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Safely home, but what day is it?

March 16, 2010

After 4 flights, I arrived safely home in Portland Oregon.  It was a lovely trip and I was sad to see it be over.  The trip home was uneventful, but how many breakfasts can one person take.  I left Wellington and was given breakfast.  I arrived in Sydney, still in the AM and was again provided breakfast.  Then I landed in LA and yep you guessed it BREAKFAST TIME!  I was never so thankful to arrive somewhere past 11am so that I could eat something besides slimy airport eggs.  Actually I didn't eat many of the breakfasts which I think caused some of my crazy behaviour later in the day and the lightheadedness.  I mean eggs from fast food restaurants just aren't that good, so I avoid them. 

I'm now back at work and I'm a little bit confused as to what day it really is.  Thankfully I have a calendar to keep me on track. 

Here are some fun facts from the swim:

  • Steve and I were the first successful swims this season.  #65 and 66 swimmers to cross for the 75th and 76th successful crossing.
  • 37th woman to make crossing, but 19th woman from North to South island
  • 5th American to make the crossing.
  • I swam 35 years after the first successful crossing by an American woman, Lynne Cox (Thanks Forrest for that fun fact!)
  • I negative split the swim, which will make my coach happy. 
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March 11, 2010

Ok, I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  It may not be a shocker, but it is a secret.  It is AMAZING to swim early in the tide.  I know I know, not a great secret, but honestly I don't have great secrets and this little blog keeps most things from being secret anyways.  Right where was I as this isn't a blog about all my little secrets.  Ah yes, swimming early in the tide.  I LOVE IT!!!  Here are the reasons why:

1. It doesn't give me time to get my undies all in a bunch and for me to get to the point where I'm so nervous I should be committed.
2. It doesn't allow all my cheerleaders to get nervous either 🙂
3. My family knows right away if I'm alive or not.  Not that I've ever been in a serious situation, but these swims aren't exactly a small paddle in the pool and the swims can be dangerous.
4. I know how it has all turned out in the end, as this always bothers me that I can't read the future. 
5. I get to PLAY!!  This is especially great if I have fun people to hang out with, which I usually do.

I know most people think that these swimming "holidays" are always fun and relaxing.  On the contrary, they are hard work.  They are very stressful.  And often it rarely allows time for me to decompress from all the work and training that I have done.  Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change it.  It is my choice to use all my holiday time going on these swimming adventures, but I'm not lying that sometimes just laying by the beach with a mai tai looking at the water rather than swimming in it has its allure.   However, if I swim early and I don't change my flight back home, there is some playtime.

These last few days have been some amazing playtime.  Tuesday after the swim, Steve and I pretty much were slugs.  It was AWESOME!!!  We got up late, walked around town.  Steve had some work commitments in the afternoon, so I went to the Te Papa museum for a little while and then there was a lovely and short afternoon paddle.  Steve declined the paddle for soaking up the sun on the Oriental Bay beach.  Then we cooked a lovely fish and risotto dinner.  Yum!

Wednesday found us on the ferry to Picton and the South Island.  The ferry here is not like the ferry in England.  It is really quite slow.  It takes 3.5hrs for the ferry to get from Wellington to Picton, but the trip was lovely and sunny.  They announced that there were dolphins and whales, but Steve and I didn't see them.  I think it may have been a game that the ferry crew play to see all the passengers run to one side of the boat and then the other.  After arriving in Picton, we went to the local bakery aptly named The Picton Village Bakery.  It was here that I finally broke down and tried my first pie.  I know for those Aussies, Kiwis and Brits this is a shocker, especially since I lived in England.  However, I could never bring myself to eat a pie (or toastie or whatever they are called).  We don't really have the equivalent thing in the US.  Steve went first and ordered a bacon and egg pie.  Assuming that he knew what he was doing, as he always assures me he does :), I went ahead and ordered the same.  I don't know what I've been so afraid of the pie was as they say LOVELY!  Let me see if I can explain it.  It is about the size of a softball, but pie shaped.  The crust was flaky and buttery.  The filling was delicious with a sort of ham, egg, and veggie filling.  You eat it with your hands, but I have seen people eat it with a fork in a restaurant.  They can be purchased pretty much at every convenience store, bakery, and grocery store.  And they have various fillings, but most commonly I've seen egg and bacon and steak or mince filling.  I'm sure they aren't the healthiest things in the world, but it was wonderful.  We sat and ate them on the beach while the sea gulls squawked their protest at not receiving a bite.    Then it was off for our wine tour.  We were 2 of 16 on the wine tour and the bus was actually a pretty quiet affair.  We went to Nautilus, Forrest, Hunters and St. Clair.  There were a lot of wines to sample.  Most were Pinot Noirs or Sauv. Blanc (No I don't know how to spell it completely).  I believe that Steve and my favorite vineyard was Forrest.  They had some great wines and their customer service was amazing.  Our tour guide also made a quick stop at the Makuna chocolate factory and they make this crazy good Very Berry Toffee Crunch which is toffee, white chocolate, cranberries and macadamia nuts.  I thankfully didn't buy a box as it would have never made the ferry ride back to Wellington.

