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Alcatraz weekend

September 1, 2008

The last weekend in August, I met up with my family in San Francisco California for the Alcatraz Challenge.  (Wait this was the last weekend in August…oh well you know what I mean). 

My mom, dad, sister and brother-in-law made the trip to California.  Now they arrived in town on Friday 08/22 afternoon.  I arrived a little later and of course I took public transportation into town.  Public transportation in San Francisco is amazing, except when you are lugging a 50 lb suitcase and a 20 lb computer bag.  BART was an easy trip, but it was the trolley and the walk in Fisherman’s Wharf that got a little hairy. 

One of my swimming friends, Jessica Sullivan, was super nice and helped to get the South End Rowing Club to put on a good swim on Friday afternoon.  Unfortunately, I missed the swim.  I was supposed to be there at 5:30pm, but with the public transportation and the gradually rising crabbiness I decided it wasn’t the best option to make a first impression with some potentially new open water swimming friends.   Katie (my sis), Dan (her husband) and I did go to South End to meet people for happy hour.  I LOVED this place.  It was like a museum and a sports club all in one.  And everyone was so nice.  I of course asked if any were participating in Saturday’s swim.  They politely laughed and said “No, we can swim Alcatraz for free.”  Now they did have a point.  I’m hoping that someday I get back there soon to actually partake in a swim.

Saturday morning came pretty quickly for me, but I wasn’t dealing with jetlag like my family.  Dan graciously said he would take Katie and I down to the start at 5:15am.  God bless him.  We quickly checked in and I believe my sister was seriously beginning to contemplate why she had said yes to doing the run portion of the relay.  For me, it was just great to have everyone there and do an event with my sis. 

As the sun started to come up, we started to see all the other Barracudas.  Jim Teisher, Martin Held, and Laurie Kilborn had all made the trip down for the event.  Of course I think Joe Oakes probably had a hand in some persuasion.  Dang that old man!  Jim and Martin were doing the swim only, but Martin was crazy and was going to do it all butterfly.  Jim was tackling his first-ish cold rough open water swim.  Laurie was nuts and was doing the whole thing.  We boarded the trolley for the ride to the ferry.

After a quick briefing and some waiting, we all boarded a Blue and Gold and started our trip.  Martin was a big hit on the ferry as he had a large tub of vaseline.  It seems many of the competitors had forgotten to lube up to avoid the chaffing.  Too bad he couldn’t charge people.

The ferry out to Alcatraz is really pretty quick and unlike the Sharkfest swim last June, there was a timing pad at the door of the ferry.  As soon as you hit the door, your time started.  I wished everyone a good swim and then I took off.  I did spend some time gazing around and enjoying the sites.  The South Enders are right there is no view of San Francisco and Alcatraz like one from the water. 

There wasn’t much of a current during this swim which was kind of nice.  The water was pretty flat as well.  About halfway through the swim, I noticed another fellow swimmer looking back towards Alcatraz.  I thought his face looked a little concerned so I stopped and asked if everything was ok.  He assured me it was, but I was still a little confused.  Then he came out with it…he was relieving himself.  I just started to laugh and then gave him a wide berth.  I’ve heard that guys sometimes have trouble peeing and swimming at the same time.  I think it just goes to show that men weren’t designed to multi-task.  (sorry guys!).

Coming out of the water, I decided to run.  I know…I know…I don’t run, but my sister was waiting.  I went up through the chute and there she was ready to hit the road.  We exchanged the timer and Katie was off towards the Golden Gate bridge.  Dad and I stayed behind to warm up and change (I changed and my dad held my stuff).  Dan and my mom headed up to the Golden Gate to hopefully see Katie on her journey. 

We didn’t have to wait long for Katie to return.  She was back in just under 1 hour and 10 minutes.  It was a killer time for her first long run.  Plus with the stairs up to the bridge…WOW!

After we were all back together, I had the opportunity to introduce my family to Joe Oakes and the other Barracuda swimmers.  We had some great times and then it was back to the hotel.

Saturday afternoon we took off on our holiday.  It was off to San Luis Obispo to visit my great aunt and see her home.  Talk about the best place in the world.  Her home is amazing and very rejuvenating.  I spent all day Sunday sitting and reading a book.  Now typically I can only sit in the sun for about 2 hours.  So I grabbed my book and only did some strategic sunscreen placement (I left my legs unprotected).  I wanted to recover some vitamin D stores and my legs can usually withstand more sun.  After what I thought was 2 hours I looked over at my dad and asked “Dad, it’s gotta be like what 12:00pm?”  “Um, no Michelle it’s like 3:30pm.”  Oh this was not going to be pretty.  In my relaxing mode of reading and looking out to see apparently 5+ hours had past and I have now learned how to turn my legs into jerky.  Ah good times.

