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.

The Early Bird Catches the Towel

For the third weekend in a row, I’d intended to make the most of Canadian spring’s unpredictable gifts.

There’s always a little seasonal grief to contend with as the brown patches in the mountains get bigger. My backyard, which is giant, reveals the dogs’ healthy digestive artifacts. The front doesn’t catch as much sun, so a mini-glacier stubbornly holds out in the shade. Meanwhile, the local voles have been partying like drunken frat boys and I’m going to need a new cat, a gallon of grass seed, and the help of my pro-gardening neighbours to restore my front lawn to its former glory. A green thumb I am not. A clammy white bum though? Read on…

I’ve waited for the right moment to wax my skis and put them away until November. With such close proximity to the Rossland Range, I’ve been out to the cabins the last few weekends to enjoy the sunshine and variable spring conditions. The bears are definitely awake, which adds a little extra excitement to every ski, because you might become a human Lunchable or have to draw on your undeveloped jiujitsu skills. Last weekend we packed bear spray for our trips to Viewpoint Cabin and the Biathlon range at Blackjack. It’s really special to glide along under a 7:30 pm sunset, extending the day’s warm temperatures and fresh Kootenay air, and savouring the tangible fear of being eaten.

I was away for work in Chicago last week and planned for one last weekend of cross-country skiing out at Sovereign Lake, near Vernon. With 15 cm of fresh snow in the forecast, my companion and I couldn’t pass up a chance to prolong the winter season we dearly love.

Stunning views from Sovereign Lake Ski Area

Because soon – skiing makes way for swimming, and a return to focus on longer distance training for my summer races and events. Sights are high this year, and it’s time to ramp up.

The local lakes aren’t generally warm enough for swimming until late May at the earliest. And at this point, I’ve honestly been a bit bored in the pool, even with a monthly kilometre goal and boppy new playlists to motivate me.

I scoured my photos to find a record of my earliest lake swim – and found evidence of a May 3 dip in Champion Lakes in 2015.

Champion Lakes, May 3, 2015. Or it might have been 2014.

A beautiful and sunny Kelowna morning inspired a plan to hike and hang out at Bertram Creek Regional Park. Okanagan Lake is sparkly and inviting right now, especially with the anticipation of the 3 events I’ll do here later this summer.

Still, it’s April and I hadn’t even packed my bathing suit for the day. Because that’s just too early, right? The water must be 12 degrees MAX and we’d just skied yesterday. What kind of imbecile even considers the possibility?

Well, an ambitious and well-prepared German does, and before I blinked he was down to the world’s tiniest black Speedo (be still my heart) and in the water. His face looked happy (insert whatever bratwurst/Vienna sausage shrinkage joke you like here).

The temptation proved too much to handle and before I knew it I was in the lake, in my underwear, swimming out to a buoy. It was exhilarating, rejuvenating, and insane. In fact, it felt so great that I floated around near the shore for a good 5 minutes after returning from the buoy. But mostly because reality reminded me that I’d have to wade ashore in my underwear, and cross the beach to grab whatever dry clothes I could. Although I could lift a mid-sized Toyota, I’ve never been confident enough to strut my near-nakedness with pride. I still shower in my swimsuit at the pool (but have moved beyond this practice at home, thanks to the body-positivity movement).

Thankfully, the really well-prepared and thoughtful (and shrinky-dinked) German had packed me a nice big towel, because he knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a swim once I was on the beach. And being German, who needs a towel? Who even needs clothes?

I caught it on the shore. No public indecency laws were broken (by me). All was well.

It was really lovely to warm up in a cozy towel in the warm pebbles.

And that was that – the first lake swim of the year achieved on April 28, 2019. A new record. Maybe my coldest swim yet, until next weekend.

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.

Where Attention Goes, Energy Flows (to Zurich?)

The snow is falling outside my cozy Rossland home. Ski season is approaching, and with it comes all of the feelings of excitement and anticipation that I revel in every year.

And while I’m pumped to slay the fresh Kootenay powder very soon, I’m racking up my pool kilometres and focusing on my 200,000 metre training goal for the year. This week I swam in Castlegar while my daughter did her practicum for her Water Safety Instructor course, and in Trail at the Aquatic Centre. It was great to spend time in my local pools after a few weeks of back to back work travel. I’m swimming shorter workouts (averaging 3- 4 km each time) and concentrating on drills and form.

