-20km) of torpedo-ing next to BIG boats, with 99 other swimmers. A Portland getaway, with all the requisite donuts and food carts and craft beer….who wouldn’t be tempted?

I had been in the Willamette River back in 2013, when I attended the World Domination Summit (that’s DOMINATION, not DOMINATRIX, as had to be clarified to border officials). The conference has become known for it’s unconventional approach, and each year they attempt to break a world record. The record in question was the longest human chain on water, so everyone who attended the conference was outfitted with a colourful inner tube. On the day of the attempt, everyone got into the river, sat in their floaty tube, and held hands while the official Guinness People did their count on jet skis. So really, just my butt was in the water, but the end result was something epic. Much like the Bridge Swim, really.

So, the plan was to swim in 2020, and I don’t need to tell you what happened. Cancelled. 2021 – cancelled again. For 2 years the organizers kept swimmers in the loop, and one day the call was made – 2022 was on! This would be my first “official” event since the virus swept the world, and I was thrilled to ramp up my training and activate my support crew. What began as a plan for a quick 3 day hop over the border turned into a full week of exploring the city and its many charms (and many donuts) with my daughter, my sister, my niece, and Harriet the dog. We stayed in a great AirBnB in the Alberta neighbourhood, and took in as much (caloric energy) as possible, including a day on the coast to play in the ocean waves and gawp at the Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, a performance of Rent, Multnomah Falls, and the legendary Powell’s Bookstore.

I tried to learn as much about the swim and what to expect ahead of time, but this was a challenge. There aren’t many accounts of past Portland Bridge Swims online, and just a smattering of social media posts. I was most intrigued by the notion of “current assisted”, which I took in a positive sense to mean that the swim would take me much less time than what I’d typically swim 19 km (evidenced from my Christina Lake swim in 2020). Information emails from the organizers predicted a cold swim with a fast current, but as the date grew closer and I did manage to connect with some past participants, I grew to believe that the assist would be minimal, and that I should prepare for anywhere between 5-7 hours. This is critically important for planning feeds, especially as I’ve been struggling with this aspect of planning as I attempt longer distances and nothing seems to work really well after 12 km or 4 hours in motion. Like, I barf and lose energy and lose my will to live. But more on that in another post! My suspicions about the current were confirmed at package pickup, when one of the organizers confirmed that if any assist was present at all, it would be during the first 2 km. And that’s it.

I knew I was in for the long haul, so we made sure that Scarlet was also flush with snacks and hydration for the kayak. Portland was as hot as a witch’s bazingy that week at 40 C. I don’t know how the swimmers in wetsuits do it – because the water was at least 20 and probably higher in spots. I really wish my feeds had been cold, and that’s something I will try to put in place for the upcoming Lake Zurich swim. It seems that pre-mixed warm anything is going to make me feel like hell, and sure enough, I did have 2 small hurls and 1 gigantic projectile vomit at around the 12-13 km mark, when even the thought of the next warm slug was almost too much.

Swimming under 12 bridges – all of them unique – was really cool. Swimming through Portland’s port-ly past made this a particularly unique swim, with each landmark or tanker or other boat (there were so so so many boats!) providing visual interest and a true sense of getting some place. I felt really motivated being in such a strange location, since the current made it feel like I was hardly moving at some points. I could usually see other swimmers and their kayakers on the water, with this whole other “lane” of people going about their business and leisure right beside me. Scarlet took some great photos, on top of being a shrewd navigator and top notch bottle thrower.

Other than the pukes, which were such a minor part of this swim, I felt pretty good most of the way and didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary. In a long swim like this, I tend to go through mental stages much like any other major life event. I start out nervous but excited, and hit a real streak of positivity for the first 8 km. I’m happy to be in the water, I’m neither hungry nor burping up breakfast, and all my limbs are doing what they’re supposed to. At some point between 9-12 km, things start to crop up. A nagging headache, a numb left arm/hand, a burning right elbow, a wave of nausea, a fear of not finishing, doubt about future swims, a drop in confidence. Sometimes I decide that this will be my last swim. But somehow, one stroke at a time, the finish grows nearer. I rely on Scarlet’s encouragement, their sweet face, their consistency and timekeeping, and their honesty. They know I can do it. I know that they know, and so I do it. I just get it done.

Coming into the finish felt great. I forgot about the pain as soon as I could hear the cheering. I saw my sister and my niece and could hear the genuine encouragement in their voices. With a few wobbly staggers up the sand, I was over the line and getting all the hugs, a finisher’s medal, a cold bottle of water, and a tamale!

