XIV. Swim Report

I am at Anders’ house now, as he has a solid wifi connection.   Birger and MajLis are “old school” so no wifi at their house.    I’m struggling a bit with this keyboard, though, because  it has  located letters like “ö” and “ä” an d “å” in places that I expect other characters to be…. And forget about “@”, because you have to hold down 3 keys at a time to coax the “at” sign to come out.

As you maybe saw from earlier posts, the practice run on the Tuesday before the swim was troubling: strong wind, and water temps down to mid 57 degrees F.   The weather report that day had called for 1 meter-second winds (2.2 MPH), yet we had  8 m/s.  Had I swum on Tuesday I am pretty sure the swim would have failed.

But Thursday night, just before the Friday swim, the weather report was saying the wind would be between 0 and 1 m/s all throughout the swim.   The support crew was very optimistic about the Friday situation; I tried to point out  that……uhhhhhhhh…..guys….. the weather report on Tuesday had it way wrong, so how can we be overjoyed that the same weather report is calling for little to no winds on Friday?  How can we believe it?  They were not in the least distressed  by this combination of logic and pessimism, and so I eventually I quit trying to make this point.

(However all throughout the swim, until I was about two or so miles from the finish, I was keenly aware that the proverbial shit could hit the fan  in the form of wind picking up and causing a lot of trouble.  And if it did, it would (like Thor’s hammer) smite us every one, but especially the swimmer and the kayakers.  I guess I am still scarred by the last few hours of my Tahoe swim, which was in some way like my own private Vietnam……)

Anyway we rolled through the 7 legs of the swim.  I knew them well in my head–Anders and Stig and I had worked them out over the winter, and put together they represented 32,700 meters from start to finish.  The first leg was 7,500 meters long, and that was basically just a settling-in for what would be a full day of swimming. The tough leg was the second one–it was 17,000 meters long–basically just over half of the swim.   I knew that if/when i finished that leg I would have broken the back of Siljan, and that the likelihood of finishing the whole swim would be very high.  (Although even after that leg, I fretted about the possibility of wind coming up.)

At one of the feedings along this leg, I made a plan with Anders to have a cup of coffee and five ibuprofen  at the first feeding following the finish of this leg.   So  that gave me something to look forward to, and indeed when I’d finished that leg I drank the coffee while treading water, feeling ever more certain that this swim was in the bag.

The third leg was 6,500 meters long, and this was the leg that pointed me just to the left of a large saw mill.  It seemed like the sawmill was perched on a vanishing horizon, and it felt like an endless amount of time for us to approach the  saw mill–I was aching for it to be in my rear view mirror!!. During this part of the swim I became quite crabby, and I decided that possibly “we” (namely  Anders and Stig) were not navigating correctly.  I questioned Anders about this very directly a couple of times, and he assured me that the boat was on track, and he said to me “Dave you just have to trust me that we are going the right direction”.  I was like an overwrought cat that had climbed up some curtains and was hanging up high near the ceiling, and Anders  was the voice of reason and confidence that talked me back down from this place.  All through out the planning stages of the swim I developed great confidence in, and reliance on, Anders.  And during the swim, he was a rock solid leader.   

Marathon swimmers will sometimes trade stories about things they have seen while levitating above those deep and unconcious waters for long periods of time.   Especially, I think, if it is night time and the swim is in the ocean.  On this swim I was happy to have three odd experiences.   They weren’t hallucinations, but they were feelings or visions born out of shrinking your head down into a tunnel  so that you can focus just on your swimming and let everything else in your life fall away from you….and you grow hypnotized by the steady 60+ strokes per minute, the regular breathing, hour after hour…….

It happens that I had a cousin, named Jim, who died in Sweden ever-so-long ago, when he was studying in Uppsalla, when he was about 22 years old.   In preparing for this swim, I imagined that maybe, since this was where Jim drew his last breaths, that there would be a possibility, in some way, of encountering an extra strong memory of him, and that possibily it could happen while I was swimming in Lake Siljan.  Alas….this was not meant to be.

But….between about the 6th and the 10th hours of the swim, I did have some cool things happen.

1)  I was swimming along, and suddenly a large white snake, maybe 3 inches thick, swam  directly in front of me from left to right.   I recoiled in panic, and gradually realized that the sun from behind me had refracted off of a couple of scratches on my left swim goggle, and had provided an illusion of a snake swimming directly in front of me.  But the idea is that the long hours of swimming put your mind in a creative and suggestive and open state of mind, where the line between reflected light and thick white snakes can blur…

2)   I have swum in the ocean many times when sea lions approach and swim nearby.  It is easy for me to recall their natural swimming motion as they move through the water.  At one point in Siljan I sensed that a sea lion swam close to me, approached the surface, and then pushed up a rolling bump to the surface of the water, before diving deeply and disappearing.  (The Swedes assure me that no sea lions live in Siljan….)

3)  I breathe to the right and to the left, and then occasionally I lift my head forward so that I can become situationally aware of boats, kayakers, landmarks along the shore etc.   One time when I looked up, I saw a splash on the water in front of me, and briefly I was certain that sitting atop the water was a white origami bird, just a few yards in front of me. So, although I was not treated to a strong encounter with my cousin, I did at least get to feel a blurring between the explainable and the not-really-explainable world.

The fourth leg was 700 meters in length, and it set us up for the zigzag entrance, between red and green buoys, into Saksviken.  The final 3 legs were only 300 meters each.   The swim was in the bag.  In the final 300 meters, three people jumped in from a point of land and swam near me.  As it turned out, it was 3 of my Norwegian friends–Tor-Erik Risberg, Nils Hagen, and Kristian Hagen-Risberg.  So it was a fine swim.  I had started swimming at 3:43 am on Friday  morning, with enough natural  light  that there was no need for flashlights or glow  sticks.  I  completed  the  swim  11 hours and  39 minutes later, at 15:22 in the  afternoon.

The swim  was 32,700 meters long (20.3 miles).  The boat escort and kayakers and observer and crew leader performed very well.  Our more-that-six-months of preparation paid off.  My training paid off. Lake Siljan provided us a window of time during which we could slip through her, from the foreleg of the cat to the tail of the fish.  My nephew Jesse captured the moment in spirit in this final picture of the chimera.  Below his drawing, be sure to look at the gallery of photos from the swim. Siljan Some  of the pictures taken from the boat during the swim.  (Double click any image to start a slideshow.)



2 thoughts on “XIV. Swim Report

  1. Passion plus determination and a little loco thrown in = success! (Maybe the coffee helped too:)). Hopefully the paralyzing strength of “the winds of Tahoe” have waned a bit! Now we all love your Swedish friends too. Tell them they have a home in Chiapas if they ever want to visit! Congratulations team! The Terrells

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