Caroline Block - Lake George
South - North - South
103.6 km (64.4 miles)
52 hours, 24 minutes on 16-18 September 2020
Observed and documented by Elaine K. Howley & Jeannie Zappe
- Name: Caroline Block
- Gender: female
- Age on swim date: 36
- Nationality: United States
- Resides: New York, NY
- James VanHeste - Lead pilot, owner of Waterhorse Adventures
- Kimberly VanHeste - Pilot, co-owner of Waterhorse Adventures
- Kurt Riley - Pilot, employee of Waterhorse Adventures
- Manny, Belinda and Peter - Deck hands, rotated in for shifts
- Kellie Latimer - Crew Chief
- Deb Henson - Crew
- Rose Buchmann - Crew
|Halfmoon Explorer||28’ Baja Cruiser||Lake George Village|
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Equipment used: Speedo swimsuit, silicone cap, goggles, glowsick and beacon light on goggles, aquaphor for chafing, P20 sublock.
Lake George Village to Ticonderoga (Diane’s Rock) to Lake George Village (south - north - south)
- Body of Water: Lake George
- Route Type: multi-way
- Start Location: Lake George Village, NY (43.421908, -73.711605)
- Finish Location: Diane’s Rock, Ticonderoga, NY (43.826275, -73.426174)
- Minimum Route Distance: 103.6 km (64.4 miles) (map)
- Start: 16 September 2020, 17:43:17 (Eastern Daylight, America/New_York, UTC-4).
- Finish: 18 September 2020, 22:08:04
- Elapsed: 52 hours, 24 minutes, 47 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (F)||64||68|
|Air Temp (F)||49||69|
Trackpoint frequency: 30 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Nutrition: Infinit powder every 30 minutes, solid foods as requested.
by Elaine Kornbau Howley and Jeannie Zappe
17:43:17 Start, calm conditions, 6 souls on board
18:15 “Bagels are pre-cut and there are utensils!”
18:30 67.4 sea on aquarium thermometer. Caroline says “Don’t fall in!” to Kellie
18:44 Dusk falling
19:13 “Put on the red light” swimmer happy.
19:43 Darkness falling. Glowsticks deployed
20:14 Feed me! Lost a contact. Needs more lights.
20:44 Swimmer happy w/ improved lighting. Water is kinda sloppy. Glowsticks better.
21:43 Four hours! Kellie off duty (you said doody)
22:13 I’m good! All good. Rose’s first toss
22:27 Kayak broke free – handle busted Kellie [?]
22:43 Gotten very windy. Snotty part of the lake
23:15 Big rollers. Challenging conditions. Holding position nearly impossible. Swimmer too far away for stroke count
23:43 Advil, conditions still very snotty. Coughing.
00:13 Paper towels to wipe goggles
00:44 Happier with boat position, conditions better. Entering the narrows
1:08 Peeing, in the narrows. Asked for a solid [feed].
1:44 Fig newtons yay! First solid food. 8 hours!
2:16 Smooth swimming!, peeing
2:45 All good! Said she was doing good. We were using aquarium temp but it’s too high. Hague, NY \@54 now
3:17 Took 4x to get feed to her, requested hot feeds all night, peeing, asked why lots of course correction – wind!
3:45 Got feed on 1st attempt, feed too hot, peeing. 10 hours and about 1/2 way!
4:20 Got feed on 2nd attempt, could be warmer, solid next feed (fig), peeing. Smooth!
4:46 2nd attempt got feed. She dropped 1 fig [newton], feed could be warmer still, peeing. All good!
5:02 Mars is bright red tonight! Just did a 360º! Partial whitecaps. Did a donut!
5:17 Took a few attempts [to toss]. Feed temp good! Ibu next. Sang “there’s got to be a morning after!” Peeing
5:47 Ibuprofin, peeing. No more stars! Passing Harbor Islands@ ~18 miles in, almost sun up.
6:15 Daylight! Peeing, requested pretzels and warm coke next feed.
6:44 Happy to see Kellie again! Windy and choppy – got pretzels but no coke – crew fail! Got Infinit
7:15 Warm coke feed – 20.2 miles. Wants warmer coke. Asking about forecast
7:44 “Mom says great job!” Peed, coke / didn’t take any feed. 21 miles.
8:15 Peed, warm feed and perfect temp. +1 for Kellie! 21.8 miles. Communicated weather forecast – less wind, air temp 43 … ok … we will watch. “Here comes the Gap!”
