Sarah Thomas - Lake Champlain
Loop around Gardiner Island VT from Rouses Point NY
104.6 miles (168.3 km)
67 hours, 16 minutes on 7-10 August 2017
Observed and documented by Evan Morrison and Elaine Kornbau Howley
Longest Unassisted Open Water Swim
First Current-Neutral 100+ Mile Swim
- Support Personnel & Boats
- Swim Parameters
- Swim Data & GPS
- Observer Report
- Swimmer Narrative
- Name: Sarah Thomas
- Age on swim date: 35
- Nationality: United States
- Resides: Conifer, Colorado
- Documented swim profile
51’ Jeanneau 509 sailboat out of Plattsburgh, NY (KC)
Photographer credit abbreviations:
- KC = Ken Classen
- CD = Cathy Delneo
- EM = Evan Morrison
- EKH = Elaine Kornbau Howley
- PW = Phil White
Pilots, Crew, Observers
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Swim Apparel: Standard one-piece black bathing suit, single gold “MSF” silicone cap, ear plugs, goggles (tinted during day, clear at night), lanolin, Desitin.
Rouses Point, New York, counter-clockwise loop around Gardiner Island, Vermont, return to Rouses Point.
- Route Type: island loop
- Start & Finish: Rouses Point Municipal Boat Launch (44.9954, -73.3598)
- Loop turnaround: Gardiner Island, Vermont (44.250187, -73.287395)
- Minimum Route Distance: 104.6 statute miles (168.3 km)
Line segments between the waypoints sum to 104.6 miles.
View route on map below.
|44.9954||-73.3598||Rouses Point boat launch|
|44.9740||-73.3502||Stony Point jetty|
|44.9495||-73.3474||Point Au Fer|
|44.8014||-73.3594||Point Au Roche|
|44.8014||-73.3594||Point Au Roche|
|44.9495||-73.3474||Point Au Fer|
|44.9740||-73.3502||Stony Point jetty|
|44.9954||-73.3598||Rouses Point boat launch|
- Start: August 7, 2017, 08:30:00 Eastern Daylight Time.
- Finish: August 10, 2017, 03:46:12 Eastern Daylight Time.
- Elapsed: 67 hours, 16 minutes, 12 seconds.
Red dots = outbound
Green dots = inbound
- SPOT tracking data (30-minute resolution, reduced from original data)
- Route waypoints, 104.6 miles minimum distance
- SPOT tracker (CSV) - usually carried on vessel closest to the swimmer, whether kayak, pontoon, or dinghy.
- Raymarine (GPX) - Loose Cannon’s built-in GPS system.
- Android phone running GPS Logger app. Located on pontoon for first 8 hours, then on Loose Cannon for the rest of the swim.
Speed per Trackpoint
(From SPOT data)
From 8:30am on August 7, through 3:46am on August 10, Sarah Thomas undertook a nonstop, unassisted open water swim in Lake Champlain: from Rouses Point, New York in the far north of the lake, looping around Gardiner Island (a 2.5-acre uninhabited island southwest of Charlotte, Vermont), and then returning to Rouses Point. This minimum 104.6-mile (168.3 km) island loop route was designed to be neutral with respect to any potential surface currents in Lake Champlain - and thus to support the claim of history’s first 100-Mile Swim (nonstop, unassisted, current neutral).
Per the Rules of Marathon Swimming for unassisted solo swims, Sarah completed the swim under her own power, without making supportive contact with any person, vessel, or other object, and without assistance from any nonstandard swimwear or equipment. The swim was observed continuously, in shifts, by Evan Morrison (MSF co-founder and president of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association) and Elaine Kornbau Howley (co-founder and VP of the Massachusetts Open Water Swimming Assocation and co-director of the Boston Light Swim).
Sarah was supported by a team of 10 including Andrew Malinak, Craig Lenning, Ryan Willis, Becky Powell, Melody Maxson, Ken Classen, Cathy Delneo, Alex Thomas, Phil White, and kayaker Scott Olson; and four motorized vessels including a 51 ft. sailing yacht, a pontoon-style boat, a rigid-inflatable dinghy, and (briefly) Phil’s Django skiff.
Sarah swam through water that ranged from 69F (20.5C) to 73F (22.8C), with air tempertures from morning lows of 59F (15C) to afternoon highs of 81F (26C), and wind conditions from Force 0 (calm/glassy) to Force 5 (20 mph) for several hours the morning of August 9.
A 19-minute “rough cut” video compilation was made available by the observers on August 11, the day after the swim finish:
An additional 21 hours of raw video footage were live-streamed from the kayak, and have been preserved below.
On Saturday, August 5, Sarah and her team converged upon a rambling estate in Elizabethtown, New York, a bucolic hamlet nestled between Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Park. Hailing from Colorado, Kansas, Washington state, North Dakota, California, and Massaschusetts, it was surely among the most experienced teams ever assembled, in cumulative hours of swimming, observing, and crewing.
Sunday the Team busied itself with final preparations: packing, food shopping, GPS configuring, and training the crew on Sarah’s feed plan. We convened for an early dinner of Becky’s lasagna and a final logistics meeting covering who need to be where at what time.
All “thumbnail” photos - click to enlarge
Following the dinner and meeting, the Team scattered to their respective “night before” locations: Scott and Alex to the pontoon boat in Rouses Point; Andrew, Craig, Elaine, Cathy, and Ken to the sailboat in Plattsburgh; Sarah and Becky remaining at the house; Ryan, Phil, and Evan first to the sailboat for loading; then later returning to the house for the night.
In the morning, Sarah and the “house crew” would travel to Rouses Point to join the pontoon crew for the first few hours of the swim. Meanwhile the remaining crew would set sail from Plattsburgh - with everyone converging somewhere in between.
All times Eastern Daylight.
|Sunrise/Set||5:46 AM||8:09 PM|
|Civil Twilight||5:13 AM||8:41 PM|
|Nautical Twilight||4:33 AM||9:22 PM|
|Astronomical Twilight||3:47 AM||10:07 PM|
Moon: 100% full
August 7, 05:00 - 08:30.
Phil drives Sarah, Ryan, Becky, and Evan from Elizabethtown to Rouses Point (76 miles), arriving at the Municipal Boat Launch at 7:45am. It’s a glorious morning, partly cloudy and not even a hint of wind. Scott and Alex help us load supplies into the pontoon boat, where they had spent the night. Becky helps Sarah apply a thick coat of Desitin.
Rouses Point boat launch, 7:49. US Route 2 bridge visible to the NE, with the Canadian border just beyond. (EM)
By 8:25, everything is in its right place. Scott launches his kayak and Sarah straps on her goggles. She steps down the boat ramp, approaches the water’s edge, and has a few final words with her crew. To facilitate timekeeping for feeds and logs, Sarah begins at 8:30 exactly.
- August 7, 08:30 - 14:30.
- Summary of Conditions: water 69-70, air 72-74, wind Force 0-1, with a brief gust of Force 2 in the early afternoon.
- Start: Rouses Point, NY.
- End: SE tip of Isle La Motte (12 miles completed).
- Observer: Evan
Sarah’s long journey begins a mile south of the US/Canada border, under near-ideal swimming conditions: 69F lake temp, 72F air temp, and no wind. She enters the lake at 8:30am and zero seconds (synchronized to NIST atomic time).
Sarah walks down the boat ramp to waist-high water and pushes off in a graceful mini-dive into a brief underwater streamline. She begins swimming at 60 strokes per minute, a tempo she would maintain (give or take a couple strokes) for the next 30 hours.
Swimming alongside kayaker Scott, Sarah heads east for 100 yards or so to get around the Sportsmen’s Pier. Meanwhile we launch the Energizer pontoon and Phil launches Django. We catch up to Scott and Sarah shortly, and Ryan points us toward the next route waypoint (Stony Point jetty).
Sarah takes her first feed after an hour, around which time the sailboat Loose Cannon meets us from the south. They shadow us a few hundreds yards east, in deeper water, while we escort Sarah along the route line closer to the NY shore. Passing Point Au Fer reef, the pontoon crew sights several lampreys breaching ahead of us. They apparently ignore Sarah.
A couple minor snafus in these initial few hours:
- the feeding team discovers they have the wrong type of NUUN tablet (caffeinated) for this stage of the swim.
- Django’s engine fails after four hours, necessitating a brief rescue operation. Django’s bow line is tied to LC’s stern, and we continue on our way. Phil is transferred to backup piloting duties.
At 14:30 (6 hours elapsed), we execute our first of many observer shift changes - Elaine to the pontoon, Evan to the sailboat. For the last hour, we’ve been monitoring a storm system coming out of the west. Lightning would be an unfortunate development - but the weather services tell us the chance is small.
Rippled glass (CD).
- August 7, 14:30 - 20:30.
- Summary of Conditions: water 70-72, air 65-76, wind Force 0-1, light to moderate rain.
- Start: SE tip of Isle La Motte
- End: 1 mile south of Gordon Landing (Grand Isle) / Cumberland Head ferry line (22 miles completed).
- Observer: Elaine
Although I have observed many marathon swims over the years, this was my first time alternating with another observer. During the preceding six hours, Evan had taken extraordinarily detailed notes, including developing a superior time-versus distance recording scheme that I simply didn’t understand. I was unable to record that info properly for pretty much the entirety of the swim. Then, within the first 30 minutes of my first shift observing, the water thermometer disappeared, likely caught on a weed or the rope. This resulted in using a single thermometer to measure both air and water temperature alternatively. Despite these initial observer fails, the swim continued smoothly.
We continued to watch the radar carefully for signs of impending thunder, and despite a few moments of concern, the storms eventually moved on and a soft rain arrived. The only ripples that disturbed the glassy surface were those made by the gently falling rain and Sarah’s arms.
Ken Classen was the first support swimmer to enter the water, which he did at 3:20 p.m. At this point, a tiny breath of wind came up—nothing more than a Force 1—but enough to make gentle ripples on the water. I was returned to the Loose Cannon so that the pontoon boat could motor down to the marina to drop off the now-disabled Django. They motored off at about 4:30.
About an hour after entering the water, Ken got out and reported that Sarah was swimming strongly and at a steady pace. A 5 p.m., Melody relieved Scott in the kayak. Sarah paused long enough to comment to Melody, “that kayak looks big on you,” but other than that, it was quiet, steady swimming in glassy conditions. The rain had stopped and Sarah’s steady stroke made the only wake on the water.
At 7 p.m. the crew told Sarah about a video posted on Facebook by Vera and Margaret Rivard, two young marathon swimmers in New Hampshire. They shared their enthusiasm for Sarah’s swim and well-wishes, sentiments likely shared by nearly all of the 35,000 visitors who’d been to Sarah’s website that day.
By 7:30 p.m., the pontoon boat had returned, Django safely docked for the duration of the adventure at the Plattsburgh marina. About that same time, Sarah crossed the Grand Isle ferry lines. Loose Cannon had good communication with the ferry pilots, and we moved safely through the area, despite the growing twilight. Melody added lights to the kayak and strategic lights were lit on the pontoon boat and Loose Cannon. Around the same time, Sarah switched to clear goggles and attached lights to her goggle strap and swimsuit. A light drizzle began to fall again as Sarah headed into her first night on Lake Champlain.
At 9 p.m., Evan relieved Elaine on observer duty, and we switched to four hour shifts overnight.
- August 7, 20:30 - August 8, 08:30.
- Summary of Conditions: water 70-71, air 67-74, wind Force 1-2, moderate rain through the evening, clearing around 3:00am.
- Start: 1 mile S of Gordon Landing (Grand Isle) / Plattsburgh ferry line
- End: ESE of Willsboro Point, NY (42 miles completed).
- Observers: Evan (20:30-00:30), Elaine (00:30-04:30), Evan (04:30-08:30).
As dusk settles on Day 1, Sarah and her crew make preparations for night: dark goggles switched out for clear, glow sticks attached to the sides of the boats and kayak, as well as a large nav-light Andrew brought from Seattle. At 20:30, Scott replaces Melody in the kayak and Evan is back on observer duty. The sunset is muted due to the cloud cover, but the dead calm water provides compelling twilight photo opportunities for Ken and Cathy. The flotilla continues south under a light drizzle.
We are making our way along the west shore of Grand Isle, VT. From east to west (port to starboard) we are arranged: Loose Cannon, Sarah, Scott (kayak), pontoon. After it’s fully dark (9:30pm) Sarah begins to find the green navlight on Loose Cannon annoying. At first she requests Scott move between her and the sailboat. At the next feed, Scott moves Sarah to the port-side of Energizer, away from the sailboat.
After 16 hours of swimming, Sarah’s form is nearly indistinguishable from the start: 60 strokes per minute and nearly 2 miles per hour of progress.
At 1 a.m., I was back on duty as observer for Sarah’s swim. After a brief respite below deck, I came back up and found it was raining more heavily than when I had come off duty earlier in the evening, but conditions were still exceedingly calm. The crew was already nearly 20 hours into the adventure, and the punchiness was just beginning, evidenced in a series of silly yet profound conversations in the dark aboard the Loose Cannon. Pilot Andrew remarked that the canvas overhang protecting his Captain’s area on the boat was just the ticket and that he was “in love” with it. Cathy told a story about a documentary film about the Marquis de Sade. The specifics of the anecdote elude me, but I remember it being extraordinarily funny at the time.
Sarah cruised past Colchester Reef at 1:22 a.m. The rain finally subsided shortly before 2 a.m., and that made playing “two truths and a lie” with Sarah that much easier. Sarah reported at her 2 a.m. feed that she was looking forward to having some Advil soon. This was the first that she’d indicated she had any physical pain or fatigue so far.
At her 2:30 a.m. feed, Sarah requested warm risotto at the next feed, and thus ensued a cooking adventure below deck. To this point, Sarah had traversed 32.5 miles and was averaging about 1.8 mph. Soon thereafter, it started to rain again, but the wind had completely died down. Two truths and a lie and crew silliness head towards logical convergence, with lies and truths about band camp and lesbian encounters being bandied about in a punchy, sleepless fog.
We soon were able to pick out lights for the Port Kent/Burlington Ferry lines. Cathy used to work for them and was helpful in determining the best sight lines for the pilot to follow as we approached. It was also determined that it was a good thing we were crossing those lines in the middle of the night when they weren’t active.
Sometime around 4 a.m., Craig began hamming it up on the radio in an effort to demonstrate proper radio etiquette. This was soon followed by LC doing a donut to blow out excess carbon in the engine. Not all of the crew was prepared for this, and there was a minor uproar, but when it was made clear that Sarah was fine and the swim was progressing normally, just that the LC needed to take a quick run in the lake, everything settled back down. We were also approaching a clump of islands that warranted some caution, so best to make the engine happy before approaching that area.
At 5 a.m., Evan again relieved Elaine.
As the rain clouds clear in the couple hours before sunrise, the full moon is spectacularly bright on the lake surface. Evan returns to log duty a bit before 5am. At her 5:30am feed, Sarah greets the emerging second day of her swim with a back-flipturn and exhorts her team: “Are you ready to do that two more times?!”
The sun rises over Burlington, Vermont directly to our east, and the clearing skies portend a spectacular day. Ken hops in for a support swim from 6:30-7:30.
Our charts show shallow waters among the upcoming Four Brothers Islands - too shallow for the sailboat - so Loose Cannon separates from the flotilla to go around while the pontoon and kayak escort Sarah through the islands.
