A Fish Needs a Bicycle

Cycling stories are to swim blogs like vanilla sauce is to Apfelstrudel.

I was in the middle of my bike tour through Germany, Austria, Switzerland and a tiny part of Italy and I couldn’t hold it in any longer. Story of my life, right? An accumulation of the most epic and vast and stunning scenery I’ve ever seen, combined with an intensely emotional reaction to my circumstances brought me to tears several times in one day.

Maybe it was Lake Sils/Silsersee. Maybe it was the greenest valleys, the vibrant flowers, the vistas of beauty around every corner. Maybe it was the kindness of my companion, who is so in sync with the way I travel (on schedule, organized, with everything in its proper pocket). And who, like me, always decides to climb the extra 500 metres of elevation gain to see something amazing or just to stand on the highest point, breathing hard but happy breaths.

Maybe it was the break I needed – the long and arduous days of climbing and then gliding, of discovering amazing places to swim and cool off in water of a colour I can barely describe. Days spent completely outdoors in sunshine, fog, rain, and wind, with sleep assisted by the sound of rushing rivers outside a tiny tent – the way I sleep best. Trusting that my body would tolerate 10 days of 80 km of cycling and then 2 km of swimming, through tears and smiles and gritting my teeth and regulating my breathing and laughing out loud at the sheer joy of it all.

Joy.

I have enjoyed this experience so much!

I’ve forgotten about the loss of my luggage, the frantic shopping for replacement of critical things I’d need for the trip, and the guilt of holding things up for a day. The frustration and the phone calls (you had ONE JOB), and the extra weight on my credit card.

I’m grateful to The German for planning this trip and itinerary with precise detail as to what would take my breath away – and his willingness to share the places most special to him. I’m grateful for the kindness of the Unterguggenberger family who let us stay an extra night while we sorted out solutions to the missing gear, and served us the most delicious breakfasts I’ve ever had. I’m grateful to Specialized for making a bike that exceeded my expectations and the requirements of the trip – from asphalt to gravel to cobblestone, in rain and in 38 degree heat on serpentine mountain passes.

And yes, I’m grateful for the Chamois Cream, and so is my butt!

What an adventure. I’ll never, ever forget a second of it.

Across the Lake and Across the Pond

I’m waiting to board my flight from Vancouver –> Dublin –> Munich for the Via Claudia Augusta Bike tour. I’m meeting The German in Germany, of all places. The Royal Baby is all boxed up and is hopefully being treated as the precious cargo she is by the baggage handlers. Extra big thanks to Rossland’s Revolution Cycles for packing her up so perfectly. I’m eating airport food court Chinese food and am having a REST!

In just over 24 hours, I swam the Across the Lake Swim in Kelowna, booted it across BC to a lush surprise upgrade at the Delta Burnaby, ate the best spaghetti of my life (and tiramisu, too), lugged my bike from the value parking all the way to the International Terminal, and here I am, looking sexy with my memory foam neck pillow. I have a few minutes to reflect on yesterday’s swim, so here’s how it went:

I’ve previously whinged about how a 2.1 km event isn’t really long enough for me. I still think that’s the case, but I did have a very good swim yesterday morning and I’ll take a good result when I can. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. I arrived in Kelowna on Friday evening to pick up my race package (and this year’s towel!) and a brand new pair of Vorgee Goggles thanks to my pals at Ocean Junction. I enjoyed a long overdue dinner with a dear pal at BNA, was in bed by 11, and then up at the absolute buttcrack of dawn to scarf down a bagel and head to Lakeside Park. It felt weird and a bit sad not having Scarlet with me, since she’s been my ATLS partner in crime for the last 3 years. What’s with teenagers having to work? I just talked to myself instead.

This year’s Across the Lake Swim – the 71st annual – had 1300 swimmers registered. I was slotted into Wave 4 and donned a dark blue cap for the first time. If you ever want to come over and see my swim cap collection….

(Wait, that’s my pickup line. It’s a good one, isn’t it? 😊 You can borrow it if you also have 1000 swim caps in your possession.)

I warmed up for a good 15 minutes and soon it was time to join my wave and head toward the start. I felt really good, wide awake and energetic, which was great because mornings can go either way for me. At 21 degrees Celsius, the water was perfect. Off we went and I started fast and didn’t really let up my pace except to tread and de-fog a few times. My Finis Duo was hit and miss with the shuffle, playing some excellent early !!!, Yacht, and Hot Chip, and some laggardly Bjork right in the middle.

I have been working intently on my recovery with high elbows and catching slightly wider, and these stroke changes felt quite natural in my wetsuit. Sometimes a technique adjustment feels weird once you move from the freedom of movement in just a bathing suit to the more restrictive confines of a rubber wetsuit, but mine is flexible enough that I was able to maintain better form and still have the buoyancy benefits.