It’s always awesome to be part of an event where you can feel how connected the organizers are. This group were so happy to have pulled it off, achieved that 10 year anniversary, and celebrated being back in the river together. Their joy was contagious. I wish them congratulations and want to thank them for a thrilling day and a truly unique swim. I’d recommend this event to anyone who’s curious about stretching their distance limit beyond 10 km, or seeks a destination swim in a clean river in a vibrant city. Or who likes donuts and food carts and fun. It was the perfect test case for my upcoming 26 km in Zurich, giving me a little confidence boost and the fuel to keep on training, and keep it weird.

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?

Riddarfjärdsimningen: A Swedish mouthful

Well that’s a mouthful. A mouthful of Swedish meatballs!

I took a little trip to Scandinavia with my daughter in August.

I have a “Sweden thing” –  a great passion and appreciation for all things Swedish. Design. Candy. Social policy. It’s a long list, including a number of Swedish swimming accounts I follow on Instagram, which tipped me off to the Riddarfjärdssimningen event happening on August 18 – exactly when I planned to be in Stockholm with Scarlet. And the event with the longest name I’ve ever swam.

There were other events happening near or around my planned holiday, but I knew I’d definitely be able to make this one happen. Sweden has a ton of open water swimming events every year, and I was pretty much spoiled for choice but had to make it work within my vacation timeline. When I move there (;)) – I will swim events all spring and summer long and spend all my time in my våtdräkt and then the sauna.

Riddarfjärden is in Central Stockholm – the easternmost bay of Lake Mälaren which meets the Baltic Sea at the intersection of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (Old Town). Could there be a prettier and more scenic city swimming event?

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The Riddarfjärdssimningen takes place every summer and offers both a 1600 m and 3200 m distance. I signed up for the 3200 m, which starts from Rålambshovparken on the island of Kungsholmen, up the Norr Mälastrand to Stadshuset (City Hall), and back again. You’d have to be sitting with me here at my table to hear how those Swedish place names just roll off my tongue. Not.

The morning of the swim was sunny and summery, and I arrived really early at Rålambshovparken to grab my race packet. I wanted to give myself enough time to translate any important info, since my Duo Lingo Swedish program hasn’t given me the ability to actually communicate (thus far). I can say a lot about apples, what moose drink, and what Sven might wear to the party, but so far I have no accessible vocabulary about goggles, water temperature, or currents. Fortunately, the international language of the Speedo prevails, and there were no shortage of nicely packed Swedish versions of those.

I was stretched out and warm, and still a little sore from the previous week’s Skaha Ultra Swim. The water was a frisky and brisk 20 degrees Celsius, so my wetsuit was definitely a must. And I’d brought it all the way from Canada (and would then lug it to Gothenburg, Malmö, and Copenhagen), so I was pleased to give it a dip in international waters. Paired with one of the coolest race caps I’ve ever received, I was super styling and ready to simma (that’s “swim” in Swedish).

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The race course follows a series of buoys along the Norr Mälarstrand. It was a mass start in the water, with a Swedish countdown, natch. I had some pretty serious goggle fog and hadn’t charged my Finis Duo, so it was a true battle of the elements. I had hoped to catch sight of the beautiful buildings along the Mälarstrand and the Kungsholmstorg Brygga (bridge!), but I mostly only saw stylish Swedish feet and, thankfully, the big yellow race buoys. There was a ton of chop on the way out, and a slightly smoother surface during the second half. I swallowed a lot of salty water, rode a few waves, but generally felt quite strong if not so fast. My speed was hard to gauge, given the rough water and my vision issues. If not for the buoys, I definitely would have ended up in Latvia. I managed a respectable 5th place in my age category and clocked in at 1:01.07. I usually swim this distance much faster, but my shoulders were still whimpering from the previous week.

Still – what a swim! What an epic place for a BC lake swimmer to race an event! And I managed to sneak it into my Scandinavian holiday, which was a big goal all along and did not distract from our other plans, including the ABBA Museum (you must go!), the charming sights of Gothenburg (you must also go!), and the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmo (you must definitely go!). Next time I’m in that part of the world, I will register for the Copenwater Swim – which looks amazing.  Stay tuned!

I was cheered on by Scarlet and the lovely Dalmalm family, who’s son Hugo was one of our homestays through the Red Mountain Academy and one of my all time favourite humans. They definitely cheered in Swedish and that definitely helped me push through to a strong finish. And after, we went to Ikea! We really did! There’s nothing quite like the classic Swedish meatballs as a post-race meal.

 

Surf’s Up, Amigos

I haven’t had much swimmin’ stuff to write about this month, since March has really been a whirlwind.

I went to Mexico to celebrate my Dad’s 70th birthday (or Biff-day, as we prefer to call it). We stayed in a resort in San Jose Del Cabo, which wasn’t really my cup of horchata, so I rented a car and did some rather rad exploring. This led to a beautiful Baja swim in the Sea of Cortez with friends in La Ventana and surfing lessons in Los Cerritos Beach near Todos Santos on the Pacific side of the peninsula.

