Milestones

Remember the first time you ran a mile?

Neither do I.  It must have been in gym class.  I was probably the last kid across the finish line.  I probably walked for 1/3 of it.  But I do remember that I always, always, always sprinted to the finish.

Remember the first time you ran two miles?

I do.  It was only a couple years back, actually.  I couldn’t swim because my shoulder was injured and I had taken up running to stay in shape.  I remember running two miles.  I remember it was hard.  But the first mile felt easier and I didn’t have to walk.  I remember the hill I went flying down toward the finish.  I always sprint to the end…

Remember your first race?

I hated the idea of running a 5k.  I have always rejected anything remotely typical.  I chose a 4.4 mile race instead.  My name was second to last for finishing.  I’m sure I sprinted to the end.  After all, that’s what I do.

Remember that great run you had when you didn’t want to run at all?  How about the one where you thought you might throw up?  The one that brought tears to your eyes?  The one that made your lungs burn?  The one that surprised you with how smoothly it went?  That best personal record?  The worst possible run you ever had?

We mark our way forward with milestones.  This is how far I’ve come.  This is what I’ve done.  I will leave my name as a mark and a memento.  Data on a stone along the road.

I found myself wondering about milestone zero last night.  Why did you want to run a marathon, Bethany?  Where did you begin?  Are you running away from something?  Or were you just running toward something else?  Was it out of something beautiful that you began?  Or out of a neediness within you?

I realized that I don’t have much of an expectation about that first marathon at all. I want to run the whole way, but I don’t need to.  I realized I’m not as interested in running the marathon event as much as I want to discover each milestone along the way toward it.  I want to get to know myself along this journey.  It’s an unnatural place for me.  I’m not comfortable running. I want to find my feet.  I want to stay healthy and strong and still be athletic even in the midst of swimming injury and burnout.

I want to run a marathon, not because I love running, but because I love me.

Each milestone, right now, seems terrible and painful and uninspiring.  I collect them for my little data collection and I work at not getting discouraged.  It’s not spectacular.  It’s not grand or glorious or exciting.  It’s not an overnight success story or any kind of impressive speed time. Goodness knows, there won’t be a book or a movie.

It’s just a girl who never thought she could run changing her mind.

Finding her feet.

Being who she is.

Becoming everything she can.

One milestone at a time.

Adirondack Adventure Swimming: Big Moose Lake

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Big Moose Lake in relation to the surrounding area.

Big Moose Lake – not to be confused with Small, Medium, or Gargantuan Moose Lake – is located along Route 1 (Big Moose Road) in the Adirondacks.  It’s about 4 miles long and seemed to have been settled into nicely with multiple camps, recreational facilities and even homes.  It’s not too far from Big Moose itself or from Inlet, NY which seems to be a bustling touristy area… at least on the Fourth of July.

Intrepid adventurers, Bob and Deb and I, had decided to try to hit three lakes on July 4th on our way back home after a pleasant evening at Covewood Lodge the night before.

We began by breaking into Big Moose Lake.

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5 Mph in the swim area.  Settle down you speed devils!

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A black and silver morning.

Okay, we weren’t really ‘breaking in’ so much, but we felt very bold as we got in the water and swam outside of the roped off section of the lake that was Covewood’s swimming area.

The water was very dark, I remember.  A deep black/orange color.  The sky was slate gray, too and gave an almost begrudging chill to the morning.  That, and the temperature was only in the mid-50s.  The water temperature was recorded at 68-69 degrees and was definitely a wakeup call.

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Water Temperature official record!

Leaving our hot coffee cups on the dock as a fond memory, we swam out into the darkness, marveling at the coves we found and the plant life we encountered.  Boats were already out and about in different areas, but the lake was mostly quiet.

When we turned around to head back, Deb pointed out that our bubbles were hanging out on the surface of the water.  They were like bread crumbs for us to find our way back to dock we had left.  Not that we went too terribly far, anyway.

