Monday, May 8, 2017

Nanticoke River Swim [a big fat DNF]

What a stupid awful day.

Saturday evening, I drove to Andrea's house close to Annapolis (and promptly decided that I will be staying over as her guest the night before the bay swim also, considering how close she is) and we went out for dinner and to watch the Caps/Pens game.  She happens to be a die hard Penguins fan so I felt extra happy we pulled out a Caps win (even though I doubt we'll win the series). 
We were both up and ready to go at the previously agreed upon time of 5:50am for a quick stop for some iced tea for me, and the 2 hour drive past Cambridge (the Choptank looked a little choppy as we passed!) to some small town in the middle of nowhere along the Nanticoke river.  The swim wasn't scheduled to start until 10, but there was a triathlon event also and they recommended getting there by 8 before they started shutting down roads.  It was a little annoying to have so much extra time on our hands, and we used that time to scope out the water.
Cold, windy and choppy...not my favorite combination
Sure enough, just like we saw on the Choptank, there were whitecaps out there in the river.  Andrea's friend, Keith, who is also her swim coach, reiterated some advice to her, to make a game time decision and if the swim isn't benefitting anything (i.e. not helping with swim training), no point pushing out the distance.  Hmm.. except the point is to see if I can do 3 miles, my longest open water swim ever.  Of course I'm gonna do the whole thing, even if it's not my best time.
You can kinda see the whitecaps out there at the end of the jetty -
most of the course is off to the right of the jetty.
I overheard some rumblings about whether they would cancel the swim, but the announcer came on the loud speaker and told us that despite the small watercraft advisory, the swim was going to go on as schedule, "so if you signed up to swim 3 miles, prepare to swim 3 miles."   I can only imagine that was his best attempt at a joke.  Not funny.
It was really cold, only in the 50's, and we decided to put on our wetsuits early to keep warm.  I pulled out all my gear and was super excited to see that my assigned swim cap was the exact same color as the white caps out on the water.  This was later proven to be as disastrous as I'd expected when a jet ski zoomed by me about a foot and a half away from my head, narrowly missing me.  The water looked like it was getting worse.  We watched the kids race start, and seriously couldn't believe they were letting children in that water, even if they were staying in the sheltered area between the jettys.
Seriously, why would they give us WHITE swim caps???  Fluorescent Pink?  Neon Green?
As we started lining up to head into the water, the one thing I was extremely grateful for was that we were done after the swim and weren't going to have to jump on a bike in that freezing weather and 18mph winds.  The water temperature was actually pretty decent, even if not the 72 degrees that was told to us.  The countdown of 3-2-1 and we were off.  Getting out to the end of the jetty to make the right turn up north in the river was the first challenge.  I broke it up in my head, just get to the end of the jetty.  Then, just get yourself to that first buoy.  Andrea later told me that Keith had made a comment after seeing me slightly ahead of them that I was looking pretty good.  I had thought the same thing with my first couple 500yd splits just over 10 min which was my goal, despite the swells and the current.  I thought, OK, no biggie, I would be able to do this loop twice and get in 3 miles. Annoying and challenging, but doable.
My face in this photo says it all -- what were we getting ourselves into?!
Then I rounded that first buoy and the world changed.  The swells grew and tossed me around.  I could no longer swim freestyle, and breastroke is not an option for me, as the wetsuit holds my body in a position that kills my back.  I tried some side stroke.  I tried some back stroke.  I was getting tossed everywhere and it was taking every ounce of strength that I had to keep my head above water.  This was dangerous.  OK, I told myself, one loop was all I was going to do.  This must be what Keith was talking about when he said "if it's not helping".  This was not helping my swim training at all.

I couldn't see the second buoy.  I had to wait until the waves were just right so that I could see in the distance where I was supposed to swim.  I finally spotted the buoy and realized I was nowhere on course.  At various times, I was the exact same distance from that buoy but always at a different direction.  I was not making any progress.  That's when I felt my timing chip start falling off.  I grabbed the strap but the chip was gone.  That's also about the time the jet ski came close to running me down.  It made me a little nervous that I was out there in the middle of nowhere, no chip, no road ID (long story; the new one is in the mail), and clearly hard to see.  I just had to get to that buoy!  After that, I figured we'd be with the current and it would be OK.  But I had to get to the buoy!

