Losing My Bike Touring Virginity

I’d never done an overnight or multiple day bike tour before and had been a bit jealous of hearing the adventures that my friends Liz, Erika, and Arianna would have on them (minus when Liz and Arianna both had the flu in Ireland). My friend Chris organized one for last September and I said that I’d do it if Liz came out for it. Liz, of course, was in along with her boyfriend Nic. Okay, I’m committed now one way or another!

I had two bikes and neither were outfitted for bike touring. I talked to both Erika and Kevin about options. Erika suggested some large removable saddlebags, but I didn’t really like the idea of that bouncing around behind me along with the very limited weight and size restriction. Kevin suggested altering one of my bikes for fitting a rack on it, but the information I found online was kind of confusing. He suggested that I go to REI since at least they sell panniers. I talked to the bike mechanic at REI who said that there was no way to fit a rack onto my bike without drilling into the frame. WTF? Even I know that’s incorrect! I resisted the urge to throw my Orbea at him and instead went to my bike shop, which is where I kind of knew I should have gone to in the first place. My usual mechanic, Mike, knew exactly what rack to get, which came with the adapter to fix it to my bike. I’d be able to pick up my bike in about 3 days after he got the parts and installed them. Yipee! I borrowed a pannier from a very pregnant Arianna so I was good to go now. ๐Ÿ™‚

Our overnight was scheduled for September 8 – 9, 2018. Liz and Nic were flying in from ABQ a couple of days before and staying with Arianna and Matt in Berkeley. We were all meeting up that Saturday morning at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park and the plan was then to ride down to Pescadero via Half Moon Bay and a lot of time on Highway 1. I packed the bare minimum I’d need to try and keep my pannier as light as possible. I didn’t ride the Orbea much anymore since it’s an aluminum frame so the heavier of my two bikes. Since it’s my first bike though, I’m never getting ride of it! Now it’s my official touring bike. ๐Ÿ™‚ I opted that morning to ride from my house to GGP even though we’d be riding right back past my place on the route. This added 15 miles and 1100′ climbing.

Ready to roll

Day #1 – SF to Pescadero

I was glad that this was going to be a small group and I already knew everyone. Erika was supposed to join us, but opted not to. She still drove out for the start with her wife Terri, who was riding with us. Erika would drive and meet us in Pescadero for dinner and spend the night. Chris, Terri, Liz, Nic, and I took off towards Ocean Beach to start our ride with the first stop being in Pacifica. Chris’ intent was to make this as leisurely a ride as possible so she had lots of stops scheduled all the way down, which is different then my mentality of more or less “keep moving!”

We had just come up and over the hill on Skyline Boulevard in Daly City past the water tower when a van driver who was turning (?) got upset with Nic about something. The driver turned towards us and started yelling at Nic. It was unintelligible on what he was so angry about, but I was afraid that he’d get out of the van or worse, pull a gun out on Nic (a sad reality today). Nic was just like “I don’t know what your problem is man.” Terri went into full Mama Bear mode and was yelling at us to just keep going and leave her with him. I’m half-expecting her to yank him out of the van and start beating him with her bare hands. Terri is a tall and very lean woman, but trust me that she’s solid muscle and I wouldn’t want to f*** with her. A couple of minutes later Terri rejoins us and tells us to just keep going.

Terri, Lizziekins, and me

We catch up to Chris and make our first stop at the Chit Chat Cafe. Some grab a belated breakfast and/or coffee and there’s a lot of photo taking outside. We seem to spend way too long there for being online an hour into this ride. Next stop is Half Moon Bay for lunch which is less than an hour away too! After much dillydallying, we get back into the saddles and peddle off towards lunch, which I’m actually really looking forward to.

I’d never ridden the new Devil’s Slide bypass. I saw the flower beds and thought that if it was an old Liz/Kelley ride then we’d have definitely stopped there for taking photos (as Liz likes to take a lot of “oh pretty!” photos). The bypass is super nice and didn’t have a lot of pedestrians there either. We got a surprise coming down the South side of it though with Erika waiting for us! She wanted to surprise us (okay maybe just her wife) on the route and we’d almost blown right past her.

I missed Liz’s personality

We rolled into Half Moon Bay shortly after. Lunch was ironically at a place that I always think of as where I’d had lunch with a high school BFF Michelle when we cut class to go to the beach (sorry Dad). I’m glad it’s still there and more or less looks the same as when I was in high school. After a fairly unhealthy lunch of a lot of fried seafood and fries, we head back off south.

Chris had lost a golf club the last time she’d been at the Ritz Carlton in HMB so she wanted to go by there to see if they had it. We traversed through the hotel property and got to the walking trail right along the coastline and in front of their restaurant. There were a bunch of people walking along it and Chris said that she guesses we should walk our bikes. I look at the distribution of people and say “I can make it.” I go relatively slow but there’s no way that I’m pushing my bike up that uphill walkway. I get through just fine without freaking out any pedestrians and I think Chris had decided to try riding up it also. We wait for the other guys to join us. I’d noticed that there was a wedding party taking photos a short distance away and gee I really hope we ended up in the background of some of those photos. ๐Ÿ˜›

Chris looks at the map and figures out last time where they’d done some off-road to which I say a hard “no” on riding my bike on even “hard packed dirt.” I really am pretty lazy when it comes to cycling so the less work I have to do, the better. We snake around the various side streets before getting back on the main highway with the next stop being all the way down in Pescadero.

Terri and I are the fastest riders in the group and both of us like to regroup every so often. With only 5 of us on Highway 1, I don’t want us to get spread out so far especially if something happens to one of us (flat tire, car, etc.). We definitely regroup at the top of any long climb or set of climbs. I know from Liz that Nic isn’t in the best cycling shape, but he wanted to come with us regardless. I’m happy to accommodate as I like Nic and just glad that he wanted to join us to spend the time with us. Terri is wearing her usual head-to-toe black ensemble which always amazes me that she isn’t roasting in it. I’ve only seen the woman’s naked legs and arms while she’s been riding once.

Made it!

I get excited when I see the sign that we’ve made it to Pescadero! I’m not sure where the lighthouse is that we’re spending the night or what the plan is so I wait to regroup for Chris’ instructions. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that we were going to stop at Arcangeli Grocery for artichoke bread (gee there’s a lot of eating on this ride!). Erika’s there waiting for us and also to transport any breakfast groceries to the hostel we’re staying at. We migrate to Downtown Local a couple of doors down for a little bit before heading off again to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse where we’re spending the night. I’m glad that I let Terri take the lead since the lighthouse hostel was at the start of a long straight descent, which would have meant that I’d have blown right past it and never even seen it!

Catching up with my favorite cycling partner Liz while watching the sunset

We get checked in, unpacked, refreshed (some partake in a little hot tub time), and then it’s off to dinner. Nic admits that he was so tired that he didn’t even want to get back on his bike after Pescadero so he’d almost asked Erika for a ride from there. He tells us though that he’s so glad that he’s gotten to know us since Liz talks about us all the time and he sees why we’re so special in her life. Aw! โค The 6 of us pack into Erika’s car (one of us is stuffed in the footwell behind the driver’s seat) and head to a quick dinner at the Highway 1 Brewery. Afterwards we retire to our rooms for the night with Nic and Liz in one room and the rest of us in another.

Sunset in Pescadero

Day #2 – Pescadero to Palo Alto

I wake up at my usual o’dark thirty time and lay in bed for awhile. No one else is awake and there was some confusion where all the keycards went yesterday so only a couple of us have a key to the room and I’m not one of them. I do the best I can to entertain myself until at least someone else is up. Erika wakes up second and I thought she had a card with her so I figured I could finally escape the room. She didn’t have hers though and the door got accidentally closed. I needed to go back in for something so unfortunately this involved trying to wake up Terri (aka “I don’t do mornings”) to answer the door. She finally answered it after several minutes.

Everyone else finally gets up and start making breakfast. I had actually been moving away from having breakfast and doing my morning workouts in a fasted state (more on that in another blog post), but these guys were into a very leisurely and good spread Sunday breakfast.

We’d finally cleaned up, repacked, suited up, and checked out by 11:00 a.m. I’m a bit worried about the late start and afternoon sun, but nothing I can do about it. We say bye to Erika who decides to just go back home to Berkeley instead of meeting us in Redwood City later. There’s the Santa Cruz ironman happening and our path goes along their cycling route for a few miles. Their officials let us continue our route since we don’t really have any other option to get up and over back to Redwood City.

(L to R) Chris, Nic, Erika, Liz, Terri

We turn onto Gazos Creek Road which is nice and shaded. I have no idea where we are though as I’ve never been in this area despite growing up not that far away. We climb up Cloverdale Road and I wait for everyone else to meet up. We continue on and Chris and Liz jokingly call my attention to what’s in front of us. I see a short but steep climb and immediately yell out “WHAT THE F***?” I have a real love/hate relationship with climbing. It’s getting warm in the day and I definitely notice every extra pound this Orbea has between its frame and the pannier.

I stop at the junction of Cloverdale and Pescadero Creek Road as I’m not sure which way we’re supposed to go and I want to regroup with everyone. Terri and I wait for Liz and Chris to arrive. Chris immediately turns onto Pescadero Creek Road pointing for us to follow her. I don’t see Nic though and don’t want to leave him behind as he wouldn’t know which way to turn either. I take off to catch Chris and tell her that we need to wait for Nic. The 4 of us wait back at the junction and no Nic for several minutes. Liz can’t call him as she has both their phones in her saddlebag. We backtrack to find him at the side of the road changing a flat. His tire had caught a crack in the asphalt which split his tube several inches. We discover too that not only is the tube flat, but the tire is ripped also. We put a dollar bill into the tire to see if that’ll hold the rip and then continue on.

Not your average flat tire!

We head up the long climb of Pescadero Creek Road (my quads are hating me and it’s now officially “hot afternoon”) and drop down to the other side. The idea is to meet up at the La Honda Market for lunch. I’m following Terri as she knows the way supposedly. The other guys are taking longer than expected to catch up to us, but at least we know that they’re together. They finally get to the market about 20 minutes later. The dollar bill didn’t hold and Nic got another flat. This time they put in a BART ticket as that’s a lot sturdier than regular money paper. I asked about the rest of the ride and Chris says that we have one more climb (La Honda Road) but it’s not as bad as Pescadero Creek Road (thank goodness).

