The Lake George Adventure Swim took place over the Fourth of July weekend this past year. It was a four day excursion across the length of Lake George in segments. To read the first installment you can click here.
Lake George Adventure Swim: Medusa
A small rock holds back a great wave. – Homer –
The afternoon of the Fourth of July.
I was tired. The kind of tired where your body can go on, but it’s leaving your brain behind.
So when Dave kayaked out through chop and waves created by 15 mph winds (gusting to 25 mph) and whizzing boat traffic to the sailboat to deliver the bag that I was supposed to have placed on the boat… and was completely swamped and tipped over… I just stood there watching.
“Oh.” I said, calmly. And then, because it was such a true and accurate assessment of his predicament, I repeated myself.
Bob and Deb, they told me later, sat on the boat with the bag delivered dry and safe and stared on at Dave’s attempt to get the kayak all put together and back to shore and one of them observed that what we needed right then was a safety swimmer.
Poseidon, god of the seas, happened to be there to see me off on my adventure. He recommended I jump in and help out. I was, after all, just standing there watching Dave struggle, clad in my swimsuit, cap and goggles and completely unprepared to swim.
It didn’t take much to get Dave and the Light One back to shore and assess the situation. Dave hadn’t even lost anything out of the kayak. He was laughing.
“Well, I am the expendable crewman,” He said. “If anything bad is going to happen on this trip, it’s going to happen to me.”
I laughed. “Don’t worry, this was probably the one thing that would go wrong at the start of the trip and everything else will be just ducky.”
Dave clambered back into the kayak in his soaking wet clothes. I worried about him getting cold, but he was insistent that he would be fine. There wasn’t much discussion and he was pushing off once again… and I quickly followed after him.
Whatever was I thinking? I wondered to myself as soon as I put my face in the water.
I just… felt bad. I felt that crumbling sadness I sometimes feel when I am very tired and I think I am an inconvenience or a burden or a problem. The conditions were rough. I was worried about the sailboat. I was worried about Dave in the kayak. It would be hard to maneuver the boat and the kayak and watch me and… be safe. It was so much to ask… this whole adventure. It just was.
They know they can pull me out, don’t they? They can always make me get out. I’m sure they would make me get out, if they had to.
The crumbling feeling subsided as I met my match with the conditions. I really didn’t have much time to feel sorry for myself or whatever my problem was. Between the boat wake and the headwind, I was punching my way forward with every stroke. Slowly. Surely. Efficiently. I was in love with the struggle. In love with the battle. I love the waves coming at me head on. I don’t know why, but I do.
Come at me, bro! I made myself laugh
It was fun and I enjoyed it… but it wasn’t easy, let me tell you. I sometimes felt like I was crawling up walls of water. Dave maneuvered through the angry chop masterfully. It was a trial by fire for him as he tried his best to navigate me through waves just as tall as he was. The sailboat chased boats around and away from me. Goodness, the boats! They zoomed and sped and whined and whizzed in all directions. Like the snakes on Medusa’s head, I imagined them zinging around their demon mistress in a frenzied panic. I could hear the whine of their engines under the water like a thousand mosquitoes that I could never escape.
So, it’s a fight you want, eh, Medusa?
Little does she know, that here I am with my intrepid army of three and a sailboat AND a kayak. And let’s not forget the two golf balls. She’ll never expect the golf balls. Or the Spanish Inquisition.
I laughed again.
It was a long, slow, hard swim to the next checkpoint 4.5 miles up the lake. I would now and then lose sight of Dave in the swells. I would lose sight of the sailboat, too. I just kept swimming. And smiling. And swimming. And smiling.
Looking back at that swim and the long, constant battering to reach the next checkpoint, I’m not sure I’ve ever swum in such a tough situation before as a manufactured tempest the way that it was. Dave told me, some weeks later, that every time he went into a wave and it broke over the kayak and soaked him, that his first thought was that he had to find me.
“I thought, ‘I have to find Miss Bethany. I have to find her’,” he told me with all seriousness in his face, remembering. “And sometimes, I couldn’t see you right away. But even though I couldn’t see you, I knew you were okay. Because I know you can swim in conditions that kayakers can’t make it through. Because you do impossible things. But I needed to find you because I felt stronger knowing you were still swimming… when I could see that you were still swimming. I think that people need that, sometimes. They need you to do impossible things so that they know that they can be strong, too.”
To hear something like that from a 19 year old young man was just… overwhelming. I don’t know that I could be more honored.
At long last we made it to the island and Dave and I clambered aboard the boat. It was a fantastic accomplishment, one I will always treasure. Having reached our destination unharmed and without having to call the swim… my whole body was washed warm from exertion and feeling strong. Thinking about it, even now, I can’t help but smile.
The swim was done, but the adventure wasn’t quite over for the evening. We powered up the engine to a steady 5 mph whine and set our course northward to check into our campsite.
Pulling out a set of old charts, Bob and Deb navigated us amongst the islands we would be calling home for the next couple days. It was so exciting! Some of the channels were very narrow and buoys littered our way with warnings. We all had raincoats on to keep dry in the face of the spray from the wind and water. Poor Dave was soaked through and shivering now that he had stopped moving.
We made it to Glen Island to check into our campsite. Negotiations ensued and we decided to try a different campsite from the original – one on an Island, where we could set up a tent. We motored back down the lake to Huckleberry Island and began docking procedures.
Unfortunately, our hardware was not supported. Docking failed. We had to reboot and go back with our original plan… four people sleeping on the North Forty seemed like a lot, when you could pretty much touch everything in the boat from your bunk. But I was glad we got to sleep in the boat. It made it seem more true to Odysseus’ journey… more in line with the way my Viking ancestors traversed the world.
We made it to our campsite just as the sun was beginning to set. We didn’t have to do a lot to set up camp and eat dinner. And as we were getting ready for bed, oh wonder of wonders… we discovered we could see the fireworks from our boat!! How beautifully they set the lavender sky alight with their many colors. We sat down and watched the fireworks in the distant sky.
I couldn’t remember the last time I sat watching fireworks. I’ve NEVER watched them from a sailboat, before! It was such a special moment… the fireworks danced just above the tree tops and reflected on the mirror surface of the water as the last of the sunlight slowly faded and the moon shone above.
I suppose it was a moment perfected by the harrowing hardship of the long swim I had done that afternoon, but words cannot describe how much I cherish that memory. The peace and the gratitude I feel when I look back leave me smiling.
When I laid down that night… my exhaustion was deep and sweet and content. We laughed a bit amongst ourselves – making jokes that were only funny in our giddy, tired state of mind before we fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the sailboat in the dock.