Thursday, I went to the beach for another short paddle while Steve went to go do some work things.  One of the clinics that he knows wanted to do a short press conference as well as take some photos for an article.  He of course obliged.  We met up at the beach and I gave him some flak as the photographer was taking his photo.  I got some lovely shots of Steve and the photographer.  Then Steve went for a short paddle while I soaked up the sun.  Steve says I have to try to get rid of the cap line on my forehead that I acquired in the swim.  I don't think it is going to happen, but I'm encouraging my freckles to darken so that it maybe is blended a little bit.  The afternoon I went exploring Wellington while Steve did some shopping.  Ok, so the botanical gardens in Wellington are beautiful and the plants are labeled very well.  However, the paths in the botanical gardens are not labeled well and I spent most of my time walking in circles trying to find the right path to get where I wanted to go.  After an hour and a half of wandering mostly with aim but not finding my place, it started to rain so I said goodbye to the gardens.  I went and checked out the Beehive parliament building as well as the new St. Paul's Cathedral (not great and can be avoided) and the old St. Paul's cathedral (beautiful).  Then back home to meet up with Steve and our swimming friend Heather who has come down to play from up north.  I don't know if I mentioned this but on the beach on Sunday we met some locals and they have quickly become friends.  Donna invited Heather, Steve and I to dinner on Thursday night and what a dinner it was!  While the food was fantastic, the company and conversation were just amazing!  It is moments like these that really make these trips a joy.  Donna is a treaty lawyer, so I got to understand more about the treaty and New Zealand history.  I got more of the story that I had started to understand from the Te Papa museum.

I think today we are going back to Te Papa museum to finish what we haven't been able to see and then who knows what we will do.  Perhaps a paddle, perhaps some wildlife hunting as I really want to see the seals and Steve wants to see a blue penguin.  I think that would be cool too.  Tomorrow there is the National Triathlon in town, so maybe we will watch that or maybe we will get out of town to avoid the crowds.  Either way, I'm enjoying the downtime. 

Oh I don't know if I mentioned that my only major injury from the swim is some amazing sunburn.  It has concentrated itself mostly around my swimsuit straps, but I'm afraid to go to the zoo as I'm sure that I could attract the baboons.  The redness is slowly subsiding, but I'm sure I'll be into the next stage of sunburn soon…itching.  See I told you there weren't many secrets 🙂

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Looks like we made it!

March 8, 2010

I think that song will be in my head for a little bit.  Unfortunately that is the only verse/stanza of the song that I know, but it is appropriate.  Yesterday at around 8:30am Steve Junk and I started our journey across Cook Strait.  As one of our swimming friends reminded us, our boat name was Tongaroa, the god of the New Zealand seas and it looked as if he was going to smile on us for our journey.

First let me thank our wonderful crew because without them this wouldn't be possible.  Philip Rush has the difficult job of organizing and scheduling all the swims.  On top of that he is the main crew for the entire swim.  He monitors the swimmers, talks with the support boat, the whole shebang.   Then there was Mike who also was in the R.I.B.  (I call it a dingy, but it seems sturdier).  He was there for the whole swim driving the RIB, which can't be easy with the relatively slow speed and the wind and waves bouncing you about.  Then there are the support boat captains, Barney and Chris.  They monitored the swim from afar, made my food and somehow managed to pass it off to Mike and Philip in the RIB.  What coordination.  We were also joined by Paul in another RIB towards the end of our swim.  I can't believe that in that rough sea that he took an RIB out to meet us.  He did mention that it sounded like a good idea on the phone, but the actual trip wasn't the best idea.  I believe he said "I can check that off my list of things never to do".  As you can see, for a swimmer to be successful it takes a whole team (including the team back home) for a swim even to get off dry land.  I can't thank all these people enough for making my dreams come true.