After lunch we head up La Honda Road which is a very easy 6 mile route up and we get there no problem. The BART ticket continues holding for Nic’s tire and it’s awesome to see him and Liz get to the top together. ๐Ÿ™‚ We take a couple of photos outside of Alice’s before dropping down Woodside Road to start heading back to Palo Alto.

Introducing Nic to Alice’s Restaurant

Somehow if there’s going to ever be a car honking at me incessantly, Terri is going to be right behind said car. This day was no different where a very angry Prius driver (yeah I know) was the one who apparently decided that I was ruining her day doing only 36 mph down Woodside Road on a busy traffic Sunday afternoon. I always seem to get honked at around the “Share the Road” signs too ironically. I stop at the bottom of the descent as I’m sure the others won’t know to turn there to get to Sand Hill Road. Terri said she’s glad I didn’t pull over for that jerk. I actually couldn’t hear her honking nor would I have moved anyway since I’m just trying to get home in one piece too jackass and share the f***ing road like the sign says.

Chris and Liz are taking longer on Sand Hill so Terri hangs back with them. Nic and I go to try and make the 4:00 p.m. train and I stay close to Nic the entire time since with his tire problems, there’s no way I’m leaving him by himself. We get to Cal Train with plenty of time, but don’t see the others. They end up showing up about a minute before the train pulls into the station and we all make it into the bike car.

Nic and Liz have to return their bikes too at the Sports Basement in the Presidio but at this point they’re tired and not sure how they’re going to get them there. I’m pretty sure I can make 2 bikes and 3 people fit into my car so I volunteer to try this. We say bye to Chris and Terri at the my CalTrain stop and part ways. I leave Liz and Nic at the station while I do the longest ride ever (literally, this took 16 minutes and is closer than the BART station that only takes me 11 minutes to get home) up my street to get home to get my car. It works getting everything in my car! We get their stuff returned on time and I drop them off at BART where they’re off to spend the night at Liz’s friend’s house before they head back to ABQ the next day.

So I lost my bike touring virginity in the best possible way with a very small group of close friends. I’d do it again in a heartbeat with them as it was a lot of fun. Keeping the group small worked well as we were all already friends and got to spend some quality time with each other during the weekend. It wasn’t like a big miscellaneous bike tour with a bunch of people you don’t know and many who you won’t ever see again (and some who you never caught their name to begin with). This trip was just like what it’s always been about with them, first and foremost we want to spend time together and secondly we love cycling. And bonus that we got to know Nic a bit more too. ๐Ÿ™‚

Taking off on Sunday morning. Photo by Erika Rowen.

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3 Peaks in 3 Days

I remember talking about trying the 3 Peaks (Mounts Tam, Diablo, and Hamilton) in 3 Days with Enrique and Rob back in 2015. I was still fairly new to cycling then and not that good of a climber so the idea of doing any of those was still pretty daunting, let alone doing all 3 over the course of 3 consecutive days. It was something that I knew I’d have to train for but wasn’t even sure if I could pull it off. I was relatively fresh off of my Catalina Channel swim and didn’t know anything about Hamilton except that it was in the South Bay.

Then of course I wasn’t riding as much so that challenge got shelved but not too far back. When I started riding again this past April, the idea surfaced again especially when I discovered that I was having an easier time climbing. When I’d done Tam for the first time in years with Baerbel, Kevin, and Ann recently, it seemed like this may be something that I could pull off since I had no problem getting up Tam with plenty of energy to burn the next day.

Mere coincidence presented the opportunity back at the end of July. First I just happened to see an invite from Lorri to join her for her traditional birthday ride up Hamilton. Then Brenda invited me to join her NorCal Velo team to ride Tam the day after Lorri’s birthday ride. A carrot was being dangled in front of me and all I needed was to add Diablo to the day before or after and I’d have all 3 lined up. What’s a girl to do? Clear my schedule as I’ve got some business to attend to in less than 24 hours.

Day #1 – Mount Diablo
I wasn’t sure which sucker I’d get to do Diablo literally the next day with a 6 a.m. start. And with everyone I asked, ironically Baerbel was on Diablo at the exact time I’d texted her. She wasn’t going to be available the next morning though. I posted in my SheSpoke Cycling Club group and thanks to the miracle worker and incredible human being (and our fearless leader) Erika, I got hooked up with Kat Chen. I still can’t believe that Kat was willing to get up at 4:30 a.m. to be picked up by a total stranger at 5:00 a.m. to go ride Diablo at sunrise. She could also have been a mass murderer too that I was letting into my car.

Kat and me at the top of Diablo, 26 July 2018.

We started off at the Peet’s in Danville like I had last time with Kevin and Baerbel as it was easy to find and close to the freeway. Kat had to be home by 10:00 a.m. which is fine since I’d wanted to get back to the West side of the Bay as soon as possible. We both agreed on just a quick stop at the top before heading back down too. We rolled out relatively on time and being before the park opened, we had to carry our bikes over the South Gate. I actually prefer Diablo when it’s closed to car traffic as at least I know that I’m not going to get hit by a car. We cross paths with several cyclists who are already on their descents. Kat’s behind me somewhere but we agreed to meet up at the Ranger Station at the junction.

I end up having an unfortunate chat with a ranger who goes off on me about how he could cite me right there and that it’d be on my permanent record for the rest of my life, blah blah (seriously, does he think I’m a teenager that can be scared by this?) and asks me if I had to lift my bike over the South Gate (duh, yes). I’m the third cyclist he’s talked to already that morning and at least blamed his boss saying that his boss started wanting all cyclists in the park before 8 a.m. (the official opening time) to start getting tickets. I give the obligatory “I’m sorry” and continue on my way. I talk to another guy at the junction waiting for his friend on their descent and he never saw the ranger that day. He rides Diablo twice a week in the early mornings and has never had a ranger stop him before even though he’s seen them frequently. Kat catches up to me and was also stopped. She says that she’s been chewed out way worse by rangers for such things. Okay, Kat’s getting even cooler.

We continue on our way with the next meetup being the obvious top of Diablo. I hate the Wall more than Coleman Valley Road during Levi’s Gran Fondo though (where I’m 65 miles into the ride by the time I hit that horrible climb). I just pray that there’s no stupid ranger in his truck stalking me when I’m on the Wall that morning. Nothing stresses me more on a ride than knowing there’s a car right behind me and I’m holding it up. The engine sound is a huge distraction and I need all my attention on trying to keep my heart from exploding when I’m on the Wall. I have to split it into sets of 30 pedal strokes to try and break it up and at least this morning there’s no hungry ranger truck behind me.

I have the top all to myself except for one other person and wait for Kat. It’s so quiet and peaceful up there and thinking of how many people are still asleep or just getting up. Kat arrives sometime shortly afterwards and we do our quick photos and then start heading back down. We pass by more cyclists who are already well on their way up and obviously didn’t start when the South Gate opened just a few minutes before. We get back to the car and I quickly dress while Kat grabs some coffee at Peet’s. Time to go sit in lovely East Bay traffic but Waze says that I’ll get Kat back to her place right on time.

Okay, I can do this. Just Hamilton tomorrow and then good ol’ Tam the next day. I’ve already did one and I don’t want Kat to have woken up at an unholy hour for her to have been a total waste. Onto Hamilton…..

Day #2 – Mount Hamilton
A lot of people know that I’d been whining about never having done Hamilton for a few years now. This was the one ride that’s eluded me for one reason or another all this time. “Strong hints” didn’t seem to get picked up by friends who had done it before or were doing it to invite me to join them there. Luckily that finally changed with Lorri’s birthday this year! I consider it fate since I miss about 99.9% of posts on Facebook but just happened to see her post asking for Hamilton birthday ride buddies for later that week. I jumped on the chance to not only get Hamilton finally done but also get to see Lorri!

Lorri is the founder of Savvy Bikes and Velo Girls. I met her in March 2015 after I’d been riding for 5 months at a basic skills workshop she did for SheSpoke. I’d also taken her climbing/descending course and joined along for some North Bay ride she lead for Rapha Cycling Club which I only remember beating her to Four Corners because she made a wrong turn somewhere. I still hear her voice in my head during my descents as she helped me work through my crash trauma (still an ongoing process). I hadn’t seen Lorri in a few years but I recognized her car and bike immediately when she was still driving down the road.

I met Lorri and her friends Ken and Adrienne (?) at Berryessa Community Center. I still hadn’t looked at the ride profile so wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Luckily Lorri believes in warming up also so we had a nice long flat and a bit of a bump over Alum Rock before heading to Hamilton. The roads were pretty clear and I was still feeling pretty good after Diablo the day before. I quickly learned too that Ken has to be the more unusual climber and cyclist I’ve ever met. The saddle hurts him so he does most of his riding out of the saddle. New definition for “quads of steel.”

We turn onto the start of the road that leads up Hamilton. I get to catch up with Lorri about our life and relationship philosophies. We meet up with Ken and Adrienne who had gone ahead as Adrienne needed to refill her water bottles already. Not a bad idea to top off especially when I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get to the summit.

Our little pod of 4 turns into 2 pods of 2 as Adrienne and Lorri are gabbing like it’s a Sunday afternoon. Ken’s pretty easy to talk to and talks a lot so I have a feeling this is going to be a good and entertaining ride. He tells me that he’s stashed some birthday signs for Lorri along the route so has us slow down so Lorri gets to see them first. What a sweet surprise!! Lorri squeels when she sees them and says that she’ll have to drive back with her car later to collect them.

Ken keeps me company most of the way up talking about our respective major surgeries, how we got into riding, and an incredible annual ride he and his friends do once a year of 600 kilometers. He says that a double century is nothing for him which I believe! He only missed the last 600 KM ride because he was recovering from heart surgery. He rides Hamilton a lot so could go a lot faster and I appreciate him hanging back with me as I slog my sorry butt up it.