There was one, maybe two, other swimmers around me.  A guy on a jet ski, who had already pulled another swimer, came by and asked if I as OK.  I hesitated but said yes, I was OK, even though I made no effort of any further forward progress.  I was bobbing up and down trying to get my bearings.  Then the jet ski went to the other swimmer.  That swimmer was smart enough to say no, and she was taken with the jet ski.  I kind of kicked myself for not getting on the jet ski myself, but now there was no more room.  I "swam" a little more, didn't get any closer to that dang buoy, and told myself if another jet ski came around, I would take it. 
Those first couple splits are fine... and then it all went downhill, fast.
It took awhile but finally another jet ski did come over to me.  I said I needed a ride and they threw me the buoy.  I tried to get on the jet ski, but it was never steady and with my wetsuit on, I just couldn't get up there.  So I held onto the buoy and decided to let it drag me behind.  What I didn't count on was the water spewing out of the jet ski engine right in my face.  I couldn't breath at all.  That's fine, I thought, we'd get to the rescue boat soon enough, and at least I wasn't still on my own out there.  Wrong, it was taking forever and I'm pretty sure the jet ski almost flipped a few times (Andrea said she saw one actually flip while trying to pull a swimmer).  I asked if I could reposition myself.  I held onto the seat and curled my body around the back edge of the jet ski.  The other rescued swimmer held my arm with dear life as we sped along.  This was easily the most uncomfortable jet ski ride I've ever been on. 

We finally got to the rescue boat and I let go of the handle.  I still had my ear plugs on so I couldn't hear anything people were saying.  The jet ski sped away and I rolled right off the back of the boat.  W.T.F.  I looked up at the rescue boat and they were waving me over.  I put my foot on a ledge and 2 people lifted me up onto the boat.  I started shivering right away, but heard "Jen!"  I looked around at the other couple swimmers who had been rescued before me, and one of them was another Team Z'er - what are the odds?!  I had done the open water practice swim with Donna the week before, knew she was going to be there and had even chatted a bit before the start.  She did the bay swim last year and the first thing she said to me was "don't worry, the bay is nothing like this!"   I'm not sure it did much to ease my current feeling, but it was good to hear. 
Turns out we should have minded the posted signs!
The boat rescuers wrapped us in foil blankets but it did very little to keep us warm as we were soaking wet in the strong winds and chilly air temperatures.  The one guy kept saying over and over that conditions were horrible and he couldn't believe they let us get in this water.  He said that after that 2nd buoy, the current was more in our favor in one direction (east/west), but not the other (north/south) and they'd watched countless people get swept from the 2nd buoy back to the 1st buoy rather than the end of the loop!  Kinda glad I didn't try to stick it out.  The boat was rocking around like crazy and I was thankful I'd taken ginger pills or I would have been seasick for sure.  We had a couple more people get loaded on, and even though we were full, we had to wait for all of the swimmers to pass, just in case.  There was only one other boat out there!  A couple times we noticed swimmers waving their arms for help and had to send in fire & rescue or a jet ski.  I kept watching for Andrea and Keith, knowing their plan was to stay together, but I never saw them.  It was so cold!  Finally when there were only 3 swimmers remaining, and enough jet skis still on the water to cover them, the rescue boat headed for land.

I have never seen my feet as blue as they were when we pulled into to dock.  It hurt to try to stand and climb out, but I was so happy to be back.  I hobbled over to where we'd stored our stuff, wrapped myself in my towel and got out of my wetsuit and swimsuit (yep, right there in the middle of the crowds - there was no way I was keeping anything wet against my skin).  I put on my sweats and t-shirt, socks and shoes.  Kinda better but still freezing.  I noticed Andrea's wetsuit was with her things so I knew she was back, and I set out to find her.  She had only completed one lap but said that Keith was still out there (one of those final 3 swimmers we knew about), so we stood there and cheered them in.  I was still SO COLD.  My bones were shivering inside my body.
Back on land and dry, but still freezing!
Keith was the last swimmer out of the water after doing the entire 3 miles!  He started shivering right away, and after a couple minutes of trying to warm him up, he was taken to the ambulance.  I knew we weren't going to leave until we knew how Keith was doing, but I was too cold to stand outside in the wind anymore.  Andrea gave me her keys and I walked the half mile to sit in the car.  I didn't have any cell phone reception... I was worried that Andrea thought I was anxious to leave and had wanted to tell her to take her time and make sure Keith was ok.  She was simultaneously trying to make sure I was OK cause I hadn't looked so good.  My body was slowly warming up, though I was told later that I probably should have let somebody look at me for hypothermia symptoms after sitting on the boat for so long.

Luckily, Keith was OK once he got warmed up, and eventually we were all on our way to lunch.  As we drove over the Nanticoke bridge, we both started shouting "F-You Nanticoke" as Andrea threw up her 2 middle fingers -- we sure hoped the passing cars weren't confused!  Food was good but I could not wait to get home, take a shower, and climb into clean clothes.  We got back to Andrea's about 2 hours later, hugged goodbye and both said "I wish we could say it was a good time, but... it wasn't!"  What a horrible fucking day!

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