Tuesday, October 23, 2012

More Than a Relay, Not Quite a Solo, Sandy Hook to Coney Island EPIC Test Swim with CIBBOWS

October 20th, 2012
Foghorns bellow as my alarm sounds.  It is still dark.  I wonder if we will be permitted to swim with the thick soup that lay outside my window.  I make my way to the aquarium where we meet with the rest of the CIBBOWS crew.  Melinda sounds like she has a frog stuck in her throat, and Jim cancelled --home sick.  I have been wavering between doing a solo or a relay, wanting something in between, but chose to go with the flow depending on what worked for the other swimmers.  Relay it would be--Melinda, Jay, Capri and myself.  MelissaMo, the least experienced of our crew, would be the only soloist.  We wade out to load Agent Orange as David tries to navigate the waves.  We're all soaked before we start.

We bounce as chop gives way to waves towards Sandy Hook through lifting fog, but as we arrive the surf is too dangerous for a beach start.  We scramble to spread ourselves and our gear in the various support boats.  MelissaMo, Melinda and Jay begin in the water while Capri and I wait our turn.  Romer Shoals lay in the distance, and the whitecaps look huge.  

 After an hour,  it was time for the relays to switch.  Cold, Melinda was ready for a break.  I could tell Jay did not want to get out, but it was my turn and I was itching to get in.  Capri and I plunge in at Romer Shoals, joining MelissaMo, who's struggling a bit.  I am feeling wonderful, so light, like a butterfly. This is going to be my day.  The waves are big.  Very big.  They were so big (and it's rather shallow) the boats are unable to follow us, so we swim through the madness accompanied only by our kayakers. At first it doesn't really occur to me how gigantic they are, but I notice my kayaker, maestro Richard Clifford, maneuvering hard to stay afloat.  These are massive rollers.  I  have a strange sensation in my stomach, like when you are on a roller coaster and it drops.  Which is exactly what we are swimming in--a roller coaster of 15 to 20' waves.  After an hour of the epic ride of a lifetime, we hit the Ambrose Channel, the busiest shipping channel in the world.  It is lined with tankers as far as the eye could see.  As we wait for three huge monsters to pass, the Coast Guard decides it was unsafe to swim cross,  so we will be boated to the other side.  I seize the opportunity to chow a sandwich and spicy tea, which I share with Capri.  We are starting to get cold as we wait for one enormous ship after another to pass, looking for an opening to dart to the other side.

Seasickness began to take its toll.  Later I found out the details--Rondi was lying over the side of Agent Orange.   Memo was done.  Melinda was laying on the bottom of her boat in the fetal position, and Jay was not feeling so hot now either.  I try to convince him he'll feel better in the drink than on the boat.  Now we had more kayakers/boats than swimmers, so I feel the need to represent.   CIBBOWS is not going down like that!  I turn Jay and Capri, shouting "let's do this-solo it-all the way!".  I receive skeptical looks.  Jay looks a little green.  David asks over the radio "is anyone going to get back in the water?  Or what?"   Capri and I plunge back in; as Jay struggles to get back in his cheaters I tease him for being a slow poke (he is the fastest of our group, but wearing wetsuit bottoms).   The water is about 59F, and re-entry is bracing, but I soon get used to it.  I feel good in the water.... one of those rare days when all the stars align and you are one with the ocean...and swim a strong, steady pace.  I stop a few times for gu and water along the way, as the Romer Shoals lighthouse began to fade behind me.  Nothing but the waves the sun as it moves across the sky.

Hours pass, then the parachute jump.  I fist pump and the boat cheers.  Little did I know I still had 3 miles to go?  The crew keeps me in my ignorant bliss, giggling to themselves.  I'm not one of those swimmers who ask how far I've gone or how long I've been swimming--I don't really want to dwell on those kinds of details.  For me, it's better not to know.  I have already spotted Jay and Capri on the boat, they've been hopping in and out, and I realize I'm the only one left who's going the entire distance.   Igor's words float in my head--"you only think you're tired"--as I push forward.  Melinda, feeling better, joins me on the home stretch, pulling ahead.  Coney Island Baby is following us, as well as NYPD Harbor Patrol, who stays busy keeping errant boats from our path.  MelissaMo is still hurling from the bow of the boat, and I make a mental note to school her on crew etiquette.  Vomiting should be done from the stern, not the bow please.   I pick up my pace to get ahead of the boat.  Margarethe, my kayaker since the Ambrose, smiles encouragingly.

I ask for hot tea, and my crew tries to give Margarethe my huge thermos.  She capsizes, and when she doesn't come up right away I sprint to her assist.  She has to do an escape, so now she's soaking.  The first mate Lovely Lenny (dressed in a dry suit) springs into action, and dives to her rescue.  Que hombre.  I wonder later if he took off his fake hair before he jumped in the water. (He's rocking a Rod Stewart wig/hat this week, change of pace from the Rasta look of last weekend).  I tease her that she was just trying to see what I was dealing with, cold water-wise, but I am worried for her, now exposed to the elements.  While they pump out her kayak, I have my ginger spice tea, and offer her some. They give her a dry hat and scarf and we're back on our way.   Next feed, the crew puts my warm tea in an empty bottle and tosses it to me.   It comes at me like speeding missile from the sky--Eileen has an arm like a professional baseball player.  Margarethe has a spare carbo pro gel, which I gratefully accept, not having packed my liquid feed.  I'm starting to feel heavy and tired, and my shoulder starts to twinge, but I can make out the beams of the pier, I know I'm so close, so I keep plugging away. 

About a mile to go the right shoulder starts to hurt badly, but I can see a small crowd of people waiting for my finish.  No stopping now, I have to figure out how to swim through the pain.   Adjusting my stroke, I focus on relaxing my shoulder and throwing my recovery arm from the remaining strength of my lats. I tell myself to suck it up--this is what you get for being lax on the pool training.  Out of my peripheral vision, I see I am about to cross the outer edge of the pier.   Almost home!  Legs go into high gear and I sprint, spraying the water behind me as Margarethe smiles in approval at my burst of energy.  (I'm sure she's ready to finish too--dry clothes await.)  It's longer than it seems.   I'm completely out of breath as I finally touch ground, but I made it!  I'm home! My CIBBOWS peeps cheer me as I emerge from the sea. It is magical, swimming home to my training grounds.   Returning to the womb.  I feel so bad ass.  Four hours and 15minutes.  EPIC!!
Ready to launch-Coney at dawn
Capri tests the water temp
Romer Shoals.  Somehow Melinda managed to get this shot of Capri's foot at the crest of a wave, where you can just see the mast of a 20' ship peeking behind, while projectile vomiting.  Talk about multi-tasking.
Tea on the Ambrose

My Triumphant Finish