I do get a little excited when I first see the Lick Observatory even though it seems like a million miles away. Ken told me that it’s a bit of a mindf*** though since you’ll see it for a long time but the road up there is so windy that it’s slow progress to actually get there. I decide to take it just like Tam and Diablo of “one turn at a time” and try to ignore how much further I possibly have. It’s hard though since the road is fairly exposed to the sun and it’s getting really warm quickly. I keep checking the distance on my watch to see how much further I have after seeing the sign that the observatory is 5 miles away. Ken’s encouraging me to keep going as it’s “only a little bit further.” I’m fighting the urge to just turn around and head back down BUT I’m also wanting to finish this 3 peaks thing and I’m over halfway there now. After all, I’d already posted something about it on Facebook. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Ken and I get to the summit and even though I was born and raised in the Bay Area, I’d never been up here. He tells me that there’s one last little steep climb to get to the very top although it’s not that bad or steep IMO. I swear you can hear my back creak as I finally sit up for the first time in a few hours. I’m a bit in awe that I’ve finally completed Hamilton after having it on the To Do list for the last 3.5 years! I’m looking forward to the descent too since it’s all downhill from here literally. ๐Ÿ™‚

We wait for Lorri and Adrienne to arrive. Ken has to get to work so he takes off back down after a few minutes. Lorri, the coffee addict, is of course trying to get some Starbucks Frappucino thing or something out of the vending machine that isn’t cooperating with her. Adrienne brought up an entire pack of cookies and natural energy bites that she had stashed in her jersey somewhere. We enjoy the well deserved break and then it’s time to head back down. We take a group photo sans Ken at the mirror (standard Lorri on Hamilton photo) before heading back down. I stay behind Lorri all the way down and enjoy watching how she descends. You can tell her thought process as she picks her lines and I find it educational. Good to know too that even cyclists as skilled as she is aren’t flawless either. ๐Ÿ™‚

Reflections in the mirror at the top of Mt Hamilton, 27 July 2018.

We skip Alum Rock and make a beeline for where our cars are parked since this ride took longer than Lorri had quoted. The 3 of us stick together pretty much all the way back which is good since I have no idea where we’re going. There’s an ice cream truck in the parking lot so Lorri channels her inner child and gets 3 ice cream sandwiches (it is her birthday after all!). She gives me one saying she doesn’t know if I’m vegan or anything like that (I’m not!). I haven’t had an ice cream sandwich is years and it tastes exactly how I remember it. I quickly throw my bike in my car, say my goodbyes, and head off to my dad’s for lunch with him as he lives in San Jose.

Two peaks done and my ol’ favorite left to go….

Day #3 – Mount Tamalpais
Tam has always had a special place in my heart since it was the first peak that I’d ridden up back on 25 December 2014. I woke up with my legs feeling a bit tired and considered for a second on just staying in bed. My BFF Maurice texted me asking how I was feeling as I crawled out of bed. As addicted to riding as I was when I first started, I’d never done 3 rides of any intensity 3 days in a row. I keep telling myself that this will be over in a handful of hours and I’ll have completed my goal. I’ve come this far so no sense in quitting now! I actually got a new (better) drivetrain for my bike too the night before that my mechanic was kind enough to install immediately since he had all the parts already.

Brenda had told me that they were meeting at the Java Hut at 8:00 a.m. with a 8:30 a.m. rollout. I’m running a little behind with an ETA of 8:15 a.m. so message Brenda that I’m on my way. She replies that she totally forgot to tell me that she was bailing on the ride as she had too work to do at home. She’d invited a couple of other people too and remembered to tell them but forgot about me. She contacts Jeff to let him know that I was coming as I could still ride with her team NorCal Velo.

I get to the meeting point and no one is there! I panic that they’ve left without me and contemplated on what to do. I was already there and had just done Tam from that spot (via Alpine Dam and Seven Sisters) so pretty sure I still knew the route so was preparing myself to do it solo if need be. Brenda texts me that everyone is actually running late. The rest of the guys get there a few minutes later. I like them instantly as they’re all giving Brenda s*** by introducing me as “Brenda’s former friend Kelley” and it’s no secret that she bailed and forgot to tell me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

We roll out towards Alpine Dam. I’m in the back with Clint and Jeff which is fine with me as I’m just glad that I’m getting to do this ride with them instead of by myself. Jeff isn’t feeling well so turns around at Alpine Dam while the rest of us continue on. A few of them are waiting for me at the Ridgecrest Boulevard junction which I don’t need to stop so we all just continue going. I haven’t actually counted the Seven Sisters and tend to forget while I’m on it to count. I just know that when it’s over, I’m only a few miles from Tam’s East Peak.

Our mighty pack continues onto the East Peak which I think I spent most of that time talking to Clint who is relatively close behind me. We talk about our respective major surgeries as he’s just getting back into cycling from back surgery. There are a considerable amount of people at the East Peak as this is also the latest I’ve ever been on Tam (except for the first time on a Christmas morning when it was empty!). The fog is still heavy in the area below so there is no real view to speak of.

Top of Mt Tam with NorCal Velo, 28 July 2018.

It’s kind of surreal that I’ve successfully completed the third peak now even though it doesn’t feel like such a big deal since I’m not really sore anywhere. I am happy though that we’re done with any real climbing the rest of this ride since we’re not doing the Tour de Buckholtz of going to Salinas and doing that miserable climb back out of there again. We’re dropping all the way down towards Mill Valley to then loop back around to Fairfax on the flats. ๐Ÿ™‚ We get momentarily disoriented a few times with one hilarious semi-illegal (okay pretty illegal) u-turning at the Blithedale intersection which Nancy is just glad that she’s not wearing her NorCal Velo kit (although some of the other guys are). Once in Faifax, we do the customary stop at Gestalt Haus for a few beers and socializing before scattering. I like these guys a lot as they seem to have a healthy sense of humor and all get along on personal levels. I’m looking forward to riding with them again and the Santa Rosa area is a cycling territory that I’m not that familiar with outside of some organized rides like Levi’s Gran Fondo that I’ve done.

I’m glad that I took the opportunity to do all 3 peaks in 3 days when it presented itself. A few years ago, I didn’t know if I could do it and felt like it was something that I’d have to train for and no idea how to go about it. Having done Diablo and Tam recently with Kevin and Baerbel helped me have the confidence that I could do at least those two peaks, with Tam being part of a longer and harder ride with them. It was a bit weird though as it was easier than I’d built it into my head to be. Would I do it again? Of course.

The first and last time that I’d have climbed more than Pat in a single week.

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It’s like falling off a bike

I’d been on my bike so little in the last couple of years that I wasn’t even sure if I could still be considered a cyclist. I stopped wearing my “Ride On” bracelet that my favorite riding partner, Liz, had given me because I felt odd wearing it when the most either of my bikes had traveled in months had been between the living room and kitchen when I was cleaning my floors. It wasn’t that I got distracted by a shiny new toy or loss interest in cycling. Cycling has always been really social for me and I never liked riding alone. Everyone I rode with just got busy with other things or like in Liz’s case, moved.

Back in 2015, Liz was getting burned out from her job and would spend time staring at Google Maps during the day to create routes. Basically every week she’d text me asking if I was up for riding some route she wants to try (in the 50 – 80 mile range) and I said “Sure!”. I was doing my Catalina training swims on Wednesdays so I could ride with her on the weekends. I actually don’t remember the day I met her and she was just in my life one day. She lived close to a guy I was dating at the time (another cyclist although we only rode together like 3 times. He didn’t like to ride that long and one time said “I don’t want to go for a 3 hour ride” so we did one in 2:58. Ha! He did it purely for exercise though which should have been a red flag for me.). We were in close proximity or one early BART ride away for me to get to the East Bay.

Liz and me on one of our many Turkey Tuesday / Oakland Hills rides.

To put some stats in perspective, with Liz around, I rode some 2100 miles (216,263′ climbing) in 2015 which was in addition to my training and successful completion of my Catalina Channel marathon swim. My Catalina crew chief, Peter, wasn’t exactly happy when he found out I was doing things like the 107-mile Marin Century 2 weeks before my Catalina swim (“tapering”? What’s that?). Marathon swimmers typically gain weight on purpose for these swims for insulation and/or extra fuel source. I probably actually lost fat weight back then because I was cycling so much in addition to my long training swims in the Bay. Compare that to the fact that I only rode some 1500 miles combined in the 2 years after she moved away.

Liz eventually quit her job and took off to Ireland then the Pacific Northwest then Montana (did she make it there even? I forget…she’s in New Mexico now though). Erika, the leader of our SheSpoke cycling club, was busy nesting with her now-wife Terrie so there were less club rides getting organized. Needless to say, I stopped dating Mr. No Passion for Cycling (or much else in his life really) as that got really boring quickly.

My two favorite goofballs to ride with! Arianna, Liz, and me on I think a 4th of July with the Oakland Hills all to ourselves while everyone else squatted in SF to watch fireworks later.

I didn’t do any marathon swims in 2016 and 2017 aside from one RT Angel Island Figure-8 pattern attempt last September. I’d only spent a few weeks “training” for that swim though and the rest of the year was just bumming along. Arianna, our other cycling partner in crime, was off cycling around Europe with her husband so that basically left me by myself. Oh, and then Arianna got pregnant right after they got back from Europe. I was expecting that I’d be cycling a lot more without having any swims to train for and that just didn’t happen. I’m a bit particular (haha) on who I’ll ride with and any kind organized ride tends to make me skeptical that it’ll be a ride full of too many stops and/or each stop being way too long. Arianna and I look like a pit crew at breaks where we try to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. I don’t really eat much on rides either so my lunch can be timed to how long it takes to eat a banana.

I then met another cyclist Brian this past April who got me interested in cycling again. He was training for a multi-day 250 mile / 40,000′ climbing event on the Eastside of the Sierras. I started thinking about why I wasn’t really riding much these days. Liz was in New Mexico and Arianna was watching her belly grow bigger (and not just from her insane cravings for “white carbs” 24/7) but why was that really stopping me? They really are two of my favorite people to ride with and we’re good friends. I knew I was too attached to them in terms of riding but if I really wanted to ride, I’d have to overcome that and find new people to ride with on a regular basis. My friend and fellow South Ender Baerbel had been pestering, I mean “kept asking”, me about when we were going to go riding for awhile. I finally took her up on her offer in April in conjunction with us going from the club to my friend Rob’s art studio open house in at the Hunter’s Point Shipyard Artists. It was the first time in over 8 months that I’d been on a bike. Even with just 8 miles each way, it felt good to be back in the saddle.

Baerbel and me on my first time in the saddle after 8+ months.

