On Saturday, August 2, Fuzzy and I swam 2.1 miles to an island in Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin.
It was one of the most incredible things I've ever done.
We were concerned about the water temperature and the air temperature, and how are we going to know where to go and how will they get our stuff to the island etc etc. It turns out that it was all pointless worry, because everything was PERFECT.
When we got to Bayfield Friday evening, looking out at the tiny island across the water was super daunting. But we dipped our toes in, and the water was remarkably warm. What a relief! Packet pick-up was easy peasy and we got really great hooded sweatshirts with our registration fee. In the info packet, however, I saw the following, which made me a little uneasy (see highlight):
We had dinner with our friends Amy Jo and Colleen and their 2 daughters, then headed to the hotel to prep for the next morning. We stayed about a half hour away from the swim start, so that gave us time to wake up, eat a bit of food and mentally prep for the task at hand.
I always talk about big events like this--it is so easy to get nervous or intimiated, but the truth of the matter is, if you are a non-competitor like me (I am just trying to DO it, not to win), then all you are going to do is just get in the water and swim. No biggie. I had one wave of nerves beforehand, but mostly was just excited. The water temperature was 66 degrees, and the high that day was going to be mid-80s. The crazy thing was that Thursday, when we checked the weather, the high was supposed to be mid-60s. It was a fluke that it was so warm, and I am so relieved that it was.
The population of Bayfield, WI is 450. This year, there were 450 swimmers in the event. Everyone was so nice and friendly, and when I thanked a volunteer for having water before the start, they thanked me for thanking them. So precious.
The men started first, at 7:20. They got lined up at the buoys, I kissed Fuzzy and wished him luck, and off they went! It was neat seeing them take off into open water and to travel a great distance in such a short time. The women's wave was to start about 6 or 8 minutes later--I actually can't remember. I seeded myself to the back of the pack--I didn't want to be a bumper to all the fast swimmers--and had a lovely conversation with 2 other women who we all figured out had the same general pace time. Then we were off!
My main concerns with the swim were temperature (which wasn't an issue), food (I tried to force as many calories in as I could), having to pee during the swim, and mental. I ran some power songs through my head to keep any negative thoughts at bay. It was so neat taking off and just swimming into the unknown. As Fuzzy said in his blog post, we usually swim in a part of Lake Michigan that is walled in by concrete on one side. Swimming out to Madeline Island was just so neat and freeing--I knew the general direction we were going, but not exactly where.
Ok, so real talk here. About 20 minutes into the swim, I felt a nagging feeling. I had to pee. And when you have to pee and you have nowhere to pee, it is really hard to think about anything else. I tried not to think about it, but I knew I still had over an hour of swimming. It was going to be rough. I swam for a bit more and tried to think of a plan. I have no qualms about peeing in lakes and rivers--my last few years of triathlons and water sports have gotten me over that issue. But I usually have to go where no one is around and sort of focus, you know? So my plan was to swim to a support kayaker, and ask if I could hold onto their kayak for a second to relieve myself in my wetsuit. At just about that time, I had an issue with my right earplug, so I stopped for a second to adjust. Another woman swam by and asked if I was ok--at this point, I was mostly swimming alone, as the fasties were far ahead already--I told her I was fine, thanked her, and she kept going. Just then--the pee started--and I think I peed for about a solid minute. What a relief! Literally! Plus, the warmth of the pee felt great! (I always think of my friend Andrea's dad. He was a surfer, and once she told me that he said the first thing he would do was pee in his wetsuit so he would stay warm. I love it.) Off I went, and the swim went way better. I peed 4 more times after that, during the swim. I joked with Fuzzy after that I was "soaked in urine" but I periodically tried to flush out my wetsuit with lake water.
Ok, so enough about pee.
The swim was transcendant. I did a lot of thinking--I decided to accept a gig I was on the fence about, among other things--and I ran a long list of songs in my head to keep my brain going. I will post those later.
They had told us that there would be a bouy at every 1/3 mile, and a big one at the mile marker. I only saw 4 on my swim, though. At about what I am assuming was my halfway point I saw the smoke signal on the shoreline that they had mentioned before we took off. It gave me a second wind! Now I knew exactly where I was going, and I reoriented myself off that smoke.
Since I was near the back of the pack, it was rare that I saw other swimmers. Towards the end of it, I passed a pink cap (woman) and a green cap (man). I was thinking it could be Fuzzy, but the swimmer breathed on the left, and Fuzzy breathes on the right. As I approached the shore, I saw the finish line and kicked it into high gear. Before I finished, however, I stopped and turned around--I wanted to soak in just how far I had come and enjoy the moment of being almost done. A kayaker helped steer me toward the chute, and then when I started to stand up, volunteers said "swim to the orange!" So I kept going till I saw a series of orange sandbags that served as a walkway. I stood up--and immediately lost my strength and footing and stumbled. Two volunteers took my arms and guided me out of the water, up the stairs to the pier, and over the timing mat. I was grinning from ear to ear--I was deliriously happy!! The announcer called my name "Erica Gerdeees from Chicago!" I stopped for a second, caught my breath, then looked out over the water at how far I had come. I climbed the steps to the yard where we were (a family volunteers their yard each year) and started to peel off my wetsuit. I looked around for Fuzzy, but didn't see him, so I went to get some water and some fruit that was for the swim participants. I wandered for a second, and wondered if he was at the gear check. Just then, I heard the announcer say "Fuzzy Gerdeeees from Chicago!" and I rushed over to the pier. There was Fuzzy! He looked great!
There aren't a lot of photos from this event, FYI, cause we were...you know...swimming.
But here is a view of the lake from the finish line, with the approximate start noted by the arrow.
I was super weepy after and felt like a million bucks. I was and am SO proud of the major accomplishment that we did! It had been such a daunting event in the future, and suddenly, it was behind us. We picked up our gear, changed clothes and checked our times. I finished in my goal time, at 1:30! Fuzzy rocked it, and clocked in at 1:44. Full results are here.
When you think about it, it is really amazing. I have to give Fuzzy all the credit--without him, I never would have gotten into running, swimming, triathlons or any of that. It's because of his determination to do things he has never done and his constant desire to challenge and better himself that I do anything at all. He is such an inspiration to me, and I admire him more than anything.
Plus, he is so super cute.
Afterwards, we met up with our friends and ate what was probably one of the best breakfasts I've ever had in my life. It was just a sausage egg and cheese sandwich on an english muffin with coffee and some of Fuzzy's Hamm's, but DAMN it was amazing. So delish.
Colleen, Amy Jo, Juniper, Maize and Bart (a friend of Amy Jo and Colleen's who finished 34th overall) all headed back to the mainland, but Fuzzy and I stayed on the island to explore. We looked at all the little art galleries and shops and made a couple of purchases. It was so fun. When it was time to head back on the ferry, I was really overwhelmed by just how far we had gone. The ferry ride took about 25 minutes. And we swam that.
Beautiful Lake Superior.
I was on such a high the rest of the day and weekend, and it was such a great experience, I would do it again in a heartbeat. The more we talked to locals, however, the more we learned just what a fluke the beautiful weather was, so maybe it is good to just end on a high note and keep the good memories. :)
Overall Place: 365 out of 412
Place in Gender: 162 of 182
Place in Age Group (30-39): 52 of 54
Here are some of my power songs that got me through the swim (in this order):
You Should Know Better--Robyn
That's What's Up--Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
And a final parting shot: