Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Loggerhead- 20 Mile Swim

Every adventure has a starting point. This adventure starts with more of the absence of a starting point. In our local area we had the Pensacola 3 Mile Bridge Swim for a number of years. I miss this event and hope to see it again in the future. I participated in the Aquathlon, 5K swim, 10K swim, and 25K swim distances. The event has been on-hold for the past few years due to plans for and now actual construction of a new Pensacola Bay Bridge. In the time the swim has been on hold there have been a number of “fun” swims with a few friends gathering together to swim around points or across boat channels. Then there was talk of an EPIC swim. This talk was quickly here and then gone but it stuck in my mind. The plan was to swim from Navarre Beach to Pensacola Beach. The seed was
The actual route taken.
planted for me. I waited to see if it was going to happen but the chatter went silent. Then in May of this year the “big” race Patrick and I were signed up for got canceled and options for other events we wanted to do were limited. The wheels started turning in my head and one day I just told Patrick, "I would like to try to swim from Navarre to Pensacola this summer." I should not be amazed anymore when he agrees, but I am amazed every time he simply says, "OK."

We set the first attempt date in July. Yes it was a quick turnaround, mostly so I could not chicken out, but is was also the best day for tides and amount of daylight. On that day the weather was such that the swim was not going to happen. We faced winds that were causing white caps on the sound. Kayaks were sinking and swimmers, including myself, were making only slow forward progress. To slow to make the distance before dark. With these rough conditions we called the event. You can read more about this attempt on the prior blog entry, Adventures in Failure.

After the first attempt failed, I rethought the possibility of me doing this swim. Patrick asked me when I was going to try again only minutes after leaving the water defeated. I am pretty sure I rolled my eyes and looked at him with a look of, “did you not just see me almost drown out there, bugger off.” But my reply was, “Soon. We will try again soon.” I set two future dates, in case of weather again or other issues. I knew given the daylight limitations that I could only try two more times before waiting until longer days in the spring.

The 19th of August seem to come sooner than naturally possible. Again we packed up fluids, food, and safety supplies. That morning the number of swimmers were far less than the prior attempt.I don’t blame them! Patrick was the only kayaker, Jim would enter the water to swim with me, and Danika would give us hugs, cheer, and push us off with much needed emotional support, encouragement, and confidence in our ability. I was honestly glad for the small numbers (just in case I failed again). It seemed to make it easier to manage in my mind. Patrick pushed out towards the first set of docks. I stood there in thigh deep water, took a glance at the rising sun behind me, waved to our friend (who was all smiles), and took a deep breath before diving into the water.

The water was already warm and it was 0630 in the morning. As we swam out past the first dock, seagrass and squishy jelly fish began to be a part of every stroke forward. The good thing about squishy jellies is that they don’t sting. The bad thing about squishy jellies is that I have trust issues with any jellies, causing me to jump each time my hand brushed one. The seagrass was more of a five mile nuisance, at times being so thick I could have given Patrick a bouquet of grass in one stroke. I wasn't sure this would have been a good way to show my love or appreciation so I kept the seagrass to myself.

I wanted to start at a nice, smooth pace, sort of a start slow and ease off mentality. The water, while warm, was smooth. We hit moments where I just watched the water droplets from my arms break the surface of the settled waters. It was beautiful and peaceful. The water danced as I moved through it, breaking and bending with me this time, not against me like the previous attempt.  I watched ahead eyeing a familiar boathouse that I knew would be close to the moment of defeat a month ago. I watched as it got closer, as houses and condos slowly faded from view. Then the boathouse was next to me and I could see the first outcropping in the distance. This was where I was last time when tough decisions had to be made. The other side of this cove would be the start to the furthest I had traveled on this path. While this point was within only mile three, it was a mental blocking point and I had to remind myself to “be the storm” even against my own mind which was yammering on about failure and defeat. The outcropping seemed to come up faster then expected and with it shallow waters. The shallows now meant that seagrass brushed my stomach at the same time as brushing over my arms and back.

