Back from Las Vegas

Friday 10/30/09

I returned from Las Vegas yesterday having swum zero strokes. The Mandalay Bay, where I stayed, boasts an eleven-acre beach and pool area, but it’s only open from 9a until 6p. It simply wasn’t possible to slip away from the conference and snatch a swim. A fifty mile-per-hour windstorm crashing down from Alaska shut down the swimming complex for two days anyway.

The worldwide recession is hitting Las Vegas hard. The cabbie who picked me up at the airport immediately asked if the terminal was busy. Not visiting Vegas that often, I couldn’t offer any real comparison other than to say, “It seemed pretty busy to me.” All of the taxi drivers were quite eager to discuss the local economy. “Unemployment is already 13.9% and, with City Center due for completion soon, another 10,000 construction workers will be coming off payroll.” "We had 500,000 fewer vistors than last month." "See that unfinished skyscraper over there? It’s was supposed to be the Fontainebleau casino. A guy blew through 2.9 billion dollars of his dad’s inheritance and went bankrupt when he couldn’t get a loan to finish it. Now they’re going to use it for international firefighting training.” “I was the banquet finance manager for MGM Grand for sixteen years. Now I’m driving this cab and feel lucky to have a job at all.”

I finally got back in the water at 7a on Friday morning. Apparently, the windstorm that hit Las Vegas came tearing through San Francisco earlier in the week and churned the waters. Today was another picture postcard day, though. I did a single large clockwise tour of all the permanent landmarks, my favorite route. It wasn’t a strenuous distance or pace, but my elbow began to express a sharp, intermittent pain. Yet again, I began wondering if the Channel was a realistic goal. I slept fitfully, wondering whether this was something debilitating or something to disregard. I’m planning to swim three miles tomorrow. That should give a good indication.

Saturday 10/31/09

Duke D is in the Staib Room of the Dolphin Club. He’s another English Channel swimmer and renowned for his monstrous training regimens. I asked him about the elbow pain and he immediately and sagely intoned, “bad stroke mechanics.” He suggested a coaching session and interval training. He’s not been the first to mention both.

At the beach, I met Suzie and Melissa K for a group swim. Suzie agreed that stroke mechanics were the probable culprit of the elbow pain and also suggested that someone take a look at my form in the pool. We made the familiar clockwise loop and I focused on finding a groove for my left arm that avoided the pain. After the loop, I continued to the Opening, the Flag, the Bad Becky, and the Clubs’ Beach. Not seeing anyone there to swim with, I went on to the Flag, the Opening, the Goal Posts and back.

I was a little spent, but concentrating on stroke kept the pain to a twinge. The dream is still alive! I’ll make an appointment to get my form analyzed.

Lindsay and I went to Rose Pistola for brunch. It is one of our three favorite places to eat in San Francisco other than home and it’s a short ride from the Club down Columbus Avenue to the heart of North Beach. It’s actually brunch and theater. We sit at the counter and watch the line cooks work their culinary sorcery. At one end of the line is a huge mesquite-fired grill where they flame savory octopus and hand-toast house-made bread. The crackling, blazing mesquite coals proffer a toasty welcome to chilled swimmers, especially in the winter. The chefs are continually chopping, slicing, or peeling something and it’s quite an education to have the opportunity to observe their technique closely. Persimmon, orange, radish, jalapeño, beets, as well as the perfectly minced onion, are among the delights that succumb to their master cutlery.

We started with a glass of Billecart-Salmon champagne and shared the bruschetta with grilled pear, crescenza, prosciutto, and truffle oil. Lindsay had the wild mushroom scramble with arugula & stracchino. I had the egg pizza from the wood-fired oven with wild mushrooms, pancetta, thyme, and truffle oil. The egg is served sunny-side up in the middle of the pizza and spreads over the hot center, cooking to perfection as it disperses. The best ham and eggs breakfast in the City! I think I'll put a couple in the food processor and use it as a Channel food instead of Maxim.

This meal will last us until dinner and the third game of the World Series. In the last eighteen years, the volume of Halloween urchins has dwindled from torrent to trickle. We will answer the door if an errant trick-or-treater cares to climb the stairs, but we won’t be mounting our annual costumed production and sitting on the front landing. Between brunch and World Series, though, I may need a nap.

