Updated: Apr 3, 2022
In so many ways I am lucky to have even had the opportunity to swim across Tahoe.
After I swam around Coronado I desperately searched for my next swim, and was put on a waitlist to swim Tahoe.
To be or not to be.
Several days before my attempt, another swim was cancelled due to poor air quality. A forest fire had broken out at the beginning of the month and was zero percent contained. The two swims right after mine were also scrubbed due to poor air quality and then the next day after my swim, there was thunder and lightning. If there was a window, I barley crawled through.
A moonlight arrival.
As we drove the on-winding cliff road around the lake, the full moon illuminated the way. Scattered clouds lit up the night sky, allowing us to see a large porcupine’s glowing eyes as it stepped onto the road from the forest. Pulling up to Obexer’s Boat Co. I could see a figure standing in the distance — it was Katie, my observer. We greeted Katie, Sylvia, and the boat captain, and unloaded my gear. We then made our way across the street to the short old stone wall where my husband Mike had parked the car.
The anticipation begins.
There was a ten-minute boat ride to the start of the swim, where Slyvia announced that I needed to carefully jump into the water, not dive, and climb ashore through an endless bed of granite rocks. I was aiming for two white monobloc chairs when the spotlight turned off. All I could assume is that it was the start of my swim, and I was no longer aloud the aid of a spotlight. I gently fell, exiting the water but caught myself and finished by crawling ashore. When I was finally standing, I saw a red blinking stick wave once, then turn green, and wave again, and I knew it was time to start.
I proceeded to clumsily crawl back through the hard granite rocks looking for the moment when I could dive into the cold night of the lake. Like a torpedo being launched, I narrowly streamlined into the shallows and began swimming. I could see the boat on my left side every time I took a breath. The water was dark and endless. As I would breathe, I would catch sight of the red headlight attached to my goggles reflecting on the surface of the water and the green light on the bow of the boat glistening in the distance.
Feed, swim, feed...
Before I knew it, a green blinking line was waving me over for my first feeding. I tried to be quick and exchanged no words. As I continued swimming, I noticed that the boat seemed far away. Dawn started to show its golden skirt as I approached my second feeding. Confused at the gesture, I realized Mike was handing me Advil — I was already at mile two. The next few feedings were a bit of a blur until the sun started to rise. While the air quality was good for my swim, there was still smoke from the fire causing a red sun. Every stroke I took, the bubbles would catch the light of the sun as if someone were throwing handfuls of rubies into the deep blue water.
Suddenly the boat whips arounds me.
As I stop, Katie tells me I am pulling too far to the right — I am wasting time zigzagging through the lake. It is too early to feed so I continue to swim. Head down, pull-kick, pull-kick, pull-kick. I am breathing every five stokes now and I am slighting to the right, which is my weaker side. Constantly sighting, they no longer need to gesture me over for feedings. I can see Mike preparing my next feed and Katie pulling out the observer’s log. The blue-sky melds with water as I swim over for my next feeding. If I stop treading water, I begin to sink into its depts. Mike gives me Tylenol, and a breakfast waffle which I refuse. It is possible that was a mistake because I start to develop indigestion.
Reach long, pull hard.
I stop swimming a few times to get a hold of the acid taste in my mouth and focus on swimming. At the next feeding, Mike tells me my pace is much better on this side. Shocked, Sylvia ecstatically exclaims that I have picked my pace up from 1.8mph to 2.3–2.5mph. I feel slow and tired, and she tells me to reach long and pull hard. This becomes the mantra to the rest of my swim.
Taking a breath to the right, I can see smiles.
Reach long, pull hard. They are watching me with excitement, and I am racing the bow of the boat. Reach long, pull hard. The water begins to chill. Reach long, pull hard. I can remember Syliva telling me the edge of the lake is colder because of the decomposing granite. This time I take a breath, Slyvia is moving around the boat, it is time for my feeding. She offers me a gel out of a fishnet, wrapped in yellow duct tape with a tab so that is easy to grab and insists I will like it. To my delight sweet coffee chocolate caramel coats my tongue. I remember at the beginning of the swim, to not be offended if she offers me a goo.
I am slowing down.
My teeth grind as I try to remember to reach long and pull hard. An aching shoulder hurts but I push through. The tension in my jaw is distracting me from the pain. My stroke is beginning to break down. Occasionally I breath to the left again and see an outcropping of rocks. At first, I am overwhelmed by joy because this is the finish but then I notice the outcropping is not moving. I am not moving. Where is my forward progress? I take a breath to the right and notice that I still have one more feeding. I still have perhaps an hour of swimming ahead of me.
An end in sight.
I drink my last feeding with well wishes and encouragement and begin to swim. Reach long, pull hard. It is difficult. I have not sighted forward this entire swim and now I cannot stop. Trees grow like new sproutings in the distance and buildings begin to take shape. Close now, I can see Katie holding an orange flag, warning other boaters of my presence. I slowly continue to swim trying not to breath left. I see the outcropping of rocks not getting smaller. Sharply Katie tells me to aim for the green house. Swimming left and slighting, the house gets bigger but there are lines drawn in the sand. Reach long, pull hard. Little by little I cross each line until I can stand. Slowly shuffling through the shallow water, I can feel gravity take hold.