The wind is picking up a bit and we can see whitecaps behind us (to the north). There’s a small snafu with the morning goggle switch (light to dark), resulting in 5 minutes stoppage. Cathy briefly attempts to spell Scott on the kayak, but soon discovers the steering pedals are set for Scott’s height. She’s unable to control the kayak and returns to the mothership. Sarah will feed from the pontoon in the meantime.
Day 1 Kayak Footage
All times Eastern Daylight.
|Sunrise/Set||5:47 AM||8:07 PM|
|Civil Twilight||5:15 AM||8:40 PM|
|Nautical Twilight||4:34 AM||9:20 PM|
|Astronomical Twilight||3:49 AM||10:05 PM|
Moon: 99% full
- August 8, 08:30-14:30
- Summary of Conditions: water 70-73, air 66-72, wind variable: F2.5 NW/NE, then F1 N near the turnaround. Sunny.
- Start: ESE of Willsboro Point, NY
- End: Gardiner Island, VT (52.5 miles done).
- Observer: Elaine
At 9 a.m. on the second day, 25 hours into the swim, I once again relieved Evan of his observer duties. By now, Sarah had covered 43.6 miles and the weather had turned for the better. Gone was the dreary drizzle of the day before, taking with it any threat of thunderstorms. Instead, conditions had been replaced with a light wind—Force 2.5 or so—that ruffled the Lake’s surface into scattered white caps and brilliant sunshine. We were setting up for a glorious day on Lake Champlain.
The wind continued out of the northeast, offering both Sarah and the Loose Cannon a tail wind to speed us along. The wind was sprightly enough—about 10 to 11 knots—to allow the pilot to kill the engine for a bit at 9:25 a.m. The engine was turned back on at 10:11, as the wind had come down a bit to 8 knots, still out of the northeast.
By 10:30 a.m., 26 hours into her record-setting adventure, Sarah was happy to get another serving of warm risotto. She said she’d struggled a bit mentally overnight—as expected—but the bright morning and nice weather were lifting her spirits. She was happy to carry on swimming. She swam some backstroke and breaststroke to stretch out and reset.
At 11:30 a.m., the crew informed Sarah that she’d already covered 48 miles. She was pleased with that news and flashed a big smile. Thirty minutes later, she was still smiling and had clearly spent the preceding 30 minutes doing the math in her head. She said, “I can’t believe we’re here already. I thought we’d be here about 8 p.m.!” She had beaten her best-case-scenario time estimate by more than six hours, information that helped motivate and reassure her that it would be possible to finish this swim.
As Sarah continued to swim happily, cheered by her progress, the crew also enjoyed the scenery and the ease of a swim going smoothly with a happy swimmer who needed minimal cheerleading. Attention turned to a video online of a family of bears bathing in Lake Tahoe. Cathy sagely observed, “bears swimming in Lake Tahoe are cute. Up until they eat you.” No argument could assail that sturdy logic. She then hopped in the water for a pee break. And this observer also responded to Nature’s call.
Around this time, the crew decided to change their shift plan. The pilots were concerned that because the fuel needle hadn’t budged from where it had been some 28 hours earlier, it might be broken. Best to take advantage of the daylight, fair conditions, and proximity to the Point Bay Marina to get topped off. So Loose Cannon departed and Sarah swam on with the pontoon boat and Scott in the kayak supporting her.
Loose Cannon was gone for roughly two hours, and during that period Sarah rounded tiny Gardiner Island. Sarah was in fine spirits and had picked up her pace just a smidge. The happy swimmer thoroughly enjoyed swimming around the back side of the uninhabited island and officially hit the halfway point at 2:19 p.m. Once she’d finished rounding the island, she took a moment to savor her accomplishment. It would be hard to find a more idyllic moment in any swim, let alone one of this magnitude. Conditions were perfect. The swimmer was happy. The crew were tired, but hugely energized by the fact that we’d hit the halfway point and were starting the trip home. It was just a really neat moment all around.
Sarah stretched and turned her back to the boat. She was quiet for a moment, getting her head right for the return journey. Having enjoyed a light tail wind for the past several hours, she knew that coming back up the lake would be difficult for at least a few hours if not the rest of the swim, and she wanted to prepare mentally for that challenge. But with 86-degree F air temps and the sun streaming down, at least she wouldn’t be cold for a while!
Sarah began swimming again and the Loose Cannon returned, having pumped out and topped up. It had used barely any gas, so that was a good sign that everything was proceeding as smoothly as it seemed to be. Sarah stopped for an early feed at 2:26 p.m. Clearly pleased with how things were going, she called out messages to friends back home and inquired about her dogs.
Now came the observer transfer. I was to board the LC and Evan would transfer to the pontoon boat. A miscommunication meant that I made the leap to the LC before they were ready for me and I ended up in the water. All safe and clear, but wet and laughing so hard it was tough to stay above water. Clumsy, clumsy! The water did feel really nice though!
Gardiner Island. (CD).
- August 8, 14:30-20:30
- Summary of Conditions: water 69-72, air 70-75, wind F2.5 NE to F1 N.
- Start: Gardiner Island, VT
- End: East of Willsboro, NY / Bouquet River mouth (60 miles completed).
