OK, here’s the lessons learned from my Issyk Kul attempt.
Logistics. Organizing swims here is hard. Not just because of the language. Other issues pop up. For one, whenever I mentioned swimming across the lake to Kyrgyz living on the lake, they all looked at me funny. Most told me only one person has done it, so why would I try? (Most all knew Akhmed, too.)
But language is one issue. Russian quickly loses its prestige the farther outside of Bishkek you go. Thank God for Talas. Without him, I would not have been able to organize the boat. And most probably, it would have been difficult for the crew on the boat to converse with the captain and his crew. Kyrgyz language proficiency was required.
Getting the boat was the most difficult. I’d been dealing, through the wonderful Ais in our Community Liaison Office, with a boat company in Cholpon-Ata. That location was much farther away from the swim start point that the company I’d ended up going with, but at the time I had no choice. Finding a boat company isn’t as easy as searching the internet. I used a group here called Community-Based Tourism (CBT) to get a contact to that boat company. But even before that, in my talks with Akhmed, I’d come up empty. When he crossed in the ’80’s and ’90’s, the Russians provided him two coast guard cutters; He had no idea where to get a boat.
The Cholpon-Ata company went back and forth on renting me the small boat or the big boat. Prices were double, and occupancy more (10-person vs. 25-person). I went back and forth with them on not needing the big boat ($1000+). It was only a couple weeks before my chosen date that they told me I had to rent the bigger boat. They cited safety concerns. I can’t argue that, of course. At first I thought they were just pushing for more money from me, but they gave us a contact for a boat captain in Balykchy. A captain with the same exact small boat, in a location significantly closer to both Bishkek and the swim start/finish. So the Cholpon-Ata folks remains a good choice in my eyes.
After Ais got in contact with Kurbat, the boat captain in Balykchy, everything for the boat started falling into place. Hell, the swim started falling into place. I wish I could have arranged with them a 2- or 3-day period for the swim, but I was trying to keep expenses down and I was asking folks on my crew to take time off of work, so I had that to consider. Reviewing it now, I am sure that some or maybe even all of them would have been okay staying through Sunday instead of just Saturday, and if I’d have postponed the swim on Friday and swum on Saturday instead, I might have made it a bit farther due to no winds or waves. Lesson learned.
Cold water acclimation. CANNOT BE UNDERESTIMATED. I had thought my swimming in a 66F pool in 55F air temp was good enough. Uh, no. Not by a long shot. But the thought of sitting in a cold tub doesn’t excite me either. I just don’t know about this. Granted, I don’t intend on trying this again next year when the water is 13C, so perhaps I’ll be okay? When we were at the lake in July this year, the water was consistently 20-21C and I never concerned myself with the temp while swimming there. So maybe if I try this in July next year, a time when all the locals say the water will be in the low 20’s, I won’t have to worry about acclimation? Now that I know the hotel in Balykchy, I’m thinking next year I might take some short 3-day weekend trips to the lake to get some swims in prior to the “big” swim in July.
Equipment. I think I had enough equipment and good enough equipment for this swim. A few issues popped up though. I brought along my homebrewing thermometer. It’s floatable, but it’s made of glass. At one point into my swim, the crew broke the thermometer. I have a plastic floating thermometer in my pool, but the temperature is off a bit; it measures about 2C above what the homebrewing thermometer says. I have reason to believe the beer thermometer is measuring correctly, so I took that instead of the pool one to the lake.
Day before the swim we went to the beach I intended on landing at. I put the thermometer in the water and got a reading of 16C. Plenty “warm” enough for me. And it felt fine wading in the water. But I wonder if maybe I didn’t let the thermometer sit in the water long enough? Or maybe that side of the lake is warmer, and it being around 3.00pm when we were there, perhaps the lake had warmed up throughout the day? Next time, I’ll bring the pool thermometer (not like I have another!) and let it sit for a while. Lesson learned.
Now for internet. We discovered that the best you can do in the middle of the lake is 2G. Nothing we can do about that, except that next year I’ll make sure everyone who wants to follow me has access to my FB. Or I’ll change my privacy settings just for the swim so whoever wants to follow me can. My son was able to update my FB on my phone with mobile data set, but not on the computer. That was a waste of equipment. Lesson learned.
GPS, SpotGen and the like. Not sure it’s worth it for me to buy a SpotGen. Besides the initial price, you have to subscribe for something like 50 bucks annually. But when’s the next time I’ll do a swim like this? Maybe I can find someone with one and borrow it? SpotGen would be the easiest way of broadcasting my location to those who want to know.
Nutrition. I think my nutrition plan was fine. For an 8 mile swim I don’t need much. I tried out the UCAN in my pool a few times prior, and my stomach was ok on it. And my energy level was fine. I just couldn’t stomach anything. It must have been the waves that nauseated me. If the waves are unavoidable next year, perhaps I’ll take a motion sickness pill first. If that’s allowed. I’ll have to check the MSF rules.
Related to nutrition is health. Just last night, a Russian couple told me that the lake is not ecologically pristine and thus not healthy (there’s no fish in the lake, apparently). Their suggestion is one I’ve heard from doctors, as well as locals: prior to swimming, drink a shot of vodka. I did get incredibly ill two days after the swim which the embassy doc attributes to the lake water I ingested. Next year I very well may take a shot of vodka prior to the jump.
Logs, crew and observers. Due to a scheduling conflict, Akhmed wasn’t able to make it as observer. Chris took up that mantle. With two others on a crew of four sick, it was a bit much for Chris to both be observer and crew chief and photographer. Lesson learned.
Timing. I know I mentioned it before, but I really think next year I’m going to set aside a three-day window. Kurbat was really positive after my attempt and he and his crew mentioned several times they expect to see me next year. With that in mind, maybe I can arrange the window. My only concern would be his fee. We’ll see.
OK, so that’s all I got for now.