Aquatic Park Geography

Thursday 10/29/09

Like any geographic boundary that humans share, Aquatic Park Cove has named landmarks. (Clicking on the picture of Aquatic Park in the sidebar of this blog will link to a larger map). Of course, depending on the humans consulted, the names vary. In particular, a South Ender will give different names for buoys than will a Dolphin. Different Dolphins will give different names depending on when they joined the club and what time of day they swim. The main reason for having names at all is to allow two or more swimmers to quickly chart a course around the cove without pointing, squinting, confusion and repetition. Having shared names doesn’t necessarily cut down on the repetition, but it does quell the pointing, squinting and confusion.

One landmark that almost everyone knows by the same name is the Flag. It rests near the shoreline at the Van Ness end of Aquatic Park. The Flag is the artistic creation of Colin Gift. It has been in the cove for more than twenty years and, conveniently, has a swiveling fiberglass flag on top of a quadrilateral, fiberglass-coated piece of marine Styrofoam. The flag itself was once a vibrant red and yellow replica of the international maritime signal flag representing the letter “O” and indicates, in solitude, “Man Overboard”. This is the flag that both clubs use on pilot craft during an out-of-cove swim to warn ship traffic away from the swimmers in the water. The color has faded, but not the iconography of the buoy. When, as happens around every five years, the Flag breaks loose from its ground tackle, both clubs raise the hue and cry.

It is just a little less than four hundred yards from the clubs’ beach to the Flag. In the colder parts of the winter, some swimmers count this as a quarter mile. The more competitive and obsessive will insist that it is closer to a quarter mile from the Oprah to the Flag.

The Oprah is the buoy that keeps the bow of the sailing ship Thayer from banging into the Hyde Street Pier. The Oprah got its name from the eponymous talk-show host when she was filming a segment in San Francisco and pointed toward the buoy to make some theatrical point. Not many people call it the Oprah any more, but most of the people I swim with do and I like it that there’s a story and a short name for, “the buoy at the bow of the Thayer”.

Driving to the extreme north of Van Ness brings one to the San Francisco Municipal Pier which curves around and defines Aquatic Park. Only emergency vehicles drive on the pier now and it bears the trauma of age and ocean. Where the pier attaches to land at the foot of Van Ness, three creosote poles stick out of the water up to twelve feet depending on the tide. Because they resemble American football field goal posts, they are cleverly known as the Goal Posts. It is definitely more than a quarter mile from the Oprah to the Goal Posts.

The Muni Pier has been structurally reinforced a number of times. One of the larger repairs is easily spotted from the water about three quarters of the way around. My friends call this the Repair and, while it doesn’t currently have a buoy marking, it is still a common swimming destination. Because it doesn’t have a buoy, people of various swimming speeds can go to the Repair and arrive at the same time. For those that are afraid to swim close to the pier and the fishing and crabbing lines, the Repair is more of a notion than an exact spot.

Muni Pier ends in a bulbous plaza that we call the Roundhouse. It is possible to swim under the Roundhouse. There are broken, barnacle-encrusted pilings to negotiate at the perimeter, but it’s not terribly difficult. When it’s very dark and the water is clear, a swim stroke produces a sparkling luminescence that is beautiful and magical. The quality of light under the Roundhouse is also remarkable at dawn and dusk.

A cigarette buoy resides just beyond the confines of the Roundhouse. It sits between the Muni Pier and the Breakwater. In the 1980’s, a string of used tires provided scant protection for the cove. Storm surge and wakes from passing ships rolled freely into Aquatic Park making it a much wilder place to swim than it is today. With the construction of the concrete breakwater extending from Hyde Street Pier to Pier 41, our swimming hole experienced a major upgrade. The cigarette buoy marks the Opening. The Opening, like the Flag, is common terminology among all swimmers.

At the Hyde Street end of the Breakwater is a structure with concrete piers radiating from a circular capstone. When the current is flowing strongly in San Francisco Bay, this area is subject to incredibly forceful swirls of moving water. Owing to the water jet effect, many swimmers refer to this structure as the Jacuzzi. As it turns out, the capstone of the Jacuzzi is flat on top but has a pronounced recess underneath. When the highest tides bring sufficient water to seal off the outside of the capstone, 2 to 2 ½ feet of air remain trapped in the underside nook.