It was so brilliant to be back in the open water after several months staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool.

And it was brilliant to swim with the Stevens again (and to swill tequila with them), and to visit their chilled little kiteboarding mecca. We started early, which was quite amazing given the shenanigans of the previous evening, and managed a 4 km out and back along the bay that hugs the village of La Ventana. I was honestly a little disappointed that I didn’t get stung by a jellyfish and that nobody had to pee on me. Maybe next time. I can’t wait for summer swimming adventures with these fine folks.

I also fulfilled a bucket list dream by taking some surfing lessons. My new amigo Edgar of Baja Surfing had me up on the board within a few waves and before long I was hanging ten with my toes off the front of the board. Then I was donning a Dead Presidents mask and robbing a bank, and then skydiving out of a plane into the Nevada desert at gunpoint with Patrick Swayze. Ok, not all of these things are true, but I did have a blast trying something completely new, and something that I would definitely do again.

I returned to the Kootenays just in time to hang with The Schnitzel and catch my last few sparkly, sunshiny days of spring skiing at Red Mountain, do some light touring to the Mosquito and Viewpoint Cabins in the Rossland Range, and enjoy the classic cross-country at Paulson Summit. Work travel has me on the road a lot this month, but unfortunately without a surfboard strapped to the roof of my Suzuki Sidekick.

I will, however, have my trusty cap ‘n goggles, Finis Duo, and Q Swimwear training suits in pursuit of reaching an audacious April training goal of 40,000 metres.

March – you were both a salty sea lion and a lamb with fleece as white as snow (especially during my first few days on the beach).

May April’s inevitable showers bring you lots of flowers and wash out your crevices, because I’m still finding sand in mine.

Chewing the Scenery in Lake Chelan

The Lake Chelan Swim is an annual community event in Manson, Washington, held on the first Saturday after Labour Day.  It’s a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) shoreline race from Willow Point to Manson Bay Park. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend all summer. It’s the second last of my planned 2018 races (although – never say never!) and awesome because it’s a) a road trip, and who doesn’t love a road trip weekend and b) it’s one I hadn’t done since 2014 and I was eager to see how I’d fare with a few years of training under my belt. I should add a c) here – I’ve done such long swims recently (28 k and 12 k in the last month), that I knew a 2.4 k would feel very different!

The lake is one of Washington’s cleanest and most pristine, which is another reason I’ve been craving a return to this race.  The water temperature, at around 18 degrees Celsius is also perfect. Perfect for a bracing wake up if one is a wee bit hungover, which you will be if you really make the most of your Chelan weekend. With dozens of wineries and bars in the region, a visit (even for a sporting event) must include a good sampling of the nightlife and fun stuff. The Shore to Shore Marathon is held the same weekend, just in case you’re particularly hardcore or maybe training for swim run. (Insane. How do you swim with shoes??)

The drive from Rossland to Lake Chelan is spectacular. Washington is a beautiful state, with winding roads that take you alongside the mighty Columbia River and through to the more arid and badlands-esque Okanogan County.

Having secured an amazing VRBO, I was eager to arrive and relax lakeside (and bar-side) before Saturday’s swim. I’m accustomed to events that begin at the crack of dawn, so it was nice to know that a restorative lie-in would be possible. The morning sunrise over the south side of the lake was beautiful and inspiring and the situation of the property was almost like an infinity pool – I could look down and across the water from the deck. If you’re planning to visit the area, you’d be treating yourself with a stay here. Treat yo self! But book early – places fill up fast!

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That Time I Escaped from Alcatraz

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When I told my good friend that I would be writing this week, I promised a tale that would include a diaper and CPR.

THIS TALE CONTAINS BOTH.

Without further ado, I’d like to tell you about the time I escaped from Alcatraz.  Yes, I joined the likes of that (in)famous Bird Man and other brave escapees.

How did it happen?

My escape from Alcatraz was part of my 40 year old swim odyssey, but I didn’t get to plan it in advance. On my actual 40th birthday in September 2014, my family arranged a surprise party. I don’t normally love surprises because I’m a complete control freak, but this one was simply awesome, unexpected, and welcome. After a lovely dinner, I walked into my house to find my friends all dressed up as characters from my favourite movie, Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. We had Zissous, Klauses, and even a convincing Alastair Hennessey.

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And my present (as if the party wasn’t a giant present in itself) – my present was a trip to San Francisco to do the Alcatraz Swim. This is an annual event organized by Water World Swim (who organize many other cool destination events). The swim itself isn’t particularly long at 1.5 miles, but the chilly waters and finicky currents of the San Francisco Bay make it a challenging one.  I was so excited and freaked out. I thought I’d completed my 40th year challenge, but I was pumped to add one more fabulous destination swim to cap off an amazing season. And best of all, my parents would be joining us in the city I grew up knowing as the inspiration for their “Song“. Read More