8:45 Regular warm feed + 2 fig newtons. 15 hours in! Requests Oreo and tomato soup at turnaround. Water calm!
9:15 22.5 miles down! Warm feed, peeing every 30 min. All good! Flat H2O
9:45 Peeing, regular warm feed, requests 2 ibu at 11:45, new goggles. 16 hours!
10:13 Elaine back on shift. Swimmer happy. Wind has switched out of the North as anticipated, but a little early.
11:13 Cormorant on the water.
11:44 “Bills bills bills.” Singing about the glory of pills in bananas. Kellie dons angler hat. It has a functional lantern.
12:14 Almost to Gap. “Banana Republic is next.”
12:32 Celebrated passing that “fucking totem pole!” [swimmer’s editorial comment: flag pole]
12:45 4 miles or so to end of lake. (Happy with that report)
13:14 27.5 miles per tracker. “Against the wind” rendition. It’s not even Christmas season and I just got Wham-ed!
13:44 Asking for hot chocolate. Has a sore throat. Peeing.
14:14 Surprise food item. Peeing while singing to herself. Delightful hot cocoa. Fluffernutters all around [crew]
14:43 Wants anything but this [infinit]. Wants tomato soup next time.
15:14 Peeing. Maple syrup and water requested for next feed.
15:43 Kayak in to guide CB to turn point. C says it hasn’t been great, but not unusually painful
16:14 Swimmer is with kayaker nearing Diane’s Rock.
16:45 Bread and water @ feed. Swimmer on the other side with kayak. Boat several hundred meters back in deeper water. Using binocs to monitor progress. Less than a mile to the Rock. Will feed next there. All appears normal. Shift change for boat pilots
17:25 23:41:38 1st leg.
17:34 Start 2nd loop. At the turn she took PBJ, ibuprofen, soup, water, Aquaphor. 9:25 @ turn, under way again. [Observer] transition.
18:01 Looking good! Fed on soup. Smooth sailing!
18:30 Gu + water. Has been peeing. Flat water! Peed on command!
19:00 Maple tea. “Water has never felt cold – it was the air”
19:30 1 slice bread + maple tea. Potatoes next time. Flat as a pancake!
20:00 Two small potatoes with cream cheese and warm water – Yum! Peed.
20:30 Hot Choc – next time maple coffee [flavored waffle] + hot H2O. Deb has skillz! Nailing the feeds! 29 miles left! (35.6 down)
21:00 Maple coffee [waffle] + hot H2O. Next time potatoes.
21:30 Stars peeking out, peeing. Said she was getting cold. 2 potatoes + hot H2O, peed.
22:00 Soup – “Not going to finish it so we can heat it up again” She’s cold but ok. Wind picked up. Smooth stroke
22:30 Wants ibuprofen when she can – 11:45/12. Soup again, she feels like we are “getting pushed around”
23:00 1 knot push; arms are cold. Hot choc / next time ibu. Conversant.
23:30 ½ banana with 2 ibuprofen, hot chocolate. “Arms warmer in the water” Maybe 24.5 miles left. 39.4 miles down!
00:00 Hot coke! All good! Mars is out! Peeing!
00:30 Potatoes and warm H2O. Good mood, wants to make sure we have the ladder to put in for the finish
1:00 Hot chocolate. “I gotta’ pee” All good.
1:30 Waffle snacks and hot H2O, clear skies. 42+ miles down.
2:00 Elaine back on shift. Yay bread! Peeing, hot choc next. Little slurry but cognizant.
2:29 Peeing. Good spirits
3:01 Wants soup. Asked how far left. Just over 20 miles.
3:29 Soup o’clock! Requested potatoes. Peeing.
3:57 45 miles down! 19 to go. Shooting stars, “Potatoes in my face.”
“Nom nom nom!” Peeing. Loves potatoes and hot coke.
4:30 Having trouble with sighting boat [in the dark]. Feels like she’s swimming in circles. Fingers really wrinkly!
5:00 “Om, nom nom.” Wants to go back to hot feed.
5:28 Back to liquid feed, wants the caffeinated variety
6:17 Pilot shift change
7:00 Swimmer is chipper. Tired but happy.
7:59 says “warmer now”
8:29 Happy swimmer. Glad to hear the cheers!
