Tuesday, May 5, 2015

S.C.A.R. 2015

On May 6, 2015, I, along with 40-ish other open water swimmers from all over the world (nearly all of whom are more worthy of this event than I), will embark on a 4-day 40-ish mile journey the length of a chain of lakes created by dams along the Salt River, just east of Mesa, Arizona.  The event is known as "S.C.A.R.," an acronym for the four lakes we will navigate, dam to dam: Suguaro, Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt.

Race Director, Phoenix attorney Kent Nicholas, started this event four years ago while using these four lakes to train for his English Channel crossing.  The event has exploded in popularity in a short period of time, likely a result of the bold, but manageable distances, the spectacular and inaccessible beauty of the venues and the legendary names in the OWS community who've taken on this beast.  And then there's Kent's fun-loving hospitality (did I mention there's a band and beer at the pre-race social?)

Because these lakes are surrounded by the high canyon walls and rugged desert mountains of the Tonto National Forrest, it is difficult to get swimmers to the starts (in the early years, swimmers DNFed from injuries sustained climbing down the steep canyon to get to the start).  So each day will start with a boat ride from the finish to the start.  As a first this year, swimmers will start in three waves, based on expected pace (slowest to fastest), in order to encourage more finish-line camaraderie.  After even a casual review of the intimidating resumes of the other swimmers, I imagine I'll be in the first wave (my own resume would safely fit inside a fortune cookie).

Day 1: Suguaro Lake, officially listed as 9.5 miles (according to the river authority).  Based on the finish times of previous years and swim reports I've read (and my own, tedious, Google Earth clicking), it seems that the distances are overstated by the river authority.  Plus, we start and finish at the safety buoy lines at each end of the lakes, which extend out some distance from the dams themselves.  I estimate the actual swim distance for Suguaro is around 8 miles.

Day 2: Canyon Lake, officially listed as 9 miles.  This is a spectacularly beautiful lake.  Visually, it's more like a narrow river snaking through towering rock walls on either side.  The actual distance appeared to be around 8.5 miles when I measured it back in January, but when I measured it last week, it was MUCH shorter.  It appears the river authority moved the buoy line about a half-mile down-lake.  (Confession: the excitement of this little discovery put a grin on my face for days!)  Actual swim distance appears to be around 7.5 miles.

Day 3: Apache.  The Beast.  Officially listed as 17.5 miles.  While that’s whipping enough, rumor has it the hard part of Apache isn’t the distance.  It’s the wind.  So much so that the difference in median finish times from one year to the next can be measured in hoursFreaking hours.  On the bright side, I clicked out the actual swim distance at less than 15 miles for the straight swimmer.

Day 4: Roosevelt.  Official distance is 10k (6.2 miles).  A relative cake-walk.  But here’s the rub: it’s a night swim.  Uncharted waters for me--not including an unplanned midnight evasion of two spotlight-wielding Texas Parks and Wildlife Rangers following an illegal cliff jump a decade ago (remember that one Ross?  Tripp?).  Official distance seems about right: 6.2 miles.  Oddly, though, the times from past years are way too long for a 10K.  Perhaps the darkness slows you down.  Or perhaps it’s the swelling.

While I'm a veteran of decades of open water swimming, this event is well-beyond my past experience.  To say I'm terrified would be an understatement. I’ve done these distances, but not back to back.  Not even in the same month.  10 miles is an event for me.  With a week of rest on either side.  After my last 10 mile race, I couldn’t move my left shoulder for 3 days.

And then there’s this whole “race” business.  99% of my OWS is solo.  Only me.  And my drag-behind feed bag.  And an objective, known only to me and subject to change at any time.  I’m relatively new to organized events.  Kent says, “S.C.A.R. isn’t a race.”  Cha-a.  If there’s two Speedos in the water, it’s a race.  I tried that “not a race” idea at Swim the Suck last October.  “Take it easy.  Just swim to finish.  Feel the force, Luke.”  By the time the starting pistol report echoed from the walls of the Tennessee River Valley, it was on like Donkey Kong.  Swim plan, swim schlam.  So that’s probably my biggest obstacle.  My own ego. 

Second, I’ve developed a persistent case of tendonitis in my left wrist.  My ortho said it’s not treatable with an injection or PT.  I fashioned a wrist brace out of some DIY carbon fiber, some old wetsuit scraps and a stretch of bungee.  Pool testing indicated a loss of about 4 seconds per 100 meters, so I’m not going to use it unless the pain requires it.

But if I respect my limitations and my wrist holds up, this should be an epic week!

Here is a link to the official website: http://www.scarswim.com/  The daily results should be posted there each night.  I'll do my best to update this blog.


  1. Hope u do well. Be there soon

  2. Stephen, if anyone is awesome, it is you. I am privileged to know and swim with you.

    Creighton Cardwell