The Fremont Lake Swim Ė 6 hours and 37 minutes
by John Kelly
October 2, 2011
Editorís Note: On Saturday, October 1st, John Kelly attempted to swim the length of Fremont Lake. He set off from the north end of the lake hoping to end at Lakeside Lodge. He was supported by Tom Brown. Below is his narrative about the swim.
The short story is that the swim was successful, and I swam from the inlet of Fremont Lake to Sandy Beach, which is around 9 miles, in 6 hours and 37 minutes.
The long story is that I have been thinking about making this swim for around 4 years. I looked at Google Maps and plotted out how to site and navigate the swim at that time, and trained by swimming 1 to 2 hours a day for four years. For those who havenít heard, I have a crazy goal of trying to make the 2016 Olympics in Rio in the 1500 meter swim, which leads to my current obsession with swim training. I felt like I would be ready to make the Fremont Lake swim next summer, and was planning on doing it then.
On Friday, I did a long swim in the Pinedale Aquatic Center (PAC) of about 3 hours, and during the last half-hour, swam beside a good local swimmer, Tom Brown. When I was done, I went to the hot tub, and Tom was there. We chatted for a bit, and I found out that Tom is originally from Australia, and has completed several open water swims, including a swim trek in Croatia that he recently returned from. Tom asked me if I had ever thought of swimming the length of Fremont Lake, and I told him I had been thinking about it for 4 years. Tom stated that he had been thinking about it for 16 years, and wanted to be the first to do it, but felt he was not quite able to do it at this point in his life. He asked me if I would be interested in doing it and mentioned that he had a boat and would volunteer to crew for me. I told him it was unlikely that I would want to do it at this time of year, but I would drive up to the lake that evening and check the water temp and call him back that night.
Friday evening, I drove up to the lake and felt the water, and it didnít feel too cold, so I called Tom. He was excited and said we should go for a Saturday swim, as the Sunday weather forecast was less favorable. Since we are both rather crazy, we decided to give it a go. I was worried when I slept on Friday night, anxious about the swim, and that maybe I was biting off more than I could chew. I felt I had the fitness to complete the distance, but the cold temperature and possibility of hypothermia had me worried. We were going to swim it by English Channel rules, which meant no wetsuit and no physical contact with the boat or support crew.
On Saturday morning, Tom stopped by the house around 11am and picked me up, and we drove to Sylvan Bay to his pontoon boat. After a bit of logistical prep, we got on the boat and motored to the far end of the lake. Tom stopped a bit from the shore, and I lathered up with sunscreen, then jumped into the water and swam to the beach. The initial shock of the cold was a bit disconcerting as I typically go very slowly into cold water, but I managed to adapt. I stood on the beach, and Tom gave me the go signal, and I started the swim at 1:19pm.
At first, I was a little panicked by the temperature and the open water, so I started with breaststroke for about 5 minutes to adjust to the temperature and calm some of my panic. I thought, this will be embarrassing if I swim for 10 minutes and scratch. But after a bit, I adjusted to the temperature, and my panic of the vastness of the water subsided. I switched to freestyle, and started making better time. For the first leg, I sited off a promontory ahead about 2 or 3k, and to the left. I experimented with different rhythms of breathing on one side and then the other, and lifting my head to look ahead, site, and maintain a good line.
After about 50 minutes, I made the first leg to that promontory, and shifted my site to another promontory ahead about 4 or 5k and to the left. I settled into a better, more relaxed stroke, and lengthened my body more. The mantra that I used was "savor it," drawing attention to the moment and immersing myself in the joy and fullness of it. The cliffs to the right and the left were absolutely beautiful, and the sunlight on the golden aspens was divine. The water was a deep green, and it was a little scary looking down into it, so I grounded and calmed myself by looking to the right and the left at the beautiful scenery. When I was in Alaska, I skied across a few lakes in the winter, and I used the visual of being on top of the water to calm myself. I imagined that I was on a 9 mile hike on top of the water. Also, the distances seemed so vast that sometimes I imagined that I was biking instead of swimming, so that the distances didnít seem so far.
After another length of time, we rounded the next promontory, and had a long stretch of around 5 miles to Sandy Beach. Tom offered me food and water, but I declined as I wanted to keep moving to avoid cooling down, and didnít feel the need for either. Tom would also ask me questions about every hour as a hypothermia check. His first question was how to spell hypothermia, which I managed ok. His second question was "what was the date 2 days ago?" I almost missed that one, even though I didnít have hypothermia, but then I remembered that the swim was on the first of October and counted backwards.
The next hour was calm, and we made good time. But we had started later than we should have, and I noticed the sun getting low on the horizon. Soon it set, and twilight emerged. At this time, a head wind picked up, and 1 to 2 foot waves came at me head on. This was the most difficult time of the swim. It was difficult to site, as when I looked up, I couldnít see over the waves, and would sometimes get hit by a cresting wave. I had to experiment to adjust my body to the flowing rhythm of the waves, and to try to figure out a way to breath with the waves, as I would often get a mouthful of water rather than air. I had a few panic attacks and wasnít sure I could make it, but I tried to stay calm and figure something out. Eventually, I found that if I tucked my head slightly into a breaking wave, I could form a pocket of air to breath, and then I was golden. I didnít ever figure out a good rhythm with the waves, but half the time I could site, and the other half it was just waves.
Soon, it was dark out. Tom was getting blown around a lot on his boat, and in addition to driving, he would shine a flashlight on me so that he could monitor my progress. He was getting a bit concerned about finishing in the dark, as I was, but I thought that lots of open water swimmer swim in the dark, so I could, too. I saw a light in the distance that was Lakeside Lodge, and another fainter light to the left that looked like a house above Sandy Beach. I was able to site off the bright light of Lakeside, and then shift to the fainter light above the beach. I was quite tired and exhausted, but determined to finish, and I relaxed into the darkness and waves, and kept on it.
Eventually, we saw one of the large rocks by Sandy Beach, and Tom shined a light on it to direct me. It turns out that Ward Wise was waiting for us on the beach, and when he saw Tomís light, he shined a flashlight back, and I was able to refine my siting to that light. Finally, I felt sand beneath my arms and knew I had made it. By English Channel rules, I had to emerge completely out of the water with no assistance, so I asked Ward to hold off until I was completely out of the water. I tried to walk out, but I was too exhausted, and had to crawl out on the beach. I emerged completely at 7:56 pm. Once I was out, Ward helped me stand up and helped direct Tom to land on the Beach. I managed to dry off and get into some dry clothes, but I was getting cold, fast. Ward had his truck on the beach, so he helped me to it, and turned on the heat, and I wrapped up in a large blanket. Tom docked the boat quickly, and then they drove me to the house and dropped me off, and then Ward drove Tom back to his truck.
For some reason, I was quite dizzy and nauseous, and I ended up throwing up at the house (I made it to the bathroom), but then felt somewhat better. I took a hot shower, and then filled up a water bottle with a juice and water mix and went right to bed. As I woke in the night, I hydrated with the juice/water, and by morning I was almost completely recovered. I have a little tendon soreness in my shoulders, and little chafing on my shoulders from the breathing, and a little sunburn, but other than that Iím quite good. Iím on my way now down to the PAC to soak in the hot tub and do an hour or two relaxed swim.
So, all in all, I feel like it was a great day, and an enjoyable swim, but definitely challenging and a stretch of my abilities to complete. It feels great to have set the swim as a goal and to have a window of opportunity to make it happen. I helped Tom with some logistical support today in moving the boat back to his house, and I am deeply grateful for his incredible support and encouragement, and his outstanding efforts as a support crewmember.