8:58 The machine! About 15 miles to go.
9:29 Caffeine, oreos are a big hit! “Where the hell was the sun yesterday?”
10:00 Jeannie back on duty, regular Infinit, all good. Sun is shining!
10:15 Had to divert left of island at Narrows due to wind and depth
10:30 Regular infinit. Peeing enough. On track again!
11:00 Caffeinated infinit, peed. Good mood. About 11+ miles left.
11:30 Caffeinated infinit and ½ a banana w/ 2 ibuprofen. Backstroke! 10.5 to go! Peeing.
12 noon She just did a summersault! Regular infinit + 1 fig newton. Small whitecaps. Elaine showed her the moon.
12:35 Wind is a bitch! Being blown around. Caffeinated infinit. Heading toward Dome Island!
12:52 She has a good line! Albert just showed up with a bell! Refused feed.
13:00 Attempted feed, she refused again. Snotty wind! Too hard to eat.
13:35 Bread and water. She said she thought she was supposed to sprint?? Conversant and good. We continue to have trouble staying with her due to WIND.
14:00 Caff. + 2 oreos. Asked for alternating caff and regular feeds.
14:25 Reg infinit, quick feed. Pontoon boat, Bob Singer, Deb, and Jia came to say hi!
15:00 So rough out here! High seas! Peeing, regular infinit. Getting a little cold, but fine.
15:30 Crazy ride! Rocking and rolling! Caff. infinit. Even more wind!
16:01 Reg infinit. Crazy ride! 5-foot swells.
16:32 Less than 10k left! Caff infinit. Gave directions as we can’t be very close to her.
17:00 She’s good! HUGE WAVES! 3-5 foot swells. Caff infinit again.
C: “Where’s Michael Tsang [when you need him]?
E: “Why do you need the Hong Kong guy?”
C: “I could use his elite orienteering skills!”
17:30 Huge swells and whitecaps. She has a hard time sighting due to the waves.
17:59 Reg. infinit and gave direction. Feed challenges. C Frustrated w/feeds
18:14 Asking for directions
18:27 Warm feed. Switching goggles.
18:59 Wants to switch to 45 minute feeds, hot
19:40 Adirondack boat coming in, can see Village lights
20:19 50 hours! Scoffed at the idea of a feed.
20:32 Says feed tastes like dirt. Thought she was closer than we are. Found another gear. 1.5 to go.
20:59 Drank only a tiny bit of feed.
21:29 Feed wasn’t warm – ate almost nothing. Last feed!
by Caroline Block
Inspiration and Preparation
A two-way Lake George swim has been on my mind since my initial crossing in early June 2017. During that first crossing, over the course of a beautiful day and a moon-lit night, I had the pleasure of swimming through clear but pollen-choked water from the Lake George Town docks to Diane’s Rock at the North end of the lake. I grew up spending a lot of time in the Adirondacks, mostly further north in the high peaks region, but near enough to Lake George that the annual Lake George 10k in Hague had made sense for my first marathon-distance swim in 2015 in the run up to a Channel swim in 2016. Then by the time 2016 rolled around, the call was out for what was to be the first annual Lake George Marathon swim. I knew I’d be in shape from Channel training, so I signed on the dotted line. And while the 2016 group swim was ultimately ill-fated, I made plans to come back and take care of unfinished business.
My 2017 swim established a personal tradition of a long lake swim in early June as a season opener. June swims offer less boat traffic, colder waters that may be helpful preparation for the season’s cold ocean swims, and of course added motivation for winter training. In 2018 I swam the length of Lake Cayuga since I was living in Ithaca, NY on its shores. And while 2019 brought work obligations that precluded a lake swim, I planned to return to Lake George for the double, or LG2, in June of 2020.
A particular logistical challenge on Lake George is a local prohibition on renting boats out overnight, which the marinas (and the authorities who patrol the lake!) take very seriously. In 2017 I had lucked into a personal connection while searching for a boat, but the 18-foot bow rider we had used for the single length was not going to work for the double, so we were back to square one there. I looked into this all Fall and Winter without finding a good solution to the “boat problem,” and I had even warned my crew I had a “backup swim” in mind on Cayuga where I knew I could rent a boat with no hassle if we were unable to find a viable escort on Lake George.
