Trusting Strangers For 10.5 Miles

This past weekend I pulled off 2 swims 300 miles apart from each other. I decided a bit last minute to do the Kirby Cove -> SERC swim (4.5 miles) back home in SF the day before the Semana Nautica 6 miles swim in Goleta. I’ve never swam outside of the Golden Gate before and knew that it’d be a great training swim. Never told anyone but my friend Jenny (stayed with her) that I was going to be in SF for 22 hours.

I don’t care, I love it!

Jenny let me borrow her car on Saturday morning to get to SERC and she’d take MUNI later to meet me there (I have ridiculously awesome friends). I was panicking all night about this swim due to strong currents, missing the AP entrance, and of course getting squished/mauled by a fishing or shipping boat. A friend woke me up when she texted me after midnight which I was a bit miffed and also it gave me a few more minutes of panicking about this swim before I fell back asleep. Why did I sign up for this? Every minute I’m thinking about bailing yet something makes me get up at 5 AM, get my suit on, drive to SERC, get on the boat, take my clothes off, get my swim stuff on, and jump off the boat to swim into Kirby Cove for the start. What am I doing here? The (ir)rational part of my brain reminds me that I’m going to think “that wasn’t so bad” afterwards. I’m teamed up with Bob and Gary and we’re supposed to have a zodiac for support.

Kirby Cove to Aquatic Park

Of course I lose Bob and Gary right after we start. 24 yellow caps and how the hell am I supposed to figure out which ones they are? Okay, we’re all going the same direction back to AP and there are 12 kayakers and 5 zodiacs in the water so I’m good. Don’t panic. The kayakers are keeping eyes out for everyone even though they’re paired with 2 – 3 swimmers. We’re heading straight towards Baker Beach and one tells us where to turn to start heading towards the midspan of the bridge. Once I’m under the bridge, I’m only thinking about how awesome this is that I’m swimming straight under it. The kayaker is still around and I tell her that I lost Bob and Gary. I keep swimming towards the city.

Hella nervous. What am I doing here?

Soon a zodiac pilot pops by tells me that he just wants me to know that he’s out there keeping an eye on me. AWESOME. He guides me towards the Palace of Fine Arts’ dome and there’s a good current along the city. Eventually he tells me that I’ve cleared the Crissy Field Eddy and out of the main gate current so to start heading towards Fort Mason. I finally feel like I’ve got this. Damn Fort Mason is coming up QUICKLY. Diana pops by in her zodiac asking if I’m okay. I am and tell her that the pilot helping me was so awesome. I start swimming along Muni pier and see signs that I don’t remember being that far outside the pier. I stop and see that I’m already at the entrance and moving past it quickly. I start booking it into the cove before I miss it and head straight towards the SERC/DC beach. Yeah, that wasn’t that bad. Point Bonita -> SERC next year definitely!

One 4.5 miles swim down, 6 miles swim to go.

After brunch with Jenny and my swim buddies Lisa and Cathy H (who were swimming Alcatraz -> Angel Island), I head back to OAK where my flight is delayed an hour (joy!). Okay, I’ll be in Santa Barbara at 9 PM instead of 8 PM. Still enough time to get a good night’s sleep before the 6 miles swim. Land in Burbank at 6:30 PM, chuck some stuff in my “storage unit” in Pasadena, and drive the 100+ miles to Santa Barbara. Stroll into the hotel room at about 9:03 PM. Perfect!

Sunset over Santa Barbara

I’m not nervous about this swim at all because I have a dedicated kayaker. This non-stop swim is the minimum qualifying distance w/ the right rules to call yourself a marathon swimmer (see MSF Rules. He’s doing all the hard work of navigating and feeding me so all I have to do is swim. I meet Kingsley at the beach and we hit it off. I find out that he’s never supported a swimmer and wouldn’t have been able to tell. Over email he’d asked me all sorts of questions like what was I feeding (solids/liquids), what side do I normally breathe on, etc and what had I eaten for breakfast that morning vs what I normally eat. I tell him that I naturally tend to pull to the right when swimming so he can help compensate for that. I’m comfortable having this guy who I had just met in person a few minutes ago babysitting me for the next few hours and the success of my swim is heavily dependent on him.

My awesome kayaker Kingsley and me before being stuck with each other for 6 miles. 🙂

Just another training swim. In fact, easier than a regular training swim since I don’t have to worry about anything but swimming itself. We start off and Carol is directly in front of me, just like when we’re back at Shaw’s. Kingsley flags me down at the end of the pier and we head off along the coast. I’m right next to Lynn for awhile and tell Kingsley to not run her over since she’s awesome. Lynn and I finally manage to get away from each other and on our own paths.

Perfect conditions for a swim!

I realize that we forgot to coordinate how he’d stop me to feed. I can see him getting a feed together and he just holds the bag out over the water. Perfect! Has it really been half an hour already? Each feed has a water bottle and some food in it, which he alternates between all the different goodies I packed. I think “What the hell? Again? Already?” every time I see that mesh bag pop out. He says he’s been giving me extra minutes between half hour feeds even. I don’t even notice how far we’ve gone or how long it’s been.

We work well together. He flawlessly guides me through kelp so I never get tangled up once. I’m mostly sighting off of his kayak and he’s never more than a few yards away. We both had the same thought of dumping the remainders of each water bottle into one without talking about it. I trust him to be my eyes for this entire swim since I have no idea where I’m going and he’s got a much better view. Much better. He saw a humpback whale breach 50 yards away from us and I only felt a large wave roll me. He saw a couple of dolphins also. I got to see kelp and a bunch of schools of little silver fish.

I’m shocked when I find out that we’re at the 7 KM mark. Already? Didn’t we just start? I have a hard time believing him later when he says that we’re just a couple of hundred yards off of the turn buoy to head into the beach. I see it then and never see it again. He turns his kayak 90 degrees and tells me to start swimming into shore. What? We’re almost done? He guides me towards the flags since he can see them and I can’t.

I get into the beach and greeted by big hugs from Peter and Carol. I can’t believe this is already over as it felt like it just started. I’m not even tired yet! Half the distance for Anacapa.

Oak Streakers w/ our crew!

This helps renew my faith that I can definitely swim Anacapa in September. I’m not worried about my training for it anymore. I only have to focus on the swim and with the right crew, I don’t have to worry about anything else. This 6 miles felt more like a social activity than a serious swim. I enjoyed having a kayaker in the water with me and decided that I want to feed off of a kayak during Anacapa. I don’t ever feel like I’m alone in the water when I have a kayak right there. That seriously takes a HUGE load off of my mind.

When I think about it, it just blows my mind that I did both of these swims relying on people that I had just met right before (or in the Kirby Cove case during) the swim. People who were complete strangers that now I feel like I have a bond with as I put my life in their hands. They took care of me though all the way to the end to ensure my safety and success. Strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet. 🙂

I didn’t even realize that I swam 10.5 miles between the two swims. I’d been wondering how far I could go swimming open water and completely lose that feeling of wanting to be out there (like I get every time I’m in a pool now). It still doesn’t feel like I swam that far over 2 days. Mondays are rest days for me but if I had an 8 mile swim scheduled for today also, I’d have gladly jumped in and done it. I’m still not tired.

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