- Observer: Evan
Sarah completes the semi-circumnavigation of Gardiner Island, VT a couple minutes before 2:30pm (30 hours elapsed). This is the turnaround point of the island loop route, and she now begins the 52-mile return trip to Rouses Point, NY. A few minutes later, Loose Cannon returns from a detour to re-fuel and re-water at Point Bay Marina.
What had been a slight tailwind (Force 1 north) is now a headwind. Between 3:30 and 5:30pm it increases to Force 2+, with frequent small whitecaps. Sarah remains in good spirits, but her stroke rate drops noticeably during this time, to the mid-50s. After maintaining 58-61 strokes per minutes for 30 hours, she is apparently human after all.
Ryan spells Scott on the kayak for a couple hours, and Craig hops in for a support swim. The wind lays down (F1) after 6pm. As a colorful sunset fades over the Adirondacks, the team is cautiously optimistic.
Craig re-boards Loose Cannon after a support swim. 18:32
Sunset #2. 20:06 (EM)
- August 8, 20:30 - August 9, 08:30.
- Summary of Conditions: water 69-71, air 59-66, wind F1 West building after 2:30am to F5+ South.
- Start: East of Willsboro, NY / Bouquet River mouth
- End: between Valcour Island, NY and Grand Isle, VT (79 miles completed).
- Observers: Elaine (20:30-00:00), Evan (00:00-06:30), Elaine (06:30-08:30).
At 8:30 p.m., I was back on observer duty. Ken hopped in for a support swim around this time, and Ryan was getting an engine oil warning light on the pontoon boat, raising concerns about the health of that vessel. Sarah had been swimming for more than 36 hours and had covered over 61 miles. Quick back-of-the envelope math showed that if she maintained a 1.3 mile per hour pace, she’d be done in another 33 hours. Maintaining a 1.5 mile per hour pace would mean finishing in another 28 hours. Any way you sliced it, she was somewhere past halfway, but still had a long way to go to get back to Rouse’s Point.
We passed some engine oil to Ryan on the pontoon boat, and he was able to get it sorted and reconnect with Sarah. Ken got out of the water at about 10 p.m., and said that Sarah was doing better then than she had been at the same point during the previous year’s Lake Powell swim. Sarah continued to make great progress as we neared the Four Brothers Islands and a decision was made to put Evan on the Pontoon boat for that stretch so the Loose Cannon would have more navigation options getting through that dicey section of the lake.
At midnight, we exchanged observers once again, getting back onto the regularly planned schedule.
At midnight we are again approaching the Four Brothers islands. I transfer to the pontoon, which along with Scott will escort Sarah through the islands. Near one of the islands we startle a huge group of cormorants from their shelter. Hundreds of furiously flapping creatures scattering everywhere, faintly illuminated by the moon. Creepy and a bit terrifying.
Now 40 hours into the swim, I count 56 strokes a minute, but Sarah is pulling noticeably less water than my last shift. The crew keeps her amused with games, e.g. “2 Truths & a Lie.” Andrew joins for a brief support swim.
Between 2 and 3am the wind picks up out of the South (tailwind). We hadn’t noticed anything in the weather forecast, so we’re surprised when it blows harder and harder. Between 3 and 4 am, both boats are having difficulty maintaining a consistent line and speed, so we trail back a bit while Scott continues ahead with Sarah. At 4am, Craig (in full-on marine mode) launches the dinghy - more maneuverable in these conditions.
Despite all, we are making good progress up the lake in the tailwind. As the skies gray before 5am, we begin to see what Sarah has been swimming through - miles of wind-whipped waves. Crew are seasick, pilots are stressed, and I’ve resorted to taking log entries on my phone - the paper log had no hope of staying dry in the dinghy.
But the swimmer is happy - Sarah actually remarks on how much fun she’s having in the waves. Around 6am Sarah asks Scott to take a break - the kayak has been flailing around in the wind, and we’re able to support her sufficiently from the dinghy. I switch out with Elaine at 6:30. It has been blowing Force 4-5 since 3am.
Photo by Phil White
6:06am, shortly after Scott exited the water. Sarah is now escorted by the inflatable with Craig and Evan. (EM)
Day 2 Kayak Footage
All times Eastern Daylight.
|Sunrise/Set||5:48 AM||8:06 PM|
|Civil Twilight||5:16 AM||8:38 PM|
|Nautical Twilight||4:36 AM||9:18 PM|
|Astronomical Twilight||3:51 AM||10:03 PM|
Moon: 96% full (waning gibbous)
- August 9, 08:30 - 13:30.
- Summary of Conditions: water 71-72, air 64-70, wind F5+ south calming to F2.
- Start: between Valcour Island, NY and Grand Isle, VT
- End: between Point Au Roche, NY and the far south part of North Hero Island, VT (88 miles completed).
- Observer: Elaine
After I came off my previous shift, I went down below for a nap. The next thing I knew, I’m was being shaken awake and asked to get into the dinghy. The sailboat was tossing and turning and it was impossible to stand upright down below. Despite the scopolamine patch’s valiant efforts to preclude seasickness, I started to feel a little queasy and hurried into my shoes and parka and carefully climbed up on deck. What a difference a few hours had made. When I went to bed, we had Force 1 conditions—barely any wind and just the slightest bit of surface motion on the water. But now, we had big waves and strong winds. It was like being on a different lake, all in the matter of a few hours.