I did notice during the swim that I had slept uncomfortably the night before and my back was sore.  It seemed to be interfering with me keeping my hips up.  I was glad when we finally made it back to shore.

We felt refreshed and slightly chilled and decided unanimously to head for Inlet and nice hot breakfast.

The Hardest Hard

The past several months have yielded multiple speaking engagements for me.  I’m always honored at the opportunity to tell people about my English Channel swim.  Every time I tell the story, I see the awe on their faces.  I put it into words and paint pictures they can only try to imagine.  I find a place in their minds where I can connect and I do my best to explain and expand and clarify and impress the challenge and the commitment and the magnitude of the support required.  There has always been one part of the story and one question that stumps me:

“How did you swim in the ocean at night?”

Honestly… I don’t know.

I have never found an answer that quite covers it.  To me, it is no small miracle.  In the preceding 4 years, I swam for a whole 2 hours at night in the ocean.  I never swam for more than half an hour at one time.  It terrified me every single time.  Terrified me.  I would put on my courage and go in, but I could never quiet the voices or tame the vivid imaginations.  When my first opportunity to swim the English Channel arrived, I apprehensively faced the fact that most of it would be at night.  I was surprised when the world darkened and the colors faded to black; I found myself not only able to continue – but content.  I was comfortable in the darkness.  When I saw the shadow of something swimming between the boat and me, I simply said, “I’m not going to worry about that.”  And I didn’t.  I didn’t worry at all.  Not for a second.  Even with the jellyfish stings and the dark and the vomit and the cold and the salt and the unknown.  I didn’t see any of that.  I saw the most beautiful, exquisite stars.  I saw the boat with the moon hovering over its bow.  I saw the lights of France and heard them calling me…

The truth is, I loved it.

Logic tells me it was just like swimming during the day.  Emotion tells me I was in my moment and nothing was going to stop me.  But something deeper than logic and emotion reminds me that that night spent in the ocean wasn’t the darkest moment of my life.  It wasn’t my hardest hard.  Swimming in the ocean is a sport.  It’s a physical demonstration.  As a part of the human condition, it’s one of life’s many electives.

The truth is that there are darker, more hopeless, more frightening things than swimming in the ocean at night.  Darkness is unavoidable.  We have no choice; night will fall.  We don’t get to opt out of getting diagnosed with life-altering diseases, confronting abusive situations, overcoming addictions, facing terrible accidents, or losing someone we love so dearly.   The harshest parts of life overtake us like the blanket of night, and all we have is to keep swimming.  Through our own vomit.  Through our worst fears.  Through the tidal changes and the shifting currents.   Twice as far and much longer than we ever anticipated.  All the natural world seems against us, and the ocean seems angry and it’s the blackest black you’ve ever seen…

But we keep going.

In the Channel, I kept going because I got to keep going.  Not because I had to.  I got to.  It was my privilege and my passion.  It’s the same in life.  We get to keep going.  We get to keep living.  We get to keep dreaming.  We get to hope.  We get to have the chance to be stronger than the darkness we didn’t choose.  We get to become something we never dared imagine we could be.  We get to be not just happy, but whole.  We get to see our own strength, beauty, determination, and excellence.  We get to leave a mark on the earth that shows the others coming behind us that there is always a way through.

The hardest hard is finding the place of gratitude and grace in the midst of the night you couldn’t avoid.  Find the unfettering peace of profound forgiveness.  Identify the inescapable and divine truths about yourself.  Look yourself in the eye.  Learn to fight for your life with dignity and honor.  Trace the threads of joy and contentment woven throughout your existence.

When our opportunity came, it came at night.  It came in the dark.  We got the fanfare of color in the sunset.  We got the company of the stars.  We got the silent, stern black water and the fluid, swallowing horizon without definition.

We got the truth: it can’t stay dark forever.

The sun will rise.  It must.  Until then, I will be the light.  I will love the stars.  I will be grateful and glad and content.  I will keep swimming.  Whatever!  …Because I will reach the other side and the darkness will end.  It must end somewhere.

And it will be the most beautiful sunrise.

