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The Kaieiewaho Channel – Part 1 of 4 – The lead up to the swim

December 6, 2010

The Kaieiewaho Channel is 72 miles of some of the best the ocean has to throw at you.  It can have big water, big fish, big currents and tides.  Pretty much everything can be big and hairy.  It is not something that I ever looked at and thought "Hey, wouldn't that be FUN to swim!"  Nope that thought never crossed my mind.  I was content to watch the deepest truest blue beauty of the Pacific ocean through the tiny plane window as I flew from Honolulu to Lihue.  Then over 3 years ago, I was bit by the marathon swimming bug and my life changed completely.   This gift has provided me with some of the most rewarding experiences of my life and the Kaieiewaho Channel is another blessing.  

I often wonder how I manage to end up on relays.  I think that often the stars just align for me to be in the right place at the right time.   This adventure was no different.  I was over in Hawaii in September for what turned out to be a disastrous attempt at the Kaiwi (aka Molokai) channel.  I had just been seriously put in my place.  Linda was being kind trying to lift my spirits and giving me updates on her Hawaiian swimming friends.  She had just received an email from Mike Spalding.  He was discussing his relay plans for the Kaieiewaho channel.  I knew of Mike of course for his Hawaii Channel swimming success.   In addition, he is well known for his encounter with a cookie cutter shark.  He was also kind enough to speak with me via email and on the phone about my Molokai swim.

In his email to Linda, he had a detailed outline of the relay.   However, as I remember it they were looking for a 6th person.  I started asking questions about the timing of the relay.  Mike wanted to start the swim on November 20th.  Remember me and the relay swimming stars…I was going to be in Hawaii for a family Thanksgiving holiday at that very time. I mentioned this to Linda, who mentioned it to Mike and well he said yes in spite of my Molokai channel results.  Now I just had to call my dad and ask if he was ok with me squeezing in a tiny little relay swim before meeting him, my sister and brother and their families on Kauai.  Bless my dad's heart, he said "Of course, you should do it!"  There it was.  I was on another relay for what was going to be an amazing adventure.  

I left Hawaii in September thinking that I was going to be taking a short training breather before getting ready for the 2011 swimming plans.  Now I was on a relay in November, but what an opportunity.  I would get some more Hawaii swimming experience.  I could pick the brains for hours about Hawaii channels with some of the premiere Hawaii swimming experts.  I was EXCITED to say the least.  

I knew a little about the Kaieiewaho channel due to my friend Penny Palfrey's solo attempts at the channel.  She is a really tough swimmer and she had encountered some bad stuff out there.  The Portuguese man-o-war pictures from her attempt were horrible.  These creatures were the ultimate demise of her valient attempt.  I knew it was 72 miles.  I knew it could be bad.  I knew it was the body of water between Oahu and Kauai.  That was about the extent of my knowledge.  Not exactly a lot to go on.  However, I trusted Mike and his planning.

As October began to pass, I started thinking I should really start planning for the relay i.e. flights, accommodations, budget.   You know the minor details.  I contacted Mike for the plan.  In true Hawaiian culture, he told me "no worries, I'll get back to you."  Most of you know that I'm not the best "go with the flow" girl.  I was learning this lesson though.  I began to think if he isn't worried and he's the organizer than I'm not going to worry.  Linda continued to provide me updates as I needed to know.  I began to get a picture of the swim.  There would be 6 swimmers; Mike Spalding, Linda Kaiser, Randy Brown, Joel Swartz, Ian Emberson, and me.  There would be 6 crew members: Kai Bartlett, Kim Page, Rob Phillips, Jamie Woodburn, George Rixey, and Milton.  It is important to note that while these would be the 6 crew members trapped on the boat with the crazy swimmers, this adventure would have never taken place without the support of many other friends and family members.

The first weekend in November rolled around and the swim was beginning to take more shape.  I for one had purchased my ticket to Oahu.  Linda had a plan in place to get the swimmers to the north shore after we arrived.  The rest would come together in due time…no worries.  Penny Palfrey had just made another attempt to solo the channel.  Again the Portuguese man-o-war (hereafter PMOW) stopped her progress.  Again the pictures and accounts were scary.  This was making for some very interesting talk on our relay.  Then we got the news that unfortunately Ian Emberson wouldn't be able to join us.  Linda assured me that it would all be sorted out…no worries.    A few days before I arrived in Oahu, I was told that Billy Brown a swimmer and coach from Kauai would be joining the team.  

I flew into Oahu on November 19th.  Linda met me at the airport and then we waited for the rest of the swimmers to arrive.  I started to piece together more about our team.  Randy and Mike had been classmates growing up and had stayed friends.  Randy and Joel swam together in California.  Then I knew Mike through Linda.  I wasn't exactly sure how Billy knew Mike.  It was like playing the Kevin Bacon movie game but with Mike Spalding as the center.   

Billy was next to arrive quickly followed by Randy Brown, Joel Swartz and Kim Page.  We started introducing ourselves and again played more of the Kevin Bacon/Mike Spalding game.  In addition, we started to piece together the 6 degrees of separation between each other.  This game continued in the car on the way up to the north shore.  I had the "shotgun" seat and I loved the questions from our driver:

– So how do you all know each other? – Um we don't really.

– Where are you all from? – Sort of all over; Kauai, Oahu, Oregon, and California.

– What are you doing here?  – Oh we're going to swim from Oahu to Kauai.

– Excuse me? – Yes, we are here to swim on a relay from Oahu to Kauai.

The questions continued like this for the most of the trip.  It was hysterical.  Here are some of the things that I learned on the drive:

– Randy, Joel and I had a common connection in Joel Wilson and the Monterey Bay relay swims.  They swam it with Joel Wilson in 2008.  I swam with Joel Wilson in 2009 and 2010.  

– Billy and knew one of the women that I competed against regularly in Minnesota during my college years.   He also pointed out that he knew that she had beaten me back in the day.  Ouch that stung a little.  Oh well.

– Linda and I were already connected from my Molokai Channel swim.

And the connections just kept revealing themselves.  It really is a small world.  The thing I began to notice is that we all seemed to get along very well.   I'm serious.  It was scary how well we seemed to be getting along.  

In a short period of time, we arrived at the Haleiwa harbor and all were introduced/reconnected with Mike Spalding.  My first impression:  Holy smokes, what a smile and energy.  It was a magnetic force.  I just wanted to be around him.  I don't think I was the only one as throughout the afternoon and evening people just kept coming by the boat to say hello and good luck.  

We threw some of the gear on the boat, continued our conversations and got acquainted with our new home for the next couple of days, the Kioloa.   The Kioloa is Mike Spalding's custom built boat.  It is a tri-maran in a glorious yellow color.  Jamie explained it as Caterpillar yellow.  It is a beautiful boat.  There were 2 nets that we could sit or lay on between the center hull and the outside amas.  (Note: for those serious boat people, I apologize as I butcher boat language and terminology.  No disrespect is meant.) Then inside was a small living space that had the 3 sleeping spaces and counter space for the propane camping stove, refrigerator, etc.  Outside the cabin was the deck which had the wheel and bench seating with a table.  Behind this was another outside area that was for the motor, fuel, storage space and the bathroom.  It was quickly apparent that we were going to get to know each other very very well.  

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