Goal: To swim around the island of Key West each month for 12 consecutive months.
A Mental Metamorphosis
April 3rd, 2007
Start: 8:36AM; High Tide 10:51 (1.6)
With Tampa Bay front and centered in my brain, I needed to get my April swim done as early as possible. March was over
but the winds continued to blow steadily and consistently.
After our evening service on Sunday, April 1st, I phone Chuck Van Soye to see if he had some wisdom or insights on the
weather of which I was unaware. Chuck confirmed what I knew, the winds would continue until Wednesday or Thursday.
He wanted me to know that he would be more than willing to escort me around Key West again, except for the fact that he
was preparing to leave town for Connecticut.
After my chat with Chuck I called friend and encourager, Don Nelson. After talking with Don, I had determined that I would
attempt my tenth swim on Thursday morning, April 5th. I was primarily concerned for my kayakers more than myself. I lost
my kayakers back in November, due to strong winds. I wanted to avoid that again. It is too dangerous to swim without the
protection of the kayak and without the nutritional support on board.
When I woke up on Monday morning the day seemed so idyllic, so serene. That was the picture from my back porch. I
am sure if I went down to Smathers beach I would have seen that there was still a pretty good wind. As the day
progressed on, I decided that I was going to go on the morrow. Tuesday, I determined would be my go day. I wanted to
get this swim past me, the earlier the better. April 3rd looked like it would be the day!
I convinced my 17-year-old daughter Julie to assist me in the kayak, but there were still questions about the wind issue, so as I talked about my plan a friend from Fort Lauderdale, (Dale Steinmetz), he asked if he could participate. Dale is a grade
school teacher and was down with us on Spring Break. Dale had always wanted to kayak around Key West and so he
jumped at the chance to be a part of this swim. I thought, this is great, two kayakers and now if I could secure my buddy Mike Sattlemeir’s “sit in” kayak, we would be all set. Mike very willingly obliged.
Julie and I picked up Dale at the church where he was staying at about 7:15. We then we headed over to Mike’s home and picked up the kayak at 7:30AM. We had an 8:36AM start time with the high tide in Key West Harbor scheduled for 10:51AM. We were pretty good with our timing, arriving at the beach with plenty of time to unload the kayak and load it with our necessary items.
We prayed and I entered the water. It was about 75 degrees and the there was a good chop, but it wasn’t obnoxious. There was more wind than I would have preferred, but my kayakers seemed fine with the conditions. Dale and Julie were still launching when I called out, “It is 8:36!” and with that I started my stop watch. I took off on my way to the White Street
Pier. I felt good about leaving when I did. My March swim had me starting at high noon. The problem is, start late, and
finish late. With this departure time, I anticipated completing the course by 2:30PM. My March high tide was 1.8 feet. This
April 3rd high tide was to be just slightly less at 1.6 feet.
I passed White Street Pier at 20:13, a couple minutes behind my March 24th time. As I reflect, the difference was most
likely the strong tail wind I had in March. I felt good, strong, even though I had swum 4 miles the day before. Under normal
conditions I would not have swum such a long swim before an Island-Go-Around, but when I swam on Monday morning, I was
still uncertain as to which day I was committed to. I also felt that this would be good training for Tampa Bay. I needed to
stretch myself. I have still never gone beyond 12.5 miles at one clip.
I had visited Ron Collins website “Distance Matters.” On this site advertising the Tampa Bay 24 mile swim, I read of his English Channel swim. It spoke of his swimming 30 miles a week in training. I had been swimming about 15 miles each week. I asked Ron about tapering and he responded that my taper would depend on the amount I had been swimming. Thirty miles of swimming in a week was more than I had ever imagined doing. As I swam this swim, I was convinced that this week had to be my greatest mileage.
For me, the water was still pretty cool. I wore one cap and no ear putty. I really distain the wearing of a swim cap. It provides some warmth, and protecting from the sun for my thinning pate, but this cap would prove an annoyance through this whole swim. It kept riding up on my head and when it did, it took my goggles with it. When it rides up, there is air in it and I felt like my posture was poor, like my head was too high in the water. As time went on, my neck began to hurt like the blazes. I endured it all thinking how much pain I would experience in Tampa Bay. This swim was my training swim for Tampa.
I passed the Radar Dishes at the Base at one hour. In March I had reached them in 54:00. I made my way past Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and into the Key West Harbor. My kayakers were just behind me on my right side. I always like to have my support boat especially close to me through the Harbor and the Fleming Cut and then again in the Cow Key Channel. I made good time in the Harbor. I passed the Ocean Key House at 1:42 minutes into the swim. This was pretty close to March’s time. My time in March was slower into and through the Fleming Cut. This would be due to the serious wave action I endured in March. Last month it took me 24.30 to get under the bridge this time around I was under and through 19:30. It was 2:01 as I swam under the Bridge. That heartened me. If I can make Fleming Bridge by 2:00 or under I am making pretty good time.
As I was going through my mental metamorphosis, I was asking myself how I felt in this temperature of water. It must have been still about 75 degrees or a degree or two higher. I thought I could endure it even for 12-13 hours.
Later in the evening someone would ask me what I thought about as I swam. This sport is a very lonely one. It is you and the water in your ears. You can’t carry on a conversation with another human being. The only time I speak with any other human is to call out for a drink. Then my words are very few as I need to get on with it. What do I think about? I think about lots of different things. This time, for the first three hours I was praying the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6. Now I don’t want to sound overly spiritual. While I spent the first three hours using the Lord’s Prayer as a model for my prayer, I was not with out distraction or interruption, but I found my mind going back to where I left off. I went through this prayer phrase by phrase, meditating on the words and their content and reflecting on many other passages of Scripture that bear on these words. It was a very satisfying experience. Definitely time well spent, rich time!