“How did you swim in the ocean at night?”

I found a place of grace.  I felt mercy.  I dared to hope.  I practiced forgiveness over and over until it was a natural part of me.  I found the truth I always needed.  I celebrated the stars.  I let my light shine brighter than the darkness.  I knew love was there – as much as it felt so far away, I knew it was there.  I was never out there alone.  Never.

The truth is, I had every good thing I ever needed to make it through.

The truth is, I had no choice.

I had to swim in the ocean at night if I was going to swim.

And I was always going to swim.

Adirondack Adventure Swimming: Silver Lake

According to Google Maps, there are multiple Silver Lakes in the Adirondacks.  Searching for Silver Lake does not bring you to our quarry.  Instead, google Twitchell Lake and move slightly to the west and you will find our Silver Lake.  Nestled in the middle of nowhere, about half an hour from Inlet, NY with no road access, Silver Lake was the perfect introduction to a weekend of Adirondack Adventure Swimming.

Silver Lake Location

The gray marker in the upper left corner marks Silver Lake.

The Plan:

We were drawn to Silver Lake by the promise of its fantastic clarity, its remote location, and the absence of people.  It was our plan to drive to the Twitchell Lake parking area to leave the car.  From there, we would backpack up the trail to find Silver Lake.  We would swim around the lake and enjoy lunch on a rock in the sun and then hike back out.  That was the plan.

The Hike:

We finally wound our way along Route 1 and up Twitchell Road until we came to the parking lot.  We located the hiking trail, however, we couldn’t find any signs pointing to Silver Lake.  A little unnerved by this and thinking we were in the wrong location, Deb pulled out her GPS.  We confirmed that we were in the correct spot and boldly began our hike into the wilderness.

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Deb showing us the way.

Gear:

Good walking or hiking shoes,  Backpack,  Water,  Lunch,  Towel or Robie,  Swimsuit,  Cap,  Goggles

Accessories:

Camera, Bug Spray

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Civilized Adventure Swimmers ALWAYS check in.

The hiking trail led us along a muddy path that was, at times, so wet that it was indistinguishable from a stream.  We continuously checked in with the GPS as none of the signs indicated the way to Silver Lake.  We had to duck off of the main hiking trail down a less obvious path when we got near enough that we thought we might be able to see the lake.

We arrived at Silver Lake after approximately a mile and a half hike.  It was tremendously satisfying just to be there – at this remote and obscure pristine setting.  There was no sound of cars.  Or airplanes.  Or people, anywhere.  Nobody and nothing.  There was only the hushed sound of nature creaking and sighing and humming a nameless and foreign tune.

I loved it.

Silver Lake

Silver Lake

The SWIM

We changed into our suits there in the wilderness.  I definitely recommend a robie or supertowl for adventure swimming.  It’s basically two towels sown together with a head hole and arm holes that loosely hangs over you, so you can change underneath it.  It’s the best thing in the whole world!

Once appropriately attired, we left our rock and swam off into the mid-morning.  We made it to the island in no time and paused to check in.  We were all a bit disappointed that Silver Lake was not as clear as we were promised.  Bob and Deb had several theories – perhaps it hadn’t turned over yet, perhaps it wasn’t as acidic as it had been 30 years ago, or perhaps the heavy rainfalls had contributed to its turbidity.  Whatever the reason and regardless of the clarity, it was a beautiful place to swim.

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Bob and Deb are always in sync.

We swam around the back side of the island and up to one of the two lonely cabins on Silver Lake.  I wasn’t sure how anybody had ever built anything there or why.  There weren’t any fish in Silver Lake, so fishing was out.  Perhaps it was for hiking?  I wasn’t sure.

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Happy as can be!

We paused at the docks and as we began to swim away, I caught sight of something floating ahead of us.

“What is that?”  I asked, unable to make it out.  “Is it a stick?”

I couldn’t take my eyes off of it and didn’t understand why.  I was somehow able to realize that it was moving too fast through the water to be an inanimate object, yet I couldn’t quite place what exactly it was.

