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Are you CRAZY? – The Columbia River Bar aka The Graveyard

November 8, 2013

A recent October weekend I believe that I finally put myself in the shoes of someone after they hear about my swimming. “Wait what, you swim marathons? Are you crazy?” When I get these questions, I’m sort of stumped on how to respond. Often I reply with “Yes and I’ve been tested so I know I’m certifiable.” But really deep down I don’t get the question.

The world is 70% water according to Google (thank goodness for Google). How could you NOT want to swim it? I mean really on a scale of crazy to not crazy. I’m thinking that it’s got to rate closer to the not crazy side. Plus really its practical. I think that Kevin Costner had it right in Waterworld, even with the bad acting. The ice caps are melting. The oceans are rising. Just look how far ahead of the learning curve I am on this one 🙂 

Then as I was getting out of bed Sunday October 13th at stupid o’clock. I thought to myself. It’s dark. It’s cold. What made you think that this is a great day for swimming? Are you crazy? And then I got it. The crazy question made sense. Yes, I would have liked to stay snuggled in my bed catching a few more zzzs. Who cares about the rising oceans? Why am I doing this to myself? It is at this time that I’m thankful that I have friends who are willing to get up at stupid o’clock with me. I’m pretty sure that if it hadn’t been for my friend picking me up at 4:30 AM Sunday morning, I would have just thrown in the towel. So at 3:30 AM, I rolled my butt out of bed and began swim preparations.

Back in July, I made some plans to do some longer swims in October as I tend to get lazy as the weather turns. I lay in bed. I gorge myself on sugar. I gain weight – not the good kind. And I get a pretty bad attitude, which may be attributed to the sugar, but who really can say? This usually lasts until I begin training for the next swim season. To shorten this whole depressing cycle, I made two swim plans. One was to swim the Columbia Bar and another was to swim Anacapa Channel. October 13th was the scheduled crossing of the Columbia Bar and to add to the challenge because swimming the “Graveyard” once wasn’t enough, I decided to do a double crossing.

For those that don’t know about the Columbia Bar here is some Wiki information: The Columbia Bar, also frequently called the Columbia River Bar, is a system of bars and shoals at the mouth of the Columbia River spanning the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington. The bar is about 3 miles (4.8 km) wide and 6 miles (9.7 km) long. The bar is where the river’s current dissipates into the Pacific Ocean, often as large standing waves. The waves are partially caused by the deposition of sediment as the river slows, as well as mixing with ocean waves. The waves, wind, and current are hazardous for vessels of all sizes. The Columbia current varies from 4 to 7 knots westward, and therefore into the predominantly westerly winds and ocean swells, creating significant surface conditions. Unlike other major rivers, the current is focused “like a fire hose” without the benefit of a river delta.[4] Conditions can change from calm to life-threatening in as little as five minutes due to changes of direction of wind and ocean swell.[5] Since 1792, approximately 2,000 large ships have sunk in and around the Columbia Bar, and because of the danger and the numerous shipwrecks the mouth of the Columbia River acquired a reputation worldwide as the Graveyard of Ships. (

Columbia Bar Map

If you just read that and thought, man you are really stupid Michelle. Rest assured at 3:30am when my alarm went off, I was thinking EXACTLY the same thing. And for 3 hours, I really understood why people thought I was crazy. But there I was with a friend on the way to drive and kayak at this adventure and another friend meeting us there, so getting out of bed seemed like my only option.

As I got into the car at 4:30 AM Sunday, I told my friend that this wasn’t my brightest idea and why did I schedule these two swims in October. She kindly reminded me that it was because I become a royal pain in the…well you know what when I’m not swimming. And I was being pre-emptive of how long this nastiness would last by scheduling swims in October. Ah yes, I really was doing it for the people around me. I can be so thoughtful sometimes  🙂

We arrived at the boat at 6:45am and began preparations for the swim. 2 kayaks and kayakers loaded and one grumpy swimmer (Side note: Yes I found a boat pilot crazy enough to do escort the swim over the Graveyard). We motored out to the North Jetty to begin the swim, just as the sun was cresting over the mountains. I have to say it really was beautiful even in my grumpy mood. We unloaded the kayaks and kayakers and then the last thing was for me to jump off the boat and start swimming. I thought to myself. Well you are already here and in a swimsuit, you might as well swim. So I jumped in.

And I have to say, it was fantastic! The weather was beautiful. The water was amazing. And the thoughts of me being crazy fled my mind quickly. I made the double crossing without much drama to speak of. Well there was the chorus of barking sea lions at the South Jetty. They seemed none too pleased about being woken up early during their sunbathing. I converted their barking into claps and thought of them as my very own Lady Gaga Little Monsters. At which point I began to sing to myself “I do it for the Applause, applause, applause” because barking sea lions is about as close to any applause I will get during a swim. Ok, I’m guessing that you may have lapsed back into thinking of me as crazy or maybe you never left that thought. Oh well.

On the return swim from South Jetty to North Jetty, we entered into a bloom of jellyfish. I was pretty sure that they were nettles. In fact after another wonderful google search and Wikipedia, I’ve confirmed that they are Pacific sea nettles ( Sure they are beautiful, but I take a bit of offense to the statement “For humans, its sting is often irritating, but rarely dangerous.” A mosquito bite is irritating. A sea nettle sting is more than irritating. I don’t think that the wiki poster really has experienced the jelly sting the same way that I have. Thankfully the bloom was about 3-5 feet below the surface so I was able to pass over the top without being stung. And the water was really lovely at this time as it had laid down and was practically calm lake conditions, which as you know from reading above is a rarity on the Graveyard.

Now I just needed to stay motivated to make it through one more swim, the Anacapa Channel on October 26th, and then I have another goal planned for myself in November/December time frame to get my last 7 for the Jackpot. Too bad there isn’t a big bonus with the last 7. Maybe I am crazy.

Pictures from the Columbia Swim.  Yes I recognize that water this flat on the Graveyard is very very rare.

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4 Responses to “Are you CRAZY? – The Columbia River Bar aka The Graveyard”

  1. tim says:

    You are awesome, Michelle. That is a really tricky piece of water.

  2. Sarah Schneiderman says:

    So glad I didn’t know you were doing this swim beforehand.
    I would have worried. Sounds like the perfect day.

    So why not join Deborah on our diving trips over the winter and swim between Cozumel and Cancun or Curacao and Bonaire?

    I’m always so proud of you and your accomplishments.


  3. Gary Macy says:

    I wish more people were crazy like you. Thanks for the blog.

  4. Gary Campen says:

    Hello Michelle, Nov. 17, 2013

    Congratulations!!!! Great reading about one of your many wonderful adventures and viewing the terrific pictures – wow!
    Your swimming is really amazing!

    I’m trying to contact you as I wanted to treat you to lunch and share a few pictures, stories, beaded leather-fur clothing, etc. from Iditarod ’78’ many years ago. I will be in Bend, OR for the pentathlon swim on Dec. 7th and will swing by Portland before or after Bend to visit if you wish. We could meet at the Beaverton / Hillsdale ‘Raccoon Lodge’ simply because I know the owner from yrs. ago or, we could meet anywhere you suggest as I’m not very familiar with Portland.

    Regards, and keep going!
    Gary Campen

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