And as the end of a year with a lot of goals approaches, I’ve been making some big plans for next year.

The biggest is a trip to Switzerland in August to attempt the 32nd Annual Sri Chinmoy Marathon Swim across Lake Zurich. It’s a 26 km event and it would be amazing – IF I get in. That’s big IF.

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I applied for a spot in the event this week. A disclaimer on the site warns first-time swimmers that spaces are first allotted to those who have applied but not been selected from previous years. So, it’s a bit of a long shot, but I only have to wait until December 15 to see if my application is successful. Those who know me will know that while the previous sentence might claim nonchalance, there is nothing I hate more than waiting. For anything. Especially when it looks like this much fun.

And if my application is successful, then this swim would represent my most epic to date. Lake Zurich is 26 km long. The swim starts in Rapperswil and ends in Zurich. Swimmers go past several Swiss Alp towns en route to the finish, so I could easily stop for a cheese and chocolate fondue. I signed up in the no-wetsuit category, since I’ve been informed that the European lakes are recently very warm in the summer, and Lake Zurich is likely to be warmer than 22 degrees in August. Plus, can you imagine the neck chafing? No cheese is gonna help with that.

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I’m reminded of how I felt when I registered for the Skaha Ultra Swim. At 11.8 km, it was much longer than any event I’d ever attempted, and I understood clearly how necessary a focused training plan would be. For this greater challenge, the usual questions emerge:

  • Can I physically do this?
  • Why do I want to do this?
  • How will I fit in enough training with X and Y going on in my life?
  • Am I nuts?
  • Why is Glen reading my blog?
  • What are the steps?

The application itself is the first step. A conscious commitment to extending my distances through careful and deliberate planning and prioritizing is a close second. It’s not that I finished any of my longer distances this year with energy to spare, but rather that I feel suddenly able to tap into a newfound endurance that I never knew I had. And it isn’t just physical, although I have noticed that my fitness and  strength have markedly increased in the last few months. I even did a few handstand pushups this week. There’s nothing like being upside down to bring some fresh blood into the brain.

Which leads me to step 3 –  mindset, especially with regard to this surge of energy.  It’s also that I’m unencumbered by the former roadblocks that kept my confidence low. I’m starting to see my own life in a much more expansive sense, and I feel like the future is wide open. I’m not exactly wearing shades (prescription sunglasses are too expensive), but I’m far more curious and unafraid than I was 6 months ago when I could hardly get through a workout without literally stimming on negative thoughts. The swimming successes of the past summer also play a major role in focusing on building my potential. I had no idea that I’d be able to consistently keep up the training I needed to do. But I did, and I think it’s all down to focus and that a person like me really deeply needs goals and milestones.

A person I respect said to me recently, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” And although I’m not big on mantras (I prefer mantas), I honestly say this to myself, despite myself, several times a day. It seeps into planning my swim workouts, my nutrition, my cross-training, and all of the other things I do in this open water life and life on land. BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. Try it, you’ll like it.

If I’m not selected for the Lake Zurich Swim I will cry for a day and then work to build a back up plan. A back up plan that involves chocolate and cheese, but maybe a different destination and a different direction for my attention (and my fondue) to flow.

 

It’s the Time of the Season for Swimming…and Pie

First things first. It is so beautiful in Rossland in October.

Photo Credit: the amazing Don Conroy

I think about moving a lot – there would be some benefits to my social life, my airport situation, and my access to things I love like art, cinema, concerts, and new restaurants. At the end of every summer I start looking at real estate listings on the Island or the Lower Mainland. It’s like I’m programmed to spur on even more change, just as the leaves are turning colours. I feel like I also need to “shed” and reinvent and make a new start.

But somehow this season, my favourite season of all, elicits a feeling of settled-ness and happiness that keeps me in this spectacular place. Even though it’s expensive to swim due to a recreation funding conflict between Rossland and Trail, I cough up the cash for my membership at the Trail Aquatic Centre and start into the new season of a different kind of swimming.