“It’s a snake!” Deb declared.

“Really?” I asked.

I had never seen a snake swim before!  We watched it swimming away from us as fast as it could go, commenting that we had frightened it.  We were all intrigued and wanted to get a closer look, but at the same time, a little too uncertain to get too close.  None of us had ever met a snake in the water before!

“That just increased the Peril of this particular adventure swim,” Bob determined.

Once the snake had made his way toward the shore, we continued our swim.  Fighting off a horde of deer flies, we swam over to check out a beaver hut.  I have seen beavers near areas where I swim and they make me nervous, so I opted to be the photographer of this excursion and not to get too close.

Checking out the accommodations.

Checking out the accommodations.

At that point, we made our way back to our little alcove with the rocks and the sun and the happiness.  Deb and I floated and took in the plant life on the bottom of the lake.  I snapped some pictures and learned about carnivorous plants, which was pretty awesome.

Underwater loveliness...

Underwater loveliness…

We changed out of wet suits and into dry clothes and sat in each other’s company, enjoying the sun and our lunch and watching the water to see what we could see.  In a lake where there are no fish, there are a lot of bugs and other things!  We marveled at the abundant life and Bob and Deb were quick to identify the different plants and creatures about us.  I sat and absorbed it all.

For the hike back, we hung our wet suits on the outside of our backpacks so they could dry.  We left Silver Lake for what felt like a much shorter hike back to the parking lot.  Some part of me felt like I was leaving a gemstone behind.  I wonder if I will ever get the chance to go back and to share the adventure with others.

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Step 1: hike into wilderness.  Step 2: Don swimsuit. Step 3: Swim. Step 4: Change clothes. Step 5: Hang suit on backpack utilizing carabiner or other attachment device, making sure that suit dangles to keep flies away.

How many adventures can fit into one life?  I’m not sure, but I sure hope some of them happen twice.

Adirondack Adventure Swimming: An Introduction

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Rock Lake – The Adirondacks

Adventure Swimming is a relatively new sport, but it currently enjoys a vast membership of renegade and rogue swimmers the world over.  People who enjoy swimming in unconventional and wild settings are flocking to the freedom of immersing and traversing the most unlikely bodies of water.

In my neck of the woods, some friends and I have made it our mission to swim the wild waters of the Adirondacks.  Thus, Adirondack Adventure Swimming was born.  It could be a club, brand, faction, non-profit, or multi-million dollar investment opportunity – we’ll get back to you on all of that later.  For now, it’s a group of environmentally conscious, open water enthusiasts determined to promote the sport of swimming in all its multi-faceted applications and for adults of all ages.

Adirondack Adventure Swimmers!

Adirondack Adventure Swimmers!

So what constitutes an Adventure Swim?  An Adventure Swim is defined by the presence of three components.

  1. Logistical complication – Most adventure swims take place in remote locations with complicated courses and routes. Planning becomes key to proper hydration, navigation, and safety.

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    GPS Route for the Swim of No Return.

  2. Unconventional swimming location – Adventure swims are conducted outside the box. This applies to the location of the swim, but also to administration of the swim.  Adventure swims aren’t for competition or completion of a certain distance as much as for the participation in nature and the enjoyment of swimming.
  3. Elements of Peril – Any physical activity has elements of peril. Swimming, perhaps, more so than others.  Throw in logistics and unconventional locations, and you increase the peril.  You can also increase the peril by adding in extreme temperatures, wildlife, or distance.

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    Silver Lake – Obscure yet gorgeous!

There!  Now that we’ve done our proper introduction to our sport; I’ve got some tales to tell of some amazing swims from this past weekend!   Make sure to stay tuned!

The Hiker Mating Call. And Other Stories.