I felt no hunger until I got passed The Fleming Bridge. At just over two hours, I called my kayaker over and requested a drink of Perpetuum. I have been beginning my swims with a liter of Perpetuum and a full Clif Bar and that satiates me pretty well until about two hours into the event. I drank about a half liter and off I went on my way to Sigsbee, swimming through the moored sail boats. For some reason, this is one of my favorite parts of the swim. It may be because there is no boat traffic to be concerned with and the water is a nice depth. You don’t need to be concerned with stingy weeds or your fingers dragging on the bottom. It is just good old swimming! This usually takes me about 40 minutes to reach, then another 40 minutes to get around this military housing base. Sigsbee Island is attached to Key West by a causeway about 1/3 of a mile. It is because of the causeway that we need to swim around Sigsbee.
I made nice time around Sigsbee and I was on my way to the Cow Key Channel. As I left Sigsbee, I glanced back to see if my kayaker were still with me. They were. I motioned for some more drink and a couple pieces of a Clif Bar I had previously cut up, and I was back in business.
I try to make as straight a beeline to the Channel Bridge as I can. I fix my eyes on the roof of the Hyatt Resort that is built immediately next to the entrance to the Channel. This water can be shallow. You can almost always see the bottom clearly unless the winds are really bad. I found myself under the Cow Key Bridge 45 minutes after leaving Sigsbee. I was now 4:05 into the swim. Ideally I would have loved to have made the Bridge at 4:00 or before, but this wasn’t too bad at all. At this point I was 21 minutes better than March. There was a decent current pushing me through the Channel. I love swimming under that Bridge. I think I do so not only because it is usually a good ride, but because it means I am only 3 miles for finishing the job.
As we swam into the Channel, we went past Hurricane Hole Marina and there were jet skiers galore and kayakers too numerous to count. Thankfully, all were going slowly. In fact some were not going well at all. One kayaker had capsized and was struggling to reenter his kayak. Another kayak looked completely abandoned to me. I didn’t have time to gawk any longer, I needed to press on.
At this point my shoulder felt sore and my neck was killing me. The stupid cap was still riding up on my head and as I pulled it down, I had to readjust my goggles each time. It is these types of antics that cost time.
We stayed in the Channel. Yes it seems way out of the way, but the water is deep enough to swim in. When I make it to the Atlantic end, I hate to keep swimming out. I have to swim right at some point to get to my finish line. The hard part to know when to cut across, as the water is very shallow at this point. I had to do some breast stroking here because of the lack of depth. I made it across but from this point on to the finish I would not have water of an acceptable depth to swim in … too shallow. My fingers scraped the bottom on just about every stroke. My shoulders were sore and my neck was very pained. I tried to imagine what my arms would feel like at mile 16 of Tampa Bay and then 18 and then 20. I was trying to see if I could clearly differentiate between pain and injury. My upper body hurt but I didn’t sense I was injured. How much could I take? How long could I go? I reached the first pole of Smathers Beach at 5:20 into the swim. It took me 1:14 to swim from the Bridge to the first pole. In March’s swim I made that distance in 1:07, but I was still 13 minutes ahead of my time in March. I swam hard, but not too hard, to the finish line. In March I made this last segment in 16:10 finishing with a time of 5:49:38. This time I swam the distance in 17:54, finishing with a time of 5:37:57. That time marked my best time in all of the previous swims in this self imposed challenge. Dale and Julie had done a fine job and we had made it.
This swim was significant for many reasons. This was the first swim when I took no ibuprofen. The first swim when I swam after a four mile swim the day before, and as the week unfolded, I would continue to swim. Usually, I would take the next day off and rest my body. On Wednesday I would swim another 2 miles. Thursday morning I swam another 4 miles. On Thursday afternoon I scheduled a visit to my old friend, Kathleen Ford, for a massage. Oh, how I needed a massage. On Friday, I was back at it. This day I had a most significant mental and physical experience. When I began to swim, I thought my arms were going to break off! It was terrible. I kept at it. After the first half mile, my pain began to slowly lessen. The more I swam, the less pain I experienced. I really had no plan to swim six miles, but that is what I accomplished. On Saturday morning, I ran in the Turtle Kraals 5K. I have been doing very little running. All my time is taken up with
swimming. However, my time was impressive. I ran a 22:39. That is a 7:18 pace. When I returned home I swam another 2 miles to wrap up the week with a solid 30 miles.
I would take Sunday off from exercise. It is the Lord’s Day — in fact, Easter Sunday, and while I did no physical exercise, I would teach Sunday school, and minister in both the morning and evening services at Keys Presbyterian Church.
On Monday, April 19th I would do another 6 miles, on Tuesday a total of 5 miles, on Wednesday I swam 4 miles. On Thursday (my day off) I swam 1.5 miles in the morning (I was interrupted by Thundershowers). I paid another visit to Kathleen Ford in the afternoon. In the evening I ran a 5K and finished up my swim with another 1.5 miles. Once again after the massage I was very weak and sore until after a half mile. My guess is that she releases a plethora of lactic acid and initially my body is throwing this poison off, and then I feel stronger and stronger. Today it is Friday, April 13th, and I swam 2 miles. This week’s total thus far is another 20 miles.
It was 10 days between my March 24th 12.5 mile swim and my April 3rd swim around Key West. And now I have swum 50 miles in the past 12 days. From here on I plan to go very easy. I plan to let my body get much rest as I pray and plan for the April 21st swim of 24 miles across Tampa Bay. Oh, Lord, I pray for warm waters and for calm serene waters and much strength for my mind, body and spirit. In Christ’s Name. Amen!