In order to enter this space and breathe the trapped air, the swimmer must dive beneath the surrounding capstone and surface in the center chamber. The radiating cement piers create a bit of an obstacle course so the prudent aqua-spelunker will feel around under the capstone for an opening before diving. Since this part of the structure is very rarely in contact with the ocean, it’s completely free of barnacles, starfish or other abrasive critters. The concrete is still quite hard, though, so a more experienced and chastened diver will advise a hands-first-not-head-first approach.

East of the Jacuzzi is a large red buoy to which the hay scow, the Alma, is moored. This buoy was a favorite target for one of the faster Dolphins, Becky F. When she was training for her Channel swim, she cruised around this landmark many times. Another Dolphin was concerned about the propriety of this and alerted the local authorities to the potential of an unauthorized “out-of-cove” swim. Since then, the National Park Service has installed a cigarette buoy slightly beyond the mooring buoy, clearly designating this as protected swimming area. Nevertheless, the buoy is today known as the Bad Becky. The origin of this name has faded into history and many people now wonder what it was that Becky did here that was so bad.

Moored at the north end of Hyde Street Pier is the Balclutha. It is a steel-hulled, three-masted sailing ship built in 1886 and had a starring role in the film “Mutiny on the Bounty.” At her stern is a mooring buoy called the Kebbe. Mr. Kebbe is one of two people to have swum 356 miles during a Polar Bear. This amounts to almost four miles every day for 90 days. When Peter Drino was crafting a series of fifty courses around the cove for a Polar Bear challenge event, he needed names for buoys that had none. He decided to honor Kebbe for his Polar Bear achievements.

The mooring buoy at the bow of the Balclutha has many names among Dolphins. Some people call it the S’more because its rusted white crust makes it look like the camper’s toasted marshmallow treat. Peter D called it the Luigi in honor of the Dolphin Club commodore. Lately, a number of people have begun calling it the Wenzel in honor of the second person to swim 356 miles during the Polar Bear. I’ve been going with the Wenzel lately as most people have forgotten Peter’s naming system and I don’t think Luigi will mind.

The next boat south from the Balclutha is the Eppleton Hall, a 1914 steam-powered, paddlewheel tugboat. It is moored end-on to Hyde Street Pier, so it’s possible to swim behind it. It’s not so easy to swim behind the Balclutha or the Thayer as they have numerous pipes and cables snaking through the water to the pier. Also, debris tends to collect in these back eddies, so it’s rare to venture there. Behind the Eppleton Hall, however, is relatively unencumbered and adds a modicum of distance to help round out a full mile around the cove.

Just south of the bow of the Eppleton Hall is a buoy mooring the stern of the Thayer. Peter D named this buoy the Moon in honor of a long-time Dolphin who devoted extraordinary hours to maintaining the club. Very few people remember this appellation and I’m trying to keep the commemoration alive.

That brings us back to the Oprah. All of these landmarks encompass about one mile. It takes a different amount of time to swim this course depending on the current. At the end of an ebb, there can be a “spin cycle” effect where the current is moving west at the shore and east at the Opening, helping a clockwise swimmer along. Other times, there is nothing but resistance the entire way.

There are other transient landmarks in the cove, but this describes the more permanent ones. Taken together, they populate one of the best swimming holes in the world.

Birthdays and birthday suits

Sunday 10/25/09

The South Enders swam in this morning from Alcatraz in the nude. It is a custom at the South End Rowing Club to swim on your birthday in your birthday suit and about a dozen people of both genders honored the custom. The South End and Dolphin clubs share a large, partitioned building at the foot of Hyde Street and their respective piers create a semi-private beach from which both club members launch their cove swims. Given the shared quarters, the shared beach, and the shared aquatic inclinations, it’s easy to think that the clubs would be indistinguishable.

That thinking would be wrong. Most people agree that the South End membership is more freewheeling than the Dolphin membership. Swimming naked is one example. Dolphins are not inclined to do that. The South Enders also have a club-within-a-club known as the Sunrisers. The Sunrisers hike to nearby starting points around San Francisco, depending on the direction of the tide, and swim back to Aquatic Park at the crack of most dawns. Sometimes they wear swimsuits and sometimes they have pilots. The Dolphin Club requires strict adherence to a set of rules that govern a safe swim outside the confines of Aquatic Park Cove and absolutely forbids use of Club facilities after an activity of the Sunriser sort. It’s pretty funny how different the two clubs can be and still be the same. Like wildly different siblings in a close nuclear family, they are a curious mixture of intimacy and distance; compassion and competition.