Baerbel is always up for riding if she’s available so I started arranging some rides with her. First up was a couple of my favorites in Woodside: Kings Mountain and Old La Honda (36 miles / 4800′ climbing). I invited fellow South Ender and compatriota Alex Honor to join us. Alex and I chatted all the way up both since we’re slower than Baerbel and we discovered that we went to the same grade school, but didn’t overlap at all as he’s 10 years older than me (I just realized that makes him 50!). I’d wanted to do a repeat of either of them after we finished OLH but was overruled on hitting up a bakery instead. For someone who hasn’t been in the saddle in months and picked that route as the first real ride, I was surprised that my legs weren’t sore at all the next day. Hm. Next up was Diablo since Baerbel basically lives on that mountain. We planned it out with Kevin for 27th May as the day that all of us could make with a 6:30 a.m. roll out time. This was ideal for me since I’m scared of cars on Diablo so the earlier the start time, the better! There was something really nice too about having Diablo more or less all to yourself. I still wanted to do longer and harder rides though like I used to do when I felt more like I was an actual cyclist. There was something different this time around too where even though I wasn’t much faster, all of this climbing was a lot easier on my legs. I wasn’t having a difficult time on these climbs like I had experienced on previous rides there.

Having done Diablo in Baerbel’s backyard, next up was the obvious of Tam as that’s Kevin’s front yard. We settled on a date (14 July) as that was the next date that all 3 of us could meet up (and we were joined by Ann at the last minute). In the meantime, I went out for the first time in months with my friend Jaime to do Three Bears in the East Bay. She was still tired from doing Tam and Seven Sisters the day before so she did one pass of Three Bears and told me to do another pass of them by myself. She’ll just ride the flats of Camino Pablo back and forth for the 75+ minutes it’ll take me to do another loop. It wasn’t our intended ride, but I rolled with it since at least I was back on the bike and I appreciated Jaime coming down from Sacto to ride with me. Like many things in my life, I paid zero attention to details about Kevin’s Tam ride plans beyond the date and time to meet. I noticed something the day before where he had said “45 miles, 6600′ climbing” for this ride. WTF? I’d completely missed the plans to go to Tam via Alpine Dam and Seven Sisters to the East Peak then dropping to Stinson Beach and climbing back up and over via Alpine Dam back to Fairfax. It ended up not being too bad actually except the climb from Shoreline Highway to Ridgecrest. I was surprised when we got to the end of Seven Sisters as I was expecting them to be way worse since their nickname is “Seven Bitches.” I was just like “That was it? That’s all of them?” Kevin asked me after we got back to the Ridgecrest Road junction if I wanted to go do the East Peak again. I immediately said “F*** no.” Ann, who hadn’t wanted to do it the first time around said “NOW you say that.” My glutes didn’t start feeling it until the very last climb before we descended to Fairfax. Even though this was a lot of climbing, I still didn’t quite feel like a cyclist again since it was “only” 45 miles. I didn’t think of it as already being a stronger cyclist than I was before or being well on my road to re-defining myself as a cyclist.

Baerbel, Alex, and myself at the top of Old La Honda.

I had needed something though and the Marin Century was coming up. I was confident that my legs could handle the distance and climbing but I didn’t know if my back and neck could handle it. It’s not a natural position and no real way to train for that off the bike. I needed a longer ride in the saddle though and to start pushing my body’s limits again since for some reason I seem to enjoy seeing how many pain I can put myself through. Double Metric Century with Joanne? Maybe, but she just got back from riding in the Pyrenees and I’m not sure if I’m ready for a ride that long. Mt Tam Century? Maybe, but not sure if my back could handle it and would rather do it with someone. Traditional Century? Sure, I did that 3 years ago and it wasn’t that bad, just perhaps what I was looking for.

So I looked at my Google calendar and with no swims to train for, I started making more time again for riding, including riding to/from home and work once a week again. I even improved it with stashing clothes and food at work the day before so I could do the ride without a backpack trapping a bunch of heat! Kat, a fellow SheSpoker, was going to Tahoe for her first ride around the lake and invited me to join her. I needed the longer ride and love riding around the lake (and just being in Tahoe in general as I’ve gone there my entire life). I ended up getting way more out of those two days than I could have imagined.

The first day in Tahoe I did the longest solo ride I’ve ever done (41 miles, 2700′ climbing). I never looked at the ride profile so didn’t know what hell awaited me. This ride was actually one of the most challenging ones I’ve done since it was 90F outside at 1:00 p.m. and I decided to go anyway as “how bad could it be?” UGH. I was doing the North Tahoe Loop from Truckee to Tahoe City to Kings Beach back to Truckee in heat starting at 6000′ above sea level. I seriously considered calling a Lyft from Kings Beach as I wasn’t sure if I could make it back to Truckee. The 2.7 mile / 900′ climb to the top of Brockway Summit was extremely painful but dreams came true at the top when I saw the sign that said 9% downhill for 5 miles! Knowing Truckee was about 6 miles and my friend Mick’s was just a few miles of flat-ish beyond that, I only had to really pedal for 4 more miles and nothing like what I just dragged my sorry ass up. I was slightly dehydrated and getting hot spots in my feet. At least I knew the worst was definitely over. I rolled up Mick’s driveway later just happy to have survived the last 3 hours. This was the first ride in a long time that I really had to push myself to just keep going because of the heat and lack of support when riding solo. Come to think of it, every cyclist I saw was going up Brockway from the other direction so obviously they were smarter than me to do the more gradual climb.

Double lap of Three Bears with Jaime.

The next day Kat and I were rolling out at 6:00 a.m. from Squaw Valley. If it wasn’t for her, I would have been tempted to skip the ride though given that I was still a little sore from the day before but at least my brain had recovered from the dehydration. Any tiny amount of muscle soreness went away after the first few miles. I don’t think many people would do a 83 mile ride the day after a 41 mile one (especially that ride I’d suffered through) but I’ve usually made questionable choices in just about every area of my life. Side note: My dad told me once that he’s always thought “I can’t believe I’m saying this but..” when telling his friends about me but it was for my juvenile antics when I was a kid and now it’s because of things like swimming up to 21 miles across ocean channels or in the Bay or other swimming/cycling shenanigans I’m up to somewhere on the planet.) We had a beautiful sunrise to watch as I thought to the sun for it to try its worst because I was going to be done with this ride before the time I started the prior day’s ride. This ride was WAY easier than the day before with the cooler temperatures. The biggest climb (1000′) is on the East side which I didn’t realize we were on until we got to the top and I recognized the downhill portion. Oops. Those 83 miles were awesome though as it gave me 7.5 hours in the saddle and like riding with Liz, I waited for Kat at the top of all the bigger climbs as then we don’t get too far separated and you still have the feeling that you’re riding with someone (works both ways!). ๐Ÿ™‚ I finally felt like a cyclist again after having finished my first 80+ mile ride in over a year and was now feeling stronger in rides with lots of climbing.

Am I a “climber” now? How’d that happen? What does this mean for the future of my cycling challenges that I take on?

I’ve gone from not being on the bike at all for several months to being back slightly obsessed about riding again. Although it’s different this time since I don’t have Liz around to look like bike bums with. I have to put more of an effort into reaching out to other people to ride with which isn’t something I’m used to. Like when I moved back after living in Pasadena for 15 months, my life is like an alternate version of how it was before. I look at my calendar though and try to figure out where I can stuff rides into it and looking up possible routes on RideWithGPS for wherever I’m going to be. The most important one will have to be scheduled sometime to re-do the route that I crashed on 3 years ago in Paso Robles.

I’m curious too on what this means with having an easier time climbing up hills without having spent time actually riding. My legs feel stronger now and I feel like I’m capable of longer and harder rides now. There’s the bonus also that my sense of what is steep has changed which is making me more comfortable on the descents again. I’ve still had a hard time with any 20 mph blind descending hairpin turns which is now only starting to dissipate. While it may seem like all of this riding again is because I’m in training mode, I’m really just doing it because it’s fun and feels good. I feel healthier and stronger with a sense of accomplishment after rides that I don’t even get after swimming. There’s just something different about it. I didn’t think that I’d ever have an easy time with climbing on a bike and now I’m curious to see what I can do with it combined with my endurance. So begins a new chapter in my cycling career and I’m excited to find out where it takes me. ๐Ÿ™‚

Emerald Bay on my 83-miles around Lake Tahoe (start/end Squaw Valley) with Kat B.

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10 Miles of a 10 KM Swim

As much as I’ve swum in the San Francisco Bay in the last 4.5 years and been going to Santa Cruz / Monterey my entire life, I’d never actually swum in Monterey Bay. When the Monterey Bay Swimming Association announced that they were reviving the Santa Cruz Pier-to-Pier 10 KM swim, I was in! What better way to introduce yourself to a famous bay just south of where you’ve lived most of your life than to decide to swim 6.2 miles in it?

All perky the night before the swim with friends and fellow marathon swimmers Kim Rutherford (left) and Robin Rose (right).

I knew that I could swim a 10 KM with little trouble or preparation since this is a sport that’s more about endurance (which I have a lot of) than speed (which I’m a proud member of the “Elite Slow” club). Knowing that my usual and preferred kayak support of one Cathy Harrington would probably not be available since she’s in the midst of training for her own big marathon swim this summer, I set my sites on a irrefutable kayaking slut (in his own words), my friend Miguel. Miguel has been spending the better part of the year kayaking for just about everyone training for a marathon swim so hey, what’s one more?

Miguel foolishly agreed to be my kayaker for Pier-to-Pier. We did a couple of 2.5 and 3 hour training swims to work out our dynamics on the water and also to force me to stay in the water longer than my usual morning swim. I hadn’t swum more than a couple of hours at a time in months. Since I’d never swam in Santa Cruz before, I didn’t know what the water was like in temperature, condition, wildlife (Pacific sea nettles!) or salinity. I figured that this 10 KM would only take about 4 hours for me to do and like most of my rides, I had no idea what this route that I would be swimming was either.

Needless to say, this 10 KM was dominated by South Enders. 15 swimmers and 12 of us were from South End! Scott Tapley, one of MBSA’s board members and of course a fellow South Ender, asked who was from South End during the safety briefing. Only about 3 people there weren’t South Enders. Actually all 5 directors of MBSA are all South Enders also. If you ever hear of someone who swims in the San Francisco Bay and goes off to do crazy long hard swims elsewhere (usually also in cold water), more likely than not they belong to South End (and not that other club next to us who gets more press).

On the shuttle from the finish at Santa Cruz to the start in Capitola!