The sun was just beginning to come up and Sarah was still swimming along quite strongly, as though there were no gale force winds blowing around us and the crew were not scrambling to keep from falling over or puking. I got into the dingy with Craig at the helm and we motored in as close to Sarah as we could manage. We need to be to see her around the troughs and valleys of the waves, but keeping a safe distance so as not to hit her was challenging, and Craig managed to do both with admirable accuracy. Still, it was a scary time. The boat needed near constant bailing, as a small leak and the challenging conditions meant is was constantly filling with water.
Scott was still in the kayak but was struggling to maintain a safe distance from Sarah. He eventually resorted to paddling backwards. The wind was so strong at his back he couldn’t paddle backwards fast enough to stay in place next to her. But by turning around and paddling into the wind he could just about stay where he wanted to. But this clearly wasn’t a sustainable situation and Sarah unceremoniously “fired” him, telling him to go get on the boat and get to safety. This was sometime before 6:30 a.m. and around this time, the pontoon boat motored ahead to the lee of the shoreline, as it too couldn’t stay in place and was more a liability than an asset. Feeding duties were transferred to me, the observer. Not an ideal situation, but there was no other way to support Sarah without potentially endangering her.
Loose Cannon stayed nearby, but was also unable to maintain position and for safety’s sake, stayed well away. That left me, Craig and Sarah to our own devices to continue the swim. By 6:40 a.m. the wind had increased to 20 knots out of the south. The sun shone brightly and if we’d just been some sailors out for a pleasure cruise, it would have been an ideal day on the water. Thankfully the wind wasn’t in her face. Instead, the wind kicked up waves and rollers that Sarah would essentially surf down. She seemed to be enjoying the ride.
By 7:30 a.m., still battling big conditions, Sarah had reached 76.8 miles. She was nearing her previous record for longest distance swum but showed no signs of needing to back down from the goal now.
At about 8:30 a.m., a bald man in a slightly larger inflatable dinghy approached us. We didn’t know him or what he wanted, but he asked if this was Sarah. Apparently, he had read about her adventure on Facebook and wanted to see it with his own eyes. His name was Dale and he turned out to be an absolute godsend. He gave us a milk jug bailer that made the challenge of constant bailing so much easier than it had been with a big, rigid bucket, and he sang songs and cheered Sarah on. He had written GO SARAH GO on the gunwales of the boat in permanent marker, such was the depth of his enthusiasm for the effort. He offered to help escort Sarah through the coming Burlington ferry lines, which was a huge help seeing as we were feeling small, vulnerable and hard to see in that crazy water.
At 9:30 a.m., Sarah passed the 80-mile mark and into uncharted territory. This was met with an announcement from Craig that Sarah “broke some stubborn girl from Colorado’s record.” Sarah was pretty involved with her feed so simply said “awesome.” Dale struck up another song, which Sarah enjoyed saying, “I’ve never had someone sing, either.” We were almost to the ferry lines and could see several active ferries coming and going just ahead. This would be one of the most challenging parts of the swim, but we slipped through without mishap, thanks in part to good radio communications from Loose Cannon to the ferry operators.
At about 10 a.m., we’d put the ferry lines behind us, and Dale headed back to his marina. We were so pleased to have met him and to have had his help. He probably had no idea what a difference he made, but his presence was a comfort to us as we crossed the ferry lines and his cheerful cheerleading boosted our spirits. At this point, Sarah expressed that she missed Ryan and wondered when he’d be back.
By 11 a.m., the wind had died down enough for the pontoon boat to return and Sarah was quite pleased to have Ryan closer. The next couple of hours saw the transfer of sandwiches and tea to the dinghy—we’d been cramped in there for some six hours and were getting hungry. The wind continued to drop and shifted out of the west. Sarah kept on swimming right through all of it as the crew came back together and settled back into a more normal flow.
At noon, Evan jumped in for a short support swim before his observer shift. By 1 p.m., the wind had dropped to 2.7 knots out of the north west. Evan relieved me and I gratefully went aboard the Loose Cannon.
Plattsburgh/Grand Isle ferries. 11:06 (KC).
- August 9, 13:30 - 19:30.
- Summary of Conditions: water 72, air 70-81, wind F2-3 S to NW
- Start: between Point Au Roche, NY and the far south part of North Hero Island
- End: 500m north of Fisk Point, VT (94 miles completed).
- Observer: Evan
With the abatement of the wind, the Team settles into the pre-windstorm formation, with the sailboat and pontoon sandwiching the swimmer. Craig and Elaine shift out of the dinghy, replaced by Phil and Evan. Craig and Elaine immerse for a support swim.
At 3pm Ryan and Alex take over the dinghy to feed the swimmer; Evan & Phil transfer to the pontoon. Around 4pm a Force 3 headwind develops, slowing our progress to under one mile per hour. At her 5pm feed, Sarah reports things are “a bit fuzzy,” and requests a caffeinated feed. We monitor her closely at the next couple of feeds, but see no further cause for concern.
At 7:30pm, we have just passed Fisk Point on Isle La Motte. The headwind has moderated slightly. The Team quietly contemplates our third and presumably final sunset on Lake Champlain. 10 miles left.
- August 9, 19:30 - August 10, 03:46:12.
- Summary of Conditions: water 70-73, air 74 cooling to 60, wind F2 NW calming to F0.
