Friday, June 20, 2014

Chicot Challenge III

Friday, June 14, I left Greenwood about 3:30 in the afternoon with goggles and jammer in the backseat. As I drove west toward Greenville, MS, I tried to go over in my mind what WXVT might ask me. I still didn't know if the interview would be live or taped. Turns out when I got to the station, someone led me into the studio and sat me in a chair on the set. The news anchor came in, asked me a couple of questions, and suddenly said, "Here we go." Just like that the broadcast was live. I was onstage but not in the frame. Wow! That was fast.

During one of the commercial breaks we chatted a little and she said, "I'll just ask you some questions. You'll scoot your chair over when it's time." The broadcast came back on, and then during the next commercial break she said, "You're up next."

She asked me something about my interest in diabetes. She asked me something about training for such a long swim. She asked me about the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. And then it was over, the fastest three minutes of my life.

Steve Schill, anchor and meteorologist, led me to the office of Kelly Ritenour and introduced us. She told him we (the Chicot Challenge and team) were on the docket for Saturday. We spoke a bit and she committed to being at the start at 6:30.

Swimming out Ditch Bayou towards the big lake
I left and made my way to Lake Village and South Shore Cottages where I checked in. The little house, a former Katrina Cottage, was clean, nice, and a lot larger than it appeared from the outside. Then I texted Robin Bond and told her I was in. She was anxious to unloaded the kayaks, which belonged to Lake Chicot State Park, and get the borrowed trailer home. The swim would end at the Park so there was no further need of the trailer after dropping the boats off at the cottages.

When Robin drove up, Randy Beets was with her. Talk about a sight for sore eyes. His move from Greenville, Mississippi to North Carolina- I am happy for him- was quite a jolt to me. We shook hands. I think I may have hugged him even. We unloaded the kayaks and then chatted while Robin left to take the trailer back. When she returned, we went to Fox's Pizza.

Oh. My. God.

I ate the whole thing. And more.

I had difficulty going to sleep that night, in part because I kept thinking about the wind forecast Steve Schill, WXVT's meteorologist, showed me that afternoon. It was supposed to be calm early and build to ten miles per hour out of the east by midday. Terrible. Before tuning in, I checked my phone and Steve Schill had left a message saying Kelly would not be at the landing the following morning, but they wanted cell phone video of the start, somewhere along the way, and the finish. No problem, I thought.

When morning came, sure enough all was quiet and the lake looked like a pane of glass in its smooth calmness. Forrest, Paul, and my wife arrived. Justin arrived. Randy and Robin arrived. Then there was a flurry of activity as we started getting everything in place to begin our journey.

We were late starting, about 7:07 according to my Garmin, but still that was the earliest we ever got off by a long way. Justin suggested we pray before commencing, so we all held hands while he led us in taking our request to the Lord. Then I waded into the water on the boat ramp. Someone recommended I say something. I made a plug for the DFM, lost my footing, and fell when I slipped off the edge of the boat ramp. It was all caught on tape. Sunday night on WXVT, Kelly Ritinour would edit that out and say I "dove gracefully into Lake Chicot." Bless her. She was being very nice. I wouldn't have minded them showing me slip. It was OK. And then I turned and started swimming out of Ditch Bayou and towards the big lake.

I was out there several minutes before Robin and Randy got into their kayaks and caught up with me. A few minutes later, I looked over my shoulder and saw the pontoon piloted my Justin Nunnery and carrying my son, Forrest, Paul Brown, and my wife who was with me on the water for the first time during one of my marathon swims. Having her there gave me energy.

I cruised along and found a nice rhythm. The first goal I had was to make it to the Visitor's Center, which is on the lake about three miles from South Shore towards town. It took a while, but when I made that goal, I set my sights on downtown Lake Village about another three miles north and highly visible with a boat landing, a statue, and an amphitheater. When I made that, over three hours in, Robin asked if I wanted to stop. On the last two challenges, we stopped at Lake Village. I just kept swimming. For this one, it was English Channel Rules all the way.

Somewhere shortly after passing downtown, I started having issues with my goggles. My old Walmart specials, were a little tight and they were bothering me. I had three other pair in a plastic bag and I swapped out at my next feed. That was after I had asked for Vaseline. I had applied Bodyglide and Vaseline to my underarms but not to my shoulders. Normally I don't have any problems with that, but my left shoulder felt like my beard was rubbing the skin off it. After the swim, I found it wasn't that bad, but at the time, I thought I was going to be bleeding with the skin worn off. Maybe you can guess. I rubbed my shoulder down with Vaseline and tried my best not to get it on my goggles. But that is like eating fried chicken and driving: no matter how careful, the steering wheel always gets greasy.

For the next hour or so, I was constantly going blind with fogged and greasy goggles, swapping them out, and begging Robin to fix the problem. Finally, she cleaned the old Walmart specials and let the strap out just a little. When I put them back on, they were clear and comfortable. Problem solved. For the rest of the swim, I never touched them (after carefully putting them on) or let my hands get anywhere near my face, except to feed.

From downtown to Connerly Bayou was, in my mind, the next leg of the journey. That has long been one of my mental strategies during long endurance events, to break things down into sections and then sections within sections, achieve one goal at a time. When we got to the mouth of the river-looking water, I asked Robin how far we had come. She said, "A little over nine miles." That fired me up.

