Success! 7/13/2010

Success!  7/13/2010
Europe to Africa.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Still Can't Believe it!

It's Friday now, and I am sitting in the Continental Hotel in Morocco (it must have been something in it's heyday, but it's a bit shop worn now).  I hear a roster crowing and a bulldozer working even though it is nine o'clock at night.  It doesn't feel like it will ever get dark or cool off.

It's three days since my crossing, and it's still hard to believe that I made it.  I keep trying to explain the feeling that this swim was at the very edge of my ability, and I don't know how I got through.  That thing that people talk about, that inner strength or untapped reservoir, I have never been there before.  I'm not sure I'll ever go back either.  It was scary.  I thought I would quit, and I was already sad about it, and yet I didn't stop moving my arms.  I don't know what was doing that.  It didn't feel like me.  I have never thought of open water swimming as dangerous because I love being in the water so much that I have rarely felt afraid.  And I wasn't afraid this time, but I did feel like this body of water was too big, or too powerful for me to be doing this.  Crossing over on the ferry today was very interesting.  Of course the waves look smaller from so high up, and nothing looks like it does from the swimmer's vantage point, but I also could see waves crashing on themselves.  Not the sort of white caps I associated with wind, but white caps because the waves were so big, I guess.  The ferry was a huge Catamaran and is was rocking to and fro all the way over.  So the Straits are rough.  Then there were the places that looked like eddys, or rip tides or what have you.  I kept thinking of a silly TV movie of Homer's Odyssey where there is a whirlpool that is the mouth of an angry child of Poseidon's.  These looked a bit like that.  But there was no rhyme or reason to them.  The ocean is powerful and mysterious.  I guess I was a bit naive before I came, and I feel lucky not to have had to pay some hedious price for my stupidity.
But I don't think I'll be signing up for anything else soon.  I think I have gained a new respect for our sport, and I won't be quite so cavalier.  Or I just might convince myself that it's different in the Bay ;-)
I am having fun.  I didn't get to go to the desert like I had hoped.  It is just too far away.  But I went to Gibraltar (must have a t-shirt that actually says Gibraltar even if there is nothing with the Straits).  And I am having Kite Surfing lessons now that I don't have to worry about my shoulders.  All is well, it's a million degrees in Morocco.  I head to Asilah tomorrow, a beach town just down the Moroccan coast.  And then back to Spain to meet with the people who have the next swim window.  Kind of cool, we met on the Channel chat line.
Home Tuesday, sad to go, happy to be returning home.
This has been bigger, better, and more wondrous that I could have imagined.
Keep in touch, I am dying to hear about Eddie?  Anyone???