- Start: 500m north of Fisk Point, VT
- End: Rouses Point, NY boat launch (104.6 miles completed).
- Observers: Elaine (19:30-00:00), Evan (00:00-03:46)
At my next shift, which started at about 8 p.m., we were just passing Fisk Point. There Sarah switched to her night goggles and we reset the SPOT tracker, given that she’d been swimming for 48 hours straight and it had turned itself off. Her pace had dropped to 1.1 to 1.2 miles per hour, but she said the worst pain she felt was in her fingers. “We will be amputating,” she joked.
By 9 p.m., we were back to the completely breathless, no wind situation we’d had two days prior on the lake, and that meant the bugs had returned. Yuck. But Sarah was in good spirits and when two canoers approached, Sarah was pleased to see her friend Karen and her husband. She thanked them for coming out and had enough energy for a brief chat.
At 10:30 pm, Sarah said she was “very happy” swimming along peacefully and enjoying the water. Virtually the only sound out there was the chug of our engines and the rhythmic slap of her arms on the water. She paused to say, “It’s like the spirit of the lake gave you everything she had. Now here’s your present.” The crew all marveled at how incredibly coherent Sarah was, even as we felt like we were falling apart mentally. She remembered there was baby oil in the trunk and that her mom needed to retrieve a laptop from Phil’s car. None of us had remembered any of that, but Sarah had. She was clearly making plans in her head about the finish, and asked that I help her get changed at the end as I had when she finished her Lake Memphremagog double.
At 11:20, Craig hopped in to support swim and we noted a meteor show raining above. We exchanged observers one last time at midnight.
We execute the final crew and observer change just before midnight. Escorting Sarah from the pontoon are Ryan, Alex, Melody, Becky, Cathy, and Evan. Elaine and Phil are briefly stranded in transit from the pontoon back to Loose Cannon. There is some confused, sleep-deprived discussion between the pilots about who should rescue the dinghy. Andrew is holding the sailboat in deeper water, and suggests Elaine and Phil avail themselves of the oars and row themselves back to the mothership. Thankfully it doesn’t come to that, and the dinghy’s engine is restarted.
At midnight we’re passing over the Point Au Fer reef, where lampreys were sighted early on the first day. Sarah traverses the stretch without any unwanted passengers.
Meanwhile, Sarah officially passes 100 miles at 12:10am. As might be expected at the outer edges of human endurance, Sarah is tired - under 50 strokes per minute now - but surprisingly lucid and not in any obvious pain. The lake graces us with dead calm conditions in the final hours of the swim, and Sarah returns to 1.3-1.5 miles per hour.
As we line up on the blinking red light on the jetty marking the southern edge of Rouses Point, the sailboat goes ahead to shuttle its crew to shore, to prepare for Sarah’s arrival. In the moonlit darkness of the pontoon, Sarah’s strokes are a soothing, steady beat, pulling us toward the finish, yard by yard.
On the final approach to the boat ramp, the pontoon motors ahead to the dock, allowing us to come ashore and watch Sarah’s final strokes. The arrival crew has set up a “landing strip” of glowsticks. In a few feet of water, Sarah pauses, feeling the corrugated concrete of the ramp with her feet, and allowing her body to briefly adjust to a vertical orientation after nearly 3 full days of being horizontal.
Sarah’s feet clear the water at 3:46:12am on August 10, and the swim ends much as it began: quietly and without fanfare; cheerful yet disciplined. Sarah shares a moment with her Team, but is soon whisked away to the restroom, and soon thereafter to a hotel. We go our separate ways for now, but will reconvene at the Elizabethtown estate later in the day.
Live Finish Video
Day 3 Kayak Footage
NOAA Data (Station 45178 - Valcour Island, NY)
Buoy stopped transmitting just after 9:00am on August 10 - perhaps knocked offline by the wind.
by Sarah Thomas
As I did with Lake Powell, I’d like to take a few minutes and write up a little something about this swim. Ok, I know it probably won’t be little- it was 104 miles- but I did want to share about the swim from my perspective.
To start, literally, almost as soon as we finished the Lake Powell swim last October, I knew I wanted to do something further. My husband, Ryan, and I were driving home from Lake Powell, and after a long silence, Ryan looks over at me and says, “So, how about a 100 miles?” I’d been thinking the same thing- so I said, “Yup, I think so.” We didn’t say anything else at the time- we needed to recover and catch up on life a little first. But, as the months went by, we found ourselves debating if we wanted to try for 100 miles in the summer of 2017 or 2018. With a little push from Jamie Patrick, we agreed that we might as well go for it sooner, rather than later. If we knew it was something I wanted to do, then why wait?
So, we began by, again, searching for big lakes. For a while, I was planning 100 miles in Green Bay, but we found it increasingly hard to find a large boat that would be able to support this swim. Lake Champlain kept coming up again and again- but I kept dismissing it because of the lampreys that live there. LAMPREYS! They’re terrifying creatures, really, and the idea of fending one off during a third night of darkness was really unappealing. However, the more we looked, it seemed like there were no other options for me other than to face my fears of lampreys and start planning a swim in Champlain.
In planning a big swim, you need to consider a few things: you need crew and you need boats. Without those, you don’t have a swim. I usually work on those two things simultaneously.