Finally after four miles, the buildings of Navarre Beach were gone and the visual scene to my left became one of flowing sand dunes spotted with low trees and grasses.  Jim and I pushed on, going over a shallow area where I saw my first stingray. He stirred as I came over him. He jetted out towards the deeper waters. I don’t blame him; the water was hot in the shallows. As we got into the National Seashore I found a “stream” of cooler water. With a little zig-zagging I was able to stay in the four foot wide stream. The stream didn’t last long but was refreshing and welcomed.

Well into the seashore Jim began to swap between swimming and walking the shore. It was nice having another swimmer out there with me. While we weren’t always at the same place (sometimes one of us was towards the shore and the other out deeper and then we would swap, crossing paths with little notice until we would look around for each other), there was comfort in Jim being there. Jim is the kind of guy who literally goes the extra mile with you. He and I have swum together often in a  “Monday night swim group.” Our normal swim route as still 12 miles away. Jim is a smiling face when things were starting to feel tough. Jim has strength in ways I could only ponder. I knew why I was there in that water, but for Jim I only knew he was there to because, “why not” (and I am sure a self-challenge of sorts too). Jim would stay out there for nine miles - incredible.   

The next handful of miles would cause us to have to push out beyond a few more outcroppings and trying to stay out of the currents that were twisting the water through the coves and back out to the channel. While I had already swum through the tide rising and slacking, I was not getting as much benefit as I had hoped with the outgoing current. The chop created by the churning current and slight wind was building, causing me to have some trouble sighting the next landmark. Patrick kept me on track; well as much on track as he could, as I tend to get distracted at times. In these miles I encountered a few more rays and small fish, and a few fishermen wondering what I was doing and if I was scarring away their potential catches.

We came upon Big Sabine Point, which earlier had been discussed as to what it was out in the middle of the water. We thought ship, bridge, or bird... yeah we may have all been a little over exposed to the sun even early on. What we saw from miles back was trees. Trees I would have to swim out and around hitting higher chop, but then seeing the buildings of Pensacola much clearer. We were close enough to see individual windows!

From here Range Point and Portofino were well insight. Even the Pensacola Beach hotels were coming into view.  In the beginning the buildings had given way to the beach. The beach now gave way to the buildings. Those buildings felt like road blocks in my mind. I should have been happy; I was close (well closer). But instead my mind raced with doubt. What I knew in that moment was what I thought was going to be a 17 mile swim was now going to be much longer, meaning it wasn’t over and I wasn’t close. My mind tried to negotiate with my heart, saying, “stop,” trying to say, “you are technically at Pensacola beach, you can be done now.” I was thankful when my heart won out, saying, “keep pushing, its right there.”

After Portofino the crossing became deep again. The seagrass faded away and I was left watching the dark below me. As the sun peaked and hid behind the clouds the water danced beneath me in shades of greens and blues and browns, but my eyes were focusing elsewhere in the distance on a row of hotels that really looked more like Lego pieces from my vantage point.

A few miles out from shore we were met by our friend Chris, who came out on his paddle board. I was thankful to have another safety there as the boat traffic was picking up; Patrick was thankful to have another person there to actually have a conversation with, since he had been pretty much alone for the day. I could hear Patrick and Chris talk as I swam. I stopped and grabbed fluids again and asked what building I was headed towards. Both Patrick and Chris told me to go to the tallest building and that Quietwater Beach/Mommy Beach was right there. I was honestly feeling very defeated still seeming so far away, I actually asked, “Are you sure?” Both of them laughed at me and confirmed they were sure.  It was also shortly after this moment that I was in my swim rhythm and even though I had been breathing to both sides I slammed my left shoulder into Patrick’s kayak after making a strange and sudden turn towards him. I swear I never saw him there and I have no idea why I turned. Over the moments of pain, all I thought was, “Put your head back in the water and swim.” I did.