I’m usually over-prepared for my swims since I don’t like to run out of feeds. I had 4 feed bottles even though I knew that I’d probably only need 3 at the most. We got ready at the swim start in Capitola. I still use the method Lynne Cox taught me of applying sunscreen 2 hours and 1 hour beforehand so it has time to soak in. I use Headhunter Suncreen these days thanks to my friend Amy Gubser’s recommendation. It comes in a spray version and goes on clear so I’m not leaving white zinc oxide marks everywhere. I’d also put on a layer of Safe Sea Anti-Jellyfish Sting Lotion since I didn’t know how I’d react to being stung by Pacific sea nettles if I came across any. Cathy is there kayaking for Susan Blew (a last minute favor) and I jokingly ask her if she’ll lube me up like she had to for my Catalina Channel swim. I wish I had a photo of her reaction. We became much better friends during my Catalina swim whether she liked it or not! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I liberally apply my Bag Balm every possible place I remember that I can possibly chafe.

We go over to the kayaks and drop our feeds off and then the swimmers head to the start on the other side of the Capitola Beach pier. Okay, ready to work on my tan for the next few hours. How hard can this be? Famous last words.

We start off and I meet Miguel at the end of the pier and we head off. Monterey Bay isn’t quite like what I see in the exhibit at my work of nice clear water with lots of kelp and wildlife swimming around. This is like a mixture between SF Bay and Laguna Beach where I’ve got the green water of the SF Bay with kelp from Laguna. For the first few KM I wonder why am I doing this. I keep going though because Miguel came all the way down here to help support me and I don’t want to have wasted his time so I keep going. The water temperature isn’t too bad and probably around 60 F. Miguel asks if I want to feed after 30 minutes and I decline. I normally would do this on longer swims but for something this short, I’d rather push through for the first hour. Given that the turn buoy is supposed to be about 1.6 or 1.7 miles out, I figure that my first feed will be around this buoy. Miguel stops me at the hour mark to feed and I’m nowhere near the buoy. I’m wondering if I’m swimming ridiculously slow for some reason. I stop to tell him that I really need his body abeam to my head so I can see where he is. It’s a comfort thing for me too since I like to sight off of the kayaker without having to turn or bend my neck. If I can only see the stern of the kayak, I have no idea where the rest of it is. Surprisingly too, I can actually hear and understand Miguel even with my earplugs in! I can’t hear Cathy, horns, people on boats yelling, whistles, etc. but I can hear Miguel squawking at me. We keep plugging along until I get to the buoy. He feeds me around there and is saying something on his radio to one of the support boats. I’m just treading water wondering when can we get moving again. I know the plan is to make a 90 degree turn here and it should be a straight shot to the Santa Cruz pier. The sun is out and I’m enjoying the little warmth of it on my back. Miguel keeps pointing towards what I assume is Santa Cruz and I can’t see anything in front of me.

South End Rowing Club contingent at the Santa Cruz Pier-to-Pier 10 KM

I look at my watch and see that I’m past the 5 KM mark. Goodie, so we’re in the second half of this swim and it should be relatively downhill from here and over in the next couple of hours. The sun has gone away and the sky is gray which I assume is just overcast, not fog. I feel something on my foot and think it may be a sting but Miguel assures me that it’s just seaweed. I’m so paranoid about jellyfish and afraid that I’m going to run smack into one sooner or later. I see more kelp so I know that I’m getting closer into shore again. I start thinking about my Dawn Patrol pod in Laguna and start playing a game with myself of naming the kelp after my friends like Lynn, Cherie, Howard, Marc, Carol, Tanya, Peter, etc. I’m fighting off a slight doubt that creeps in that I’m not sure if I can do this. Peter’s always been one of my biggest supporters and I just swam with him in Laguna a month ago. Suddenly I get the confidence that I can do this swim because I know Peter would be telling me that I could do it if he was there. I can see one of the support boats so instead of thinking of there being 14 other swimmers in the water and this being part of a larger event, I go into my solo swim mode of pretending that that’s just my support boat on my left and my kayaker on my right. The rest of the swim’s participants fade away. My brain finally re-engages and any sense of doubt goes quickly away. I’ve swum about 8 KM now.

My right shoulder starts bothering me. F***. This happened just under the halfway mark of my Catalina swim when I pinched it and spent 11 hours in severe pain. Not again! I start thinking about my Catalina swim when Peter had gotten in with me and tricked me into trying to stretch it out. I start trying to glide more. I notice also that my sinuses are irritated and inflamed. I don’t have any ibuprofen in my feed cooler either. I’m kind of wishing Peter was here so he could take care of me as he’d know what to do. He’d probably have started me off with making sure I had ibuprofen in my feed pack to begin with actually. I’m thinking that we have only about 2 KM left so I can crawl my way to the finish like this. The wind has picked up and all I can see is water and Miguel.

I’ve been swimming 10 KM now and see that we’re off shore still and that the pier is actually way off to my left. Heck, the Boardwalk is way off to my left even. I’m wondering what’s going on and how we ended up so far off course. My left shoulder is starting to bother me probably due to my right shoulder hurting so the left is trying to compensate. My tongue is starting to swell from the salinity (happens around the 5 hr mark for me) and I don’t have any mouthwash in my bag to neutralize it. This is starting to feel like the painful parts of my Catalina swim! We’re in line with the end of the pier though so Miguel tells me to swim directly towards it. I’m getting grumpy and so he kicks his vocal support into overdrive to keep pushing me (omg this worked wonderfully). Like my mom, Miguel is Peruvian so he knows how to deal with me getting grouchy (along with him understanding the pain I’m putting myself through right now). Basically the more he barks at me to get and keep moving, the less time I have to bitch. After swimming for awhile and seemingly getting nowhere, he tells me that the pier is about 3/4 of a mile away. WTF? He suggests that I can pull myself if I want to. I’ve swam almost 13 KM by now and tell him “No. I’m finishing this f***ing swim.” and put my head down to keep going.

Forever and a day later, we finally get to the end of the pier and right into what I swear is the coldest patch of water in the entire Monterey Bay. I half-considered pulling myself here just to get out of it. The water is muffling my screams from how cold it is. My shoulders are in pain and I’m trying to not rotate them too much. I don’t want to visit my sports physician at St. Francis Memorial Hospital again (even though I’ve kept my promise of not seeing him again for at least 2 years after the last visit back in 2015). I know we’re in the home stretch but still have .75 miles to go. I’m looking at the buildings on the pier and using them for distance markers to break up this last part.

Not your friends!

I finally get to Cowell’s Beach and clear the water. Robin, Evan, Naji, Dylan, and a few others are there to greet me. I look at my watch and it says 15.8 KM (9.8 miles) in 5:44:40. F***. 2.5 more miles and it would equal the distance of my Anacapa Channel swim, which I did a lot more than just 2 training swims. I swam 3.5 miles and 2 hours longer than I’d been planning on. I don’t stick around for long after as all I want to do is get out of my suit and shower. Miguel and I throw everything in the car and head back to Robin’s house where we were staying. Unlike my Catalina swim, my shoulders aren’t so sore that I can get my own suit off (note: for Catalina, Cathy had to help me because I couldn’t lift my arms all the way). I take a long shower that only ends because I’m hungry and I had a little panettone that I’d brought back from my last trip to Lima waiting for me down in the kitchen.

I find out later that the fog and wind caused a lot of issues and that nearly everyone was blown off course and had to swim more than 10 KM. Miguel tells me that the buoy had moved .5 miles which is why it took us so long to get to it before we could turn. Looking at my path later, I basically swam along the coast all the way to Santa Cruz instead of swimming a straight line to Santa Cruz. Cathy tells me that her water thermometer measured 55 F at the turn buoy (a 5 degree drop from the beach). I swum the longest in both distance and time. I’m glad that I had my previous marathon swimming experience of being able to shut out the world except for the crew directly around me. Miguel was wonderful in being able to keep me engaged for the last few KM when I was starting to mentally lose it a bit and keep me focused. I apologized to him afterwards which he said to not worry about it as he understood that it wasn’t personal. I owe him a lot though for helping me through this.

This was my first successful marathon swim in almost 3 years. I’ve got some unfinished business with a not-quite-angelic island later this year so will continue with my training. I’m going to resume my overdue stroke work with Evan as I’ve known something hasn’t been quite right with it for awhile and this swim emphasized that it’s time to pick it up again. I’m proud of successfully completing this swim, which was mostly a mental than physical accomplishment. Again proving that even though my body wasn’t in the best shape for it, if my brain wasn’t there, there’s nothing my body could have done to compensate for that. However because I could get and keep my brain engaged, my body was able to pull through even though it was experiencing some degree of pain for almost half of it.

Still beats swimming in a pool.

My swim route for the Santa Cruz Pier-to-Pier 10 KM.

Posted in Marathon Swimming | 3 Comments

You Gotta Have Trust

Some months means more to others and for myself, that month for me is March. On 1 March 2011 I let a man I barely knew break my pelvis, the most blood nutrient bone in the body, to fix hip dysplasia that I didn’t even know I had 6 months earlier. A year later in March 2012, I trusted him again to break the other half of my pelvis to fix the dysplasia on that side. He could have f***ed me up for life. I’ve heard stories since of people who ended up with life-threatening bone infections and other complications after similar surgeries. Oddly enough, I never trusted his talent and went into it blindly trusting him with my physical health. He’ll take care of me. I never doubted his talent or care for me. His mentor helped Dr. Ganz develop the periacetabular osteotomy and he himself was a hip and pelvis reconstruction specialist. Even 7 years later I still don’t know much about him except that he’s damn good at his job and I owe my entire outlook on life to him. Not only did he save my hip joints, he gave my life a whole new meaning. I could never repay him. Not only did he save my hip joints, he gave me a whole new appreciation for my mobility that I’d always taken for granted up until that fateful day in October 2010 when I started literally losing it overnight. I remember that first tinge of pain I felt as I was going to bed that night. I remember the next morning when I couldn’t lift my right leg anymore. I remember how scared I was that I was in so much pain and had no idea why I was feeling it.

Not a day goes by where I don’t think about the 4 screws in my pelvis. Even though they serve no function anymore, back in 2011 and 2012, they were holding fragments of my pelvis together for the biological wonder that they’d fuse back to the pelvic bone and make me physically whole again. Even with my marathon swims, these surgeries were the hardest for me to recover from both mentally and spiritually. Quitting wasn’t an option as I laid in bed for weeks and months on end waiting for my pelvic bone to heal. Perhaps that’s why the thought of quitting doesn’t occur to me during my marathon swims because all I’m thinking about is where I am at that moment and not even the feed before or the feed after where I am in the water right there and then. Those screws helped make me mentally and spiritually whole again also.