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Water is a different Color

The water is a different color here in the Gibraltar Straits. It is not the blue black of San Francisco, or the blue green of Hawaii, or the slate blue of the east coast, or the green blue of the Caribbean it is the blue I tried to paint my bedroom and didn't even know it. The paint card was named "Blueblood".  That's the color of the water I was in.
I drove to Tarifa this morning at 8:30 am. I was to meet Rafael at 9:00 in the port. Once I got here I realised what a stupidly unspecific idea that was, but I parked the car and began to walk around. I found a man wearing the same shirt as Rafael's organization and Rafael showed up spot on time. There was a man from North Carolina swimming today as well. He had his wife along to take photos. I was jealous for that, but I couldn't imagine making some one ride in a small (30 foot) boat, going seasick slow for five hours, plus the hour to get home. I was content and not nervous. That time had past.
I was wearing a South End cap that Darrin had given me on a "Sunriser" swim, ear plugs from Diana Shuster's special stash, and fabulous Blue Seventy dark goggles from Karen Rogers. I had four South End sweatshirts to give my crew and Rafael as a thank you and the big red South End flag to fly behind the pilot boat to keep me on course and committed.
I dove in at 9:33 am, and swam to the rocky shore just outside Tarifa's harbor. The water felt lovely, brisk, but not cold at all. My captain, Antonio dropped his hand, and I started swimming. Rafael had explained that it would be hard to get away from the Spanish Coast and that I must try to swim a bit fast. Fast is not in my repertoire, but it seemed to go OK. The water was much like the "Potato Patch" under the Golden Gate Bridge, waves coming from all directions and feeling more like a bubbling roiling cauldron than the ocean. The power of the water, wind, and current was noticeable and a bit overwhelming. Not much to do but swim, so I did. The waves were big, and not regular. I got a lot of slaps in the face, and drank plenty. But I was having fun. Whenever I encountered a cold patch, I was reminded of Joe Butler's opinion that; the cold is in the current and the warm is outside it. I don't know if this is true, but I tried to keep myself in the colder water. Rafael had said that The Straights are not for slow swimmers, and that I should not feed every 30 minutes as I am accustomed, but more like every 45 minutes. My feedings went well, all four of them. Thank god I never liked feeding, and swam a lot of long swims on not much fuel, because once the tide changed, they weren't going to let me stop to feed. After three hours, and what was to be my last feed, Jesus told me that I had only 2 km left. Yipee!  Africa was finally starting to look closer than Spain, but it was still a long way off to my eye. About 30 minutes later, and with no visible progress, Antonio brought the big boat back to me to talk. I didn't get in and chat mind you, but he drew along side me and explained that I must swim harder, and faster for a solid thirty minutes if I wanted to reach Morocco. By this time, I had been swimming my definition of "hard" for quite some time. The water was so rough that my swimming was never easy. But I tried to turn on the speed. Those who know me from the pool will be laughing now, because my lane mates and I often joke that we don't go faster, we just splash more and work harder. With this in mind and Africa a long way off, I tried to channel Terry from the English Channel chat line who always talks about lengthening your stroke for maximum efficiency. Man I hoped it was working. I must add here that my shoulders were holding up very well. I was not in pain, and they weren't feeling loose or wobbly at all. They hurt like hell now, but so what. I tried everything to bring Africa closer. I put my head down and pulled hard for 10 strokes, then harder for ten more, and then back to the first level- nothing. I tried swimming zig-zag because one time I was swimming around the "Creakers" with Jimmy and Lisa and that was the only way we could get around. But Jesus was not happy with that and kept pointing and pantomiming "go, go, straight, hard, you can do it". A lot of message for a few scant hand signals and a smile. I wasn't so sure by that time that I would be able to do it. So I started naming all of the people who had emailed me and wished me well. I was feeling the love and support, and that's when the dolphins showed up.  Penny wrote in her blog about swimming the Cook Straits that when it looked like she was done, dolphins appeared and encouraged her on.  Man was I excited.  I didn't have a moment of fear, I knew they were there to egg me on.  So on I went, meter by meter.  I even called upon Robbie, the deceased brother of Pat from Maine who I had chatted with after her record breaking Gibraltar crossing last month. She and I had joked that Robbie would bring me sweet currents, and take the wind out to lunch to keep it busy during my swim so as not add to my troubles. I was talking to Robbie and Pat and asking them both for help (Pat I brought some Poland Spring Water just like you suggested). 
Then I remembered a time in the pool when Karen had hooked me up to a bungee cord and told me that I should be able to swim across the 25 yards of the pool. She swam beside me in the next lane and at about 5 feet from the end I quit. I was convinced that I couldn't do it. Her words to me were, "but you were still moving forward- you had it. Why'd you quit?" I felt terrible, and embarrassed. I am sure that was not her intention, but today, out in the Med., her words came back to me. If I was still moving forward, even the slightest bit, I would not quit. Jesus and Antonio didn't know this, but after I got out, they said basically the same thing; that as long as I was still fighting and moving even incrementally forward, they would let me continue. And thank god they did, because after about a million "five hard strokes" I was smashed into the cliff at Punta Leona, Morroco.
I am sure that more things will come to me, but this is enough for now, I want to go to bed.

