Thursday, August 13, 2015

Is so small

It's everywhere around you, though you may not notice.

Swimmers are dipping in under optimum conditions to cross the vast famous waters between vast famous landforms.

Late summer is the Season of the Big Swims.

They would have escaped my notice, too, until I became what passes for a swimmer a few years ago. Now, through a facebook™® community of swimmers, I sense the big events acutely.

Only a few attempts reach the non-swimming (some have dubbed "swuggle") world.

Perhaps, for example, you land lubbers saw the blurb, on Page 3 of your hometown newspaper, headlined, "Swimmer becomes first woman to reach Farallones."

That was Kimberley Chambers last week, swimming 30 miles from the Farallon Islands under the Golden Gate Bridge. Only four swimmers had succeeded before her, all men.

The first swimmer succeeded in 1967, and then came a nearly 50-year gap until in the last two years the attempts spiked, ushering in a quick spate of successes.

Kimberley is also one of fewer than 10 people who have swum the seven classic marathon ocean crossings — The English Channel between England and France, the North Sea Channel between Ireland and Scotland, the Molokai Channel in Hawaii, Cook Strait between the islands of New Zealand, Tsugaru Strait between the main islands of Japan, the Strait of Gibraltar at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, and the distance between Catalina Island and the mainland of California.

A week before the Farallones success by Kimberley, a New Zealander living in California, an Australian-Californian named Simon Dominguez attempted to be first to reverse the route, swimming under the Golden Gate to find the tiny and spiny rock outcropping of the Farallones, far out in the cold blue Pacific.

The most real of dangers stopped him, when a great white shark approached him three miles from his destination. Sharks flock to feast on the breeding seal and sea elephant populations there.

Even the powerful sports-talk radio station KNBR in San Francisco spoke of Kimberley and Simon — not by name, mind you — interrupting the steady chatter diet of San Francisco Giants, National Football League, Golden State Warriors and prize fights to mention how crazy two people were to have done the impossible.

You might also have read, "Woman swims a triple crossing of the English Channel."  That was ChloĆ« McCardel, an Australian who completed her feat in 36 hours. She swam the first leg of the 21-mile crossing (though it's far more than 21 miles after tides push swimmers around) in just over 11 hours — and swam even faster on her second leg.

McCardel also set a record last year, swimming 80 miles nonstop in the Bahamas.

These are swims you may have heard about, and I have had the pleasure of meeting Kimberley and swimming with Simon, who last year also crossed the English Channel. A documentary film crew is preparing a movie of Simon's attempt.

Here are some swims you might not have heard about, no less monumental.

France heard Bel's roar.
Annabel "Bel" Lavers last week also crossed the English Channel.

Having met her in the facebook™® community, I got to design a logo for her event, which her crew wore on their hooded sweatshirts.

Ebullient and funny, Bel seemed to attract a global following for her attempt. Many in the United Kingdom stayed up through the night to watch her 17-hour crossing, following a real-time GPS beacon blip across their computer screens.

Bel's blog includes a thorough question-and-answer about preparing for an English Channel swim, so comprehensive it makes me want to jump in and go. She also swam for charity.

As did Ion Lazarenco Tiron, a Moldavian who lives in Ireland, this week having completed the cold North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, raising money for the people in Moldova. Though he had announced his attempt a while back, he went silent for a long time until finally announcing his finish yesterday.

Ion Tiron swims the North Sea for his homeland.
I got to design something to commemorate his success too.

I'm leaving out so many stories, of Londoner Simon Fullerton attempting the North Sea before a painful shoulder forced him out, and of Philip Hodges, in Cambridge by way of Australia, also taking on the North Sea, and of many others crossing the English Channel.

More swimmers I have met will soon be crossing from the Channel Islands off California to the mainland. Still others have crossed England's great lake, Windermere, in the meantime.

I missed the opportunity finally to crew a long-distance swim, for my friend "fast" Karl Kingery, who swam with me almost every day at Lake Natoma near Sacramento until he moved to Colorado for a job.

Karl late last month swam the 21-mile length of Lake Tahoe.

When I texted him from afar, excited about him being able to cross Tahoe under the full moon, the taciturn mountain man swimmer replied simply, "Finished it yesterday. How was the full moon?!"

I had flubbed the date of the swim, and his eloquent summary came in three words, "Finished it yesterday."

While Karl crossed Lake Tahoe, marathon swimmer Craig Lenning was to embark on a triple crossing. Unfortunately, their pilot boat went dead in the water, Craig got out, ending his swim to help with the boat, and Karl finished his crossing.

In the jade, meditative waters of my lake, regarding the bridges towering above my head in the growing amber sunlight, I think of them, their accomplishments and heroic attempts, and dream.

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