Dreams

Five months and counting. I am focusing on dreams. I have decided to try and write again. Recently read a tidy quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  Best effort … again… at creating that future.

Hope you are all well.
Cheers , with more hopefully to come
Louise

 

 

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Goodbye blog

Hi all – there will not be any blog posts in the coming months. Thanks to all my readers and followers. If I have inspired one person – I am grateful . Thank you – life is good 

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One step at a time …

still swimming - ending my second leg of the Catalina Channel relay, Tuesday Sept 15, 2015

still swimming – ending my second leg of the Catalina Channel relay, Tuesday Sept 15, 2015

The summer of 2015 has been a challenge. I have been away from the blog – but wanting to return. And I will. I want to finish the tale of Fuji and also to relate 2 of my most wonderful swims – that I was lucky to complete this summer thanks to friendship. Without friendship and the love of others it would have continued down a very dark hole. No rabbit hole for me. One step at a time back and on to new paths.

Here’s a few photos of a few of those beloved friends from the 2 relay swims I completed – thanks to them. Just a few words right now – but I promise to get back and tell you all about Fuji, Boston Light and the amazing Catalina Channel – jelly fish and all! Until then, let your friends and family know how much they mean to you. Cheers!

Our Boston Light Relay finish - August 15, 2015

Our Boston Light Relay finish – August 15, 2015

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Our winning Catalina Channel Relay team - swimmers, kayakers, observers and support! September 14-15, 2015

Our winning Catalina Channel Relay team – swimmers, kayakers, observers and support! September 14-15, 2015

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Mt. Fuji …chapter 2 … back again

welcome to 5th Station

welcome to 5th Station

We left off with Hugh collapsed in  our hotel room suffering the effects of the unsavory breakfast ham that ravaged his body for the better part of the day. Round about midnight he was  once again coherent yet unable to keep anything down. Max reappeared later in the evening after several hours exploring the pubs and assorted off-street temples of Mishima. Hugh would survive.

Morning rose and Hugh agreed that we could attempt to catch the local bus to Kawaguchiko Station. This little hamlet is nestled near the base of Fuji and fashioned to look like a quaint little Austrian town. From the local bus, you can then catch the direct line that will transport folks to the 5th or middle station of Mt. Fuji. Most seasonal climbers begin their climb of Fuji at the 5th station as opposed to the actual base of the mountain. The 5th Station is also fashioned like a little Austrian village – except for the random red Tori gate.

Hugh assured us he could make the trip as long as we did not attempt to feed him. We caught the bus in Mishima and headed out to Fuji by 10am. Our plan was to make the 4 hour bus trip and begin our climb by 2pm. We were on. The bus ride was uneventful. Lots of green lush Japanese landscape and fun little scenic roads. We arrived at Kawaguchiko and deposited our luggage into several rental lockers made available to those planning the overnight hike on Fuji. Opting only for backpacks filled with the necessities, we got tickets for the 5th station bus and headed out. The weather forecast was overcast – clouds on the mountain and no rain. Great climbing conditions. We arrived at 5th station and got ourselves ready – back again to conquer Fuji at last!

ready to climb!

ready to climb!

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Climbing Mt Fuji … part 1… don’t eat the ham.

Max and Hugh ready for the climb, July 15, 2014

Max and Hugh ready for the climb, July 15, 2014

As much as I wanted to remain on the couch, I decided to spend 15 minutes getting back to the blog. I do not know what lies ahead but I know I have wanted to get in my story of finally getting to the top of Mt. Fuji. As I looked back at the photos, I cannot believe that it was exactly one year ago this week that I found myself on top of the world. The past few weeks have been a challenge for me. As I had posted – life changes. I made some more changes in my life. Ones I hope are for the better. I think they will be but change is hard. And I do not like the unknown. The unknown is scary. Funny as I write that I think how I have come to be able to jump into a river, ocean, lake that is filled with the unknown. Why does life scare me so much then? All these thoughts as I look back on Mt. Fuji.

I promised myself I would capture this. I decided to tackle it as I tackled the mountain itself. It bits and pieces – writing for a moment each evening. It will be fun to relive it.

So … how does one climb Mt. Fuji?  Mt. Fuji is the heart and soul of Japan. I have a friend who teaches Japanese and has traveled around Japan numerous times , but has yet to even see Fuji-San. Yet you can travel into the heart of Japan and gaze out the window of a train to see her rising tall above the clouds. Fuji is amazing. Formed from a volcano, Mt. Fuji is the perfect mountain shape. Reimagined over centuries by artists, poets, writers, and photographers. Hugh had climbed Fuji is the 70’s while in the Navy visiting Japan. His tale of reaching the summit is nothing short of hysterical. How three novice navy guys managed to make it to the summit wearing shorts, sneakers and very little else. It is a great tale. When we visited in 2012, the year after the Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami, we had gone to Mt. Fuji to climb once more. Hugh, Max and Lauren had made it to the top. Mary and I had made it to the 8th station and then collapsed in one of the mountain huts to sleep, eat and consider why anyone would climb a mountain.

Hugh knew I wanted to reach the summit. Knowing that we had already been gifted with the best climbing weather in 2012 – we dared to plan a return to the mountain on our 2014 trip to visit Max in his home away from home in Japan.

