Wednesday, May 6, 2015

SCAR: Day 1

Suguaro complete.  I earned my "S" in S.C.A.R. vernacular.  Around 6:00 a.m. (Kent is awesomely laid back about schedules/regulations) we gathered at the marina adjacent to the dam where we would later finish and got all greased up, staged feeds, checked gear etc.  Kent assigned me to the middle wave (based upon my very average speed).  So took some pictures and chilled for 30 minutes.

At the pre-race staging area

And here is Martin Strel.  If you don't know of the "Big River Man", his 22,000 miles of big river swims include: the entire length of the Mississippi (2,200 miles in 68 days), the Yangtze (2,400 miles in 54 days) and the Amazon (3,600 miles in 66 days).  One of the most remarkable and fascinating people I've ever known.
When it was our turn, we took a ferry to the start, 9(?) miles away.  My 500 HP "ferry" boat is in the background of the above picture.  I think we made it to the start in under 5 minutes.


We were dropped on a beach about 1.5 miles from the start, where Kent took us by pontoon boat to the dam. Actually, boats aren't allowed close to the dam, so we had to swim the last 500 meters.  Which was actually nice, because the water was quite cold (low 60s) and this little warm-up helped get over the shock.

Once we were all in place, Kent signaled the start.  I intentionally waited a couple of seconds to avoid the rush, started my stopwatch and got underway.  My apprehension of the event was gone immediately.  We were swimming. I was home.  The water was calm, clear and cold.  Within 15 minutes, my brain started playing some Steve Miller and I fell into a perfect, three-beat rhythm.  I knew it would be an epic day. 

Meanwhile, my Kayaker, Steve Shearin, had stayed back at the beach to wait for me.  He saw the first wave swim by, and thought it was my wave.  After the last swimmer passed, he thought he'd missed me.  So he jumped in his kayak and furiously paddled to the front of the first wave, checking every swimmer.  Then he had to paddle all the way back to find me.

My watch alarm was set to go off every 40 minutes to remind me to feed.  But at the first alarm, there was no sign of Shearin.  I swam another 10 minutes before we found each other.  It was not problem, I'd used the other kayaks for navigation and 10 minutes late on feeding was no big deal.  I stopped and ate while Shearin regaled me with his misadventures.  I told him I felt awesome, and I did.

I resisted the urge to indulge my apparent potential.  There would be time enough for that.  I just kept repeating, "slow is smooth, smooth is fast."  I jockeyed with a gal throughout first 6 miles (I later learned it was Sharon Ottman from Arizona).  We traded places probably 6-8 times, depending on who was feeding and when.

Shearin was awesome at navigation.  We passed 5 or 6 swimmers just by taking a superior line.  By the third feed, I was starting to cramp in my left lower leg, so I requested my trusty pickle juice from Shearin.  As he scoured my bag I realized I'd left the pickle juice in the fridge back at the hotel.  Ouch!  I soldiered on, dragging my motionless left foot like an anchor, toes locked straight down.  I had to constantly correct my course to account for the left rudder.  It subsided after maybe 10 minutes.

The GPS feature on my watch stopped working at some point during the swim.  Everyone else seemed to have a similar problem.  Apparently the high canyon walls interfered with satellite reception.  So I had to try to remember what the map looked like to guess at my progress.  It had been a couple of weeks since I studied it, so I only recognized the occasional landmark and even then, I couldn't remember what I had associated with them.  Then I saw "the rock" (a large boulder rising 30 feet out of the water.  "Aha!  I remember that!  1 mile to go."  (Or so I thought.)  "It's go time!"  I slowly stoked the coals.

800 meters later, we turned the corner and headed out of the canyon and into the big lake.  It was impossible to judge distances, but within 20 minutes, it was abundantly clear that I had mistaken the significance of "the rock." Turns out, that was the three-quarter mark.  2+ miles from the finish!  Ouch.  Plus, the wind picked up significantly outside of the protected canyon, so it was quite a bit harder going.  I started to get fatigued, which I promised myself I wouldn't do.  So I throttled back.  Two people passed me in the final mile, including Sharon.  I reminded myself of how much swimming was yet to come, and cruised in to the finish.

Finish time: 4:00:25.  Perfect.  Currently in 22nd out of 42. Official Results Here

Wrist held up fine during the race, but hurts now.  I've got ice on it.  We'll see.

Time to get some sleep...


  1. That was a fun day, Stephen. I had to work the other days, so only one day for me this time around. I didnt realize we were so close. Did you see the bald eagle over us?

  2. Didn't see the eagle (too busy watching swimmers, it appears) but my kayaker told me about it. I was bummed you left! I looking forward to the motivation. I don't think there was ever more than 30 feet of separation between us for 4 hours...