Ok Tongaroa was smiling on us for the first part of the journey.  The seas were calm and quite warm.  Steve and I were keeping a good distance as well as staying relatively together.  Looked like we were in for a great day.  Then the 2hr 15 minute feeding arrived.  And Steve looked up and said "the seas are just gorgeous and flat".  In my head I was screaming "NOOOOOOOOOO".  Ok so besides the toe nail polish tradition, I also have the superstition that you don't tempt the gods.  Tawhirimatea, the wind god, decided it was time for us to learn a little about his power.  The seas started to get a little lumpy.

Steve thrives in choppy seas.  He just bulldozes his way through and was pretty much off like a shot.  I on the other hand spent some time cursing Steve and getting knocked about.  I couldn't catch a rhythm mainly because I was trying to force it too much.  I was supposed to keep up or be relatively close to Steve during the swim and I was falling quite a bit behind.  At the next feeding, Philip told me to stop forcing it and find a rhythm.  I tried and failed.  Again I just kept slipping further and further behind Steve.  Remember he loves choppy seas and sees it as a great big playground.  For this 30 minutes, I was working on my speech to Philip for our next feeding.  Again this distracted me too much.  I came up to the boat at the next feeding and said "Ok, I'm really trying to keep up here, but I just can't keep that pace.  I can't find my rhythm."  Philip looked at me and said "Don't worry about Steve.  You do your own swimming.  Find your rhythm and we have got it under control."    Ahhh that calmed me down and I got on with business.  I stopped thinking, got on with swimming and surprisingly once I stopped forcing it I was keeping better pace. 

Tawhirimatea didn't just stop with lumpy seas.  The god cranked up the wind to 15-17 knots and it wasn't causing rollers.  It was a short break causing a lot of chop and some white caps.   But with my head screwed on straight (finally) and Steve enjoying the play time, we kept making progress to the finish.  Nothing much of consequence happened for the next few hours as we continued to swim, feed, swim, feed.  The sun was out which created a warming sensation on the back and the water was a really nice temperature.  There was no real sea life to speak of, but I really was hoping for the dolphins that Philip and Mike talked about.  Just a few odd jellies and some kelp and that was it.

We reached halfway at just over 4 hours.   I wasn't quite sure yet if we were going to have a successful swim as I know that the winds had the chance to pick up even more.  (Note:  They were coming from our left side, but I still don't know what direction that is.  Southwesterly maybe).  Now Steve thought we would have a 9 hour swim.  Philip thought maybe a 7-8 hour swim.  I was a little less optimistic and was thinking 10.  That seems to be my magic number for channel swims.  I didn't think this one would be any different.

Another 2 hours passed and my shoulder was starting to bother me.  I began to really focus on stroke entry, pull through and recovery.  This seemed to help, plus it really got me out of my head even more. I felt like I was on autopilot except when I was slapped out of it with a mouthful of salt water.  I little choking and coughing and then back into it. 

At the 6 hour feeding, Philip had us look to the finish.  It did seem really close.  I said so like another 3 hours.  He replied maybe 2, as we had picked up our pace and were really doing well.  In my head, I still planned for 6 more feedings.  The feedings were every 30 minutes.  I know I know, I'm not exactly the optimist, but I like to plan for the worst so that I can keep my head in the game.   Philip also pointed out where we should focus our swim to as they were having trouble keeping the RIB with us due to the lumpy seas.  I love that description Lumpy.  It makes it seem like the seas are mashed potatoes and it really covers a lot of variables.  I don't know what constitutes lumpy seas and when does it move to rough?  Maybe for swimmers it is always lumpy.