I wanted to get to the top this time around. Our Fuji adventure began the afternoon following our open water swim with Roger. Our plan was to leave Suruga Bay, return to Mishima , grab our luggage and catch the local bus that would take us north to Mt. Fuji. We had made arrangements to stay in a youth hostel for the evening and set out for Fuji the following morning. All was going according to plan until we stopped for lunch – at which point Hugh excused himself and proceeded to spend the next hour in the bathroom becoming violently ill. We all managed to finally coax him into the car for the short drive back to our hotel in Mishima. Roger, Lindsey and Ishii wished us well for they had their own plans to head north for Roger’s swim. Max and I headed into the hotel with Hugh staggering between us. Hugh’s condition deteriorated to the point that I suggested perhaps we needed to get to a hospital. Max reminded me that in Japan, trips to the hospital are typically reserved for those who are about to die. Indeed, when we inquired at the front desk about the nearest hospital, the 2 attendants stared at me as if I were from Mars. Ok, no hospital. We made arrangements to stay another night, cancelled the youth hostel at Fuji and got Hugh upstairs to the room so he could collapse under the pressing weight of food poisoning. I was sure it was the breakfast ham that did him in. Assured that Hugh would not die, Max asked if he might go exploring the sights of Mishima and off he went. I took advantage of the down time and slept. Fuji would wait.

 

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Charleston SC swim camp and done

the team (L to R): Coach Lance (on deck), Maria, Janine, Matt, John, Eli, Bryan, Hugh, Louise, Markus, Jennifer and Sil

the team (L to R): Coach Lance (on deck), Maria, Janine, Matt, John, Eli, Bryan, Hugh, Louise, Markus, Janet and Sil

We did Charleston. A very quick early morning recap of our first ever swim camp. Hugh and I smashed it. Here are the recaps:

  • arrived Wednesday to chuck town. Janine scored us an awesome beach house in Isles of Palms. Master bedroom suite (with heat) for the coldest C Town weekend n record.
  • early rise for our first swim session 7:30-9:00am at LTP 25yd pool. Met Lance – awesome guy – began to kick our butts with sets of 100s, 250s, 50, and drills
  • hit the race expo for Cooper River Bridge run, back to the house and got to visit with buddy Tom “Killer” – wonderful, nap time before the 4pm evening sets. back to the pool for some video review and another mix of longer sets and drills. Found I was swimming a 1:45 for 10×100 – thrilled!
  • home and bed for next day of the same sets and drills but only more so
  • Friday am sets – moved into the middle lane with John, Sil and Maria – doing 300s – and was thrilled. Then back to the house for more napping before the evening sets and happy hour.
  • Friday night – more and more and more swimming – threw in some 500s for fun.
  • Saturday morning woke at 4:30 for the run – out of the house by 5:30 arriving at Mamie Whitesides Middle school for the shuttle bus to the run. Arrived to a 40 degree Charleston morning – saw paratroopers jump from the planes above us with the American Flag gliding below them as 40,000 runners sang the national anthem – wow
  • Hugh and I managed to shoot some great shots while we ran – he was about 4 minutes ahead of me
  •  we finished the run and got right to the bus shuttle to get back to the car – hoping to make it back to the beach house in time for the open water swim with the crew
  • made it back to the house as the gang were finishing up the swim – water temp was 57 – Hugh and I decided to jump in after Lance gave me a few tips on how to tell if you get too cold. The water felt amazing – I wanted to stay in longer but the group had been there over an hour and it was chilly- we left the water feeling energized. So Hugh and I managed a decent 15 min swim in 57 degrees – wahoo
  • Hugh , Janine and I hit the Acme Low Country Kitchen for some grits and biscuits before the evening swim and BBQ at Lance and Carly’s
  • Evening set was another grueling one with more of the same speed, drills and some distance.
  • Great BBQ where we got to relax and chat
  • Sunday morning wake up to another even colder morning – hit the pool by 7:30. Did a great 1.5 hours in the pool followed by a video Swim Smooth session with Lance – found out what I need to work on – and got back in the pool for some specific coaching from the only Swim Smooth certified coach in the US – amazing
  • jumped out by 12 noon , showered and on the way to the 2pm plane – feeling grateful, energized and slightly exhausted!
  • Thank you Charleston
weeze at the beach

weeze at the beach

until next time – be well and be good to one another!

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A tale of earth and sea … swimming Suruga Bay (OWS Japan style) and climbing Fuji-san

Suruga selfie thanks to Roger

Suruga selfie thanks to Roger

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2014 was a year of adventure and surprise for me. I pushed myself beyond what I would have thought personally possible and the rewards were monumental. Of all I achieved , the 2 of which I am perhaps the most proud of were set against the beautiful backdrop of Japan. Over the course of 3 days, I swam in the deep aquamarine waters of Suruga Bay and climbed to the summit of Mt. Fuji. I was in heaven. I saved these tales for last. The best part of a meal served over the past 12 months. Grab a glass and a comfy seat, sit back and enjoy.

2014 was becoming the year of “what  if” and “why nots”. I was saying yes to so many new and crazy notions. A creature of planning and preparation, I was being pushed to the outer limits of my organizational capacity. Which itself was great. I was learning little by little how to teeter on the brink of uncontrollability. Which, for an open water swimmer is excellent training indeed. For there is no control in open water. Control is an illusion in the open water. You are at the mercy of all things. Water, temperature, weather, current, wind, wildlife and whatever you have going on inside your own head. The sooner you learn to deal with stuff and let it go, the better. And so I found myself having to learn to let it go more and more. 2014 I learned how to begin to let things go just a little. Opportunities arose and instead of trying to control them, I tried to watch them evolve. And so it happened that one day I happened upon dear friend Roger posting on FB about the famed Tsugaru Strait.