Monday morning we again enjoyed the house and company before heading back up the coast to Santa Clara to visit my uncle and aunt.  They too have just a lovely home and it was great company.  Man did we have some great laughs.  Plus I got a promise that I would get the super good super yummy homemade marinara sauce recipe from my aunt.  I’m telling you this is huge.  Her family comes from Sicily so you know it is good.  I’m sure I’ll manage to botch it up somehow.

Tuesday we spent the morning enjoying a clear beautiful San Francisco morning and having lunch at Scoma’s.  By far the best meal that I had this weekend with the exception of the home cooked meal in San Luis Obispo.

Now I’m just trying to get back into the swim of things and prepare for Catalina Channel in October.

Swim Notes:

  • If the event is early in the morning consider when the sun rises as you may want to pack a headlamp.  Trying to use a Honeypot in the dark is not…I repeat NOT a fun experience.
  • Don’t forget your rash guard!
  • If you see a guy treading water and he is ok, chose a wide path.
  • Learn to multi-task.  Practice makes perfect 🙂
  • Plan to take some holiday time to recharge the batteries.

Here is a really inspirational video that my friend Jessica Sullivan put together of her Channel swim.  She didn’t make it due to a rough day out in the Channel, but man she put in one hell of a swim!  She even landed herself in the ER (A&E for those in the UK) from battling so hard.  I receive so much inspiration from the people that just go after their dreams and just TRY regardless of the outcome.  You may want to grab a tissue before watching.


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From Sea to shining Sea

August 19, 2008

Yep as people keep reminding me, I’m way behind on the blog.  Let’s see if I can catch up.

The weekend of 08/02 I flew to Boston MA.  I spent a less than 48 hours in town.  Talk about a quick trip.  I arrived at my hotel on Friday at 2pm after a red-eye flight.  I took a quick nap.  Then I went to the quick safety meeting at 7pm.  Here I got to finally meet Elaine Kornbau-Howley.  A swimmer that has provided some great advice over the year and also been a great contact for the Boston Swim.  She is preparing for Catalina this year and the English Channel in 2009.  Yep there are few crazies out there like me. 

You will notice a theme of everything being quick. 

At the safety meeting, it was great to be there with Joe Oakes, a living legend.  He has done numerous open water swims including one in the Bering Sea from Russia to the US (the reverse of Lynne Cox’s swim).  He has done a non-motorized circumnavigation of the globe earning him appointment to the Royal Geographic Society.   As if that weren’t enough, he is known as Alcatraz Joe for starting the Alcatraz swims/triathlons/aquathons/etc.   Then there are his books and of course he is an excellent artist.  Yeah, I’m pretty star struck and I’m lucky that he considers me a friend.  And for For some articles please see the links below.

Ok safety meeting is over and it is back to the hotel for a quick sleep.  Joe is going to be my crew for this swim and my pilot is Bill Gildea, who escorted a swimmer last year.  Bill wants to meet at 5am on Saturday as we are towing another boat out to the start. 

We got to the South Harbor Yacht club at 5am as requested and found the doors locked.  We waited until 5:30am before the door was opened.  We quickly loaded the boat and we were off.  At this time I had the chance to get to know Laura Collette better.  She is a swimmer from San Francisco that recently relocated to Boston.  She was a riot.  I enjoyed spending time with her.

The trip out to the Lighthouse on Little Brewster island was slow going and the fog was thick.  Luckily the water was flat and clear.  I wouldn’t be swimming through the stuff that I saw in Manhattan and for this I was thankful. 

Out to the start and the swimmers and escort boats were all there.  The swim started and we just got under way.  The water temperature was perfect.  The water was flat.  And the fog kept me from looking around at other swimmers.  I just got down to the business of swimming.  And I was back to having fun.

As the sun started to come up, the fog started to lift and the day turned beautiful and clear.  Again the race was going very well for me and surprisingly I was leading up until the last 2 miles.  I really wasn’t focused on racing this event.  I just wanted to clear out the bad vibes from Manhattan and that was going well, which I think helped with my position.  At a feeding Joe mentioned that he felt the 2 guys got a better current line and were going to pass.  I replied “I really don’t care”  In my head, I was just glad to be feeling well.  My shoulders felt good, my stroke felt good.  The only thing giving me trouble was my neck, which has been acting up lately. 

On into the finish, I finished as the 1st female in 3rd place.  The 2 guys, Ray and Seb, tied for first in 2 hrs 44 minutes and some odd seconds.  I swam in at 2 hrs, 47 minutes, and some odd seconds.    Finishing 2nd for the women was Joni Young from Oregon.  Yea Oregon taking 1 and 2.  I hung out on the beach watching swimmers finish and trying desperately to catch up with friends that had made the trek to the beach (Special thank you to Elaine, Jim, Elise, Declan and Sarah for taking the time out of your busy schedules to come say hello.  I just wish it didn’t have to all be so quick). 

I didn’t get to see all the swimmers finish, but I heard that they all safely did, as I had to get back to the hotel to shower, change, pack and check out.  Yep I was back at the airport at 4pm to catch a 6pm flight.  Told you it was a quick weekend. 