Wearing a swimsuit, I started my Sunday swim. The weather was straight out of a tourist postcard for San Francisco--bright skies, clear water, and nearly glassy calm. It was a pretty strong ebb tide, so the critters were quiet as well. It should have been a great day for a swim.

For some reason, it was a big struggle instead. I went to the Bad Becky, the Flag, the Wenzel, the Goal Posts, the Opening, the Flag, the Kebbe, and in behind the Eppleton Hall and around the Oprah. It felt like I was swimming uphill for the last mile. It was probably the culmination of a strenuous business trip and trying to keep pace with Suzie the day before. At any rate, it was a little more than an hour of huffing and puffing.

The literature mentions a number of times that there is a “wall” for marathon swimmers at six hours. This is much like the runners “wall” at about twenty miles. Once an athlete has consumed the body’s stored glycogen, he starts burning fat for energy. This is reportedly a painful and fatiguing experience. I don’t know if that is what was happening for me, but the second mile was a real slog. I decided to pretend that this was what it might feel like in the Channel after several hours and gritted it out. The problem was that I hadn't been swimming for several hours in the Channel and I was still gritting it out. Oh well, put those thoughts aside and see how it goes. There’s still a lot of time before September.

I’m off to Las Vegas, so will be out of the water until Friday. This isn’t the way I had hoped to build a foundation.

Training resumes

Saturday 10/24/09

The business trip was reasonably successful, but grueling. The flight to St. Louis was as good as air travel can be given today's realities. However, it started raining steadily on Thursday morning, delayed our flight that evening, and dealt us a downpour on arrival in Chicago Thursday night. The meeting in Chicago went well, but the surrounding political theatrics were emotionally fraught. By the time we got back to O'Hare, I was damp, muggy, and fried. Then came the ride home on Friday night.

I had choices. The flight on which I was confirmed was scheduled to arrive at SFO at 9:15p. The equipment was at the gate early. The gate agent said that the crew was already on-site and ready to go. Weather had delayed earlier flights, but air traffic control was saying this flight was good-to-go on schedule. What else could there be? I chose to skip waiting standby for the earlier flight to San Francisco that had been delayed. It was completely packed and I would have had to take a center seat to arrive only 30 minutes earlier. I stayed with my confirmed flight.

We boarded on time. We settled in. We waited. And waited. Eventually, the captain came on the PA system to announce that we were waiting for passengers to arrive from connecting flights that had been delayed by weather. Since this was the last flight to SF that night and many people were going on to international destinations, the decision was to wait. An hour and a half after scheduled departure time, the delayed folks had embarked and we were wheels up.

At this point, I was determined to make my 8a date with Suzie to do a longish swim Saturday morning. Not only has she completed the English Channel multiple times as a solo and a relay swimmer, she has an impressive resume of many marathon swims. By email, she is organizing a group to make an extended tour of The Parky. I don't want to miss out and figure I'll just nap on the plane.

As the metamorphosed Yiddish proverb states, "Man plans and the gods laugh". The woman directly behind me sinks into a state of catatonia while her husband fusses about her with escalating urgency. One of the flight attendants notices the commotion and remarks on the woman's "weak state". The call goes out for someone on-board who is an M.D. to provide assistance and half a dozen people cascade down the aisle of the aircraft. Several of them congregate at my aisle seat and press forward, all trying to render advice.

There happens to be an opthalmology conference in San Francisco and the plane is packed with people who know a great deal about eyes. The first opthalmologist on the scene is a perky woman who takes over the hands-on tasks of taking blood pressure and pulse. As more M.D.s arrive there starts a negotiation as to who is most qualified to be the primary care physician. "I'm an anesthesiologist, but I'm not licensed to practice in the U.S." "Well, anesthesiology trumps opthalmology, regardless of the license in this case."