I hike gloriously colourful trails with my dogs and I marvel, like the big sensitive nerd that I am, at the greens and oranges and reds of the leaves and soil and mountains. The sunrises are sublime – hot pink and orange from my bedroom window. The sunsets are slow, soft lavender, purple and blue. When the clouds roll in, the contrast of metal grey with the blue sky almost chokes me up. Told you I was a big nerd. Nature astounds me.

It’s more important for me to live and breathe and BE in this amazing place than it is to see the films that showed at TIFF in September or have a wider variety of shirtless, fish-holding prospects on Tinder.

Many of the swimmers I follow on social networks are able to continue their open water training outdoors, and it does indeed look fabulous to swim in 12 degree lidos or Welsh lakes in the middle of October. But there is something about settling into a season with what you have available that is comforting and valuable and even reassuring. I like the pool. I love the hot tub afterwards, even the pee. I like the people there, and choosing locker #69 every time because I am a 14 year old boy at heart. I like driving home in the dark in my farty old sweatpants and listening to the CBC. I like eating 15 pieces of toast in my kitchen and waking up the next morning with the most epically chlorinated bed head ever. It’s truly a sight to behold and way better than Lady Gaga in A Star is Born or even Beyoncé.

Having taken a 2 week break from the pool since returning from England, I decided to start a completely new program from scratch – one that will lead me into a 10k destination swim in January (to be revealed later!). Starting at a 3k training baseline, I’ll work my way up to 8 km in the pool by mid December. I have a number of technical goals to work on this fall, including improvements to my rotation and my current straight-armed recovery. There’s a lot of kick, and even more pull. My weight training program is focused on building the upper body power I need to conquer longer swims, and includes specific exercises to increase my core and shoulder strength. It feels more planned than ever before, which is weird for a spontaneous nut like me, but as it turns out, there are wise people who have already thought of these things and confronted these challenges. Who knew? I thought I knew everything.

My daughter Scarlet and I are celebrating our Canadian Thanksgiving this year as “NoFucksGiving”, due to our acceptance and resignation with a particularly sad and frustrating situation that has taken up much of our emotional space over the last few weeks. We heal. We let the system take control. We gravitate to those that make us feel good. We take long walks. We swim. We accept invitations for care and love and support. We eschew a big dinner and a whole day preparing it for a dinner consisting entirely of a beautiful pumpkin pie from Mountain Nugget. We’ll join good and generous friends for even more dessert, and settle in to watch creepy movies on Netflix in our pajama bottoms and coziest hoodies.

So why would I move?

I’m already moving. I’m changing, swimming, hiking, running, and waking to beautiful sunrises. I have everything I need here. I have a 10 k in January. So yes, maybe it should be “SomeFucksGiving” – but only for things worth giving fucks about. I think those things are pretty clear to me now, and abundant here in this place, and only become more clear with every length and flip turn and bite of delicious pie.

There’s no place like home, my homies.

Another Spin Around the Sun…In Slocan Lake

I had a birthday this weekend. You just can’t stop them from happening every year. I’m fortunate in that mid-September is often still warm enough for lake swimming in BC, and this weekend was no exception.

I have always enjoyed canoeing and camping on Slocan Lake. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, with gorgeous beaches, clean water, and plenty of variety in terms of campsites, canoe routes, whitewater rafting, and places to explore. I’d never swam across it before though, and the occasion of turning 44 seemed to be the perfect opportunity with the water holding a balmy and refreshing 15 degrees C and the rain holding off (because of my special birthday rights). The lake is approximately 2.7 km across from Silverton to Sandpoint Beach.

I was also very keen to try night swimming. And it did not disappoint.

I set off from the boat launch in Silverton around 7 pm, wearing my thickest, warmest wetsuit – a Blue Seventy Sprint – 2 swim caps, and positive thoughts of warm fleece, hot tub time machines, steaming mugs of Earl Grey tea, and Swedish saunas.  Scarlet had both dogs and all of our camping gear in my big old blue canoe, as well as a bright light to guide her crossing. She’s an experienced, skilled, and capable paddler, and I had no concerns with her ability to guide me safely.  The sun set quickly while I was in the water, and soon I was making my way across in darkness next to the canoe. One word sums up this experience – exhilarating! The combination of the cold, the eerie play of the light on the surface of the water, and the feeling of swimming weightlessly into navy blue nothingness was just awesome. I definitely want to do it again. And again! Read More