Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dang, that water is COLD! (by Clara)

My father and I began the day at 5:30 am. Mallory and her father began an hour earlier, since they needed a shuttle to get to the T (Boston subway) from their hotel, and required 2 train changes before getting on the red line to get to Quincy. Our hotel is about 200 yards away from the JFK/UMass station on the red line, so it was a little easier for us. After a slight freak-out when the Au Bon Pain in our hotel, which was supposed to open at 6 am, wasn't open when we got there at 6:03 (it opened just after), we were on our way. Mallory had had trouble finding lanolin to make channel grease, and I had had trouble finding cheap ratty towels to use while all greased up, so as not to foul up Billy's boat, so we stopped at a CVS on the way to the marina. We got there at 6:40, and it didn't open until 7, so we had a second experience of arriving too early and waiting around for opening time.

We did manage to find some lanolin and vaseline to make the grease, as well as some $4 towels which didn't really absorb much water at all. After taking some bathroom breaks and preparing the grease, we were on our way at about 8 am.

Once again, Mallory proved herself to be the bringer of freak weather. In terms of swimming conditions, it was an improvement over the last time we came to Boston, but still. (Point of clarification: Mallory is at fault for all the weird weather we have encountered, and not me, because when I did Alcatraz when I was 14 - ostensibly my first training swim for the channel - the normally fierce current was calm, the waves were few, and the water temperature was several degrees higher than normal. Hence: blame Mallory.) Anyway, this round of freak weather was oddly cold and cloudy: weather that our boater, Billy Harrow, assured us was most usual in March, not the end of June. But, on the bright side, the water was nice and smooth all day. When we first looked up the weather, they were predicting T-storms (or T-showers... are those like T-storms lite?), but I think the largest waves were maybe a foot. Maybe.

Anyway, the day turned out to be quite a bit of an adventure. Since Mallory was swimming a little faster than me, she would swim out a ways, then turn around and swim back, and then turn around again, etc. No one was keeping track of mileage, but considering that I swam just over 8 miles in just under 4 hours with really crap weather, so I'm guessing we were somewhere between 2.0 and 2.5 mph during the swim (probably closer to 2.5 mph for Mal, and maybe like 2.2 for me). About an hour and a half in, Mallory started to have some real issues with the cold. We went inland a bit to find slightly warmer water, as we think the water we started out in was something like 58 degrees, and she managed to eventually get over it and keep swimming. So, on the list for additional preparations for Mal: 1) Consume lots of calories and gain 5 or 10 pounds, 2) No more hot showers, 3) Ice baths and swims in Lake Michigan.

My problem of the day was having shoulder pain, and a little stomach issue from eating too much solid food (bananas... I couldn't bring myself to eat the Gu packets we bought... the texture is just too gross). My dad had some Advil, so I took a bunch of that and dissolved some more in my tea. As for the stomach issue, I just had to tough that out.

By far the most interesting adventure of the day, however, involved Mallory's $20 grab bag swim suit she purchased specifically for our qual swim. It was one of those Finis suits that has rubber straps - kind of like goggle straps. She liked it pretty well for a while, but its weakness was revealed when she tried to wear it with channel grease smeared all over her body. It actually worked out fine for several hours, but eventually the grease managed to work its way into the buckle that held one of her straps on, and the rubber strap slid right out. I managed to get the strap back through the loop that held it to her suit, but there was no way it was going to go back through the buckle, or get tied in a knot, as covered in grease as it was. Luckily, Mallory had brought an extra suit, so she got back in the boat for a few minutes, had both our fathers and Billy face the front of the boat, and changed out.