Once the Pandemic hit and pools closed down in March, I waited for Cayuga to warm up and become swimmable – an event that came frustratingly late this year. For a town on a beautiful lake, Ithaca is home to very few swimmers. However, I was lucky to know one, and Rose Buchmann and I would go to the lake in the early spring even if we were only able to stand in the water. As the spring wore on, events were cancelled and, without the training, I knew LG2 was off the table for June. Then by the time the waters had warmed enough to swim again, and I was trying to figure out whether I could still manage the training to make a run at my primary swim for the season, a two-way North Channel swim in August, international travel was looking less and less realistic anyway. I kept swimming, checked with my crew if they’d be up for a September date, and thought again about how to find a boat.
And then, while staring at google maps, and squinting at all of the marinas on lake George for the umpteenth time, I noticed a dive boat center. While I hadn’t fit in a long lake swim in 2019, what I did instead was a bunch of swimming in the Santa Barbara Channel spread out over the 2018-19 academic year, travelling to Oxnard and swimming to or from three different Channel Islands on each of my breaks. Why is this relevant? As it turns out, it’s quite common in California to use dive boats to escort marathon swims. When I first noticed the dive shop on the map of lake George, I had no idea why anyone would scuba dive in the lake (it turns out there are some pretty neat historical shipwrecks down there!) but I figured we might be able to solve the Lake George boat problem by taking a leaf out of the California playbook. Fortunately, Jim and Kim at Waterhorse Adventures were willing to discuss partnering with me and my team for the swim, and things were finally looking up again.
By this time, my lease was running out in Ithaca, and I had been doing an occasional long swim there with Rose while moving my things to Lake Placid. Upstate, I was training alone, at first in Mirror Lake in town, and then gradually checking out other spots in the area like Chapel Pond and Upper and Lower Cascade lakes. As Mirror Lake got warmer, these other, spring-fed lakes stayed cool, which I hoped would be helpful preparation for a September swim. Once we knew what kind of capacity we had on the boat, I finalized the crew, and awesomely, Jeannie and Deb were able to come up for a weekend of swimming in August.
The swim was set for Friday through Sunday September 18-20, with everyone meeting at the Airbnb for an organizational meeting and dinner on Thursday the 17th, and a civilized morning start on Friday. Throughout the planning, Kellie, my crew chief, was always willing to listen to and weigh in on ideas for the swim and logistics. Evan Morrison was incredibly helpful in planning as always, as was Sarah Thomas who I peppered with questions as I read over her awesomely thorough 2016 Lake Powell Swim documentation. I also leaned on Padraig Mallon for some temperature related sanity checks and a pep talk or two as he’s been on board with me for so many cold swims. I had set the swim to take place after the Bar Exam, originally scheduled for the end of July and then rescheduled for September 8th and 9th. Unfortunately, this meant foregoing the benefit of any moonlight, but such is life, right? Of course, being 2020, the already-rescheduled Exam was subsequently cancelled and then later rescheduled again for two and a half weeks after the swim, but there was no turning back at that point.
Also incidental to some of the unique challenges of 2020, while we had a full crew assembled several months out, a number of crew members had to drop out in the last week or two before the swim. I had been prepared to lose one or two, but with so many out so close to the swim, things were starting to look slightly tight. A rotating crew from Waterhorse Adventures was going to take care of the piloting and navigating, so there was that pressure taken off, but I didn’t want anyone to be overwhelmed and needed to make sure that everyone was able to rest over the course of such a long swim. Jeannie, who had been slated to crew, agreed to step in as an observer instead when we lost one for family reasons, and I found myself explaining to the captains how we could manage the swim without paddlers since we lost ours and had no hope of replacing them on such short notice.
Finally, less than a week before our planned start, the heretofore blessedly bland and consistent forecasts started to shift. Fifty-degree nights were suddenly looking like 36-degree nights, and 8 mph winds were now looking like 13. We waited a day to see if the forecast would change again, but when things were only looking worse on Sunday morning, it was time to scramble to save the swim. I knew I did not want to spend the upcoming Friday or Saturday night in the water since the temperatures were predicted to fall well into the 30s, so I spent the next 24 hours making sure I would still have an escort boat and pilots available if we moved the swim up to Wednesday, and checking if my crew could swing this too. Amazingly, we only lost one more crew member to this crazy schedule change, and the team from Waterhorse was able to accommodate us for a Wednesday evening start as well. Most incredibly of all, on less than three days notice, Elaine and Rose agreed to join the team and help make this swim happen. Between the ladies who stepped in at the last minute and those who stuck with me through the summer and the last-minute change of schedule, everyone was a complete rock star and I could not have asked for a better crew.