Meanwhile, the perky opthalmologist has taken the 1-slot and is making the most of the window. By now, she has determined that the stricken woman's pulse is thready and the initial blood pressure reading is 90 over 60. After some consultation, the loosely constructed physician team determines that orange juice is ok and caffeine is not. A second blood pressure reading comes out 120 over 70. Seeking a second opinion, another opthalmologist checks again and concurs. 120 over 70 it is. At this point, consensus reigns that the woman is stabilized. The throng diminishes, but does not disperse. So much for a nap.

The captain has arranged for a paramedic team to meet the plane at the gate. Deplaning is delayed as the emergency medical technicians administer to the patient, put her in a wheelchair, and remove her from the plane. Thirty minutes later, I pass by the paramedics as they are advising the woman and her husband that catching the connecting plane for Taipei in her condition is inadvisable given that it is a fourteen hour flight and the Taipei authorities are quite qualmish regarding medical matters.

I was in bed by midnight.

I did manage to make it to the Aquatic Park beach at the appointed time. Suzie was there along with another swimmer and we decided to swim a mile and a half. We charted the first part of our course as Opening, Flag, Oprah. From there, we swam to the Goalposts, Bad Becky and back to the Oprah. Suzie went in to prepare for another mile and a half swim. I went on to the Kebbe, Flag, and in. That was about an hour and ten minutes for me. Certainly over two miles--probably not quite two and a half. It felt great! I was glad to have been able to put the business and travel turmoil aside and just swim. It seemed like more practice for the "shut up and swim" requirements of the Channel.

Jon Ennis was coming down the stairs as I headed for the showers. I asked him what he ate in the Channel. He said he took GU and Maxim. Later on, he advised against foods with electrolytes such as Cytomax. This coincided with the admonition by Mike Read in his wonderful article, "Nutrition: Don't Swallow the Seawater". Mike's basic point is that the inadvertent swallowing of salt water on the crossing provides all the necessary electrolytes and then some. Jon's most emphatic advice was to try not to get sick as "that will slow you down".

Jon was yet another successful Channel swimmer to offer encouragement and assistance. My most galvanic response occurred when he commented that simply deciding to swim the Channel "expands your whole world". That struck home.

Peter Perez was in the shower. He's has a 2-slot with Allison Streeter in August. We compared notes and agreed to coordinate some of our training efforts. As we talked about our ambitions, I experienced another burst of ebullience in connecting with a kindred soul. This undertaking has indeed expanded my world already.


Friday 9/18/09

Lindsay Casablanca, my wife, and I are having our kitchen countertop replaced and the sink is disconnected. Lindsay is a great cook and we rarely eat out, so we decide to take advantage of the situation and go to Foreign Cinema, a terrific San Francisco restaurant cooking in the California style with a touch of middle-eastern influence and spice. We are celebrating and start with a glass of Billecart-Salmon brut rosé, a rare treat for us. Perhaps this contributed to the flights of fancy that followed.

By coincidence it’s the twelfth anniversary of our English Channel swim as members of a relay team. In a relay crossing, six people take turns swimming one hour apiece until they either give up or reach France. Lindsay was an alternate swimmer in case of a dropout and didn’t get to swim, but she filmed the event and contributed tirelessly to the logistics and coordination.

The Channel relay was a memorable event for both of us and, as the evening wore on, it took on almost mythical proportions. In the ensuing frivolity, Lindsay proposed again that I tackle a solo crossing. For the first time, I didn’t automatically reject the notion. We talked frankly about the year-long obsession required to train for a successful swim. As long-time members of the San Francisco Dolphin Swimming Club, we both knew close to twenty people who had completed the event and we were exceptionally aware of how staggering the commitment was.

For whatever reason—age, circumstances, or possibly champagne—I agreed to seriously consider the possibility. I had been swimming one mile in the San Francisco bay four or five times a week to prepare for the coming New Year’s Day Alcatraz swim. I decided to increase my weekly mileage significantly and try to wrap my mind around a heretofore unimaginable potential.

Friday 10/2/09

Lindsay and I talked about the Channel again tonight during cocktail hour. I had done another one and a half mile swim that morning and was really starting to consider the idea of a solo swim. She once again provided encouragement for the project and offered to take the lead in organizing the swim. She told me about a friend of hers who, upon learning what we were contemplating said, “Why in the world would he want to do that?” Lindsay told her about the epic nature of the English Channel as the pinnacle of open water swimming. She told her friend that she would absolutely attempt it herself if she felt she was fast enough. In fact, Lindsay had started taking swim lessons when we got back from the Channel relay in 1998 in order to try and build the requisite speed. I thought about how I would reply to her friend and decided that I would probably cleave to the trope of “building memories.”