The swim definitely turned out to be a good learning experience, and I'm pretty glad that it's required. It was definitely good to find out what we did now, instead of when already in England. Now for some photos:

On the boat before the swim

Greasing up

I got in first

Mallory's turn

First feeding stop, 30 minutes in

Billy getting the grease off the boat while we were getting the grease off ourselves

Friday, June 27, 2008

Boston/British Accomodations/Delayed Flights (by Clara)

Well, my dad and I were supposed to be flying out of South Bend in an hour (5:30 am, to arrive in Boston at 9:48 am), but the wonderful crew at United Express at the South Bend Regional Airport have decided to trot out the Grand Ould Tradition of Delayed and Cancelled Flights. Was a time when a person had to plan for 2 or 3 hour layovers in O'Hare in order to barely make the connection by sprinting through the vast, sprawling concourses that United Airlines occupy in their midwestern hub. In those days, passengers learned not to get their hopes up with an on-time boarding, since there was sure to be something like an engine leak to keep the plane on the ground for another hour or so, and an on-time departure was shocking enough to send those with weaker constitutions into fits.

In this new, post-Wisconsin-Air-takeover-of-the-SBN-United-Express era, such delays are not nearly as common, and flights are on time often enough that one can usually book a relatively tight connection without worry. I suppose, however, that when the delays do occur, they can be blamed on the fact that the South Bend Airport is so small, and so little staffed: oftentimes the crew that flew in is scheduled to fly back out to O'Hare as soon as the obligatory rest time is up, meaning that delays just propogate without forseeable end. (The delays may be an artifact of the small staff, but they are still extremely frustrating.) This certainly seems to be our problem today, since the weather has been lovely for flying, if a bit thick with Indiana summer mugginess. It seems we will now be taking a flight at 8:20 am, and attempting to get on a 9:20 flight to Boston, which has plenty of room... but it's all in First Class. *sigh* Hopefully my father's status as a Premier Executive (i.e. the second-to-highest class of people who fly United Airlines a whole heck of a lot) will help us out there. If not, we'll be sitting in O'Hare until 2 pm central, which will put us in Boston around 5. Lovely. So much for my plans for a bracing swim in the harbor at noon...

Anyway, on a more swim-related topic, Mallory and her dad have been out in Boston for a day now (a plan of which her father was not aware until the afternoon before they left... at 7 am... from Chicago Midway, which is two and a half hours away on a good day), and she's had a chance to swim out there. Apparently it was around 59 degrees Fahrenheit, which didn't make for a very happy adjustment after training for weeks in an 81-degree lap pool, but it bodes well for our 6-hour qualifying swim tomorrow (which must be done in sub-60 degree water). The weather seems like it will be favorable as well: as I understand it, our plan is to begin the swim in the wee hours of the morning, so we should be well out of the way by the time the predicted thunderstorm rolls around at 7pm. Perfect!

In other news, I just finished making our final accommodation arrangements for the Britain portion of our stay (the bit in France has yet to be worked out, and probably has to be a little flexible, in case we end up needing to stay in England a little longer than planned). For the first two days of our trip, we'll be staying in a hostel in London, seeing a few of the must-see sights (changing of the guard, and a couple major cathedrals) and some of the cooler-seeming attractions, like an Imperialism Museum. Then it's off by train to Folkestone, where we'll be staying at the Grand Burstin Hotel (44 845 838 1005, in case anyone wants to surprise us with a visit while we're there!). They have a really sweet price of £25/person/night, which includes dinner, bed, and breakfast. Even without the food, this was the cheapest place around, so we're pretty stoked about the deal.

It occurs that perhaps I should spend my extra time doing something productive, instead of just sitting on the computer. Off I go.

Update: It's just after noon Eastern time, and I'm still sitting at O'Hare. If the flights had been on time, we would have been in Boston 2 hours ago, and we won't even be leaving for another 2 hours. Sometimes I REALLY hate flying.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Clarification on Shirts/Qualifying Swim in Boston (by Clara)

First, I'd just like to make a quick note on the shirts... in case it wasn't clear before, we have around 30 extra tee shirts that have already been made that we need to sell off. So, if you are interested in purchasing one, BEFORE GOING TO THE CAFEPRESS SHOP, please email one of us and see if we have your size and style in stock! We currently have shirts left in every size and style (although some are limited at the moment). While we still will get money from the CafePress shirts, a) we will have a net loss if we have shirts leftover at the end, and b) because of their return/refund policy and they fact that they only mail us checks once a month, we don't receive the money for a while. So, if we are out of the size and style you want, feel free to purchase on CafePress, because even if we get the commission after we come back, we can use that to pay back money that was borrowed. But please PLEASE check with us first.