With the swim once again secured, the next two and a half days were a total whirlwind of last minute shopping for the boat, cap and goggle testing, bar study, and trying to get as much information to the crew as possible since both our team meeting and our civilized start were no longer in the cards.
We all met in the parking lot of the dive shop around 15h30 on Wednesday afternoon. I had been held up buying bagels and was afraid I’d be late – a situation not helped by the fact that in my relief, I hopped in the car and immediately drove 10 minutes in the wrong direction. I made it on schedule, and Elaine and I arrived at the same time to find a sign welcoming us into the Dive Shop and Kim inside prepping for the next few days herself. My feeds are pretty easy to mix (just Infinit plus water. The end) and I sharpie up the bags indicating how many scoops per bottle (1.5), but I also always mix the first 4 hours worth myself so they’re ready to go and so everyone can see how it’s done. I changed into my suit and dryrobe and once everybody was set, we drove over to the town docks, where Jim would be meeting us in the boat.
Once Jim pulled up and we started loading the boat, he showed me the final route he had planned. While Jim and Kim and Kurt at the dive shop had been quick to say yes to taking this on as their first swim escort, they also most definitely did their homework. In addition to a scouting trip up the lake we took a few weeks before the swim, Jim had found the track from my 2017 swim up the lake online thanks to MSF records, the longswims database, and the library of swim tracks available on track.rs, had plugged it into the navigational system and then worked from there to optimize our route. Standing on the docks, the water looked surprisingly flat for the 12-13mph predicted for Wednesday afternoon, but Jim assured us that it was rougher further out. While we knew we were in for a bumpier ride than most of the past Lake George swims including my first, the winds were expected to be at their peak that afternoon and come down from there. I had accepted that we would not have a flat swim, and, waiting to start, was much more concerned that after the past few frenzied days and the evening start time, I might just dissolve into exhaustion as soon as I started the swim. In the end, I held up pretty well, but the winds had some surprises for us over the next few days.
The first few hours of a marathon swim are, for me, a break-in period, and generally the least enjoyable part. Given that, I was pleased with the start. I felt strong and settled, and happy not to have succumbed to exhaustion as I had feared I might. I felt badly that we hadn’t had the chance to have a proper meeting and wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable (enough) on the boat, so I continued to drop random information on the first few feeds. “The bagels are precut!” (because honestly trying to cut a bagel on a boat with a plastic knife is the worst). I lost a contact, as usual. It was still in my goggle, which usually means I can put it back in at least once (super hygienic) but it was pitch black out by then, so there was little point. As darkness fell, the winds really picked up and the boat was not able to stay that all close. Fortunately, I have had some experience with this by now on other swims and knew what was happening. As the sun went down, they put on a red light and I took the opportunity to share my rendition of “Roxanne” by the Police. During swims, my communication with the boat is pretty much a one-way street, so I usually try to let the crew know I’m doing all right in one way or another (plus, if you’re swimming for a half an hour without the chance to say anything to anyone, and they turn on a big red light – isn’t this exactly where your mind goes?). Once it got fully dark on the lake and the winds continued to toss us around, the crew strung some lights along the side of the boat.
It so happened that one of the main lights on the boat had broken the day of the swim, so between the lack of that light and the moonless night, I could really only see the string of lights, which were in the middle of the boat. This would have been fine on a calmer night when I could have swum lined up with the middle of the boat. With the windy conditions however, it became immediately problematic that anytime I was at the front of the boat, there was no light to see the curve of the bow, so I didn’t know which direction to head. And alternately, when I ended up at the rear of the boat, it was hard to distinguish whether I was headed for the rear portion of the side of the boat, or just the backside of the boat. On the next feed I asked if the team could put out some more lights and they obliged, which was extremely helpful. Much less helpful was the fact that I’d managed to get a rather enthusiastic amount of Vaseline on my goggles in the course of the first few hours’ inevitable adjustments. Whoops. I had four spare pairs of goggles on the boat but was not able to effectively communicate my need to replace the ones I had on until after sunrise the next morning, leaving me bumping around in the wavy darkness, focusing my sights on a thoroughly smudgy conga line of party glow sticks.