The reason we went up the bayou was to get the needed distance. A straight shot from Ditch Bayou to the State Park would be in the thirteen to fourteen mile range. From the causeway, just above the bayou, it is about four miles to the park. I had told Robin that she needed to do the math when we got there to figure how far up we needed to go. A few strokes up and she said Randy said we needed to go about a mile and a half up.

Connerly Bayou was adventurous, different, sort of neat, and a bit creepy all at the same time. I was not as comfortable in there as in the big lake. The water is darker, the trees grow down to the water's edge, and snags jut up here and there. I am sure it is absolutely gorgeous from a boat, but from the water, in the water, it looked like alligators, snakes, and primeval monsters.

Not long after we started up the bayou, Justin had to ferry Paul and Forrest back to the landing at Ditch Bayou because Paul had an engagement he couldn't get out of. After the pontoon left, I went into a mental funk. I pulled my head up and started a slow heads-up breastroke.

"What's wrong, Zane?" Robin asked.

"I'm resting," was all I said in return.

Maybe it was the out-and-back aspect of heading up the bayou that caused me to slow. I have always found out-and-backs to be difficult. On a point-to-point course, you are always getting closer to your destination. Now I was getting farther away and tiring at the same time. When Robin announced feeding time, I asked for ice-cream only to be told we didn't have any, that the little we had left had departed with Justin on the pontoon.


I want my ice-cream and I want it now! I asked what we did have. She told me a couple of gels and just a little bit of Gatorade. That got me to thinking what happens if Justin can't get back. How could I ever make it without calories? I decided to do what I usually do and not to worry about what I have no control over. That thought, plus the fact that Robin finally announced it was time to turn around, got me in a better frame of mind, and I put my head down and started swimming steadily if not strongly.

Along the way back down the bayou, Robin told me she had talked with Justin over the phone. He and Penny were on the way back, and they had procured some more ice-cream. Hot dog! I knew then I was going to make it.

I swam harder and after what seemed like hours we made it back to the lake. Then it was a short swim to the causeway, under the bridge, and into the lake on the other side. There was the pontoon with Justin, Penny, and ice-cream. I had some and told Robin that's all I wanted for the rest of the swim. She said I couldn't have it. I said that's all I want. She said we didn't have enough. I said we did. I then asked how far we had been. When she told me 13+ miles, I told her we were going to be short on distance. She said we were OK. I said we were not. She said we were. I said I have concerns.

She said, "Shut up and swim!"

I did.

This was the last leg of the journey. The weather was good, the wind was still light, and I had ice-cream. Not long after my feed, Justin got in the water with me. He put it into high gear, and I tired to match his pace. My muscles spoke to me forcefully and unambiguously: You can still swim, just not fast. Not now.


Justin swam a mile and a half or more with me. and then Randy replaced him. Ever the gentleman, Randy never pushed the pace or got ahead of me. His presence did give me a boost. But my shoulders started hurting around mile fifteen. The right one started screaming where the long branch of the biceps tendon goes over the humerus. I found nothing comical about it. The left one began to hurt under the deltoid where one of the rotator cuff muscles attaches to the humerus. Just the mention of rotator cuff can cause swimmers to assume the fetal position and wet themselves. I couldn't assume the fetal position and stay afloat. I did wet myself.

Bethany Theilman and the cheering crew at the finish

Randy and I were swimming along when I heard Justin start yoohooing from the boat. I pulled my head up and Robin said, "Seventeen miles." We were within sight of the State Park boat landing. Robin asked, "You want in the boat, or you want to finish?"

I didn't heistate. "I want to finish." I had a clue someone from the DFM might be waiting at the boat ramp. Just a clue. I didn't want to ride up in a boat even if I had swum seventeen miles. Besides, we weren't that far, a half or three quarters of a mile, so I wanted to swim in.

When we started getting really close, Robin asked, "You want eighteen, or you want to finish?"

"I want to finish."

And I did. Finally, after eleven hour and four minutes of non-stop swimming, my feet hit the ramp at the State Park. I tried several times to walk up the algea slick concrete ramp only to fall twice and wind up with two bloody knees. Eventually, I walked up between the ramp and the dock. When I climbed out there was a small group there cheering like rabid fans at a football game. Who are these people? I wondered.

It turns out that Bethany Theilman and her son drove up all the way from Jackson to be there at the end. While waiting for us to get in, she began to talk to some fishermen, their wives and children who then also waited for us to come in. Wow. Thank you, Bethany.

The next day, Kelly Ritenour asked me how I felt when I finished. First, like all my really long events,  I felt relieved it was finally over. Also, I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, one so strong that right now, a solid week later, it still grips me. This is not something you can buy at a store no matter how much money you may have. It is not something someone can wrap up like a present and hand you. It is something you have to search for and work for until you earn it and then you embrace it and cherish it like newborn child. Maybe that is the real reason I do these sorts of things. No doubt it is at least a large part of it because whenever I have had to plan and train and work long to complete an epic bicycle ride or run or swim, I am always rewarded with this satisfaction. And finally, part of me just wanted to get alone and bury my head in my hands and weep. I don't understand this. Maybe it is just what happens when you empty yourself of all your courage and all your passion and all your energy, then like the last grains of salt from an empty salt shaker, tears are all that is left and they come dribbling out. I don't need to understand this. It is enough to experience it.
The ride back to South Shore Cottages