On a different note, we will be heading to Boston this weekend to swim our 6-hour qualifying swim in the Boston Harbor. Mallory's boater from the Boston Light Swim, Billy Harrow, will be our support boater. We checked the weather, and it calls for isolated T-storms all weekend, so hopefully we'll be able to find a slot to swim! Look for updates this weekend.

Pictures from Lake Maxincukkee Swim (Posted by Mallory)

So I finally got a hold of some pictures from the Lake Maxincukkee swim off. Thanks to Katrina Carlisle for being the camera woman!

My certificate of completion, and my father's 1st place trophy.....looks strangely like the Chicago Miracle Mile trophy I got a couple of years back..........

The start of the race (just me though, dad was at the other end).

Me, my dad, and various Cook descendants and the awesome banner they made for me.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Buy Tee Shirts! (by Clara)

So we still have a bit of an inventory of tee shirts remaining, and we really need to sell them off. We've sold more than enough to cover costs, but we'd really not like to have 30 tee shirts laying around. They aren't too expensive to ship, so no matter where you are, we can get them to you! We'll say $3 shipping for the first tee, and $1 for each tee after that. Since our inventory is likely going to be changing, instead of posting what we have left all the time, I think it would be best if anyone interested could just click the "place order" link to the right (or just email and let me know what sizes you want and which style you would prefer, and I'll let you know which colors we have left! We only have short sleeve tees, so those are $15 apiece plus shipping. You can send checks or money orders or whatever (made out to Clara Bennett) to:

50928 Ridgeview Lane
Granger, IN 46530


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fish, Fluff, and F-ing up the Course: Swimming the 5k at Huntington Miles (posted by Clara)

Yesterday, Mallory and I drove back up to Northern Indiana to participate in the 5k at the Huntington Mile today. We weren't quite sure we would make it, as it was storming the whole 2 hours to Plymouth, and there were some very dark, very ominous clouds gathering above us. At one point, we spotted a formation of clouds just to the west of us that was definitely coming down out of the sky in a vaguely twisted pattern, and we were pretty sure we were going to perish in a summer thunderstorm, but we made it to Plymouth alive, and my subsequent journey up to Granger was uneventful.

After convincing Mallory's younger sister Calley to scratch the mile and swim the 5k instead, we drove down to Lake Clare in Huntington for the race around noon. The swim wasn't scheduled to begin until 1:45, and I think we ended up starting at 2 or 2:15, so the surface layer of the water was pretty warm at that time. The course was four laps around the perimeter of the lake, so I don't think that any part of the course was particularly deep... that definitely did not help with the water warmth, but open water is open water, and in land-locked Indiana, we'll take what we can get.

In addition to being warm, the lake consisted of what Mallory so aptly described as "duck water." In other words, there were a lot of feathers and probably a lot of bird excrement around. Of course, in the Channel, we'll probably be dealing with a lot of dirt and whatever leaks out of all those shipping vessels that cross those waters every day, so dirty is definitely something to be prepared for. Along with the feathers, there was an awful lot of seedy fluff stuff from trees or plants of some kind. There was certainly a good amount trapped in my swim suit and around my goggles when I finished. Yummy...

The way the course was set up, there was a quarter mile bit with a "lane-line" (a thick, straight cable strung with multi-colored foam pool noodles) and gates, which had been used in the morning to swim the mile (and half-mile for the wee tots). I had some major issues on the straight part of the course... I think it's easier for me to follow something in front of me than something at water level next to me. I think I was swimming .3 miles for every time I swam down that quarter-mile lane-line. The rest of the course curved around the other side of the lake, and was marked with enormous yellow inflated buoys, like man-sized beach balls, with smaller tall and thin white cylindrical buoys interspersed between them. Now, the buoys are all very easy to see when you're scanning the course from the beach, but a little more difficult to pick out from the water. The yellow ones were impossible to miss, with their size and color, but the white buoys were a little harder to spot. This wasn't a huge problem, because the white buoys were mostly located along the straight lines between the large yellow ones, so if you followed the yellow buoys, you were okay. There was, however, one white buoy that marked a corner of the course.