First, allow me to explain that I have six brothers.  My oldest brother is 34, my youngest brother is 14.  As second oldest, I’m not as close to my younger brothers as I am to the two brothers who are closer in age to me.  We didn’t grow up together, so it’s hard to connect.  One of the things I’ve wanted to do since my successful English Channel swim is to spend more time with my family.  So far, I’ve been taking my youngest brothers hiking once a week.  It’s been full of shenanigans and hilarity – as any Bosch encounter would be!  Here are some of the best moments from our last three hikes.

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Gideon: I name this Three Ginger Trail.

Hike 1: White Rocks Ice Beds

We hiked the White Rocks trail to the Ice Beds.  I figured it was a short enough trek that Gideon could probably handle it.  The entire distance was 1.3 miles.  He did a great job and it was great for him to feel the sense of accomplishment of getting all the way to his destination and then back.  He was already talking about the next hike as we were leaving.  Here are some of the more memorable quotes:

Gideon: You went to college didn’t you?

Bethany: Yep, for two years.

Gideon: What do you get for going to college for two years?

Bethany: (pausing) In my case, nothing.

Gideon: Nothing?

Bethany: Yep.

Gideon: Well, that’s a dumb deal!  ‘Thanks for wasting your time, here’s nothing.’

This is Gideon.

This is Gideon, 14.

Gideon: …Did you just call him ‘soldier’ and then squeeze his knee?

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This is Micah, 17.

Hike 2: Halfway to the Top

We started up the White Rock’s main trail.  I was nervous that Gideon wouldn’t be able to handle the steep terrain.  Even the Forest Service guide has the main trail to the outlook (part of the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail) labeled as “Moderate to Difficult”.  We only made it 0.7 of a mile up before we turned around and headed back.  It was pretty tough.  But Gideon was already declaring that next time we were going to the top.  Here are some more of our priceless moments:

Bethany: Micah, tell a joke.

Micah: There was a man in the woods with his brother and sister.  His sister told him to tell a joke…

*dramatic pause*

Micah: But he had no joke.

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… this is about right…

Bethany: Just so you guys know, I did a hard core workout yesterday and I’m way sore.  So I might complain.

Micah: Are you going to stop to complain?

Bethany: No, I’ll keep going.  I can usually do things and whine at the same time.  I am a girl.

*pause*

Gideon:  I find that offensive.

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Hiking Buddy!

Bethany: So Gideon, do you like any girls?

Gideon smiled nervously, averting his eyes, and blushing all while giggling slightly.

Bethany: Oh!  So you do like a girl!

Gideon: Wha-? How do you know I like a girl?

Bethany: You were just giggling.

Gideon: Guys don’t ‘giggle’, okay?  Guys laugh.  Girls giggle.  I was not giggling.

Bethany: Okay.  So are you going to tell me about that girl?

Gideon: I’m not prepared to discuss this subject.

Bethany: Okay.  That’s okay.  I won’t tease you.  What about you, Micah?

Micah: (flatly) No.

Gideon:  He goes to public school.

Bethany: What does that mean?

Micah: All the girls are dangerous. REALLY dangerous!

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Some of the best times!

Hike 3: The Hiker Mating Call.

I’m glad to report that we finally made it to the top of the White Rock’s outlook and were able to view the stunning Vermont landscape.  It took us over 3 hours to make it the 3.6 mile round trip.  It had rained and everything was slippery.  The trail head parking lot was deserted.  Gideon was trembling with every step the last half mile, but what a trooper!  We were all exhausted, but felt awesome for having made it all the way to the top.

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The view from the top!

We stopped for a break at Mile 1 on the way up the mountain.  As we stood or leaned or sat along the trail, I started to make a resounding call.  It was high note, I repeated it twice, and it filled the woods around us with the sound.  My brothers looked at me askance, but we get pretty giddy on these trips and it wasn’t that weird for any of us to make noise for no reason.

By way of explanation, I said, “That’s the Hiker Mating Call.”

Both of my brothers were flabbergasted.

“Wh-what?!?”  Gideon asked.

We tumbled into doubled-over, belly-aching laughter at such a preposterous notion.  From there, the conversation fell to a Wookie sound making contest and other equally intellectual pursuits.