Something I learned on my first channel swim was that the back corner of the boat is the worst place to be. That’s where you’ll end up with a facefull of water every time. Unfortunately I did end up with a few epic facefulls that first night, and while the best thing to do is to just keep moving, sometimes you have to cough it out. I coughed so hard and so long that I ended up tearing up my throat to the point that my feeds felt like battery acid going down. I didn’t say anything about it until morning when things calmed down a bit, because I knew that with the wind being what it was, the crew was working hard to get the boat into position to feed me at all, nevermind the hot feeds that I was hoping would see me through the cool nights, or any “special” feed options that might be easier on my throat. Once the winds came down temporarily with sunrise Thursday morning though, I finally gave up and asked the crew to please feed me some solids, or basically anything but my feed for the next while so my throat could recover. I spent the next 14 or so hours of the swim eating a variety of strange goodies, from potatoes to cookies, bananas, maple syrup, pretzels, and even slices of white bread, before switching back to my regular feeds for the rest of the swim. I prefer to keep my feeds simple with an all in one mix for everyone’s convenience, and this alternative regime in the middle of the swim was absolutely a pain for the crew and for me, especially in rough conditions, but I guess it goes to show there’s truly nothing magical about feeds. As long as you are taking in calories that you can successfully get in and keep down, almost anything will do.
While the wind calmed down as it got light on Thursday morning, it picked up again almost as soon as we had noticed the lull. And now it was against us. I had known ahead of time that the wind would “make the turn” before I did, but it switched several hours earlier than forecast, and for a few hours (or perhaps a whole afternoon) my progress slowed to a crawl. I stared at the same empty flagpole on the west side of the lake for what felt like an eternity. It had felt like a long slog up the lake, I knew that the second night would be colder than the first, and that the winds were not due to stop either. I was not an especially happy camper as we neared the top of the lake, but I also knew the turn had the potential to boost my mood.
The two miles or so at the very top of the lake are shallow and weedy, but also mercifully protected from the wind. The boat had to stay in the deeper channels to one side of the lake, so Kellie got in the kayak and paddled me in. The whole section of the swim into and out of the turn was a nice interval. We were in no rush since it hadn’t been a fast run up the lake anyway, and I was able to tell Kellie some of my doubts about the turn. I didn’t really need an answer – I think just being able to say it was helpful for me.
Diane’s Rock itself is slimy and slippery. At the turn I shoved a glove half onto my hand to reapply grease, and enjoyed a few minutes sitting down. The sun continued its protracted absence, so I was still pretty chilly sitting there. I ate an uncrustables sandwich, finally replaced my right contact(!), and made sure I was feet up and on my way South within nine and a half minutes or so. Unfortunately, in the process I managed to fill the small dry bag that we had prepared for the turn with lake water. Whoops.
I was aware that we were not expecting stellar conditions on the way back, but once I decided to start the second leg, I no longer cared what the conditions would be as long as they didn’t stop the swim. Barring an electrical storm, I knew that I would finish, and knowing this, being in uncharted territory already put me in a better mood.
The second night was colder than the first, but we knew it would be the last one. While we were in a rhythm, there was no chance to zone out or switch to autopilot, for me or for the crew that was on. Conditions were still very windy and the boat was being blown around, so if I zoned out for a few strokes, I would find I needed to change course to stay with the boat. They were working hard to stay with me and I was working hard to stay with them, and we were all just waiting for some light.
Happily, Friday morning brought a long-awaited dose of sunshine. As the sun emerged, we found ourselves at a gorgeous spot on the lake. Jeanie came up on deck wearing a new sweater and I informed her she looked like she was going to a cocktail party. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, we knew we’d finish that day (that night, as it turned out), and we decided to post about it on social media. The crew did a really great job of keeping people informed of what was going on with the swim, which is a huge task 40+ hours in, and even more so given the conditions we experienced on Friday afternoon. I really appreciated reading the supportive messages that came in from all over via these posts on social media in the days that followed.
After this brief bout of reveling in the sunshine, the beauty of the lake, and what seemed like certainty that we would finish, we faced a few last challenges. Conditions became steadily windier throughout the day, peaking at over 30 mph in the afternoon – just the thing to keep us all on our toes.