Sometimes I wonder if I make too big of a deal of it. It’s still hard for me sometimes to come to terms with what I went through. Having never even broken a bone growing up, I woke up the evening of 1st March 2011 completely numb and feeling very alone. I knew my then-boyfriend was in the waiting room and there was a nurse next to my gurney but I still felt isolated. Above everything else I remember how I felt after the surgery team woke me up and I laid there in the recovery room not being able to feel anything or even talk. I remember my throat dry and I got some water but I couldn’t even say that I wanted more. I just looked longingly at that cup somehow wishing that the nurse could sense my desire that I wanted more or to at least engage with me while she sat there looking at the monitor. It was then that I finally realized the magnitude of what I’d accepted to be done and remember wanting to just cry. I really had no idea that it was only the beginning. I’ve reprinted my few notes here collectively for the first time. Even though it’s only four of them, I’m glad that I have them as it’s better than nothing from back then. I’ll never forget the feelings of loneliness, frustration, loss, and impairment. I know I came out a different person though which I believe I needed to go through that in order to become the person I am today. I wouldn’t do it any other way as I love where I am right now in my life and all that that experience has given me.

I still feel pain sometimes too. I felt sharp pain twice a few weeks ago in my right hip just before Duncan’s Rowing class when it was 46F outside. I just try to rotate my joint a little and pray it goes away. I’m not sure why I still feel pain sometimes and have just accepted it as a rare occurrence. It’s too hard to tell Dr. Bellino about without being able to reproduce it in front of him and it’s not often enough for me to be concerned about it. I take it as my body reminding me what I’ve gone through, just in case my mind has forgotten. I realized recently that I subconsciously still help bend my legs up onto benches or couches today because I got used to it back then. I’m sure there are other similar movements I still do related to my adaptations back then that I don’t even realize.

I wish I’d written more back then of what I was feeling as I was going through my recovery from my first surgery. I never wrote anything after the second surgery a year later. Perhaps because it wasn’t as scary since I’d already gone through everything before the year prior. I didn’t have a blog back then but also I remember that it took me days and months to respond to text messages and phone calls. I felt bad about it but I also was lucky if I could stay awake for an hour. I was on 100 mg of Percocet and Oxycotin each day. I slept at least 12 hours every night and woke up with a strange combination of a hangover, paralyzed, and extremely in pain. Hours turned into days that turned into months. I understood what my Great Aunt Marge had told me years before about how “the golden years” weren’t what she was experiencing at the time but when you’re younger and have the ability to move. She was leashed to an oxygen tank at the time. Now I understood what she meant.

Looking at Facebook’s “On This Day” recaps, I look at the notes and Facebook statuses, and wall posts that people left for me back in 2011 and 2012. I enjoy seeing them as it’s almost through a third person’s eyes now. I lived through it but now I think I can appreciate it more. I always said that I don’t want to forget what I went through so I can appreciate what I have today and it helps.

I only wrote 4 notes back then which is all the actual documentation I have really from back then unless you track down my friend Gale Beach who, bless her heart, would write me cards and letters during my recovery process and I’d write letters back. She calls herself old and old-fashioned but f*** it, I’m like that also. I didn’t realize that I never wrote anything for the second surgery in 2012 and wish I had. I remember how I only showered once a week which was the only day I felt remotely human. It was so difficult to move me. The blood thinner injections into my belly hurt so much I’d cry. I had a box under my bed to use as an intermediary step for my foot because I couldn’t swing my leg up from the floor to the bed in a single motion with the “hip kit” from Stanford Hospital. I went 9 whole days once without even leaving the bedroom. I threw up a lot from the medications. It was a trying two years of my life but ones that helped change the fundamental of my being.

Post-op update (March 4, 2011)

Epidural is out, blood pressure is finally back to normal after hanging around 80/40, and my heart rate seems to be sticking around 100 – 110 bbm. The morphine made me nauseous so I refused to use that “happy button” after the 3rd puking episode on Tuesday night.

Thursday I woke up feeling like death rolled over as the pain my head hurt worse than the pain my hip. The doctors gave me midrin (which I use normally for tension headaches), which seemed to help somewhat, but not completely. I got Nurse Julie at 4 PM and finally found out why I was feeling so crappy all day. My red blood cell count was only 18% (normal is 40%) on Thursday, which after trying to alter my epidural meds and pumping extra fluid thorugh my system, the doctors gave up and decided to use my designated donor blood for the transfusion. I had minimal bleeding during the surgery so they didn’t need the 2 pints of blood that my dad donated at the time. They also gave me an oxygen mask, which I decided to keep and currently have on right now. I felt better on Thursday within half an hour of the transfusion starting.

Still battling a fever (O2 is probably helping me not feel as crappy about that as I should be) and the most I’ve been able to walk is 3 very painful steps with a walker. My surgeon was hoping to send me home tomorrow, but we’re going to talk to him since I’m not exactly ready to go yet. A condition of my release was that I can make it around in/out of bed and around (namely to the bathroom) by myself. Right now I can’t do either of those (also means that I still have the urinary catheter in!). As the epidural’s drugs wear off too, my hip has been in a lot more post-op pain. I’m currently waiting for my next dose of Percocet at midnight so I can ask for a larger dose to help me make it through the night.

If Nurse Ken wasn’t around to take care of me, I’d probably have already gone insane. โค He’s been a real champ, even insisting on staying in my private room (the cot length reminds him of the Navy beds) even though the longest uninterrupted sleep we get is 3 hours. At about 3:30 AM, the nurses start coming in every hour to check vitals and at 6 AM, the doctors start making their rounds.

Thank you everyone who has sent well wishes, flowers/gifts, visited, and called! You guys are the best, and I will continue calling people back this weekend. I’ll know more if I’m still going to be in the hospital for the entire weekend after we talk to the surgeons tomorrow.

Post-op: Weekend from hell (March 6, 2011)

My health has taken a nosedive since the last update. The additional painkiller that a resident prescribed for me on Friday night was dilaudid, completely ignoring the fact that I really don’t react well to morphine. My surgeon wasn’t too pleased when he came in on Saturday morning and found out one of his residents had completely ignored my chart when assigning a pain medication. He wants the oxycodone to be bumped up instead (duh).

The Dilaudid left me with a horrible migraine in its wake. To make matters worse, the midrin I was prescribed came with a dosage of 1 every 4 hours. I even gave them what my actually prescription from my GP was (2 initially and then 1 every hour until the headache is gone, not to exceed 5 pills in 12 hours). On top of that, we found out that someone had canceled the midrin prescription all together! Nurse Ken apparently unleashed his furry at the nursing station to get that corrected ASAP. My recovery process completely lost Saturday.

I had a really great nurse last night who was concerned about my fever for the last 5 days. She pushed the doctors to get a blood test done to find out if the fever is related to something else as they don’t usually last this long. She was also concerned that the percocet has been masking the true temperature a lot of the time (as it’s bounced between 100F and 102F). When she took my temperature at 4:30 AM today (before my next percocet dose at the time), my fever was at 103.3 F.

I’ve chased away the physical therapists all weekend as between the high fever and the migraine, I haven’t even wanted to get up to use the komode (unnecessary evil with the urinary catheter out).

Right now I’m trying to get some rest, drink lots of fluids, and will hopefully feel better tomorrow to resume physical therapy.

Sorry I haven’t returned anyone’s phone calls. My phone has been off since the migraine yesterday morning. The phone in the room is unplugged also so it doesn’t wake me up when I’m napping (not that I can reach it anyway).

Post op Update : Motivations to get the hell home (March 8, 2011)

Entered in last Tuesday (March 1st) for the procedure. Why am I still here? Ugh. Hoping for physical therapy to release me today so I can go home. The things I’m looking forward to the most at home:

  1. Mau (sometimes I feel some pressure on a leg and it feels just like one of her little paws).
  2. Not being woken up by a nursing assistant to take my vitals.
  3. Not being woken up by a bright light and surrounded by 4 residents asking me how I’m doing.
  4. Not having to lift myself onto a King of England height bed that should really have a step-stool.
  5. Getting rid of the IV leash so I can actually use my left hand without pain.
  6. Going back to my landline phone that has the ringer turned off.
  7. Being able to see a hallway.
  8. Being able to watch television without commercials.
  9. Being able to administer my own medications.
  10. Being able to eat meals at non-senior citizen hours without having to warm up the food again.

Post-op Update : First follow-up doctor’s appointment (April 3, 2011)

I had my first post-surgery follow-up appointment last Friday with Dr. Bellino. The bone is healing nicely and I actually only have 2 screws instead of 3. Heโ€™s given me permission to start bending my right leg a little, but said to not go crazy with that. Not sure how I could do that since itโ€™s an effort to bend it at all, and Iโ€™m very limited in how far itโ€™ll bend without causing a great deal of pain. I still have to limit the weight on the leg to 30 pounds, but Iโ€™m trying to use it in more of a walking motion now to help prepare me for when I can actually start putting more weight on it.

Physical therapy is due to start on 27 April and will be 3 times a week. I also found out that I wonโ€™t be able to start driving again until towards the end of May so Ken is still going to be cauffering me around. Heโ€™s been absolutely amazing this entire time with providing 24/7 care and dealing with my OCD tendencies.

Weโ€™ve been out a handful of times, which has been great for my mood! Nice that the weather is starting to get better also.

Iโ€™ve been released to start working again from home, which I started on Friday afternoon with downloading 3000+ emails. My employer is fine with me having to work from home longer than planned and said that my health and recovery is the most important thing right now (which is always nice to be reassured from oneโ€™s workplace).

Iโ€™ve truly appreciated all the cards, gifts, visits, and phone calls from friends and family. Itโ€™s helped brighten my days even when it was raining outside!

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Please Stay, Don’t Go Away

In 2014 I was a regular at my friend Brandon’s spinning studio in South Pasadena, where I was (temporarily) living at the time. Between B, Scott (a triathlete & tri coach) and Eric (a now-pro triathlete), I learned that the largest part of what I got out of a class was due to the coaching from the instructors. I was coming home to San Francisco so much that the the other members at the South End Rowing Club, which I’d just joined to swim in the Bay, couldn’t tell that I actually lived 400 miles away.

For some crazy reason that I wanted to go spinning when back in San Francisco also on the dozens of weekends I was spending at home instead of SoCal. I had a friend who had been going to some place called OMPower for spinning that he would post about on Facebook. I decided to give it a try and booked my first class in June 2014 with someone named Enrique Julia. I’m dedicated to a fault sometimes and with how much I loved taking classes with B, Eric, and Scott, the stakes were pretty high for Enrique. I had no idea the affect that first class would have on me.