All in all a beautiful swim. 

Then the following weekend it was off to Alaska.  I managed to stay just about 48 hours in this state.  For anyone looking for a great open water swim…this is it.  The organization, the commutity and just the whole event is fantastic.  That is why I went back for my 3rd year and probably will be back again next year.  I arrived in Ketchikan at 12pm August 9th and got to watch a kids soccer game.  Only in Alaska will you see a kid playing soccer in wellies.  (Note: I managed to talk my friends into letting me stay with them and their family for the weekend.  1. It allowed me to catch up with them.  2. It saved me some much needed cash.  Hopefully that explains the soccer game).  Then it was a quick run back to the house for lunch and getting ready for the safety meeting.

The safety meeting was wonderful.  Basically it is a chance for me to catch up with all my friends, ones that I have met in person and those that I finally got to meet in person (Note: In the swimming world you spend a lot of time making friends via email and it is great to see them in person).  Man did I mention how much I love this race and these swimmers!  If you don’t remember 3 years ago it was this race and these people that showed me that I did belong somewhere and that cold open water swimming wasn’t crazy.  For that I will be eternally indebted to them. 

Sunday the race started at 10:15am and I was again paired with Mike Rath as my kayaker.  He is the most even going guy in the world.  Plus he has this amazing hand built wood kayak which is a pleasure to look at for over 3 hours.  As always he kept an even keel and kept me on track.

The race this year was cold…I mean VERY COLD.  The guesstimate at the end was maybe a high of 56.  Plus there was little tide, which meant no push.  And the wind bashed us in the head for half the race.  Still it was good, but definitely the hardest Pennock Island Challenge that I have competed in.  I managed to be the first woman and first non-wetsuit person.  I was 3rd overall 3 minutes behind leaders with a 3 hr 31minute and some odd second swim.

Good News:

  • I finished.
  • My lats hurt like hell.  I know how is this good news?  It is because it means my back is carrying more of the load rather than my shoulders.
  • The hot chocolate, rhubarb bars and other goodies on the Osborn’s boat is worth the swim.  Thank you Pat and Chuck!
  • I got to spend the day hanging with some of the best people ever.  I don’t want to list names as I’ll forget someone and that won’t be cool.  But you all know who you are.
  • I met some people from Southern California that are connected with the Catalina Channel and I know that they will help me through this swim in October.
  • I met Sue Free who kindly switched me from a solo non-wetsuit competitor in the Alcatraz Challenge to a relay team so that my sister and I can do it together.  Thank you Sue!
  • I got to catch up with my friends…oh wait I said that already, but seriously the BEST!

Bad News:

  • My neck still hurt like a well “pain in my neck”.  Working on getting this addressed.

After the banquet, I was quickly back on a plane to Oregon.  One of these times I’m going to add a day or two so that I can actually do some fishing and site seeing in AK.

This last weekend I just trained in Oregon.  Nothing to special and it was pretty quiet as my friends were kicking butt and taking names at the Long Course Nationals meet.  Rumor has it that PRs were had and WR were broken. 

This weekend I’m headed down to San Francisco for the Alcatraz Challenge (yep the one that Joe Oakes started).  I’m doing the swim and my sis is doing the 7 mile run across the Golden Gate.  It should be a blast.  And then for 2 days I’m staying out of the water completely.  I need a little break and what better way than to spend it with my fabulous aunt in San Luis Obispo.  My mom, dad, sis, bro-in-law and I are invading. 

If I get my schedule sorted out, you all will hear about Alcatraz before October.  I’ve vowed to make a New Year’s resolution to be better at blog posting, but until then we will all have to grin and bear it. 

And yes, I still know there are photos to be seen and yes I will post them…someday.


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Open Season set…mostly

April 29, 2008

So if anyone is wondering, I believe I finally have my open water schedule set.  It is again going to pretty much absorb my bank account and my vacation time from work.  Somehow it all seems worth it.


1st – Hagg Lake Open Water Series (800m, 2K, 4K) – Forest Grove, OR


5th – Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (28.5 miles) – New York City, NY


2nd – Boston Light Marathon Swim (8 miles) – Tentative as registration hasn’t opened yet

9th – Pennock Island Challenge (8.2 miles) – Ketchikan, AK

14-17th – Long Course Nationals – Gresham, OR

23rd – Alcatraz Challenge (1.5 miles) – San Francisco, CA

 August is a little full and I’m sure that I’ll add in some swims in June and July.  Although I may not as I’ll need the training time. 

I’ve decided that I’m going to get a crab pot this year for when I train down at Nehalem Bay.  I might as well catch some of those crabs that I see along the bottom.  Keep your fingers crossed and watch this site, as I’m sure that there will be stories galore about the swimmer hauling in a crab pot.  I’m sure the fishermen will have a field day with this.  I’ve already received information that I must buy a crab permit.  I’ll do that when I head to the coast.

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