On the first lap around the lake, I didn't see a single white buoy. After I passed the first yellow buoy past the 1/4 mile straight section, I didn't immediately head to the next yellow because the course seemed to generally follow the perimeter of the lake, so I headed in that direction. But when I saw Calley shooting off to my right out of the corner of my eye, I could tell she was heading straight for the next big yellow buoy, and I hurridly changed course before I lost too much ground. On the second go-round, I headed straight for the next yellow buoy immediately... several strokes later, I breathed to my left and saw that little white buoy maybe 20 yards away (we were supposed to keep the buoys to our right). My stomach sunk a little at that sight, but I figured I was swimming to train, not to win, so it didn't really matter if I disqualified the race. As it turned out, the course wasn't being very well-policed, so neither Calley (who figured out the mistake at the same time) nor I were disqualified. I'm not quite sure why my vision improved so much over the course of the swim, but I swear that I noticed a new buoy on every lap of the lake.

Calley was quite relieved to have just finished the swim alive, but definitely the worst moment for me (aside from puking up a little bit of my Arby's popcorn chicken every time I passed the motorized support boat and breathed in the engine fumes) was when I was literally hit by a fish while swimming. I did not hit the fish. The fish hit me. This is not to say that I'm afraid of fish or anything, but have you ever been swimming along perfectly focused, when something black and slimy swims right under your face and collides full-on into your stomach and chest? Scared the living bajeezus out of me. Full-on involuntary body shiver from that one.

All in all a good swim though. This makes the second open-water swim for me in two weeks, and the third for Mal. Keep looking for more updates, they will sure to be coming in fast and furious over the next two weeks. Especially in two weeks when we are travelling back to Boston to do our 6-hour qualification swim. Over and out.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Battle of Lake Maxincukee (Posted By Mallory)

Sadly, On June 8, 2008, I was not victorious.

Even so, I will have to proclaim that the Battle of Lake Maxincukee was a huge success. Things went more or less as planned, except the part when my father exited the water 18 minutes before I did. We had a great turnout, and the conditions were great for Channel Training. Though the water temp was a little warm (varied between 68-74) I encountered high winds and substantial chop (I prefer waves because they have a rhyme) on the first 2.5 mile leg of the course which turned into whitecaps coming in from the side (also difficult to swim in) for the second leg of the course. What I projected to be an easy and “smooth sailing” lake swim turned into a great test of mental and physical strength. I entered the water feeling a little sluggish from stepping up my training this week, and I had to work through some lower back pain. Apart from the physicality of it, I also had to deal with the familiar frustration of being unable to see the course coupled with the sneaking suspicion that I was swimming somewhat off course. On top of it all, my support crew (as well as my father’s one man support crew) also had to deal with the high winds and rough water throwing the boats around. My Uncle Kent, who functioned as the aforementioned one man support crew, had some issues of his very own, when the battery for the motor died right at the end of the swim. The weight of the two batteries and his body as he switched the batteries raised the bow of the boat high in the air and the boat started taking in water. He almost became the third swimmer in the race. I’m starting to believe that rough conditions have started to follow me around everywhere I go. I hope it is not so for my channel swim.
The support that I received from my friends, family, and even some strangers has been phenomenal. Now some thanks are in order.

I would like to thank the following people for sponsoring me.

Clete Bauman
Paul Weisser
Sherry Sullivan
John and Caroline Fowler
John and Katrina Carlisle
Dick Niemi
John and Melody Elliot
Jerry and Kenan Kimble
Mick and Janet Cox
Nathan and Leslie Cook
Martha Ann Cook
Kewanna Pro Hardware and Supply (Kent and Sherri Cook)
Linc Divane
Gary Treat
Gary Kerns

Also, thank you to the following people for volunteering their time and services to help the race run smoothly.

Kent Cook
Dave and Clara Bennett
Leanord Short
Clete Bauman
Dick Niemi

And last but not least, thank you to everyone who has purchased a t-shirt. It has really been adding up.

Right now, not including t-shirt sales, I have received $3,100 in sponsorships. I cannot thank you all enough!