At any rate, we agreed that it was already late to be booking a pilot for the coming year. We also agreed that the amount of economic and work flexibility I currently enjoyed was not destined to last. And, of course, there was the ticking biological clock. Between the giddiness of sharing a wildly exhilarating project and the fear of having the opportunity pass us by, we committed to the attempt and toasted our endeavor.

Saturday 10/3/09

By sheer coincidence, we threw a party at our home Saturday night. We had planned to have a party a year earlier to celebrate the installation of about four tons of Arizona river rock in our back yard. We had replaced a side fence and the subsequent destruction of plants and vegetation had left the back yard looking like a brand-new suburban tract development—just a stark wooden fence and a few forlorn survivors. With two fifty-five pound hunting dogs eager to do “puppy wheelies” in the bare dirt, we despaired of having any new planting that could weather the canine onslaught. Placing the thirty to sixty-pound rocks throughout the garden and leaving space for plants, we were able to guard against the thundering horde.

When we originally scheduled the party for 2008, we planned to invite all the Dolphins we could. Unfortunately, we picked a day that coincided with a big Dolphin swim event (maybe Golden Gate) and so we had to cancel. We just happened to reschedule for the day after our momentous Channel decision and that was incredibly serendipitous.

Sixty or seventy Dolphins attended the party and they were heartwarmingly supportive. This was the perfect antidote to the “what have I done” reverberation as the scale of the task began sinking in the following day. Many, many people offered pilot help, swim help, and information on their own successful crossings. The sense of community was as invigorating as a warm, enveloping hug. Someone said a few days later that the Dolphin club and San Francisco Bay are almost tailor-made to train for a solo English Channel swim. This is in part due to the environmental factors. In equal measure, it’s due to the emotional and logistical support of so many people.

Monday, 10/5/09

I spent a few sleepless moments thinking about a course around the cove for the morning, but the key idea in my brain was an early start. I was in the water around 6:30a and started the route designed between dreams the night before. Oprah, Goal Posts, Bad Becky, Flag, Opening, Oprah, Goal Posts, Opening, In. {Dark start, calm, clear water, early sunrise, lighted cruise ship, no critters that I saw, unbelievable morning} It took a little over an hour in a full moon-charged flood tide. I felt good. It was the second stage early crowd and there was no channel talk in the sauna, but we did solve a couple of the world's problems.

At the party, Laura Z told us that an important contributor to a successful crossing was procuring a "1-slot". Huh? Laura patiently explained that for each neap-tide crossing window, a pilot will book as many as five potential attempts. The first in line occupies the 1-slot. The first time that conditions are suitable during the window, off goes the 1-slot holder. For the 5-slot holder, it can mean days and days of waiting in the gastronomically-challenged environs of Dover while the earlier swimmers seize the favorable conditions. It is possible for people to miss swimming at all if a fourth (or even second) set of favorable conditions fails to materialize during their neap-tide window. On top of this, the 1-slot holder has much greater potential to swim early and then enjoy some vaction time in Merry Olde England. Laura added ominously that we had "waited awfully late to book" but should at least try for a 3-slot.

Lindsay started the search for pilots yesterday. She sent out emails to all the pilots she could find on the CSA and CS&PF websites. She started getting email replies this morning and the initial reports were a little dismal. “You’ve waited a long time to schedule”. “We only have a 5-slot in July or a 4-slot in September”. Lindsay came upstairs to my office to let me know the status. I was disappointed, but I did have thoughts of getting off the hook at an early date.

Later that morning, Lindsay called Reg Brickell. He and his wife had recently changed their internet provider and her emails had not gone through. Reg had come extremely highly recommended by Suzie D and Laura. When Reg’s wife answered the phone, she said that he was sitting at dinner. It was 7pm in England. Lindsay offered profuse apologies, but it turned out that the Brickells were as sweet and good-natured as their admirers had portrayed. Of course, Reg was booked solidly through the season.

