You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things – to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals. Edmund Hillary
Let me start out once more by thanking God, my family, and my TEAM. Without my team I could never have accomplished this. They are the inspiration to me. They never let me see their true concerns (well for the most part, some things you can’t hide), and they did a stellar job keeping me going, keeping my family informed and keeping me safe. Susan, Shelly, Ed, Ty, Jeff, Joey, Brady, Joie, W, Francis, Mandy, you all are the best. We ALL shared and were a part of a great thing Friday/Saturday. I will start at the beginning and may have to post in parts as it may be a long one.
The two weeks leading up to the swim were pretty much uneventful after Sunday March, 18th, the day of my last long “open water” swim. I learned that the only thing that this open swim had in common with my the Coast swim was that it occeurred in water. So does a bath. More on that later. After 7+ hours on the 18th my shoulders, which had so far remained pain free, were toast. I woke up on Monday the 19th and thought the whole swim was over. I was panicked and stressed completely. Shelly and I talked and she said not to worry, she would take care of me. She got me some Celebrex samples, got the dosage and gave me three days to rest. Then I would start tapering. My swims over the next two weeks sucked. I had no power, and though my shoulders did not hurt, it felt like the pain was just under the surface and would surface 1000 or 10000m into the actual swim. This was going to hurt and knowing that for 2 weeks was tough on my brain. I stuck to Shelly’s plan, did a few swims and tried to keep it out of my mind. I was going to swim, I was going to finish and it was going to hurt. Deal with it. I did my best.
On the week of the swim I spent zero time resting. I had one day where I got up at 4 a.m., swam, worked all day, drove to Mississippi for an interview and drove back. The next day I worked packed and drove back to Mississippi for the big swim. It felt like the world was flying by as logistics, emails, calls, and the like kept me going till late Thursday. I went to bed after some spaghetti. I slept well.
For anyone who has raced before, you know the feeling you get on race day. I guess if you played sports in high school many of you may know it to. I woke up on Friday March 30th feeling like I was jacked up on mini-thins. I felt good, my shoulders were so so and all seemed okay. I had 3 interviews before 8 a.m., I still needed to mix my nutrition for the swim as well as a host of logistical items. I am not a planner, and thanks to Susan, Shelly and Francis I didn’t need to be. T be more to the point, I had not talked to Francis in person in over a month. He said he would be there and Susan talked to him so I was cool. No worries. I drove to Bay St. Louis and made sure there was a beach to walk up onto. The wind was screaming due east, the direction I needed. I was freakin giddy. I prayed for the wind to stay out of this direction and I knew from the dependable weather forcasters, that it would change to the ENE at around 10 or 11 blowing me out and away from Gulfport harbor and would change to east again for a downwind finish. Perfect.
My former employee and fantastic runner, Brady came in early Friday around lunch. We headed to the hotel to set up a base camp of sorts and to mix up nutrition etc. I drove him through what is left of my old neighborhood. He couldn’t believe it. I was swimming for a lot more causes than I let you all know, but perhaps you could all glean that from my blog. I wrote a couple of notes, and rested for 13 minutes, then the phone started again. I got up and at 3:00 we left to go pick up Joey Lee at work. 3:30 and we’re on our way to Ocean Springs. We arrive right on time and the crew is there and arriving. Shelly, Susan, Ed, Ty and Mandy are there as well as Michelle Mayer and her son Stephen. We scout out a nearby harbor so they can get on the boat without having to trudge through the water and I go back for a live TV shot. My family shows up and then a number of people from the coast that I have known but not seen for a long time show up. A nice littler old lady in a rascal rides up and says she used to swim the Bay St. Louis races and that she had to come see me off. I am again taken aback. I get my wetsuit on and head to the beach for the TV interview. TV is funny. Here I am about to take on the physical and mental challenge of a lifetime, and I am talking to the TV girl about my exit into the water. Seems surreal kind of. I meet with the kayak team of Abe Kinney, a friend from home, Jeff Beck, from the backpacker, and Tom Atkinson, a local who saw a post from Abe on a kayakers message board and wanted to join in. I said the more the merrier, but also explained that he would be going slow and my nutrition and sighting had to be the priority. I briefly explained to them their role and got ready for my interview/entrance. I do my interview, put on my goggles and start walking….nothing says dramatic swim entrance like 8 inches of water. I wade out another 50 yards and finally can take a stroke. Did I mention the wind was still blowing out of the southeast, oh and 15-20 mph.
Before we headed out I told the team I was going to go nice and slow across Biloxi Bay as I knew it was going to be a challenge. Although the wind was coming out the right direction, the starting point was directly into the wind so as to not add more miles to the swim. It was going to be a 1-2 mile crossing and then into the Biloxi channel for a couple of miles. I started out nice and easy. I did not want to expend too much energy this early. I was happy to be swimming and felt relatively good, no pain in either shoulder and all was well. I had told the kayakers, to not worry about me sighting off of them at this point and for them to get comfortable first and we could hone the method in the channel where it would be calm. At about 30 minutes in I see Abe capsize. My immediate reaction is to stop and help him. Joey says “Don’t worry about him, keep going.” 15 min later I see he has met up with the group. I have my first food stop, take in some h2o and keep heading for Point Cadet.
