I knew it would be a slow swim. I was right
I knew it would be painful. I was right
I knew if we pulled it off it would be awesome. I was right.
The USA to Oroville swim took over a year to plan but as Hannibal Smith said in the A Team “I love it when a plan comes together”.
Although having said that, the last couple of days leading up to the attempt had me a little on edge. We had to change the support vehicle we were going to use and call the CBSA to make sure Angelique could drive somebody else’s vehicle back into the country. I wasn’t even sure that Phred and Ashley would be kayaking together until the morning of the swim when we managed to squeeze both kayaks onto the roof of his vehicle. It was a relief to see them both up there I can tell you.
We set out for Oroville at 8am and before we knew it were at the border waiting to cross into the States. I always get nervous at border crossings and our reason for crossing today was a little more complicated given that I was swimming back.
“Really. Are Canada going to have a problem with that?” asked the US border guard. We assured him we had permission to swim back into Canada and as he searched the trunk of the car I was relieved to have pre-mixed all my drinks and not have small bags of white carbohydrate powder in there. It turned out to be one of the smoothest, friendliest crossings into the States and everybody I spoke to wished me luck.
A few minutes later we were at the Veteran’s Memorial Park in Oroville setting up our gear. When we were ready we took a team picture and had a quick team briefing. At 10.38 am, with my back covered in a thick layer of Factor 60 sunscreen, my shoulders, armpits and neck smeared in my swimmers grease (50/50 mix of Lanolin and Vaseline) I walked into Osoyoos Lake and started swimming north. It was a relief to finally get this thing underway.
The first check point was at Deep Bay Park about 40 mins into the swim, Angelique had driven there from the start. The team checked in via two-way radio and as all was going well she photographed from shore and I gave her a wave. We would have several of these check points along the route.
From Deep Bay Park the next landmark we aimed for was Boundary Point some 3.5km away. It seemed to take forever to get there and the big tree at the end of the point didn’t seem to get any closer. Here we changed our tactics and I stopped sighting forwards, asking Ashley and Phred to set a course while I just swam beside them. This worked great and we pretty much stuck with this for the remainder for the swim. Once we made it around Boundary Point we headed close into shore, we could see houses to our left which were in the U.S and the neighbouring campground to our right which was in Canada.
It was almost surreal to think of our little expedition party being right in between two of the largest countries in the world. It was here that Ashley made her way into shore, meeting Angelique to replenish drinks and snacks, while I took an extended break to take everything in.
As we set off again I felt really strong, it felt like I had upped my stroke rate and was moving across the lake at a good pace. At the next feed break Ashley asked how I felt and were I was mentally. I told her how strong I felt and that I knew we would get to the end. Maybe that was a jinx because from that point on it became a real slog to the finish.
We were now entering the area close to Haynes Point where there is always a lot of traffic from water craft. I could feel boat and Jet Ski wake from all directions, or at least it felt like they were all around me – I could also taste the fuel there were burning as they sped by. This is where having two kayakers really paid off, having two pairs of eyes looking out for me was really reassuring. In fact earlier in the day Phred had spotted a water ski boat heading right for us and stopped the swim as we waited to see if they changed course.
As we approached the campground at Haynes Point a familiar figure joined us in the water. Our swim pals Neil, Aaryn and their daughters were camping there and Neil swam out to join us while Aaryn cheered from the beach. It was nice to see another familiar face at this point as I was approaching the low point of the day.
With the Arthritis and nerve problems I have in my left hand I always knew this swim would be uncomfortable and I would have to manage the swim very carefully if I was to be successful. The plan we followed all day was to swim 20 minute legs and take 2 or 3 minutes during each feed to rest. This was working great for the first few hours but as the day progressed I needed to take longer breaks for things to settle down. Looking back at Phred’s observation notes some of the later breaks were 5 minutes or more. At the four-hour mark though just about when Neil joined us the rest breaks weren’t helping. My hand was painful throughout.
How can I describe the pain?
It felt like somebody was crushing the tips of the index and middle fingers in a vice while burning the palm of my hand at the base of my thumb and simultaneously sticking pins into my knuckles and wrist. No exaggeration and not nice!
Back to the swim. We were four hours in and I was at the end of Haynes Point, Angelique was on shore just a few metres away and for a moment I considered quitting, I didn’t tell anybody that until later. It was a confusing couple of minutes, Phred was talking to me about how we should negotiate the sand bar, Neil was asking how the swim was going and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
Voices in my head:
“You can be out of the water in two minutes, Angelique is right there”
“This is not what we came here for!”
I think it was at this point I asked Ashley to radio Angelique to tell her I was struggling with my hand but we were still aiming for the finish at Gyro Park.
Thinking out loud I said something like “Let’s see what the next 20 minutes give us” and we continued. As soon as we rounded Haynes Point I could see the red and brown building which was the Holiday Inn across the bay and knew the finish was just 5-600m beyond that.
I cast my mind back to the start of the day when Phred was telling a story that I’m afraid I only partly paid attention to. The story ended with him saying something along the lines of “Anybody can start”. For the next hour as I swam towards the finish from Hayes Point this would be my mantra.
“Anybody could have started this swim but I am going to finish it”. I knew that as long as my arms kept turning I would make it to the end despite the discomfort in my hand.
At the end of that first 20 min spell I had only two more 20 mins swims to do. Just beyond the Holiday Inn we had to negotiate the bridge in Osoyoos carefully as the lake narrows there and is a busy area for boat traffic. We had boats pass close by in both directions at that point and some jerk on a jet ski was riding round in circles there too giving me another couple of mouthfuls of gas fumes which nearly made me throw up. As Ashley and Phred carefully shepherded me under the bridge Angelique cheered from the highway above and I could see the finish 500m away within the safety of the public swimming area.
Minutes later I was slapping the water with delight and giving Phred and Ashley a thumbs up before being greeted by Angelique on the beach. Dry land, Canada and a big hug from my wife.
After swimming for 5 hours and 45 minutes… WE’D DONE IT!
Thanks of course to Angelique, Ashley and Phred for their awesome support out there. Thanks too to Alan Profili and the CBSA without who this adventure would never have been possible. And last but not least thank you to FINIS for sponsoring the swim and providing the Surge Goggles, swim cap and Hydro Tracker GPS unit I used on the day. You can follow FINIS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
I remain confident that this was the first recorded marathon swim between the cities of Oroville and Osoyoos. Phred was awesome keeping notes of the day’s events including stroke rate, water/air temps and feeds. We will be compiling his raw data into a full report and submitting it to various open water swim bodies for their consideration and archives. The full report will also be published on this website for public viewing.