I actually don’t remember too much about that class except for Enrique working us really hard and I spent more time staring at the RPM on my bike’s monitor than anything else. B’s bikes didn’t have any electronics on them. I was using the numbers to distract myself from how much pain my quads were in and it worked! Enrique was like a shorter hairier version of Brandon (who is tall and bald) but they both have the same level of energy in their class. Neither of them really need a microphone either. I was instantly hooked though and knew that I wanted to work with that guy.

Karolina (another regular) showing Enrique how to use the new iphone’s camera.

I was already planning my move back to San Francisco after less than a year in Pasadena. Between South End and OMPower, I was subconsciously redefining my life in the Bay Area. My life in my native Bay Area was very different when I had left it in June 2013. I had been swimming in a pool for about a year and before that it was hard to get me to the gym even 3 times a week for 30 minutes. Now in Summer 2014 everything was coming together and it appeared that my life in the Bay Area would be very different than how it was when I had left the year before.

When I moved back to the Bay Area in October 2014, I started going to OM on a regular basis for Enrique’s classes on Monday and Wednesday nights. I slowly started incorporating other classes as I got interested in more of them although didn’t start a monthly membership until towards the end of last year when I did the math. I had decided in second half of 2016 to commit myself to two TRX classes a week for strength training. It was cheaper to just do the monthly membership than pay for 8 classes a month. With unlimited classes now, I was able to go to however many that I wanted and fit into my schedule without having to worry about the costs. By then I knew most of the non-yoga instructors and whose classes I liked and didn’t like.

Enrique still holds the record for most studio classes I’ve taken with anyone ever at 147. Not really fair on one hand since he taught more types of classes there than anyone else and subbed more often than anyone else. Equally impressive is my 106 TRX classes with Kevin and 79 spinning classes with Rob considering that’s all they taught there and Rob’s classes competed with my morning swim schedule. I’d only been taking Kevin’s classes for a little over a year too. I took 427 classes at OM mostly in TRX (176) and spinning (155) with the rest being yoga, indoor rowing, HIIT (high intensity interval training), and circuit training. I averaged 6 classes a week with two weeks being 16 classes each (along with several 10 – 14 class weeks). There was only one time that I was doing it as part of their 5th anniversary “how many classes can you take” challenge. I took 16 classes last week as I tried to get in as many classes with my favorite instructors before they closed their physical doors one last time. For the most part though I was going because I enjoyed being there. 427 classes and not a single injury from repetitive improper form.

One of my favorite classes was when I was the only one signed up for Kevin’s 4:30 p.m. class and got basically personal training. Although we drove Jennifer and Josh nuts as they could hear our banter from downstairs.

Devine Hardy, the original office manager at OM, told me one time about they were making a community and I didn’t understand what she meant by that at the time. I remember telling her about how I locked myself out of my condo the day after I got the keys. She offered to let me leave a set of keys there in case it happened again. This was no ordinary workout studio. Jennifer amassed a team who had a real passion for their specific areas and you could tell that this was more than just a paycheck for them. I never felt like just another faceless student there. They took each other’s classes and I’d frequently see some instructors there when they didn’t have a class. Some like Rob and Enrique knew the names of just about everyone who took their classes. They’d personally introduce themselves to new people and get to know them a little before class. They shared their personal lives to all of us. They cared about the people who were taking the time out of their busy lives to come to their class. They ensured that you were going to get the most out of their class and your time. Whether it was TRX or yoga or rowing, they made sure that you had correct form to prevent injury and maximize results.

I chose to drive to the city to OM’s location by the ballpark instead of the 24 Hour Fitness a few miles from me because it wasn’t just about exercise. Every class there felt like a training session with high quality coaching. I’ve talked with some of them outside of class about my own training and learning about other ways to think about training and health. I’ve gained a deeper understanding about myself and become open to new ideas on how to improve my performance and well being even more. I learned how to be more in tune with how my body moves. I learned more about nutrition and training than any other coach has ever taught me (and growing up figure skating and high school swim team, I’ve had a lot of coaches). Going to OM had never been about trying to look better in spandex or lycra (although sometimes I wish I picked sports that don’t involve skintight clothing). A good workout isn’t one where you crawl out of it with a busted body and can barely move. What good is it if you’re too sore to move the next day? As Duncan says, those workouts aren’t sustainable so you always hear people say “yeah I did [PX90, Insanity, CrossFit, etc.] for a year. Had to quit because I injured my [back, knee, etc.].” My ability to do so many classes wasn’t that I was somehow taking it easy during class and conserving energy to do another one. The classes weren’t easy either. Coaches like Enrique, Kevin, and Duncan were always on me to make sure that I wasn’t slacking off. They know that strength building comes from sustainability. Push yourself but not to the point where it hurts. If it hurts then something is wrong and you’re setting yourself up for (sometimes permanent) injury. I have little doubt that this level of quality is why I was then able to go out and ride a century (100 miles) or do my marathon swims (10 KM+) without riding my bike or swimming for endless hours beforehand as I was training smarter with them.

OM was about enriching my life more physically, mentally, and emotionally. Burning calories was a distant second. I went to OM because I enjoyed the classes and the instructors who became friends. It was comfortable to be there and the safe place that Jennifer and Devine had created for the community. I left each class with more energy than before I got there. I was always looking forward to the next time I got to go there. I scheduled other activities around my OM schedule. I brought friends to class with me to share the experience. I went to focus on myself knowing the team would help guide me to being the best I could be. It was the little things there that made the biggest impact on my life. They knew what I was capable of before I did sometimes. Like the time that Kevin got me to try a one-foot TRX side plank or Kim got me to try a Crow pose in yoga. I thought they were both crazy and then discovered that I could actually do them. I was comfortable being vulnerable there. The instructors were strong enough to admit when they were feeling vulnerable (e.g. Enrique teaching a rowing class when that isn’t his normal class). Jennifer and Dev took chances on new instructors who were just starting out and let them flourish. Everyone was nurtured there. They were some of my biggest supporters. There was some much love shared in that space. It truly was a hOMe.

Rob and I bonded quickly over cycling, music, the Giants, wine, food, and bourbon.

I’d left gyms and pools before on my own accord and it was relatively easy as I didn’t have a strong personal connection to the place. I wasn’t friends with the employees, coaches, or other members there. I didn’t grow there. They were just places that I used the facilities but had no emotional investment. OM was different in every way. It didn’t even look like a gym. I was shocked and sad when Jennifer told me that they were closing their doors because of a drastic and unsustainable rent increase. I didn’t want to leave the place that had become a big part of my life and that I’d come to love very deeply. It wasn’t fair and I didn’t feel like I was ready to move on. I didn’t have a say in the matter though.

So OM closed their physical doors on Sunday. I know the strength of the community that Jennifer and Devine worked hard to create though will live on as the physical space wasn’t what defined us. The people are what made it and we’re still around. I’m grateful that I became a part of it.

Dev, Jennifer, and me

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Shizukana Ryu*

Watching sunrise over Honshu from where the Japan Sea feeds into the Tsugaru Strait was a surreal experience. My friends Steve Walker and Cameron Bellamy had just jumped into the water to start their attempt to cross one of the world’s most challenging channels to swim across. The Catalina Channel is like a second home to me and everything that I’d see today would be brand new. We knew and had planned for a strong current going through the middle of the channel, which the observer, Haruyuki Ishii, the honorable Chairman of the Tsugaru Strait Swimming Association, said that if the guys could make it past the middle channel, they were almost guaranteed success. Ishii-san himself had completed the swim in 30 hours in 1979 and his friend Mieko had done a triple crossing (!!!). I felt confident with having someone on the boat who was so well versed with navigating the strait from a swimmer’s perspective.

We had a mighty and bare bones international crew of Cam’s mother, Janita from Capetown (South Africa), Ian from Hong Kong, Bill from Hakodate (Japan), and myself (San Francisco). I was responsible for Steve while Ian and Janita took care of Cam. Bill provided communications support between Ishii-san, Sudo-san (boat captain) and the rest of us. We have a real I’d never crewed for Steve before and we’d gone over his feeds a couple of times beforehand. Both of them had completed 5 of the 7 “Oceans Seven Challenge” swims with the English Channel (England to France), North Channel (Ireland to Scotland), Molokai Channel (Oahu to Molokai), Catalina Channel (Catalina Island to Mainland), and the Straits of Gibraltar (Spain to Morrocco). Reaching the shores of Hokkaido today would leave them with only Cooks Strait in New Zealand left. Personally I have no desire to do this challenge as I have no desire to do the English Channel. Many of us do swims that “call” us and EC just isn’t doing it for me. I was interested in possibly the Molokai Channel until discussing the idea with Forrest Nelson, the President of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and very experienced with the Hawaii marathon swims, and he mentioned about the obvious difficulty of hitting Molokai (3 possible landing spots and if you miss the third one, you’ve missed the island and in open ocean) and tiger sharks (at which point I thought “I’m out!”). I would rather swim in a great white shark’s home waters (as evident by my 40th birthday party out at the Farallones that involved a fun swim around the boat) than a tiger shark’s home waters.

Sunrise over Honshu, Japan.

Steve and Cam had both given me their cell phones to update their Facebook pages and respond to anyone pinging them. I was busy juggling them and trying to eventually distribute any Facebook updates between their two accounts along with Steve’s wife Sue who was watching their tracker like a hawk! Steve and Cam are business partners so there was also an email thread with their staff that had to be updated along with a personal email group that Steve wanted me to send updates to. I had Steve’s feed list also along with his request of wanting a lot of data given to him during their swim related to their progress, speed, and conditions. I’ve never been so busy on a swim! Steve also warned me that he would go off the schedule based on his mood and at least I had a general idea of what he may do. Cam was happy to just go with everything he had on his list and ate and drank whatever Ian and Janita gave him.

The boys looked strong and confident in the water with long smooth strokes despite the water being a little choppy. Steve was ahead of Cam in general but they pod together very well. I was quickly getting sick of Steve’s ringtone as Sue was constantly texting me asking for updates and offering words of encouragement. I’d posted the link to the swim tracker to the South End Rowing Club’s Google Groups. Fellow South Ender, Kevin Buckholtz, posted the link to his employer SalesForce’s social group. Sue also works for SalesForce and didn’t know Kevin so was surprised to see the tracker link blasted out to the entire company. I told the boys that apparently all of SalesForce was tracking their swim! No pressure at all.