Point Cadet is the eastern point of Biloxi and is where many shrimp boats and most of the casinos are located. As we approached the waves started coming in the opposite direction and I was getting sloshed around. This was going to be something I had to deal with at every harbor along the way. It was like the waves came in and hit against the concrete and came sloshing back against the incoming waves. There was no undertow associated, just the top of the water was a complete mess. I kept cool and remembered that once I got around the Point it would smooth out for a while. Finally we get around and it is super smooth. I now have a direct tailwind and am working on getting into a rhythm with the waves and my stroke. I stop somewhere right after and eat half a cliff bar and some accelerade. I immediately put my head down and start throwing up part of it. The salt water is already taking a toll on my stomach and I have only been in the water for an hour or so. I am not happy about this, but, what can you do. I start swimming again and we are making pretty good time.
I cannot relax and swim though. Nausea, and the waves are working against me and my mind is racing. I can’t concentrate on anything. I would kill to have a song stuck in my head right now. I am constantly having to sight, forward and sideways and the kayaks are all over the place. I realize this is not kayaking weather. Joey is staying close and Tom and Jeff are doing pretty well beside me. I make a couple of stops and think to myself, “We are flying, we have got to be going 3 mph with this tailwind. I may finish in 12 hours after all.” I have had a goal of swimming this in under 13 hours the whole time, but that is in calm water. I thought I had a reasonable chance to do it IF I could have the right conditions. The conditions in the channel were perfect, 2 hours in and I had covered 5.47 miles. I told Joey sarcastically that there was a small craft advisory. I think I told Joey it felt like I was cheating it was so easy. This would not last long.
Somewhere out of the Biloxi channel, Abe and Tom opted out. I can’t blame them. By this time Joey had flipped, and I think Abe had again. I worried for all of them and kept going. The perfect conditions left once we got around the end of Deer Island, they weren’t awful, but they weren’t great either. As we were a half mile or so from what used to be the Broadwater Harbor. The same sloshing affect started well before the harbor and I realized this would happen at every harbor. I told Joey this as I needed the team to know how much these were taking out of me. The next one was going to be Gulfport harbor, but it was still 3 hours or so away.
Somewhere after the Broadwater harbor, Joey and Jeff were done. The kayaks couldn’t handle the waves Joey had flipped for a second time and managed to save my body glide and some rope or something. Jeff flipped too and I was concerned. I could not sight off of them any more. This would mean I would have to get everything from the big boat, which was harder and more dangerous in these conditions.
Joey had told me on the way over that there would be a time when I would think that I would want to quit. He said it may feel like I couldn’t go on at all. He said when he it had happened to him, it lasted for 20 minutes or an hour and then he was good. I had a strange moment in Biloxi. Though I was making good time, I was wearing my mind out. I couldn’t get a good rhythm due to the waves, and I was completely nautious. I would take in a gel and throw up part of it. I did not dare tell Susan and the Team as I knew they would freak. I just tried to keep down as much as possible and keep rolling. It was around here I just thought, “This is too dangerous, it is not worth getting someone else hurt over. I keep throwing up, my mouth is torn up from the salt water, and I can’t relax.” This lasted about 5 minutes, but was a very strong feeling. My next thoughts were, “My shoulders feel fine, I feel strong. The nausea is here, forget about it, and the team will tell me if they want out.” It came and went and I was ever determined. Head down and swim.
Somewhere around here, I relaxed for about an hour. I don’t know when, but I had somehow just let my mind go a little. It was nice, I tried to enjoy how I had gotten here. The early mornings, swimming by myself, 90% of the time. All of this helped, and I tried to revel in the moment. Biloxi passed as did most of Gulfport. I looked up to see familiar “sights” and streets. This part of the coast was a little recognizable because I knew where the stoplights should be. I would tell I was still making okay time. I thought of my family and friends and hoped everyone on the boat was okay, especially Shelly as she is 20 weeks pregnant. I had finished about 12 miles or so I guess and told myself I had this. I was also at this time getting ready for Gulfport harbor because I knew it was going to be a huge challenge. Little did I know.
I knew I was swimming all over the place as I had to sight off the big boat. The waves would at times knock me 90 degrees in the wrong direction, and I would see the light flashing at me meaning one of two things, I either needed to eat or I needed to get back on track. In hindsight we did not do enough planning on signaling. It wolud have made it easier to know that one flash was for “wrong way” and another for “come eat”, but what you gonna do. Eating from the big boat was difficult because I would have to swim to chase it down, and then eat. While I was eating the boat would drift away and I would have to swim back to throw my bottle back on board. I started putting the bottle up under the back of my wetsuit and swimming with it until I got closer to the boat again. I would have a small dorsal fin for these periods and I wondered if it helped at all. Not really.
