Friday, April 29, 2016

SCAR 2016: Day 2 "Revenge of the Kiwi"

All of the lakes are spectacular, but Canyon is special. As you crest the steep hill that borders the west side of the canyon from which the lake draws its name, the view is breathtaking. I wanted to pull over at the scenic overlook for a picture, but I was 20 minutes late even after triggering the "speed limit exceed" warning message on my rented Audi which, comically, didn't kick in until I reached at 30 mph over the posted limit. As Teddy Roosevelt said,
"The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds the indefinable something that none of the others have.  To me, this is the most beautiful panorama nature has created." 
The beauty lifted my spirits, which I needed after my Saguaro performance. When I arrived at the site, Kent was announcing "pay attention to the starting waves. There have been many changes." I checked the board, not so much to see if I was moved as to see who was removed and added to the second wave. My name was gone! I'd been downgraded to the slow heat! I supposed "right-graded" or exposed as a fraud might be more accurate.

Next I checked to see if my new rival, Katrina Price had also been moved (the smack talking started back in the parking lot--we arrived in said lot at the exact same time, of course). Yes! The challenge was still on!

The drive to the staging area was fabulous.

As was the staging area, itself.

Katrina and I posed for a picture in the tradition of boxers before a match. It was on like Donkey Kong.

We loaded up the pontoon boat and headed to the start. After the ridiculously cold water below the dam at Saguaro (which, by the way, was recorded by a kayaker with her own, unofficial thermometer at 54 degrees around 500 meters from the start. Stands to reason it was 2-3 degrees colder at the buoy line) we expected the worst. Apache is much deeper and the dam separating it from Canyon is at least 100 feet tall. The water comes from the bottom. As such, Canyon is historically the coldest of the lakes. And it was cloudy, breezy with rain possible. To my great surprise and delight, the water was MUCH "warmer" at the start.  Probably more like 60-62. Cold enough to get your attention, but not enough to significantly impair basic motor skills like yesterday.

This seemed to make all the difference once we got started. My stroke came easily. Plus, since we were in the first wave, it was more of a rolling start than the sprinting of the other waves. I felt effortless and fast. Much better than the day before. "Too bad," I thought, "the highly anticipated international grudge match was going to be a boring blow out." I figured I must have put 500 meters on her within the first 40 minutes or so. I felt dialed in and invincible. And groovy.

I eased up a bit and soaked in the beauty of my surroundings. There was a light chop, but enough to exaggerate my breathing roll enough that I could see the tops of the 200 ft bluffs towering overhead. The clouds were breaking slightly and the sunlight made discernible, defined rays that interacted magically with the jagged, rocky cliffs. As the clouds dissipated fully, underwater visibility increased nearly to that of Saguaro. I saw several tight schools of 1000's of minnows darting around in seemingly choreographed movements like you typically see in the ocean, but not generally in fresh water.

I didn't stop when my feed alarm went off at 40 minutes. I felt too good to stop. "I'll push on another 10 minutes," I thought. Perhaps I can hang another 50 meters on Team Kiwi and just end this now." But I got distracted singing Simon and Garfunkel's "Feelin Groovy" and before I knew it, I was at 1:15.  Oops!  I stopped and requested a bottle.I looked around and realized that I was actually "winning" at the moment.. This was a  fiction, of course, due to the staggered start. But to be winning SCAR stage, even if just for a somewhat contrived moment in time made this swim even more awesome! I really had to hold the bridle firmly to avoid getting swept up in the moment. "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast."

My excitement was short-lived, however, because a half-hour later I saw a kayaker pulling into my peripheral vision at a noticeably higher rate of speed. The second wave leader, no doubt. "Must be some speed merchant like Jamie Tout or Steven Minaglia." I tried to make out the kayaker. He had the same hat as the Garth Price. Wait, WHAT? I shot up straight in the water. "Team Kiwi!? Inconceivable!"

Not only was she hanging on with dialed-in-and-feeling-groovy Steve, but I quickly deduced the tactical brilliance of her move. She'd apparently been stalking me until the 1-mile straight away (the only straight part of the course) before pouncing. This neutralized the Ninja's superpowers like so much kryptonite. Without his navigational advantage, it be up to me, alone. Her warp-speed jump was designed to intimidate me, which it did. She got perhaps a 20 meter gap before I could respond, but I held her there for the mile. As we finally approached the right-hand bend, she left the door open so wide I didn't even need the ninja to spot it. I took an inside line and found myself right in her jet wash as we approached the rocky outcropping. I tried to avoid the draft (rules and all), but we are such "swim doppplegangers" (doppleswimmers??) we were completely connected. I moved left, she moved left. I moved right, she moved right. "Is she blocking me?"

I dug deep for 5-6 six hard strokes to pull even with her for a minute. Eye to eye. The apex was upon us, time to seize my advantage. Then, everything went to hell. Out of nowhere, motion to my right. Another swimmer managed to squeeze a tighter line in the 18-in gap between me and the jagged rocks! Bold and risky. I liked it. Then a hand hit my left thigh. It wasn't Katrina. Someone wedged between us. I eased up to avoid impact, only to find a third swimmer in my draft. And kayaks everywhere. Apparently, the third wave lead pack had caught the second wave lead pack and they were now overtaking the first wave leaders. A pack of perhaps 12 of us were fighting for the hole shot in the zig-zagiest part of the course. Chaos ensued. After getting sprayed out the back of the washing machine, Katrina was ahead of me.

Plus, the right turn brought a remarkable headwind. I immediately noticed the jockeying had affected my stroke enough to aggravate my elbows. The swim changed rather dramatically at this point. I still felt great, but I was falling. I let off a bit. We managed to swap places with team Kiwi several more times, mostly because of her tighter feed schedule and Ninja's tighter lines. At one point, she screamed something at me as I passed her, but it was in New Zealander so I didn't understand it. I decided to take my last feed at the 75% mark. But when I pulled up, Ninja tells me I've consumed all my liquid feeds except the water. I asked for the trail mix and threw back a mouthful. I was crunching my way through it when I turned to see where the Kiwis were. They were less than 10 meters and closing fast. I spewed the un-swallowed nuts into the water and got back underway. Too late. She passed me with a look of steely resolve so powerful I could see it through her mirrored lenses.

The last mile was BRUTAL. 20 MPH headwind and plenty of boat/jetski traffic, which they must be used to down there in Kiwiland.  She won pulling away. In fact, she probably erased my gap from yesterday and added a few minutes of her own. She waited for me in the water long enough that her breathing was normal when I arrived, giving her a distinct smack talk advantage. She rained unrequited blow after unrequited blow on my defenseless ego. Well played, Kiwi.  Well played.

Tomorrow is another day. But it is also the dreaded and feared Apache Lake. The widow-maker. Tensions are high throughout Apache Lake Resort. The disaster of '15 has reached legendary status. There are perhaps 6 or 8 of us here this year who participated in that nightmare. When one of us is identified, the first question is more often than not, "Did you finish Apache?" (which makes me glad I did!). I could hear bail out plans discussed at several dinner tables.

I've been formulating a few of my own. Got to get my head straight before tomorrow. Can't expect to finish El Diablo with a "Plan B" in play. All-in or fold.


  1. You crack me up. Oh, and your picture here looks quite different than on MSF.

  2. Thanks, Mike. Intentional on both counts.