The Tsugaru is one of the Ocean’s Seven crossings. Like the Seven Summits, it represents the ultimate test for marathon swimming. All challenging swims, the Tsugaru “dragon” is beyond tough. Deep, cold water whipped by wind and strong currents. As it happened, it would seem that we would be making our trip to visit Max in Miyagi just around the time that Roger was planning his Tsugaru attempt. I sent him a message that if we could help in any way to give a holler. One message led to another and as July 2014 approached we were making plans to meet up in the Fuji area for a swim. I was in heaven. And just a little nervous. Would I actually be swimming in Japan? Roger sent word that his buddy Ishii would be meeting he and his wonderful wife Lindsay in Tokyo. From there they would travel south to Shizuoka Prefecture  for a swim in the bay. But which bay? I found out that we would meet in the town of Mishima and travel to Suruga Bay. One of the deepest in the world. Beyond the bay, you can see Mt Fuji in the distance. I would be swimming in Japan at the foot of Fuji! Unbelievable. Hugh and I quickly juggled our travel plans and checked in with Max to make sure everything would jive. Max was completely on board, having also met Roger on the ferry in August 2013 during my swim around the Statue of Liberty. Max was thrilled to get to see Roger again, as was I. We solidified the plans and found a hotel in Mishima. We would fly into Narita, take the train to Tokyo and actually meet up with Roger, Lindsay and Ishii in Tokyo the afternoon before the swim. The flight was long but rich with excitement [see by post from 14 July 2014 in flight].

We landed at Narita the afternoon of Sunday July 14.

 

arrival in Narita airport

arrival in Narita airport

meeting up with Max to begin our Japan adventure

meeting up with Max to begin our Japan adventure

By Monday morning we would be waking up in Mishima and planning for a jump into Suruga Bay! Thanks to Max and his exceptional Japanese, we easily connected with Ishii by phone and made for the trains into Tokyo. After perhaps 45 minutes of phone tag, we all met up at the Silver Bell – a Tokyo train station landmark and meeting place.

meeting up at the Silver Bell - it really is a bell made just to act as a meeting place - no special significance

meeting up at the Silver Bell – it really is a bell made just to act as a meeting place – no special significance

It was wonderful to see Roger again and to meet Lindsay – his gracious and lovely wife. She was a joy throughout the next few days – smiles and supportive of these crazy adventures. And Ishii. I had “met” Ishii as well via FB. Harayuki Ishii is superb. A kind, joyous soul of a man who coaches, trains and manages open water swimmers and the logistics of many wanting to swim Tsugaru. Our merry band managed to locate a sweet little bar just beyond the train station and catch up with all that was new and rich and wonderful in life. It was grande. By early evening we began our farewells and made plans to meet up outside our hotel in Mishima. Ishii would find the place and from there we would travel to Suruga for the swim. Roger sweetly offered that he was not planning any momentous training – Roger and Ishii offering nothing but support and positive vibes for my attempt at swimming with someone of Roger’s caliber and skill. Hugh, Max and I hopped on the train south toward Mishima. We stepped off the train in Mishima into drizzle and darkness. The wonderful thing about traveling in Japan is that I always feel safe. Max found us a cab – the Japanese cabs are spotless and the drivers professional to a fault. We got to the hotel – a non descript but clean and affordable bed for the night. We had our own bathroom and shower, which was heaven after countless nonstop hours of travel. Max and Hugh quickly wrapped themselves in their yukata and headed for the bath house.

the guys ready for a warm bath

the guys ready for a warm bath

I, on the other hand, went to bed. I was beat and my head was already filling with visions of Japanese sea monsters , waves, wind and what else.

My eyes opened to sunshine and Japan on Monday morning. The gloomy drizzle of the previous night had passed and the day was new. The guys were asleep. When I travel, my heart is so filled with a sense of adventure and excitement that I rarely can stay in bed past 6:00am. I am up and want to explore. I hit the shower and got my gear ready for the open water. The boys slowly woke and I told them I would wait outside on the sidewalk while they dressed. Mishima was awake and happy.

Monday morning Mishima selfie on the sidewalk waiting for the boys

Monday morning Mishima selfie on the sidewalk waiting for the boys

The day was going to be humid – as is the case for Japan in the summer. Hot and humid. I had my lucky neck cloth, purchased in Tokyo on our previous trip in 2011. Tip #1 for Japan is always have a cloth for wiping sweat, drying hands, etc. Up well before the hotel breakfast, Hugh emerged and we walked into Mishima central to scout out a convenience store or two.

we loved this exquisite brook traveling over pristine Japanese stones

we loved this exquisite brook traveling over pristine Japanese stones

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Mt. Fuji - the symbol of all things in and around Suruga Bay area

Mt. Fuji – the symbol of all things in and around Suruga Bay area

We headed back to the hotel and grabbed the complimentary breakfast. We caught up with Ishii, Lindsay and Rog after breakfast and motored to where the water was. Ishii had arranged for a pilot and boat to escort us on our swim. As we neared Suruga Bay, we entered a sweet little seaside town bustling with people, boats, and all things water. At this point I was getting a little more nervous but having just too much fun – chatting with Lindsay as Ishii drove in and out through the side streets of the bay area. We approached the dock and he made a tight right onto a very narrow path atop the seawall. He continued to drive along the top of the seawall, finally stopping at the dock. It was crazy and exhilarating at the same time. We unloaded and found ourselves facing the exquisite waters of Suruga. Beyond the vast blue, tucked amid clouds was Fuji. We could just barely make out the mountain sleeping in the blue and white of the sky like a Hiroshige woodblock.