I’ve also been working on increasing my stroke rate, especially in shorter distances. It’s led me to admit that yes, I will have to pony up for a fancy smartwatch very soon to actually track these things vs. always just going by feel. I’d love any recommendations. And $1000 if you have that kicking around.

Back to the race.

I sprinted out of the water with energy to spare and was pleased to learn that I finished in 33:08, which is a minute and a half faster than last year. I came 150/1291, and 14th in my age category. I feel quite proud of this result since I have been training hard. I have been busy (and biking!), but I didn’t want to let myself down with a slow swim to start off the season.

After the swim I hobnobbed with the Stevens, who were pancaking, and would soon celebrate a team podium finish (woohoooo!) but I did miss the Summerhill Winery brunch. As usual, I’d planned just a few too many things in one day, and felt it crucial that I stay awake on the highways. A belly full of eggs bennies would definitely have put me in jeopardy.

So that’s 2019’s Race 1 done and complete – with a great result and a solidly positive experience. The organizers and volunteers have the Across the Lake Swim so dialled, and it’s always the smoothest event in my race calendar. 4 more to go until I earn my silver cap!

It’s time to board my flight. Up, up and away!

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.

Give It 6 Months

I visited Edmonton for work this week, and stayed downtown at the Westin. No big deal – I’m frequently in and out of Edmonton and although usually I stay at the Delta South, it was more convenient to be downtown for my appointments.

I have avoided that particular Westin like the plague, since it was the site of my “restructuring” from my former job at the end of March this year. I knew full well that the axe was about to fall on my neck. The signs were all there, and my former boss wasn’t so stealthy in concealing her plans. Sloppy and cruel even. On the day before my beheading, she even sent a meeting request for the wrong time, so that I ended up waiting outside the chambre de guillotine for an hour. She texted and told me to go and “have a nice breakfast”, but I didn’t and hid behind a pillar and watched the executioners enter the room.

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Once my head was removed, I spoke with my lawyer, chatted with colleagues, took a nap, ordered room service, and then went for a swim. Or at least I think that was the order of events. I definitely remember the swim.

Two weeks later, I started in my awesome new position with the world’s best company, landing in a role that aligns closely with my values and my skill set, with leadership who lead, for real.  My head slowly reattached itself to my body. I healed.

A close friend said to me “Give it 6 months. You’ll be a new person.”

In the year I’d spent in my previous role, I gave up much more than my head. A gruelling travel schedule saw me away from home nearly 80% of the time. A company culture of working until exhaustion saw me diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome – constantly swollen and stressed, with broken blood vessels in my eyes. I gained 35 pounds, even when living on Air Canada pretzels – a lot when you’re barely 5 foot 4. I didn’t even buy a ski pass last year. I did one measly, disappointing swim in the summer of 2017. I was mired in Excel spreadsheets full of numbers that meant nothing. My wetsuit hung pathetically in my closet.

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When I reflect back, the relentless travel and long hours did serve a purpose: keeping my mind away from the end of my marriage. Although when I was finally operating like a normal person again, I experienced what my therapist calls “delayed grief”, and it became one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with – but 6 months after the fact. I cannot recommend this approach to moving through traumatic life events.

When I started this swim blog, I was (head intact) searching for positive habits and an approach to recovery, rather than reinvention. I wanted to peel back the barnacles and find the person underneath. Shuck my own oyster. A changed person, indeed, but a person with undeniable basic needs:

  • swimming, or to be in or near water as much as possible
  • other consistent and regular exercise
  • time with my daughter
  • time with my friends
  • good nutrition
  • sleep
  • kindness

There are a few other bullet points, but this is a family blog. Within 6 months, I had completed and exceeded my initial swim goals. I had established myself in my new, amazing role and loved starting work every single day. I had started divorce and other necessary legal proceedings. I’d started running. I’d bought new underwear. I grew my hair and fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming a roadie for a rock and roll band. Just kidding. That never happened. 😉 I started working with a business coach. I signed up for the future.

This is not to hold myself up as any sort of role model. There’s plenty that happened within the last 6 months that I’m not proud of. But there’s plenty that I am proud of. And 6 months becomes 7, and then 8, and then 9, and then suddenly I’m at the Westin again with my head attached to my neck and I’m shaking it because I can hardly believe how much is possible with a little, or a lot of:

  • swimming, or being in or near water as much as possible
  • other exercise
  • time with my daughter
  • time with my friends (Wow, do you ever learn who those are, and aren’t, Glen.)
  • good nutrition (no Air Canada pretzels, thank you)
  • sleep
  • kindness

I have just over 8,000 more metres to swim to achieve my 2018 training goal, and 2 weeks to learn whether my application for the Lake Zurich swim is accepted. Within the next 6 months, more amazing things will happen, and more change, because that’s the constant and the way it should be for me.

And the next time I stay in Edmonton, it won’t be at the Westin. Not because I don’t like it (ohhh Heavenly Bed, you’re the best), but I left my old head there and I don’t really want it back.

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

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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