After the 6hr feeding, I stopped taking in my carbo fuel.  I just couldn't stomach it anymore and things weren't moving as they should.  I also didn't want to start puking, as I haven't on a swim yet and I wasn't about to start.  I switched to a straight electrolyte at my feedings and took on some ibuprofen tablets to help my shoulder.   All systems seemed to want to continue forward.  (FYI – Steve was still there plugging away as well.  I don't exactly know his mindset, but he seemed happy at our feedings.  I didn't see much of him past 2 hours after the seas became lumpy).   Around this time, Paul showed up in the other RIB.

Another 30 minutes later and the sea temperature dropped.  I began to think about Catalina and how the temperature drops there as well near the finish.  It was a nice reference point.  Another feeding and we kept chugging and chipping away at the distance to the South Island. 

On the last feeding, Philip said that we only had 30 minutes left of swimming.  I wasn't so sure.  Sure the cliffs of the South Island looked close, but they had looked close for the last 2 hours and they didn't seem to be getting any closer.  I was cautiously optimistic and thought "Right 30 minutes, I'm going to really have to work."  I hit a rhythm and just got going.  The seas hadn't changed, but I was on the move.  Steve unfortunately started to feel the effects of the colder temperature (skinny man 🙂 ).  Me I was still fairly insulated.  Steve started to drop back, but again Philip gave me every indication that we were ok to be split in this manner.  Also Paul came out with the other RIB to be with Steve.  Apparently the decision had been made to allow us to split, so that I wouldn't get cold and Steve could continue his pace. 

During this last 30 minutes (I really think it was 45) I kept seeing Philip hold his hands up indicating distance and that we were close.  I of course would pop my head up and look…nope not any closer by my standards.  I finally asked him if he was sure.  He replied with 300 meters to go.  Ok 300 meters, I can do that.  I put my head down and kept going what I hoped was forward as the waves seemed to bump me in every direction.  After what I assumed was 300 meters, I looked up again.  Reply 100 meters to go.  Head down keep moving forward.  I expected to eventually see the sea floor rise up to meet me to signal the end or that I was getting close.  In Cook Strait this doesn't happen.  All of the sudden there is the cliff in front of you.  Philip and Mike guided me in to where the waves were breaking less.  I would gradually ride a wave forward then tread water then rode the last wave forward and touched the cliff.  I had done it. 

Mike and Philip hauled me into the RIB like a dead whale and then I had the chance to see Steve.  He was just behind me and would finish in the next few minutes.  I wanted to go over, but Philip wisely advised me that I should get back to the boat and start to warm up.  It was great to see Steve finish and touch the cliff as well.  We were the first 2 swimmers of the season to finish Cook Strait.  Our times were just over 8 hours, but I don't have the official ones yet. 

Back on the boat and warm, I spent the time out on the back due to my stomach's needs to empty.  I didn't want to mess up the boat.  Surprisingly I didn't throw up like I normally do, which probably had to do with the fact that I hadn't really eaten anything for over 2 hours.  Mind you I didn't feel great.  However, I had a good time talking with Philip, Mike and Paul. 

So that is the story of the Cook Strait swim.   As for the morning after, I'm sore, sunburnt and quite happy.  I think a big breakfast is in order!

The rest of Steve and my time here will be exploring some local vineyards, relaxing and maybe having a few short paddles in the harbour. 

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Cook Strait Tide – Day 2

March 7, 2010

Steve and I didn't have to wait long for the weather to cooperate.  It looks like we will have a chance to swim tomorrow.  Our new local friend, Donna, told us about the NZ sea god Tangaroa.  We are going to say hello and thank you especially if the weather forecast true.  And hopefully the wind god Tawhirimatea will take the day off as they have been busy this season.

Philip stopped by this afternoon and we had a really good chat and of course everything is "good as gold."   His preliminary outlook was that Monday looked good, but he wanted to talk with the skipper and get back to us around 8pm tonight.  He rang at 8pm and gave us the thumbs up.  We are being picked up at 5:30am tomorrow with the swim starting at 8:30…if the weather holds true.  Apparently the weather can change as quickly as it takes for Steve to pack for his swim.  After getting the call and once I was finally able to move again, Steve appeared out of his room and announced he was ready to go.  I had just got my legs beneath me to start moving.  I think he will definitely keep me on an even keel.  We are going to be swimming from the North island to the South island. 