Soon we were joined by another kayaker, I knew this only because Patrick was chatting again. Tom had joined us and again I was thankful, because the boat traffic was building as people went home or to dinner spots along the beach.  Suddenly I saw Patrick begin the paddle ahead a little and Tom move swiftly to my right side, the fog horn went off and I stopped (as planned), luckily the speed boat stopped too, well quickly turned from us. For the remainder of the swim I would stay with Tom to my right, Chris behind me, and Patrick to my left; I was safe here.

The docks along Quitewater Beach got closer and closer. Soon I was swimming in waters I had swam through many times before. I was home (almost). I stopped one more time to tell Patrick “I was done and going to call it,” but he only laughed at my smiling face and sternly told me to swim. I heard Tom asked if I was serious. Yep it was a joke 15 miles in the making and I was cracking myself up.  Shortly after, the guys broke from me and pushed to shore. I no longer knew if my goggles were leaking or if tears were filling them; it didn’t matter. For the last time my hands brushed the sand. I pulled my legs up under me and stood up, taking a moment to balance. I was there on the shore, greeted by the guys and friends, Mindi and Evan. It was over. 12 hours, 21 minutes, and 1 second from when I started, I was on shore 20 miles away from where I started.

I stood on the shore in disbelief. I looked to the east to see nothing of    
Navarre beach in the distances; it was gone too far away to see now. I know that there are better swimmers than me, faster, farther swimmers than me. But today I swam 20 miles and I am proud of that feat. It still hasn’t sunk in that I swam that, even after picking up the car at the start point it didn’t seem to be a real distance. Even after the congratulations and wows it didn’t seem real. The distance and physical feat has not hit yet- because to me it was a journey in my mind far different from the physical journey. I solved the world’s problems, created world peace, thought of friends and family, mended hearts their hearts and lost relationships, created plans for my work team, and then in the weight of the land so much of it was lost again. My mind is putting together the pieces, maybe not to solve world peace or to mend all hearts, but enough of the pieces to reach out and help make things better. The physical accomplishment will come to my mind in time.

To be on shore was amazing, but even more amazing has been the support. I can’t say thank you enough to those who have been a constant support through this adventure. Thank you to those who have jumped in the water to swim or kayak, to those who have followed the little red dot on live tracking, to those who have offered food along the way, to those who have cheered and laughed with us, and to those who have lifted my spirit when I felt like I was free falling. 

Lastly, to my love a thank you for always being there (even when you drifted back to update social media). Without Patrick 20 miles would not even be a dream dreamt in the darkness; he is the one who breaths in light to my dreams and crazy ideas. It was comforting to look over and see him there beside me, to hear him whisper words of affirmation, and to feel him hold me when the adventure was over. He is my life line. He is my rock. He is the part of my soul that holds me firmly between the course of reality and the freedom of destiny. I can never say thank you to him to express my gratitude for him being there (always) for those words cannot hold my appreciation and love for him.
So here is the general data break down:
On 19 August 2017 I swam from Navarre Beach to Pensacola Beach, covering a distance of 20 miles. 20 miles, 12:21:01 time in the water, 11:22:49 total moving time (meaning my treading or standing to eat did not count as moving time but was in the overall time), average moving speed of 1.8mph.  The water temp was about 88 degrees but there were areas of colder water about a foot down, leaving the hot water to sit at the top.  The air temp was mid 90’s; however, felt hotter with the heat index. We encountered a few clouds but no storms.

With this my Tampa Bay Frogman Swim 2018 training has begun, now for speed work and cold waters!!!

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  1. You write as well as you swim! Such a great read and an even greater accomplishment. Your love of endurance swimming inspires me! Thanks for sharing! -Rex

  2. Just amazing! Thanks for sharing your story, and glad i got to be there for at least part of it as you finished.