I swam from Europe to Africa today, Tuesday July 13th, 2010. And I swam with dolphins. Two dreams came true.
Thank you everyone for your support and enthusiasm.  Special thanks to my parents who padded my funds, and Jorge, Katharine and Coco for putting up with an obsessed person for the past six months.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Saturday & Sunday

I said goodbye to my family in the rental car bus.
They were flying back to California after a hot vacation in new Hampshire.
I wandered around the airport, bought yet another book and candy bar and found my gate.
Hilary had given me something to help me sleep on the flight and some advice about how best to avoid jet lag.
The flight was easy, I slept some and arrived in Madrid for the first time.
I had almost three hours to kill before my connecting flight to Malaga so off I went in search of soccer jerseys for my girls.
Now this is the actual day of the World Cup Final match, and Spain is favored to win. If this had been America, there would have been specially constructed kiosks in the airport to sell World Cup stuff, but this was Spain and I couldn't find anything.
I had fun looking, went to lots of shops. Had some breakfast and got on my next plane. This one was delayed over an hour on the tarmac waiting for luggage from Munich. I arrived in Malaga, a tourist destination on the Mediterranean coast of Spain and waited for my bag.  I think all of the German bags got off first, but then I tried a different area and there it was.  My bag is very heavy because I brought some Gatorade from California, some water from Maine (NH) and four huge sweatshirts as gifts for my pilot, crew, and Rafael (the guy in charge).
I rented a cute car, refused the GPS, and off I drove.
I felt like my adventure was truly beginning.  The route to Tarifa was easy to follow.
I didn't see much of the ocean because I opted for the pay route since it was faster even if a bit inland.  You might thing I should be enjoying the sights, but I couldn't get to Tarifa fast enough.  I left the pay route at the Tarifa exit.  Coming around a corner I saw about 50 huge windmills.  It made me feel like my brother Chris was welcoming me to Tarifa.  Around the next corner I saw my first glimpse of Africa and started to cry.  I didn't plan on that.  Then I saw the Atlantic Ocean and cried anew.  I didn't realize what an emotional trip this would be.  I focused so much on training and fretted so much on whether I had done enough or healed enough to go through with it, and here it is.  My dream adventure.  The beauty alone was staggering, and the enormity of the challenge became very real.  This is big stuff.  I drove to my hotel first to call.  It being Sunday night, and the night of the World Cup final, I didn't reach Rafael.  
So I decided to focus on the match.  My family enjoys soccer more than most Americans.  We watch about 75% of all the World Cup matches.  We would Tivo them everyday, and often I would catch some of a game live, and then watch it later with my family.  So I was excited.  Travelling alone has many perks, but watching a soccer game is a social event.  I went to the heart of Tarifa's main square and there was a jumbotron of sorts set up on a stage for all to see.  By 8:15 pm, with fifteen minutes to kick off, the screen was blank and there were three guys scrambling to get it to work.  All of the nearby cafes with TV were full to the rafters.  I just kept walking away from the square listening for a TV and looking for a place to watch.  Every bar and restaurant I came upon was full.  As I crossed yet another block I saw an Italian flag outside a bar.  There were only about 10 old men inside, but they were shouting and singing with gusto.  In I go, not even knowing how to order a drink, so the bartender gave me a beer, and after much pantomime a glass of ice.  I got to sit right in front of the TV and next to a fan.  The fan was crucial.  Not only was it hot, but everyone was smoking.  They were GREAT fans.  Singing often and loudly.  They liked that I was there, but we all just really watched the game.  At half time with no score, I went to find some food.  The Italian bar had been a hard core drinking establishment.  The best I could have hoped for was chips, or nothing.  Along the main tourist street in the old town section, there are no cars and every store front is a restaurant or a bar.  The ones with TV were filled to over flowing.  The rest were shuttered.  Kids were roaming the street blowing horns, waving flags, and setting off poppers (bang bang).  There was one place filled with orange jerseys.  Every patron was Dutch.  I thought I might be able to squeeze in there and get a pizza, but no.  I ordered one to go and as I left, I could here the cheers that the big outdoor screen was working.  I stood near a tree eating a pizza out of a box and watched Spain conquer Holland.  The street was full of red jerseys, flags, voovoozelas, and painted faces. By the beginning of overtime my feet were tired, but the crowd had grown such that there was no hope of sitting down.  Then they scored, with only minutes to spare and the place went wild.  Not scary wild, happy, joyful wild.  Everyone was screaming, and hugging, and dancing, and crying.  I was crying and clapping and whistling.  It was awesome.  
I found my way back to my car and drove back to my hotel.  Every car on the street had flags flying, horns honking, and people hanging out the windows.  The joy was palatable.  I felt lucky to share in it.  I was home by midnight and fell right to sleep.  So much for jet lag (yeah Hilary).I had planned to call Rafael first thing  but I didn't wake up until ten.  I phoned him and made arrangements to meet at eleven.  I quickly showered, just missed breakfast, and went to find him in Tarifa.  I neglected to tell him that my cell didn't work so I couldn't ask for directions.  He said get to the old town and then call.  I was too excited to remember the silly little complication of no phone, so I parked and then asked everyone I passed where #19 Calle de Luz was.  Needless to say, I found Rafael.