At this point, Lindsay had determined from her research that there was a neap tide at the end of September 2010 that wasn’t on the 2009 pilot lists. She asked if they were booked for 9/28 and Reg said, “I hadn’t thought of that. Let me check.” Once he realized there was another slot available at the end of the season, he let us have the 1-slot for that date. Since the tide calendars for then had not been released yet, he said he’d have to get back to us with the exact window. GAME ON!

Tuesday, 10/06/09

No swimming today. The major excuse was an 8a business conference call. From a training point of view, I’ve been swimming increasing distances from 1 mile to 2 miles every day for the last month. I’m getting a little tired. Also, Laura Z just offered some incredibly hard-earned Channel swimming advice last night and that included, “days off can be good!”

So, I lifted weights instead and found myself wanting to be in the water. The “zoning out” that the longer distances produce is becoming a little bit both obsessive and alluring. The business meeting was unsatisfactory and my “swim now!” gene started kicking in. Resisting that urge, I’m looking forward to a nice long “post taper” swim tomorrow. The plan is three miles.

Wednesday, 10/7/09

I did the three miles and probably a little more. Twice around the cove clockwise, including the Bad Becky makes a healthy two. Then from the Oprah to the Goal Posts to the Bad Becky to the Flag and in is probably more than one. I was in the water about an hour and a half. I got in just after sunrise and the weather was glorious once again. The water was very calm and both the sky and sea were clear. It was a little strange watching the sun move from the horizon near Coit Tower and climb in the south. I thought about how it might be in the English Channel, moving through a complete arc before I finished. Once again, this is a sobering thought.

Ralph Wenzel very kindly volunteered to swim with me. He’s much faster than I, but I’d love to have his company. He proposed next Monday morning, but we’ll be on vacation, so he gave me his email address and we agreed to try and do it some other time.

We’re packing up the RV to go through the deserts in Nevada to southeastern Utah. There won’t be much water there. I will get a chance to swim in Lake Tahoe on the way back. Then, I’ll be travelling for business for the two weeks after we get back.

I’m nervous about being out of the water that long. When we get back, I’m sure I’ll have to start wearing a swim hat. It was already below 60 degrees this morning and I was a little hypothermic climbing the stairs to the shower and sauna. The morning crowd is starting to chirp about the coming plunge in temperature. I’m thinking that getting in two or three miles each day through the winter will lay a good foundation for starting longer swims in March.

Until I talk some more with Laura and Suzie and the others, my tentative plan is do a progression of longer swims starting in March: Two hours in March, three hours in April, four hours in May, six hours in June, eight hours in July, and ten hours in August.

Thursday, 10/8/09

The sky was overcast this morning, so the cove was pretty dark just before sunrise. The water temperature is continuing its slow, but inexorable decline into the high 50’s. I swam two big loops around Aquatic Park, including the Bad Becky. I will have to get some light sticks for the dark mornings. This will make it easier to avoid other swimmers and rowing craft, especially the racing shells that go zipping through the swimming zone.

I finally saw critters on this swim. A pelican made its spectacular splash dive nearby and a sea lion breached completely out of the water (probably chasing a fish) about 10 yards from me when I was out at the repair. A rower was practicing in one of the wooden boats about another 10 yards on the other side of the breaching sea lion. Both the rower and I were pretty amazed. The sea lion never bothered me, but I was happy to have the coincidence of the presence of the Whitehall in case I needed protection. In the end, it was just another “shut up and swim” moment.

Si Bunting and John Ottersberg were in the sauna this morning shortly after I finished my swim. What a delightful circumstance! Margaret K had told John on Tuesday that I was making the Channel attempt. Both John and Si have successfully swum the English Channel and were very supportive, encouraging and, of course, wildly informative. The first order of business was the training schedule. I told them my idea of 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and they both nodded sagely and blessed the notion as good and proper.

Si offered what was a bit of a revelation for me when he said that he had swum the Trans Tahoe race as a solo for one of his longer swims. I had done the Trans Tahoe as a relay a couple of times, but had completely dismissed the idea of an 11.5 mile swim as a solo effort. Well, shazam! That’s barely a six hour swim for me, probably less. Si noted that training for the Channel gives you a whole different perspective on what constitutes a reasonable distance.