At one point, I was following the boat but we were being blown to the West and I felt like I was consistently swimming west to keep up with the drift of the boat instead of taking advantage of the North wind. After I voiced this concern, the crew pointed me towards the eastern side of an island in the distance as a target. This was of course a calculated strategy as well as an acknowledgment that the boat really couldn’t stay with me on the best line (though I always always had several sets of eyes on me), but at the time I took this to be a “quick! Save the swim!” type situation and I sprinted (ok “sprinted”) toward that island, figuring there was something particularly dicey about this stretch of water. And so I was skeptical when they pulled up 30 minutes later and Rose tried to toss me a feed I thought I really didn’t have time for, under the circumstances. The crew insisted on the feed though, so I took my foot off the pedal again as we rounded the far side of the Island, which was momentarily, relatively calm.
After the island though, Kellie sat on the bow and pointed out a few islands in the distance as my next target. I could see them with my goggles off, but they blended into the mountains behind them as soon as I had lenses in front of my eyes, and as the wind picked up to 30mph and more, they were obscured by the waves as well. Throughout the afternoon, there weren’t many boats out on the lake, but we did have a few visitors swing by including Bob and Jia, and Kellie’s friend Albert. At some point it occurred to me that any boats approaching us might be there to try and stop us from continuing, and that made me slightly nervous. I was stopping every once in a while to make sure I was still on the best line to reach the hard-to-see islands, but trying to keep interruptions to a minimum and just keep moving toward the finish. We eventually made the turn into a less open section of the lake that was still somehow incredibly windy, and then finally we headed into the last section of the lake as the sun went down, soon revealing the lights of the village ahead.
While I knew that the town docks weren’t right in the village, once we could see the lights, I still thought we were much closer than we were. I saw the crew packing up and cleaning up the boat and figured we were on our way into the finish. It was explained to me the next day that they wanted to do all of this before it got too dark out, which makes total sense, but at the time, I couldn’t imagine why I was being offered feeds at this point. In my mind, we had arrived and were essentially cruising for a parking spot (In reality, we had a while left!).
We hadn’t discussed many of the logistics of the finish before the swim, and I was trying to make sure we had a good plan, while also not at all recognizing where we were. I had been to the docks for the start of the swim, and had also seen pictures of Charlotte Brynn’s finish at the docks earlier in the summer, but in the dark, forget it. Even once I identified which slip I was heading into, the lights on the docks threw off such a glare that I had to look up repeatedly to make sure I was going the right way. I wanted nothing more than to power into the finish with a few strong strokes, but I ended up tentatively looking up every few feet because I couldn’t see the wall.
And shockingly, there were people there! Maybe a dozen people were standing on the docks, and I even noticed a few of them as I swum in, but at no point did it occur to me that they were there to watch me finish. I knew that the only way to get out of the water would be to get back on the boat, so once I’d touched the wall I took my cap off, stood and said hi to people. I recognized Bridget Simpson, and also started talking to Elaine, only later realizing I had been on camera talking about, of all things, my hair (as I attempted to dislodge an elastic hair band). Then it was a fairly quick move onto the boat, into my dryrobe, and across the street into Manny’s truck to get to the dive shop where we had left our cars on Wednesday. Back at the Dive shop, Jim and Kim had ordered pizza and I spent a few minutes lying on the floor before getting up to eat some. Kim mentioned that some fishermen at the docks had played “Sweet Caroline” on their boom box as I was swimming in, which struck me as a sweet gesture.
It was late, so after not too much time, we all piled into cars and drove to our Airbnb to recover. Turning on my phone, I discovered many kind messages from friends, but also the excruciating news that Ruth Bader Ginsberg had died earlier that evening. My recovery over the next few days was fairly unremarkable and not too different from after the single length of the lake. It was great to spend a bit more time with everyone on the crew, but soon we all dispersed, returning to our routines. Two months after the swim, I remember the whole thing as an incredible experience of suspended time punctuated in 30 minute intervals. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of those few days in September, but I’ve caught myself wishing I were back in the swim several times, and hoping that everyone gets to experience something like it in their lifetime. I am forever grateful for the journey up and down the Queen of American lakes, and forever indebted to my powerhouse crew.
* It goes without saying that the team onboard had a seamless plan for the finish totally worked out without my doubtless bizarre input about ladders and cameras after 50 hours of swimming.
Click to enlarge.
Post-Star (Glens Falls, New York): Block overcame obstacles in double-swim of Lake George
Adirondack Daily Enterprise: LP woman makes history with Lake George double swim