Rafael is charming and kind.  He explained that he works for the Vessel traffic Control (shipping controllers for the Straits) and does the swimming assistance on the side.  He told me that two people were in the water as we spoke and that I should call again at 6:00 pm to see if tomorrow would be a good day.  I went around town looking for soccer jerseys and a sun cover up.  Had no success but found a lovely place to eat lunch.  I went back to my hotel around six and walked across the road to the beach.  I went into the Atlantic, played in the waves and took a few strokes, but mostly just tested the water temperature.  It is good!  warmish, but cool.   Nothing like San Francisco, but a little colder than the lake in New Hampshire were I had just spent a week swimming my last four hour swim.
I called Rafael.
They both made it.  And tomorrow looks good.
I am to meet him at the docks in the harbor at 9:00 am ready to go.
I wish it was earlier, to avoid the sun, but I will do as I am told.
This is it.  
And now to bed.
I asked for a wake up call and I set my alarm (I would like to read this over and edit it, but I need to make up my feed bottles and fret some more) so off to bed.
More soon.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Almost Time Now

I haven't posted in a while. I have been freaking myself out now that my swim is really here. I leave Friday for a week vacation on the East Coast with my family, and then on July 10Th I am off to SPAIN!!!
I haven't been swimming hard, but I have done a difficult three hour swim in cold water. I am hoping that the warmer water of Gibraltar will allow me more staying power. I got cortisone in both shoulders and must resist swimming for four days to let it work it's magic. I didn't get to do any swims longer than four hours which worries me, but hey it's point to point. The adrenaline, and seeing where you want to get to work wonders. I hope it's enough. I think I am stubborn enough to get across. I am not a quitter.
I have been running around with lots of last minute travel frenzy. Like having to get 1500 euros (I hate to travel with a lot of cash, but I have to pay for the swim). And I talked myself into a little point and shoot camera because I don't want to carry around my lovely Nikon. Then there are the plug adaptors, the fuel for the swim, the Gatorade (one swimmer told me she even brought water from home). Then there was the panic over the "shark shield". I didn't even know that such a thing existed, and now I am hearing that someone who swam Gibraltar this summer was "glad to have one" with her on her double crossing because she saw a great white (as did the people on the boat). Breathe in breathe out...I will be fine. "Everyone has a fish story" as they say. I would rather mine be about dolphins...
Well, I may not be as ready as I had envisioned, but my time is now and my adventure starts Friday.
Think good thoughts of me during the week of July 12-18Th. Hope for good weather early in the week, with favorable tides and light winds (is that asking for too much?).
I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Catch Up

