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.

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.
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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.
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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.

Less Now

I’m going to be honest. I’m swimming less. Writing less, if at all. Feeling less. Connecting less.

Less of everything, except work (nobody I know can afford to do less of that), because I have struggled to focus since my Dad, Kelly Bowers, passed away suddenly in September.

This ability to only do less has impacted my training, my relationships, and certainly my health.

A whoosh of energy left me about 2 weeks after it happened. I caught a virus, probably from hugging and shaking hands with a thousand people. The virus settled deep in my chest and my ears, where long days of coughing sap my energy, I can’t hear very well, and I often feel dizzy. I feel fragile and sore. My rotator cuff is not healing.

I know that I need to exercise every single day – as a mood-regulator but also to store up energy for what is quite a demanding schedule. But sometimes all I can manage is a dog walk or a half-hearted hotel gym workout.

Swimming is tough right now because there’s no getting away from the mental gymnastics that happen when you’re churning lengths, and no distractions from the inner flicker of memories and replay. I have used this to my advantage previously when going through other major life challenges, but those challenges sought solutions and clarity that seemed to require focused breathing and really thinking scenarios through.

Dealing with death is very different.

I am consistently sad. I’m super cautious about feeling anything extreme, like excitement or anger. I’m protective and sometimes self-destructive. I’m hesitant to plan – which, as a natural planner – feels weird and unnatural. There are motions to go through and days to get through.

I’ve let some goals exist in a blurry bucket which is where they have to be right now. I’ll find out in a few weeks if I’ve been accepted for the 26 km Lake Zurich swim next August. I have another Master’s meet in January. (More on October’s event soon.) I have a slew of other 2020 events in Europe and Oregon and B.C. to register for. But all of this is taking a backseat to getting back to a place of motivation, dedication, and focus. Getting back to being tough, and finding the fun and challenge in this grand open water swimming experiment that has given me so much.

I’m grateful for the patience of my people, and I’m impatient for wanting more.

But right now it’s less. Bear with me.

Mission Accomplished!

What a year!

What started as what can only be called an annus horribilis (accent on annus) ended brilliantly as a number of things in my life started to reset and align. I feel like I have a new brain and a new body. All I need now is a new training playlist for the hours I’ll log in the pool over the next few months.

Let’s get this out of the way before moving on to the good shit: I wasn’t successful in my application for the Lake Zurich Swim. This was expected, but I was still a little disappointed. I only allowed one single tear to roll down the right side of my face. I will apply again for 2020 and my application will stand a much greater chance. All the fondue will be mine. ALL THE FONDUE!

OK – the good shit:

I hit my training goal of 200,000 metres this morning!

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My favourite screen capture of 2018. 

With just 1900 m to go, I hauled my  sleepy ass down to the Trail Aquatic Centre and knocked out an easy workout that culminated in a deep dive down to the bottom of the pool to rescue some kid’s sunken goggles, and then a delicious soak in the hot tub.

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My home away from home: The Trail Aquatic Centre

I followed that up with a slack-country ski date with a good pal and a restorative nap during which I did indeed dream of sugar plums. It felt great to hit the milestone and even better to think that next year I might double it.

My training did slow down with the busy-ness of December, and the pleasant distraction of skiing taking priority.  While swimming is my brain and body, skiing is truly my heart. I spent a few romantic (squeee) days at the International Hostel in Lake Louise exploring the myriad of cross-country trails and a bluebird day of downhill with the cute German boyfriend, who insisted on carrying my skis. This has never happened before and I am still crowing on about it. He carried my skis!

I had a house full of my beloved family visiting for Christmas and one much needed rest day with Netflix, pillows, and cookie snarfing. And maybe some leftover Bailey’s.

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Christmas skiing fam jam

Next up is New Year’s Eve and then I will start to work on creating my swimming plans and resolutions for 2019.

I love New Year’s Resolutions. Partly because I love to break them and make them all over again, but also because I’m someone who loves lists and lists of goals and plans and frameworks and systems. It’s the perfect time to reflect on the year that was and to set some goals for the year ahead before everything gets busy and crazy.

2018 was my most challenging year in many ways…but somehow it magically turned into one of my best years with a whole open sky of clear sailing (and swimming!) for 2019.

Some preliminary highlights of 2018 include:

  • Starting this blog. I really love writing, so it’s been healthy and motivating to document my progress, warts, deadbeats and all.
  • Kicking off my distance training with a solid plan from the Prairie Girls Swim Squad that I actually followed. Can we have another one for 2019, please?
  • epic 3 day Kootenay Lake swim with the awesome Steven family
  • completing my first Lake Skaha Ultra Swim
  • my destination swim trip to London to experience the lidos and the Serpentine Swim
  • achieving my 200,000 metre training goal
  • HE CARRIED MY SKIS!

I’ll have more to say about 2018 in the upcoming days as I formulate a few swimming “Best of ” lists.

Thank you for all of your encouragement (not you, Glen) and comments this year – and thanks for reading! May your towel be warm and dry, and your goggles unfoggy. Happy New Year!

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.