Hiroshige woodblock of Mt. Fuji from Suruga Bay [Wikipedia]

Hiroshige woodblock of Mt. Fuji from Suruga Bay [Wikipedia]

Hugh close up shot of Mt. Fuji in the clouds the morning of our Suruga Bay swim

Hugh close up shot of Mt. Fuji in the clouds the morning of our Suruga Bay swim

The amazing Mt. Fuji on our open water morning

The amazing Mt. Fuji on our open water morning

 

We were greeted by our boat captain. Whose name escapes me now but was the sweetest man. All smiles and kindness. His boat was a simple fishing boat. The boat he used to earn a living from the sea and carry crazy swimmers out into the bay.

loading the boat

loading the boat

 

We loaded our bags and ourselves and made for the water. Max’s Japanese was coming in exceptionally handy and he was having a great time chatting with Ishii and the captain – translating for Roger.

Max as translator

Max as translator

They stood at the controls and made for an arm of land which poked out into the bay ahead of us.

we would be heading out past the bump of land and swinging around to an arm of land beyond - Fuji san in the background

we would be heading out past the bump of land and swinging around to an arm of land beyond – Fuji san in the background

 

From the end of the arm the captain announced we could begin our swim and head out toward the opposite side of the bay. Made sense to me. All I needed was someone to say jump and point me in the right direction.

Our happy boat made ready, we began our adventure into the bay.

ready for a little swim

ready for a little swim

Hugh and I sat at the bow taking in the beautiful landscape of Japan.The rich green and stunning aquamarine of the water. I watched the shoreline dip and fall as the waves carried us around the water. As we traveled farther out into the bay I suddenly had a sense of the depth of the water. It was big water and while I could see the land and the mountain around us, the water was what captivated. I watched it leap at the boat bow – filled with froth and spray. The engine began to purr and then idle and I could tell the time had come to jump in. How would it feel? How cold was the water? Would I jump and just keep sinking deeper and deeper? The wacky waking thoughts of the open water. Everyone was quietly bustling. Roger and Ishii were chatting at the back of the boat.

on location and making ready to jump

on location and making ready to jump

I was ready. I did not want to hold up any of the fun so made sure I was ready when the word came. I heard someone, perhaps the captain say “yes, go” and I jumped off the boat.

in the water

in the water

My first sensation was of the depth and chill of the water. My body could feel how deep the water was – big water like I had not felt in a long time. We were in the bay and in deep clear water. I sensed the tug and pull of the waves as well. Immediately feeling the life of the water. Lynne Cox, the open water icon, is often quoted by swimmers. One of the comments about knowing how well a swimmer is doing in the water is observing how well they fall into sync with the waves and sea. Not fighting the water but feeling it. I relaxed and allowed the water to push me around a bit as I navigated back toward the boat waiting for sign of Roger.

happy place swimming Japan

happy place swimming Japan

He had also jumped in and was swimming toward me with his huge smile. Water and Roger equals joy and happiness.

suruga bay 1

I reminded Roger of how much slower I was and in his usually good-natured way, smiled and said no worries – let’s swim. And so we did – in the beautiful waters of Japan, at the foot of Mt. Fuji escorted by a boat filled with laughter, family and friends.

swimming off with Roger

swimming off with Roger

Ishii was in charge of the swim and would tell us where to go, for how long and when to return. We headed out into the water. Roger, zipping past me like lightening. We paused after a time for him to offer some advice on my hand entry. All done with a smile and kindness. Roger is simply one of the sweetest and most generous people on Earth. His wife, Lindsay was equally warm and supportive. At the end of the swim, I remember catching her eye and whispering to her , “did I do OK Lindsay?” She smiled and assured me I had done just fine.

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I finally fell into a easy pace. Roger zipped up next to me and said “I’m going to swim around the boat.” Which I thought was absolute genius – Roger began to do fast loops around the boat as I continued forward. He was able to shoot some great shots from the water.

Photo of Hugh at the bow taken by Roger during one of his laps around the boat

Photo of Hugh at the bow taken by Roger during one of his laps around the boat

Just about the time I was getting into the swim, I heard Ishii shout “OK, back.” We were heading back toward the mainland. I came around to the boat and could see Max getting ready to jump in. He was pulling off his shirt and had found my extra set of goggles. *Note to all open water swimmers – ALWAYS have loads of extra goggles because he never know who will want to jump into the fun! I knew Max was a wonderful swimmer and would have little problem. I was thrilled that the excitement had gotten him. I heard the splash and turned around to see him swimming furiously toward Roger and I as we headed into the harbor.

the happy trio

the happy trio

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The swim was amazing. Sheer joy. Open water swimming can take you to places you could never imagine. And the view from the water in breathtaking. I could see the smiling faces of Hugh, Lindsay and Ishii as we traveled into the harbor. The blue of the sky and the bow of the boat bouncing along the waves. I was swimming with Roger, one of the very best in the world and with my son. In the water of Japan. Ishii and Hugh managed some of my favorite water photos.

The happy trio continued into the harbor. Rather than exit at the boat ramp , we decided to climb back aboard our escort boat (which was the hardest part of the swim), and exit onto the dock. On the dock, it became a great party – rinsing off and more pictures.

The morning and swim had been a huge success. We all retired to a nearby restaurant for some much deserve lunch and where Hugh was promptly overtaken by food poisoning from the hotel breakfast. We all managed to get him back to the hotel and exchanged hugs and well wishes. Roger would be heading north to conquer the Tsugaru Channel with Lindsay and Ishii by his side. Hugh, Max and I would head to Fuji, to conquer the mighty mountain and see the sunrise from the summit. My swim in Suruga Bay had become so much more than I would have ever imagined. It was not about distance, time, skill, pace – it was about friendship and adventure. It was joyous and I was so thankful to Roger, Lindsay and Ishii for allowing us to be a part of it. We all hugged and went off to even more adventures – hearts filled with happiness – all because of a little swim among friends.