As for updates of the swim, I'm sorry that there will not be ongoing updates during the swim as Steve and I will be getting down to business, but I promise to update as soon as I can.

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Cook Strait Tide – Day 1

March 6, 2010

No official Cook Strait swim today, but we (Steve and I) did receive a phone call from Philip Rush last night.  Tomorrow, Monday, may be the day.  If not on Day 2, it looks good for Day 3.  However, in the 2 days that I've been in New Zealand particularly Wellington I've found the weather to be particularly unpredictable.  While this is relatively new to me everyone else says "You didn't know that".  Plus the winds can come from nowhere. 

We went to Te Papa for a quick look around and found the Maori heritage section.  In which we found a lot of the ceremonial instruments.  I quickly found the one that is meant to bring calm winds and continued to press the button over and over again so that the sound would play.  I of course am hoping that this brings the weather that we need.  It is a gourd flute thing.  Apparently the story behind it is that this god was upset at 2 brothers fighting, so she grabbed one of them and smothered him to her chest.  The muffled sound of his cries are apparently what this gourd is supposed to echo.  I thought it an odd story and I may have read the plaque wrong as we did go to the museum 30 minutes before closing.  We were doing a quick tour to see what we wanted to come back to.  I'll clarify the story and get back to you on this one.   I still think that the gourd music will help.

Yesterday on the beach, we met some local swimmers.  We got to talking and found out that there is a local open water swim today.  Donna even offered to pick us up and drive us over.   We of course accepted.  Steve and I may not be swimming Cook Strait today, but we are participating in the Eastbourne Wharf to Wharf swim which should be a lot of fun.  I should get going though as we are being picked up in 30 minutes and I don't want to be late 🙂

Post more soon.

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03/03 or is it 03/04 – Who knows

March 3, 2010

I think that the answer lies somewhere in "Both".  It is 03/03 by my internal clock, but my friend's calendar says that it is 03/04.  After a long 14 hour flight, I've arrived safely in Sydney for a small layover to catch up with friends.  I got to my friend's flat where she advised me "Call me when you feel normal again".  I thought I was in pretty good shape as I had a row to myself on the plane and spent time dozing in and out.  However, my friend is very wise.  I took a much needed shower and then promptly fell asleep on her lovely guest bed.  I've just awoken and I can't say that I feel normal, but really what marathon swimmer can say they are "normal".  But I feel much better and I think the plane funk has been washed down the drain.  I'm looking forward to what is going to be a too short afternoon with my friend before heading out early tomorrow to get to New Zealand. 

As for Cook Strait, the organizer has said that the water is downright tropical, but a little rough.  We will have to see. 

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Ode to Dr. Seuss

March 2, 2010

Today is the birthday of Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss).  In honor of him, I'll do my very best with an ode.

Today I leave on a jet.
On to another adventure wet.

19 miles in Cook Strait
I hope the sharks don't think me bait

Weather currently has a typhoon
Which I hope is over very soon.

Tide dates set for March 7th – 13th
Then flight back home on the 15th.

Nails painted in color Summer Sea
The toes are happy as can be.

I will not eat green eggs and ham
I will not eat them Sam I am.

Instead I'll feed on Perpetuem
Which doesn't always make me think YUM.

But it is the fuel I need
To bring me lots of speed.

With so many people around the world cheering
I don't think there is need for fearing.

Friends in heart and mind
will help me through those tough binds.

Should tides and weather cooperate
We will be able to celebrate!

That's the best I got.
Dr. Seuss I am not.

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3 days and counting

February 26, 2010

I can't believe that the time has come for me to get ready to board the plane on another swimming adventure.  I'm 3 days away from hauling loads of gear to another country and hoping that the TSA agents don't wonder about all the carbo fuel, vitamins and other food items that I take with me.  Thankfully I don't think that I have to take my boat hook extender or my feeding basket, which I think cause the most questions from the security agents. 