I want to catch up my family on what's been happening in my journey to cross the Gibraltar Straits. They have been tremendously supportive and encouraging (both emotionallt and financially). I began this odyssey in January and have been on a rollercoaster ride from the start. Mentally and emotionally this marathon training thing is wicked. As is my nature, I started out over zealous and worked too hard. Not having a coach other than helpful friends and chat room aquaintances I concocted a training schedule out of thin air. It looked good on paper. Luckily one friend strongly stipulated that it was a "plan" and not a directive. That I should do my best to follow it, but to listen to my body and deviate if needed. I didn't hear that part very clearly. I got worn out and sick a few times over the months, and took time off to recover which was hard, but unavoidable. By the middle of April I was cooking with gas. I was swimming the length of Gibraltar during the week in the pool and more than that on the weekends in the Bay. I was swimming between 14 - 20 miles a week. On April 21st I took the day off of work and tested my self against rough water, cold, and time. I swam over 12 and a half miles in 55 degree water for almost four hours. The waves were big (listed at 7-9 foot swells) and the wids were strong (gusting up to 17 miles an hour) and I came through like a champion. After this swim, I felt ready to change my event to the English Channel. Just work a little harder and see where it led me. I even emailed a boat pilot with the English Channel Swimming Association to inquire about the possibility of jumping in where some one else cancelled (he didn't recommend it - but I thougt about it). This is how good I was feeling. Charged up and ready to conquer the world. So after my long swim, I kept right on swimming. I was in the pool the very next day doing my 4,ooo yards and damn proud of it. I was also reading the Odessey at the time and I think the fates decided that I needed a personal lesson in hubris. I believe that the rough nature of my long swim in the bay caused a tear in my right shoulder muscle. But in my over enthusiasum I did not heed the niggling pain and just kept swimming. I swam 23K the very next week, including one 4+ hour swim. After a few more weeks, the pain would not be ignored. I went to the doctor and the films showed him the tear. This was a real low point. Just a few short weeks ago I thought I could fly over the strait, and now I would be lucky to make it with fins (not an option - against the rules). So I got a cortisone injection (I know, bad idea) I took a week off, meaning swimming with fins and mostly kicking and riding my bike. Well it has been two weeks since the injection. I have been going to physical therapy and swimming "easy". Doing the same yardage, but with little or no intensity just ploding along. I still feel weakness in my shoulder, but not much pain. I believe that I will recover enough in the remaining four weeks to make it across Gibraltar. As long as I don't let my crazy thoughts make me swim a six hour training swim, something I had always planned on doing, I should be ok. I heard from three people who attempted the straits last weekend. One made it in 4:27, and he called it "very challenging", one made it in 5:59 and sounded like she had a blast, and the other didn't make it. She was pulled about 1.5 miles from Morocco. They all had high surf and high winds. I have always known that I would never be fast, ever, but I have also thought of myself as strong, so I could make the rougher swims. Now I just pray that my shoulder holds up for one more rough swim. The journey through this is the experience. Success or failure are both possible outcomes, and they both have value. As Roosevelt said, there is glory in being the "man in the area...who , at best, knows the triumph of high achievment...and at worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly..." The mistakes in training, the failure to listen to my body, the worry that I haven't done enough, and the insecurity of do I have it in me to tough it out. It is all a part of the experience. Marathong swimming is about heart. It is about determination, and maybe even about strength of charachter. And then it's about water, weather, wind, currents, tides, sea creatures, ships, all sorts of things can conspire to end a swim. Or maybe it's just about who is willing to suffer the longest. I don't know yet how long I can suffer for before I give in. I have never given in yet. I don't think I will this time. My biggest fear isn't sharks, or fatigue, but not judging the tides correctly and being pulled just off the finish because the tide turns and there is no way I can break throught. So I have to trust my pilots a bit and know that they want me to succeed almost as much as I do. The other thing about this crazy swim, is that no matter what happens it will be only 6 or 7 hours of my trip. That leaves 11-12 days of adventure, relaxation, swimming, hiking, exploring, and traveling to enjoy. So pray for me that the weather gods are favorable early in my window and that will leave me with a long week of unexpected adventures.
I leave for Malaga Spain on July 10th, my window of opportunity is from July 12th - 18th, and I fly home on the 19th. Think good thoughts, and safe passage.
I can't wait.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