A parting shot of Fuji San from the Bay and of me on our ride back to the hotel.

Fuji overlooking our swim spot

Fuji overlooking our swim spot

best day ever!

best day ever!

My next post will be the long awaited tale of my climb to the top of Fuji San. Until next time be good to one another – cheers!

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Being the crew … John’s swim and meeting Anthony

 

sitting in C Team - being the crew

sitting in C Team – being the crew

It is January 2015 now and I am catching up on the last stories of 2014 adventures. One of the best times this summer was having the chance to serve as a crew member for a great swimmer from the South End Rowing Club in San Francisco. John needed  one more crew member to help him complete his Triple Crown swim in the June 28 Manhattan Island Marathon swim. He and I had been connected through another swimmer out of the Ontario area. One of the most wonderful things I have learned about open water swimmers is that they are a community. My buddy Janine calls them her “tribe”. I like that. They are warm, funny, passionate and generous. And they mean business. Open water (marathon) swimmers is more than an endurance sport. I am only now beginning to understand how it is “not just about the swimming” – as my buddy Madhu says. So when asked if I would head back into Manhattan to help navigate John around the island, I jumped at the chance.

John was fairly quiet about the swim, so I spent the majority of the summer reading as much as I could find about the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS). Now, having actually completed the swim as a member of our 6 person relay, it is hard to imagine a time when knew very little about this swim. But last spring I indeed knew very little. Perhaps the best decision I made was not sitting around waiting to be informed about what John needed from his crew, but taking the initiative and learning as much as I could on my own. There was a wealth of information on MIMS. The NYC Swim website, like those of all the majors marathon swims, contains details on the course, preparation, rules, procedures, feedings, etc. I printed off as much as I could. I contacted swimmers I knew who had completed the swim as well as many of the other major distance events. I spent months pouring over the course charts and maps of lower Manhattan. It was also a great help that Hugh and I began to spend so much time in and around the battery area of the city.

As June 28 approached, I finally heard from John and Tom – his buddy from the west coast and our lead crew. Tom , “Reptile” as he is known thanks to his wondrous ability with GPS tracking systems, was instrumental in getting the ball rolling. I learned that the guys would be in the same hotel and we would need to meet up the Friday evening before the swim. All I needed to do was get to New York with the feeds that John had shipped in from California and 9 gallons of water! That’s a lot of water to cart from the Marriot to Pier 26 but John wanted it and that was what I had signed on for. My entire vibe for the race was to do whatever John needed to successfully swim around Manhattan.

The weather would be ideal. It was going to be sunny and 70. Morty provided all the details on the wind and tides for the swim. John would be in a field of 21 swimmers. Morty had changed things up slightly for the 2014 swim season and divided the solo applicants into three groups according to speed. The fast kids had already gone the previous week. John was in this middle group of swimmers with the slower group still scheduled for their swim in July. It was an amazing group of talented world class swimmers. Indeed, of this group – John would be 1 of 3 people who would complete the coveted Triple Crown of swimming that summer within a 12 month period. A super sized Triple Crown. The 2 other swimmers in his group to do that were Anthony and Charlotte – both I would later meet after the swim.

the MIMS solo swimmers of June 28, 2014

the MIMS solo swimmers of June 28, 2014

As I write this now, looking back after having completed the MIMS as a relay and looking ahead to some of the formidable marathon swims I have planned for myself – I can only imagine what it what have felt like for the swimmers to stand on the dock in the early morning in June – poised to swim one of the great triple crown swims. Open water marathon swimmers are in a league of their own. Amazing endurance athletes that are simply the best. Those I have met are generous, spirited, passionate, funny and deeply connected to their own being and the world around them.

The morning was truly one that was set up to win for John. A statement he shared with us throughout the day. Our boat finally arrived, the C Team, piloted with patience, skill and good humor by Captain Bob. He was a veteran of the swim, having piloted for eight previous MIMS. We climbed aboard loaded with gear for the possible 10+ hour day on the water. The day would be filled with constant sun but little humidity. John, along with the other swimmers, would climb aboard a Zodiac to motor south to Pier A for the in-water start. The C Team took off southward around the Battery and heading to the wait location just in front of the Brooklyn Bridge. I was watching and learning everything.

I took in the sights of the paddlers waiting with us for the swim start. The morning could not have been more glorious.

paddlers waiting in the Hudson at the Battery for the MIMS start

paddlers waiting in the Hudson at the Battery for the MIMS start

 

The first part of the swim was utter, sublime chaos. We could hear the start over the marine radio and knew when John had  entered the water. We could also hear when David, our kayaker, had located him and began to escort him along the course. From our comfy seat on the Hudson, all was going to plan. There was a tangle of swimmers and kayakers – which Bob correctly kept the C Team far from.

The tangle of swimmers, paddlers, and motors

The tangle of swimmers, paddlers, and motors

We waited and finally heard David’s voice over the radio and saw the bright yellow of his kayak approaching. He had John. I could see John’s arm reaching skyward in long powerful strokes. For a time John was clearly in the lead position. Moving northward in the fast moving East River flood tide. The MIMS became a race. Racing in the waters, past iconic towering landscapes. We passed under the many bridges of New York , beginning with the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge.