These next few days will be spent finishing packing, rechecking packing, rechecking packing and did I say rechecking packing?  I think that this is when I become a little OCD.  I'm always afraid that I'll forget that one item that is important to my swim that of course I wouln't be able to find anywhere else.  Usually this doesn't happen as I'm not swimming in the middle of nowhere, but it seems to be my main concern.  Then after rechecking all my items I have to figure out how to get it to fit in the least amount of bags, but with the ability for me to still be able to lift them.  My goal this time is to pack in one large suitcase and perhaps 2 carry-ons.  I'll keep you posted on how it is all going.

Also I'm in research mode of twitter to see how this may work for people to get updates while the swim is going on.

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February 22, 2010

I have a superstition.  It started before my first English Channel swim.  I can't exactly remember how it started, but it did and I actually have a lot of fun with it.  It is getting close for me to choose my fun toe nail polish.  I have a few options coming into play.  Two colors that I'm considering are "Summer Sea" and "Berry Fast", but I will check the store to see if there is another contender.  Now my superstition doesn't run along the lines of the the color of the nail polish.  It has to do with the name of the nail polish.  Granted this causes some very crazy looks when I'm at the nail salon as I pick up every single color, quickly turn it over and hope that the name speaks to me and what I have coming up in my swim.  Picking a color has taken upwards of 15 minutes and the pedicurists are stumped as to help me pick a color. 

So the next week, I'll be contemplating the toe color as that is a fun and crucial part of my swim.  If you happen to have any great ideas on nail polish colors for any of my upcoming seasons swims, please pass them along.

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Cook Strait – Getting Prepared

February 17, 2010

Two weeks to go and Cook Strait is right around the corner.  In fact I think it is a Ferrari that is trying to break the land speed record.  I can’t believe that there are only two weeks before I’m on a plane to New Zealand.  While I sit here shaking my head dumbfounded wondering where the time went, I realize that I’m ready for the next swimming adventure and the start of my 2010 swim season.

This adventure will be a little different.  Perhaps you remember me talking about Steve “Mr. C” Junk from the Lake Taupo Relay challenge.  Over the past year, he has become a great swimming friend.  Our relationship is based on a shared love of sarcasm, quick wit (mostly his) and water.  He has always wanted to swim Cook Strait, so we thought why don’t we take the opportunity to swim it together.  Now some believe that this would be considered an assisted swim, but I don’t believe that is the case.  Steve and I will be swimming in the same body of water at the same time, but we have to cut our own water and we will each experience our own challenges.  What will help is having someone there to wait tensely for the weather to cooperate and then to have a great celebration at the end of the swim. 

In addition to having Steve there in New Zealand, two of my most dear friends are coming down as well.  I know that they will be there to either see us off at the start of the swim or they will be there at the finish.  Either way it will be great to have friendly faces from Oregon there cheering us on.

Now for the facts of the swim:

Cook Strait is considered the English Channel of New Zealand or maybe the English Channel is the Cook Strait of England.  Either way it is another channel to swim with it’s own challenges.  It is 16 nautical miles, which equates to about 18.5 miles.  The wind and currents are supposed to be highly unpredictable, and the water temp can range from 12 – 17 degrees within a few hours as Steve likes to point out.  I get the impression that Steve likes to check the water temp, I prefer the blissful ignorance until I get there.  As for marine life, there are jellyfish, which I had a great introduction to while swimming in Monterey Bay.  Then there are the big fish with the big teeth.  One is 6 swims sees one of these fish.  I’m hoping to be one of the other 5.  Then if we happen to be one of the lucky swims, I hope that they are more interested in Steve 🙂 as I think he could totally take the big fish.  On the Cook Strait website there is the helpful FAQ page.  I think my favorite question and answer is as follows: “What is the most difficult part of the swim?”  Answer: “Getting across Cook Strait and finishing”  Yep well that would be difficult.  Thus far only 74 swims by 64 swimmers from 8 countries have made the crossing successfully.  I would say that these numbers do point to the fact that “getting across and finishing” is very challenging. 

I’m not exactly sure if or how I will post updates of the swim, if the weather cooperates, as my usual crew will not be joining me on this trip.  They have some of their own amazing adventures planned this year and you can bet I’ll be cheering them on as they have helped me.  However, IF I find a way to update this site or twitter or some other technology that I’ll have to learn, I’ll definitely keep everyone posted.

Now I suppose I should get down to the business of PACKING! Yikes.   

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