He and John told me about the course they took around the Bay for their 10 hour preparatory swim. Of course, they rattled it off and I forgot the particulars, but I’m sure they made mention of Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, Angel Island, Oakland, and the Bay Bridge. They also recommended training in the pool to build speed. Si said that Candace K tortured him in the pool on a regular basis and that he thought it was very helpful for the cause.

We talked about food. Si used CarboPro after the manufacturer for his first choice went out of business. John used Maxim. The solo swimmer from Croatia making the crossing at the same time as John used chocolate all the way. Si’s team threw his food and water to him at the end of a line. John’s team used a pole. They both said that the training swims were the time to find out what worked best for each individual.

Si is naturally a bilateral breather and proclaimed that an important factor in his successful crossing. John said he had to work at it to develop the skill and that he thought it might have made the difference between reaching France or not. He agreed with me that it’s an awkward skill to develop, but suggested that I would have plenty of time to work on it. He expressed confidence that I could put this tool in my bag.

Lindsay and I leave tomorrow for our vacation in the desert, so there will probably be no entries until the 18th when we get to Lake Tahoe. I’m getting a little addicted to these longer distances and will certainly miss it. I’m also a bit nervous about coming back and having the water temperature in the low to mid 50’s. Still, I feel pretty good about having laid the beginning of a foundation and it’s impossible to express how vital the support from everyone has been.

Monday, 10/19/09

We got back from Utah and Nevada yesterday. We were blown away! We had been to Monument Valley, but had no idea how extensive and varied the landscape became as it stretched from there to south and central Utah. We visited parks and monuments including Cedar Breaks, Kodachrome, Bryce Canyon, Natural Bridges, Petrified Forest, Capitol Reef, Arches, Dead Horse, Great Basin, Cave Lake, and the ever popular Ichthyosaur State Park.

We had swims that amounted to little more than dips in the 40 degree water at Panguitch and Cave Lakes. I brought a couple of ten-pound weights for shoulder exercises and hiking at the 7,000 feet elevations provided aerobic exercise. At Arches, the signs were confusingly marked and an apparent two-mile hike turned into almost eight miles of climbing and scrambling that came within hailing distance of technical. This offered a chance to imagine the seemingly endless swim as the French shore starts to be snatched away by a relentless tide.

I had to start work early to catch up from the vacation, so swimming must wait until Tuesday.

Tuesday, 10/20/09

This is the first day back in the water since vacation. Keith W says the water is probably down to 56 degrees, so I wear a hat for the first time since July. It’s my old, old water polo hat that I got shortly after I joined the Dolphin Club when it was the veritable standard. I know from experience that it’ll have to go into retirement for the coming training because it starts to chafe after a couple of miles. Lindsay has agreed to get me a few modern swim hats to try out. The Channel Swimming Association allows for “goggles, one swim cap, and one swim costume.” I’ll need to find a swim hat that is comfortable for hours on end and, surprisingly enough, all swim hats are not made alike. I’m happy with my goggles for now, but want to make sure that I’m not part way across the Channel with a debilitating, equipment-induced migraine.

It’s just before sunrise and the critters are out in force. Even in the dark, it’s easy to see tens of pelicans dive-bombing the bay and the violent surface disturbance from the many sea lions. They’re all over the Cove, but tend to concentrate in the middle and out by the Balclutha on strong flood tides, so I decide to swim mostly in the western part of Aquatic Park. I start my normal clockwise trip to Flag, Goalposts, and Opening. Then I return to the flag, back to the opening, back to the flag and back to the club by a somewhat circuitous route.

When I’m out near the Repair, I feel what seems like a rogue wave jostling me around. Glancing up, I see a roiling effervescence directly ahead and swim through something akin to a tide race. I peek to my left and the person fishing on the pier seems stoically entranced, but that’s not unusual. I figure that a large sea lion must have breached while chasing a fish a few feet in front of me. I keep swimming and no creature pesters me further. I’m reminded of when Suzanne Heim-Bowen was intentionally t-boned by a sea lion while she was swimming a leg of the relay from Sacramento to Aquatic Park. She said she wasn’t scared—just pissed that something was interfering with her mission. Suzanne is a multiple time English Channel crosser and her attitude strikes me as a good attitude for swimming the English Channel and I try to employ it as an object lesson.