Under Brooklyn Bridge

John swam superbly. With powerful even strokes. I continued to soak in all of the details – what was involved in a successful marathon swim. I already knew, watching John, that he would succeed. He swam with such confidence and joy. Nothing slowed him. Passing the Queensboro bridge, we approached his first feeding time. Still dealing with a tangle of swimmers all pushing for the lead position, we opted to have John feed from the kayak, with David tossing a bottle of CarbPro and water off the side via a short rope. The C Team continued to hang back and away from the rodeo of swimmers , paddlers and boats drifting too close to the fray. As we approached the UN, David shouted that John wanted to feed next from the boat. Again, I listened and learned. Each swimmer is unique. It is incredibly important to practice all aspects of open water swimming. Feeding from a boat is vastly different from feeding from a kayak. If a swimmer becomes used to having kayak support – they may not be able to successful manage a long swim without a kayak. And there are a lot of swims where you do not have the luxury of a paddler next to you. Our next order of business was rigging the feed bottles and ropes to begin feeding John from the boat. Reptile “Tom” would throw the lines. I would measure out the CarbPro, GU, coffee, Ibruprofen … whatever was ordered. By now we had fallen into a groove. John, when paused to feed, would quickly communicate to David what he wanted at the next feed. David would in turn tell us. “Coffee… chocolate … water…earplugs”. We would scurry and get them ready within our 30 minute window between feedings.

John flew up the East River and approached the gleaming UN building.

John swimming at the base of the towering UN building

John swimming at the base of the towering UN building

We continued north. I was having a blast. On a boat traveling around Manhattan with three men I had never really met before. Even our NYC Swim boat observer was wonderful. A sweet relaxed Chinese gentleman who spoke with a very heavy accent and smiled through the better part of the trip. We were all in heaven. On the water , helping one man live his dream.

South End rowing man, Reptile "Tom" having the time of his life documenting John's dream swim around Manhattan

South End rowing man, Reptile “Tom” having the time of his life documenting John’s dream swim around Manhattan

We continued along for hours. I took notes along the way. Counting John’s strokes per minute, recording his feeds and noting the location and time along the swim. I watched as David kept him on course from the kayak. Learning and watching and getting the hang of the team work involved in the long distance swim.

great shot showing David motioning John to move left - one of the great benefits of a paddler - especially a very good paddler who knows the course and currents

great shot showing David motioning John to move left – one of the great benefits of a paddler – especially a very good paddler who knows the course and currents

John continued swimming with strength and balance. His stroke rate a steady 62-65 per minute. As we cleared the top of the Harlem River at Spuyten Dyvil and entered the Hudson, the wind suddenly picked up. The heat of the June day and finally accumulated on the river creating surges of wind which whipped up the Hudson waters. The calm of the Harlem gave way to the chop of the Hudson. We turned southward to travel back toward the Battery and the final 4.5 hours of the race. John had been swimming for 5 hours at this point.

I continued to record as much as I could about the swim. Both on paper and mentally. I still carry vivid images from the swim. Bright images of David piloting the kayak as the Hudson began to really pick up speed and the white caps grew. There were times we completely lost sight of John. At one point, the Hudson was moving too quickly and David had misjudged their distance to a group of pilings. John swam directly into the pilings – having to suddenly stop and weave his way from amid the woody, nail infested tangle. We all breathed a sigh of relief when he finally emerged and could continue. Watching and learning. By the last mile of the swim, the river speed and roughness of the water made it impossible for us to feed John his last fuel from the boat. David had already agreed to stay with him until the very end. Refusing to tuck into the north cove. This meant as John finished the swim, David would have to turn around and paddle north several hundred yards against the raging Hudson ebb tide. A massive undertaking that most paddlers cannot manage. David , a seasoned kayaker, knew he could do it and yelled out to us ” … I am staying with him in this chop.” He knew the last leg of the race has become grueling for the swimmer.

I took a few final photos of John swimming his dream swim to the finish, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, as we headed south to the end.

John in the Hudson chop , heading home to the finish at the Battery after 9.5 hours of solid swimming

John in the Hudson chop , heading home to the finish at the Battery after 9.5 hours of solid swimming

John approached the final turn to the left, and tucked into Pier A at the Battery with David at his side.

John finishing his dream swim and his Triple Crown

John finishing his dream swim and his Triple Crown

It was an amazing, solid swim from start to finish. John swam out fast to the boat and we helped him aboard. He was beaming – a bright bold smile. His gaze was squarely on the beautiful Manhattan skyline before him. He had conquered the island and all the rivers around it. He kept repeating “set up to win”. He was thrilled. And we were all so very very proud and thrilled for him. Bob , the Captain who had piloted us for 9.5 hours finally got to meet the man in the water. They shook hands in a hearty congratulations. We arrived back at Pier 25 to unload and get ourselves back on land. The day had been a beautiful success. John had said to me as we motored back to the dock, that MIMS was the swim he had been dreaming of. He only had done the English Channel because everyone else was doing it. Same for Catalina. It was MIMS that was his dream swim. It had taken him 3 years to make the cut and file all the paperwork. He had done it. I congratulated him and thought about how happy he was. Overjoyed.

Funny things happen some times when you leave the fear and trepidation behind. I had simply said yes to helping someone else achieve their dream.