Cam getting into the water at the start of his Tsugaru Strait swim crossing attempt.

They charged through the middle of the channel in great spirits with not much chit chat time. Ishii-san was happy with their progress and the water temperatures were staying fairly constant around 16 – 17 C, water temperatures that are considered warm back in our San Francisco Bay. We watch a lot of container ships pass far in the distance but no other smaller boats. Steve and Cam seem in great spirits and focused on getting the job done. We don’t discuss anything that isn’t related to the swim during any of their feeds. Ishii-san had this great device like a mix between a horn and a whistle that you blow into that we use to help stop the guys for the feeds. Cam is more likely to miss any yelling or whistles when it’s feed time which I can relate to since I’m practically deaf while swimming, even without earplugs.

We head into late afternoon where the boys are almost completely out of the middle of the channel and heading into waters where the current is weaker, if non-existent. The winds have died down along with any surface waves. I’ve heard that swimming from light to dark has a horrible mental affect on swimmers as opposed to the more natural and positive condition of swimming from dark to light. My Catalina swim ended at 5:00-something in the afternoon in August 2015 so it was still bright light at that hour. We’re at the end of October though so the sun is starting to set at 4:00 p.m. I’m worried about them being able to finish the swim as they are out of the hardest part but still have a ways to go. Another swimmer had recently said that her Tsugaru Strait swim was harder than her North Channel swim which is contrary to popular belief that the North Channel was the hardest one of the Ocean’s Seven. Steve and Cam appear to be in good spirits though and their stroke rates are staying constant. I never imagine any outcome except for them reaching the shores of Hokkaido though and the celebration that we’ll have afterwards.

Steve and Cam in the middle of the Tsugaru Strait with a container ship in the background.

The sun sets over the Japan Sea and the wind picks up. The water temperature drops so quickly that even Ishii-san is shocked to see the water temperature is now 14 C. We turn the deck lights on as there is no other light out in the middle of the channel. Steve and Cam put their blinkies back on their goggles so we can see them in the dark. Steve and Cam are less talkative now and Steve is completely off of his feed plan even denying offerings that he had requested to be given just a half an hour before in the previous feed. They’re slowing down which can be expected. We get to feeds where Steve is hardly drinking any of his Gatorade/water blend. Steve asked for one of his caffeinated Gus during a feed and then couldn’t find it in the fish net even with a light shining right on it and his hand is right next to the packet. He gives up after the third try of trying to find it. I’m feeling like a bit of a failure of crew as we aren’t able to reverse the swimmers’ performance declining. Steve starts complaining about cramping and is getting pretty grumpy. He refuses to stop for one feed and instead swims in a circle while Cam feeds. They’re less than 6 KM from finishing the swim and Hokkaido seems so close even in the dark. We can clearly see the lights going along the road that snakes along Hokkaido’s coastline. Cam keeps swimming into the port side of the boat and we keep having to yell at him to swim parallel to the boat and farther away from it. Their progress is now just under 1 mile an hour but they are out of the current. My heart sinks as I sense that they’re starting to get hyopthermic due to the sharp temperature drop and the natural affect of being in water that much colder than you for that long. If they have it in themselves to crawl through these last few miles, they’ll finish the swim. Knowing how much time and energy into getting here, I want to see them finish! I’ve got a few DNFs (Did Not Finish) to my name and know how frustrating it is to come so close yet be so far from landing on that beach that you’ve envisioned for so long on reaching by your own power.

Sun setting over the Japan Sea.

Steve shouts out that he’s done and wants the ladder. He and Cam have been swimming now for just over 13 hours. Bill and I try to plead with him to just swim a little longer as we try to limp him to the finish. We’re a mere 4.5 KM from Hokkaido and they were making a beeline for it now. Feed to feed, 30 minutes to 30 minutes. This is a standard mental trick to break down a long swim to much smaller chunks as I don’t think any marathon swimmer is really looking forward to the gazillion hours that a swim is going to take to finish. Same as when riding up Old La Honda Road in Woodside or Mt Tam in the North Bay…one turn at a time and you’ll be at the top before you know it. Steve asks for the ladder again at the next feed and this time he isn’t taking any other outcome as an answer. We relunctantly get the ladder. Steve’s legs are so cramped that he can’t get up the ladder. Bill and Ian take Steve’s right side while I take his left side and we haul him up the ladder and over the side of the boat. Steve is shivering. We sit him down on the closest cooler and dry him off as quickly as possible. I hug his back to try and transfer heat to his back, which is one of the places we lose heat the fastest from (the other being the head). We get him into the boat’s cabin where Ishii-san is prepared with a foil thermal blanket. Steve instructs us to go back and take care of Cam.

Ian is busy outside trying to get Cam to keep going as now Cam wants to quit. I’ve only seen the expression on Cam’s face from when he finished his North Channel swim. I can tell that he’s completely exhausted and hit his wall. He’s begging for the ladder and is just mentally gone from any other thought. Ian asks him three times if Cam is sure that he wants to get out now which Cam affirms each time. As with Steve, Bill and Ian take Cam’s right side while I take his left side and we haul him into the boat. Cam is shivering uncontrollably and we do the same process of drying him off like we did with Steve. We escort him into the boat cabin and put him next to Steve. Cam slurs if he can rest his head on my lap which of course he can! Janita takes Cam’s feet in her lap to try and warm them up. I can’t imagine what it was like for a mother to watch her child be in this condition. Steve is better now and asks for his phone so he can talk to Sue. I’d already managed to slip in a text to Sue a few minutes before to let her know that her husband was safely back on the boat. The boat makes its long ride back to dock.

My biggest fear has always been that I’d have wasted my crew’s time and energy if I don’t finish a swim. I never felt like I wasted anything being there for a friend’s swim and always considered myself honoured to have been trusted to take care of a friend during their swim. I’ve been on other DNF swims but this one was different given the cost and time involved of us gathering in Japan for a swim. Marathon swims aren’t cheap and international ones are even more expensive. I was proud of every stroke that Steve and Cam did during their swim. They really gave it everything they had that day and made a heroic display of athleticism. While some consider it these swims a “conquering” challenge, it’s far from that. The strength of the swimmer has to match the conditions given with a little luck to make it across. Both Steve and Cam are very accomplished athletes and today just wasn’t their day to finish. They tackled a tough swim that most people don’t even dream about attempting even. I have the deepest respect for any swimmer who even tries a marathon swim as it’s a much larger commitment than just a single day. Marathon swimmers put several months into training and preparing for a swim and hope that Mother Nature cooperates on the target date. They swam really strong for several hours until they had nothing left to give and didn’t quit until they couldn’t physically swim any more.

There was no talk later from either of them saying that they could have made it and regretted not continuing to swim that day. No “coulda woulda shoulda” talk of what anyone could have done differently. We all did our best and it showed. Steve had tried the swim earlier this year and made it farther than he had the first time. He has more knowledge about the channel now. We talked briefly the next morning. He was ready to quit marathon swimming entirely and I told him to just give it a few months, regroup, and then figure out what to do. There was no reason to commit to a resignation right now. Cam has his own lessons that he can take into his next attempt. These DNFs are learning experiences and there’s never a person to fault for a DNF, whether the swimmer or crew. We have a saying of “this just wasn’t the day for it to happen” which is absolutely true. Different day and time and it may have happened or may not have. The unpredictability of open water swimming is the greatest challenge of it which is also what we’re drawn to the sport otherwise we’d have never moved out of the concrete pond. Pool swimmers can really only push themselves on speed as pool water will always be flat with a temperature of about 80 F. A pool distance is always going to be just that as there is no current. The ocean moves horizontally and vertically. Marathon swimmers strive for the greatest possible challenge in swimming and everyone who even starts one of these swims gets kudos from me for even trying. I know my own feelings of disappointment from a DNF where part of me never wanted to swim again and the real challenge is to overcome that feeling, brush it off, and let it make you stronger. A larger scale than my last Candlestick Point to Aquatic Park swim when the flood kicked in (AGAIN) before I got to the Opening and I thought to myself “OH HELL NO!” and booked it against the current up the breakwater and into the Opening to complete that swim on the second try.

Cameron Bellamy and Steve Walker before their Tsugaru Strait attempt in October 2017.

I never regretted answering Cam’s invite to crew for them. I always suspected that my crew was lying to make me feel better when they said that they didn’t feel like they wasted their time crewing for me on a DNF. As a fellow marathon swimmer, I finally fully learned from Steve and Cam’s swim that your crew is being honest when they say such things. My biggest takeaway was the realization of just how tight knit and supportive that the marathon swimming community is of each other. We never just say nice things to spare feelings and we all genuinely want to encourage and be there for each other. It’s a give and take that comes full circle without discussion. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the swimmers and crew for any of these swims. Everyone shows up and gives it their best effort which is all you can ask from anyone. Not every swim attempt is going to be successful and it really is more about the journey than the destination. I think those who were always successful on first attempts don’t get as much out of this sport than others who have had to overcome setbacks. If you always get what you want then where was the real challenge? Who is more interesting to talk to…the kid who grew up getting everything they ever wanted handed to them or the kid who had to work hard, overcome failures, and really earn it? I have no doubt that Steve and Cam finishing this swim on another attempt will mean more to them than if they had finished it on the first try.

Even if I knew their attempt would result in a DNF, I would do this all over again for them without question. I’d crew for any of the other swimmers who I’ve been on their DNF swims. They all had strong crews who did everything right and it just wasn’t the day for that swim to happen. No faults and no blames. No time wasted by anyone. I’m always just glad to be included in the swimmer’s journey to achieve a dream. That day in Japan I saw Steve and Cam push themselves to their limits and was glad to be to help catch them when they reached their maximum output that day. I already told them that if they want to try again that I would do it again in a heartbeat with no questions. I would love nothing more than to see the stars align and them successfully complete this swim in the future. I know they both have the aptitude to complete this swim and have no doubt that they would be successful if they try it again. Their success truly would be sweeter having gone through more effort than those who were successful on the first try. I know both of them have it in them to finally scratch the Tsugaru Strait off of their To Do list. As my friend Marilyn Grace’s motto goes..”how hungry are you for it?”

I hope that Steve and Cam are still hungry.

* Shizukana Ryu means “quiet dragon” in Japanese.

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