SUNDAY June 6th

I joined several South End women and swam the .75 mile and the 1.5 mile PMS swims at Lake Del Valle this morning. The weather was beautiful, the water was warm and we all had a good time. The .75 mile swim was first, and I was nervous since I haven't put my shoulder to any sort of test in a few weeks. I was fine. Not pain free, and a bit stiff, but fine. The 1.5 mile swim a half an a hour later was even better. I relaxed into a gentle sort of rhythm. I don't think I did any damage, and I really feel like I need to be swimming more.
I just read an email on the Channel Chat line about two people, Matthias (Germany) and Brigit (Australia?) who attempted Gibraltar today. Matthias made it in 4 hours 20, and thought the swim "very challenging". Brigit had to be pulled about 1.5 miles from the Moroccan coast. High winds and rough waves made going further too dangerous. What's "too dangerous" about waves and wind? Don't you just push on? This is exciting news; I love to hear from other people doing my swim, but it is also scary. Matthias thought it was "very challenging" for his ability... Well I can only imagine that our abilities are probably quite similar, or he's even stronger than me - he's certainly faster. So where does that leave me? Not in top shape, and a bit lame, will I make it?
And Brigit is a Swimtrek guide. She must have tons of experience and training, and she didn't make it. Lots for me to obsess about :-)
I am looking forward to school ending. I plan to swim a few days this week, light and easy, then Saturday is Lake Berryessa (I have attended every year for the past 22 years so I can't miss it) and then Sunday is the Dipsea Race. I am only volunteering, but it will be fun.
Then Monday, once school is out, I will go swim in the bay as many days as I can before I leave.
I will play it by ear, but I would like to do a few longer swims, maybe 4 hours or more and see how I hold up. But I won't push it. I won't make things worse. I will have faith that I have trained a lot and it will be enough. I hope so.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

28 Days and counting

The Internet can be a great thing, but it can also scare the begeezus out of you.
I was surfing around looking for a new picture of the Straits to inspire me, and I stumbled upon some English guy's blog about his crossing last year. They were escorted across by "...Pilot whales - like big dolphins - 5 of them including a mother and baby. They were obviously checking us out because they looped around and came back for a second time even closer so that I felt, had I dared, that I could have reached out and touched the nearest one."(see picture at right).
Well freak me out yet again, but isn't it cool?
So I am once again on the road to Gibraltar. Not that I ever really got off, but I have had some set backs. My shoulder has a tear in the supraspinatus muscle, but the cortisone injection has calmed down the swelling and the pain. I am swimming 3K a day, not hard, or fast, but swimming none the less. So my spirits are back up and my fear is receding. I may not have the crossing I hoped for, but a crossing I will have. I was speaking to a friend who knows more than I do about probably everything, and she said that I "over trained with the limitations of the mechanics and for the distance of the swim." I like this idea. My mechanics or technique is off, and I was training for something longer than Gibraltar will probably be and I over did it. The thing about training is that you have no basis of knowledge except for experience. People can advise you, and offer plans, but everybody is different and every swim is different. So I am learning about what I can and can't do, and what I need to accomplish my swim (I hope). I wish I had learned all of this in my training build up for Tahoe, but I didn't pay enough attention to details. I just went out there and swam a lot. I hurt myself before that swim too. You would have thought I might have learned. But I listened to so much advice that I stopped listening to my own body. After my long Pt. Bonita Swim, I should have rested. Instead I got charged up and swam more. I might learn this time.
I am doing band work, and core work in addition to swimming. And I have high hopes that I will get through. I am excited again, and can't wait to leave.
It's only 28 days now!

The Gibraltar Straits