We arrived at the dock we had left nine hours earlier. We quickly unloaded all the gear from the C Team. Captain Bob commented he might make the dinner later that night. John, Tom, myself and all our stuff sat full of accomplishment and joy on the warm Manhattan dockside. The sun was still high enough in the sky to warm our skins. While Tom repacked all of the electronics, John busied himself with the large beaten suitcase he demanded go along for the ride around the island. The size and color of an old steamer trunk, it had held everything this triple crown swimmer needed on his journey from west to east coast and around the island. Onto the dock fell the contents: underwear, socks, swim caps, sunglasses, sunscreen, energy bars, t shirts, goggles. I had no idea what John was looking for and thought for a moment that John did not either. John seemed more intent on the action than the result. As he inventoried, he would stop and hand me something.

John: “… have this.”
Me: “John. That’s a serious thermos. You sure do don’t want this?”
John: “… nope. Don’t need it now. Have this too.”
Me: “John that’s a box of GU [energy packs]. That’s like thirty bucks worth of GU.”
John: “…don’t need that now either. Take this too.”
Me: “John, that a completely new container of Carbo Pro. That’s another forty bucks.”

and on it went. John was already unloading everything he no longer needed. He had gotten what he came for. He had completed his dream swim. All the rest was baggage. I still have today, the Carb Pro, GU Recovery Smoothie, the box of GU packs and that beloved thermos he gave me. Every time I see them, I think of John and his swim. I am drinking the smoothie now after my workouts and thanking John. For the joy and happiness of it all.

Here I am on the Monday after John's swim wearing the South End Rowing Club cap he gave me - I love and cherish it

Here I am on the Monday after John’s swim wearing the South End Rowing Club cap he gave me – I love and cherish it

By the time we were ready to leave the dock, John had all he needed in that huge oversized suitcase. Some underwear, socks and about a dozen South End Rowing Club swim caps to pass out to lucky New Yorkers along his way. We walked up the ramp leading to the pier. My pace slowed considerably by the hand truck stacked with cases of water that I had agreed to bring along in my role as Sherpa for the day. We got to the top of the ramp and Tom announced he needed a drink and free bagel, which the good folks of NYC swim were providing. I waited as John and Tom wandered off in search of food.

I stood on the dock. Looking up at Freedom Tower gleaming in the afternoon sun. The water of the Hudson and the gorgeous lower Manhattan skyline. I felt wonderful. I felt full. Just then I saw a man emerge in front of me from the top of the ramp. Wearing a speedo, swim cap and holding a pair of goggles. He looked worn. Tired. My eyes registered him as swimmer. Man in a swimsuit equals a swimmer. But my mind did a double take. As I stared at him, in my mind I thought “…did he just do the swim?” He was all alone. There was no one with him. There was no fanfare. No applause. No escort. The joy that I saw on John’s face was not on his. He approached me.

Man: “Excuse me. Could I trouble you for a drink of water?”
Me: “Did you just do the swim?”
Man: “Yes. Yes, I did.”
I immediately put my arm around him and thanked the lord that I had remembered to stash $10 in my pocket in case I needed it. Forget that I was standing next to a hand truck piled high with perhaps 9 gallons of luke warm water. This man needed. This man DESERVED a bottle of ice cold water. I walked with him to the concession stand. We were greeted by 2 teenage girls tending the counter.

Teenage Girl #1: “can I help you?”
Me: “This man just swam around your island and he would like your best bottle of water.”
Teenage Girl #2: “you swam in the river?”
Man: “Yes I did.”
Both of the girls smiled from ear to ear and handed over the water with the look of awe and surprise I wanted for him. We walked back toward the dock and back into the sunshine. I guided him over toward one of the buildings and asked him to atleast sit on the dock and rest. He shared that his crew and been separated from him during the swim because their boat had mechanical problems. While it had not gone according to plans, he had still continued onward and completed the swim. He was worn out so I thought better than to wear him down with questions. He needed water and rest. I offered him my spare towel, which he politely turned down. “Just the water is fine.” He just wanted water. I kept wanting to give him food, clothing…but he was happy with one bottle of cool water. The entire exchange lasted perhaps 3 minutes. In the midst of offering him food, I noticed Tom and John beginning to leave the dock and walking toward back toward the battery. I quickly apologized to the man and told him my group was leaving. I grabbed one of the gallons of warm water and the last of a bag of pretzels and quickly gave it to him along with my best congratulations. He quickly handed me back my towel along with a huge smile and thank you. By then another swimmer had come up to him and they were chatting. I turned and began running after Tom and John – amazed at the gentle, humble nature of these distance swimmers.

I caught up with John. Tom was leagues ahead of us. John’s 28.5 miles around the island were showing. He was slower. He needed food. As we walked along we began to talk. In little pieces. I kept telling him how amazing he had been in the water. I asked if he could hear the people that were clapping as he swam along the seawall of Manhattan toward the finish. I told him how they shouted at us in the boat, “how long has he been swimming? what is his name?” John said, “I love that stuff. I love to hear that stuff about the people.”

We walked and chatted. I asked him what he thought about swimming for nine hours. He repeated Buddhist prayers. He prayed a lot. He looked at the city. He loved swimming around the city. He loved the buildings and the bridges.

Me: “What are you going to do tonight John?”
John: “I was thinking of going to the Buddhist temple in New York. It is farther up town I think. Or maybe the 911 museum. Do you think that is a good idea?”
Me: “I went to the 911 museum John. It is a great museum. But it is powerful. It is hard. You are on such a high. I think you should stay on that high and enjoy it John. I think the Buddhist temple is a great idea.”