I keep looking at the stuff I am typing and I am leaving out a lot (unbelievably). I would like to take a second to talk about swimming this at night. I read up on long swims leading up to my swim and found that many of them were planned for the night as the sun just drains you, burns you, and usually the weather calms at night. This was a tactical decision that I do not regret. The actual swimming in the dark was not as big deal for me. Flourescent phytoplankton (or something like that) would stream over my goggles every stroke, so much so that I grew oblivious to it. It was cool to watch the moon move from a 7 o’clock to 2 o’clock. It was a little cloudy so there weren’t many stars. I would feel a small jelly fish (non stinging type) go through my fingers from time to time, and once a big fish hit my legs, making me speed up a bit and raised my heart rate, but other than that no real contact with sea creatures. I half wanted a porpoise to swim with me, but probably would have soiled my wetsuit had this happened, but thought it would have been cool to have flipper along. All in all the dark didn’t bother me. It did make it harder on the boat and seeing where we were with regards to the land.
Somewhere around hour 5 Francis asked me if I was in the mood for sex. I thought “Huh,” but didn’t really know what to say so I said “Sure, I guess, but not from you.” He then chimed in 5 hours and 13. something miles. I figured out he was asking me if I wanted stats. I really didn’t. I did not want to know anything until after Gulfport harbor, but so be it. Now I knew how far long I was in with every feed stop. It was kind of nerve wracking. We were still a couple of miles from the harbor. I knew I was in for a huge challenge.
At least a mile from Gulfport harbor, I began to feel the affect of the wind and waves. I knew that Gulfport harbor was actually 3 harbors in one. It had the small craft then a freighter harbor where Dole has a large banana boat complex, and then one more commercial harbor, I don’t think the team knew this. The winds were out of the southeast still and as they hit the east side of the first harbor they began heading back out to sea and me. I had one more feed stop around here and knew that was it for the next hour or so because the harbor was at least a mile wide, possibly more. Combine this with the seas and I knew I was in for it. Again I just put my head down and kept going.
I had thought in the hours leading up to this point that we were out far enough to get around the harbor. I was very wrong. As I swam in he tumultuous waters, I noticed that I was drifting closer and closer in. I was half way through the first section of harbor and fighting hard. The waves in here were at least 5-7 feet high and the boat would completely disappear with each wave crest. I kept going and at some point heard the boat yelling that I was getting to close. I looked up and saw the light at the end of the small craft harbor. It was on top of a jetty made of broken concrete and rocks. I thought I was okay and took a couple of strokes of breaststroke to get my bearings. I wasn’t far enough at all, I slammed my left foot into a pile of debris putting what would turn out to be a 2 inch cut that probably could have used stitches. I had to head straight out at this point and fight to get south enough to not get my whole body slammed into this jetty. It was brutal for a short while as I headed directly into the wind an waves. I got around the first jetty and headed west again. The boat was telling me to head towards a set of lights and I did. What we failed to realize was that there was a concrete pier in between us and these lights. This was in the freighter part of the harbor and the waves and backsplash (wrong word) was at its height here. At one point my whole body was lifted completely out of the water. I was getting slammed from all directions. The team realized I had to go straight out again so I headed back straight out. It was crazy. I made it around this one and had a little ways to go before I was to be clear of the harbor. This was taking it out of me. I knew I would get a break in a while so I just kept going. There were two huge silo looking things and I knew if I got passed them I was almost done. The third harbor was set back a bit so I didn’t think I would have to go straight out again. The team I don’t think knew about this third harbor and as we finally got a little clearance they said come eat. I would have liked to, but I was now feeling the effects of getting slammed and drinking gallons of salt water. I stopped for a second and began violently throwing up, and I mean the body wrenching can’t stop to I have thrown it all up kind of barfing. I just lost all of the nutrition I had diligently been putting in my body. I had an extremely brief moment when I thought, “Well, that’s it I am done. I can’t believe I just threw up everything and cut the shit of my foot and I am done at 6 or 7 hours.” It lasted only for a second, because I all of a sudden felt great. My stomach was settled and I was calm. The boat called me to come eat, and I said after the last point. They thought I had lost my mind cause they couldn’t see another point as the last harbor was indeed farther inshore and not going to be an issue. I came in and ate and swam around the north side of the boat. I noticed that one of the kayaks we were towing was gone. I thoutght, “That is gonna cost me.” Jeff Beck from the Backpacker, who was ultimately responsible for them said to forget about it, that the boat had to stay with me. Unbeleiveable.
I am going to get a tetnus shot. Hopefully i will complete this afternoon.