Not ten minutes later, Guri started barking.  We all turned to look behind us and paused.  A man was coming up the trail behind us.  He was well-dressed in a fine button up shirt and khaki slacks.  He was clean shaven and well kept.  We pulled the dog away from him and he continued on up the trail.

After a moment, Micah looked over at us.  “That just happened.”

I was busy trying to figure out why somebody wearing business casual was hiking on such a muddy, wet day, when Gideon leaned over to me, quietly.

“So… how’s that mating call working out for ya?”

The Top Gideon

Love this kid.

The Top

Such an accomplishment!

The Crowley Half

There I was, June 14th, 2015 – running my first half marathon.  It never occurred to me that I would ever be capable of running 13.1 miles.  A snapshot of my 12-year-old brain reveals my expectations for my life were: get married in the year 2010 (I have hope for this), because by then I will have graduated college (I still have hope for this, too) and have a decent job in an office (I’m sure I meant trailer on a construction site).  There were no athletic aspirations.  None.

I hated to run.  I hated to run because it hurt.  I was always slow.  I never made any teams.  I just tried to not be the last person to be picked in gym class.  At least I wasn’t the last one.

It was surreal, the idea of running a half marathon.  I’m not sure it made as big of an impression on me as it probably should have.  I mean, after swimming the English Channel, running any kind of a distance didn’t seem impossible.  People do these things all the time.  Ironman Lake Placid had more registrants in 2012 at that one event than there are successful English Channel swimmers in the history of the world. (Like, EVER.)

My point is that people do this kind of stuff.  People.  Regular people.  With the right training and commitment, they do it.  I’m a people.  I can do it, too!  And I was super busy with regular people things – school and work and dating (this is me trying to be normal) – and didn’t train as much as I needed to, either.  I did manage to get in some long runs.  I didn’t have a strategy.  I didn’t have any real notion of what I was doing.

Just run!  Just run with Judy and be happy.

At registration, I stood talking to Kathrine Switzer.  I was telling her about my English Channel swim.  I listened to the story of the Boston Marathon.   It was like we belonged in each other’s company.  I guess maybe we do.

Kathrine Switzer and I

In the company of greatness!

Then I was hovering at the starting line.  I stood in Judy’s easy bubble of confidence and pleasant energy.  I said hello to Julianne from Masters.  We waited.

Then, a funny thing happened.  The race began and I started to run.

And I just kept running.

Wilson Castle

Wilson Castle!

I was glad for Judy’s company.  She made the miles disappear.  My dad showed up to cheer us on.  David met up with us at various locations.

The water station between miles 2 and 7 vanished, or maybe it was never there to begin with.  I was glad I had my water bottle with me.  I knew I wasn’t drinking enough.  It was so hot.  Blistering.  Sweltering.  Hot, hot, hot.

Mile 7 was awesome!  Water and Gatorade and friendly faces encouraging us along.

Gatorade

Gatorade was the best thing in the WORLD just then!

“Aren’t you that girl who swam the English Channel?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “Actually, I am!”

“Oh, well this is nothing compared to that!”

Around mile 8 or 9, my friend, Chris, rode by on his motorcycle, backtracked and parked near us.  He jumped off and gave me hug.  Poor courageous soul, I was absolutely drenched with sweat!  So gross!

… But it made me smile.

And when the final few hills were hard and long and got steeper… Judy reminded me that it wasn’t that far to the finish.  Right at the top of a particularly brutal hill at Mile 10… we were immediately rewarded by a wonderful group of cheerleaders!  How fun is that!

Cheerleaders

Cheerleaders!

And my feet kept going along.  I never felt like I had to walk.  I just kept trudging onward and upward.  Until I could see the finish line… and I sprinted to the end!

Finish Line

FINISHED!

Something happens when you train for something – you transform into somebody who can do it.  No matter what ‘it’ is.  You can do it.

I did it; the most unlikely thing.

I ran that whole half marathon.

I crossed that finish line.

Unlikely.  Improbable.

Awesome.