 

John agreed and I suddenly felt so honored that he had asked for my opinion. This crew had done OK. We stopped and John treated me to a soda while he finally got to enjoy a huge chocolate smoothie. We stopped at the parking garage on the way to the dinner and unloaded the gear. We arrived at the dinner and met up with Bob, our boat captain and David, our amazing paddler. It was a wonderful meal. We all laughed and relived the day and the events. Janine jumped over and joined our group. She had been observer for one of the swimmers as well. She smiled her wonderful happy tribe smile and said, “You have to meet Charlie.” I stood and was introduced to Charlotte, a.k.a. “Charlie”.  She had also completed the swim. All of 16 and beautiful. Her face filled with the same joy I had seen on John’s. We all chatted and joked and loved the end of this perfect day in Manhattan. New found friends, no longer strangers.

We took the photo which I will cherish. Tom and Bob chiming in , “hey, we need to put our arms like the old sea captains used to”, and all the guys joined in.

(left to right): David (kayak), me , John, Tom (crew) and Bob K. (boat pilot)

(left to right): David (kayak), me , John, Tom (crew) and Bob K. (boat pilot)

DSC_0465

It was time for me to say goodbye to the guys. I hugged them all and thanked them for the opportunity to be part of John’s triple crown win. I headed back to the hotel and slept the most amazing, contented, joyous sleep in the city. At that moment I was the luckiest girl in the world.

I woke the next morning feeling great. Gathering all the last of my gear, I snapped a few photos of a very contented me leaving the hotel

happy after swim

leaving

and riverside at the battery – thanking the wonderful Hudson once more.

changed by the river

I learned so much that day. So much about what it takes to swim and to support each other. I learned what it takes to be successful and what true success is. But what I really learned is about people. Because I was there that day, just as I had been a year prior at the Statue of Liberty and had put out my hand and met someone new, as I had with Roger – some of the most amazing people entered my life. I met Tom “Reptile”, whose is one of the most genuine and joyously fun-loving swimmers on the planet. I met John, who cared not about the  channel that  everyone else does and instead had dreams of Manhattan and swimming beneath her bridges. I also happened to meet by chance two more amazing people. I met Charlie – Charlotte – who within three months  would become the youngest person (age 16) to complete the triple crown in one year. Charlotte would later share the most wonderful blog post about her trip around Manhattan that very day. How she had beaten being pulled at Hell Gate in MIMS 2013, only to come back and conquer MIMS in 2014 and then go on to swim the Catalina Channel in 20 hours in July and then the English Channel in September in another grueling 20 hour swim. And the man I met on the dock. I met Anthony. After I had completed the Statue of Liberty swim in August 2013, I had shared with Gay that I perhaps might try and swim the English Channel. Gay had emailed me the link to an article about a man from Berwyn. A local man who had trained at the Upper Main Line YMCA. It included a mesmerizing photo of this man kneeling on the French shore. Looking for a pebble to carry back. I kept that article and his name. I wrote in my to-do list to contact him. Thinking I  might meet him one day.

I met that man that day on the dock. He had asked me for a bottle of water. Anthony McCarley had just completed MIMS and would also go on to complete the Catalina Channel swim in August and also become one of less than 100 people to complete the triple crown within a year. I was able to connect with Anthony, thanks to Sophie – my new found friend who would complete our own MIMS relay in September. It was Sophie who would send me an email later that week – connecting Anthony and myself. Hugh and I did meet with Anthony again in December. We went to the Phoenixville YMCA to hear him speak to young swimmers about dreams. The first thing he did was give me a big hug of thanks and a bottle of water! Life is amazing.

Anthony’s photo is famous. I think because it captures so much. So much about life and who we are and who we all hope to be. The best of us. It was made into a great calendar of open water swimming and Anthony is our January man. It’s a keeper.

So that is what happened to me because I got to be the crew.

Next up – I’ll try to put a few closing comments on 2014 and also share swimming Suruga Bay in Japan and climbing Mt. Fuji – until then, be very good to one another. Cheers!

 

thank you Anthony

thank you Anthony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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sometimes you blog

rough day at work. yesterday. when it is 2 in the morning and you can’t sleep, sometimes you blog. is it the holidays? who knows. holidays are filled with ups and downs. yesterday started on an up and crashed on a downer. so sometimes you blog. blog because it is not always shouts of joy about all the fun and excitement. I spend forty hours each week working at something which brings me little joy at times. what it often brings is a punch in the gut. so I spent the better part of the night on the couch wondering why. no big whys. I am not kidding myself. I am a little fish in a big world. just my whys. why do you want to swim the english channel? what is it about you that you think you should want to do this? you see the thing I have the least of is confidence. I have very little confidence in myself. and that is what I need the most. all the steps taken toward confidence and why on earth do I let one little thing take it all away? that is a very important question. that is something I really need to understand. right now i do not feel like someone who could or should or can or will swim the english channel. still all that old baggage. i met a really great swimmer last week. super amazing guy. he said two and half years is not that much time. better get moving Louise. better get moving. and here i sit with all this baggage. it was just another thing that happened today at work – just like all the other little things that should not bother me but do. little pain in the ass that won’t let me get moving. at the start I would have said I wanted to swim the channel so I could see it in other people faces and finally feel worthy. earn their admiration and respect and be confident. that was honestly it. little girl finally proves it to the world. the more I admit to that the more honest I can be. I can’t do it for that reason. I really should not be doing anything for that reason. it really does not matter what the world thinks of me. it will be so lonely swimming in that water and the world will not be there. no one will be there but me. what will matter is what i think about myself. i really want to do it because i want to. for me. so sometimes you blog because it helps to see the words. it is all part of getting there. i think i need to read some mother teresa. so it the middle of all the fun and adventure life happens. and sometimes you blog.

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