For crew: In a swim of this distance, you need at least two observers. You also need at least two people who are able to drive large boats- houseboats and sailboats are very different from kayaks, speedboats, or pontoons and you need folks very capable/comfortable manning a large ship. You also need people who can kayak and pace swim. I also wanted someone with some medical training, juuuuust in case. You also want a group of people who won’t kill each other after 3 days in a very small space. For Lake Powell, I had a crew of 13 people. It felt like a few too many people, so I wanted to try and consolidate a few roles for this one so people weren’t stepping on each other. Though, in the end, we ended up with 12 people for Lake Champlain. We had two observers, two sailboat drivers, and then 8 more people to help with driving the pontoon, kayaking, pace swimming, and feeding. In the end, while we could have done with fewer people, I’m grateful for every single person we had on board.
In the end- I had the best crew on the planet:
- Observers: Evan Morrison and Elaine Howley
- Boat Pilots: Craig Lenning and Andrew Malinak
- Paramedic: Alex Thomas
- Crew Chief: Ryan Willis
- General Crew: Scott Olson, Ken Classen, Becky Baxter, Melody Maxson, Cathy Delneo, Phil White
That group of folks has an incredible number of hours crewing between them. Seven of them crewed my Lake Powell swim. Five of them are experienced/phenomenal open water swimmers themselves. Nearly all of them have crewed for other swimmers in the past. Evan and Elaine are top notch observers (duh). If you wanted a dream team crew- there you have it.
As far as boats went, there were a few more options on Champlain than in Green Bay, but definitely not as many as we had in Lake Powell. For boat support, you want a mix of a large mothership, a smaller pontoon/speedboat, and a kayak or two. We did find a houseboat, my kayaker friend Scott from Minnesota, agreed to drive out two kayaks, and then Phil White said he’d join us with his small boat. However, about a week before the swim, the houseboat company notified us that the houseboat had been crashed and they had no other options for me for rentals. Then, Phil let me know that his boat was under the weather as well. That means that about a week out of this swim, I had to scramble and find two completely new boat options. My sister, Melody found the pontoon boat we used and Evan located a large sailboat rental company out of Plattsburgh. As a result of great teamwork, we found a 50 foot sailboat and a 24 foot pontoon boat that were both available for the dates of the swim. I was SO stressed trying to find additional boats at the last minute- but, I have to say- now that I’ve gone sailboat, I’ll never go back. It was able to withstand winds/chop in ways that a houseboat would not have been able to handle. It also came with a 10ft, soft bottomed skiff/dingy that proved invaluable as well.
Next on the planning list is route creation. For this, I looked to my friend Karl Kingery, who was essential in the Lake Powell route creation. In looking at weather patterns and doing some lake research, it was pretty clear that the wind predominantly blows from the south to the north across the lake. When we did Lake Powell, the wind blows in every which direction, which is why I had a headwind for a few days. I really liked the idea of being able to plan around some consistent wind patterns to hopefully avoid two days of swimming into the wind. The first plan we had for a route was to start in the south, at the mouth of the lake, near Whitehall and then swim all the way up to Rouses Point. However, the more we researched the lake, the more we realized that there is sometimes a current that exists in the lake. The current is slight, but does depend on the flow of rivers discharging into the lake (from dams or rainfall) and the wind. Once we realized this, I had to decide: Did I want to swim a point to point swim from Whitehall to Rouses Point, or did I want to complete a 100 mile non-stop swim? Truthfully, I really wanted both, but I would have been devastated to have swum 100 miles, only to be told that it was a current-assisted swim. In talking with my crew and observers, we agreed that a loop route would be our best bet. By swimming nearly the exact same route in an out and back fashion, with a loop around an island, we would negate any advantage received from a current. (Definitions and explanations of the loop route have already been posted by Evan and the MSF, if you need more explanation there.) It was hard for me to give up the point to point aspect. As a marathon swimmer, I really like the idea of going somewhere- starting at one point and finishing at another. But, it was also important to me to complete a current-neutral swim.
The loop course did give us a few advantages, other than ensuring current-neutrality. First, in the original route, the first 30 miles would have been pretty windy/twisty, like Lake Powell. This is hard to measure distance and hard on the crew to navigate. It also would have been really shallow, so the main support boat would have needed to stay in the main channel, while I bounced across the river with a kayak. Additionally, the lake is really narrow through there, so navigating my armada through that part would have been stressful on everyone. And finally, the water quality down in that part of the lake isn’t that great. Everyone we talked to said that I “likely” wouldn’t get sick from swimming there, but the Coast Guard recommended that I wash my mouth out before any eating/drinking during that first 30 miles or so. By doing the loop course, we were able to swim in clearer/cleaner water, decrease the waypoints in the route (making it a more straightforward course), and ease my mind about getting sick from the water.
For training, I admit to a slow start. I was sore/beat up/tired/burned out after Lake Powell. I didn’t do hardly any swimming in October, November and December (like 2, maybe 3 times/week). I gained 15 pounds. The planning for this swim really started after the holidays, so that was when I knew I needed to get my butt in gear. I trained pretty well in January- hitting about 30,000 yards/week for a few weeks leading up to Suzie Dods’ 24 Hour Relay in February in San Francisco. But, then Ryan and I took a vacation to Mexico for a week in February and I got sick when we came home. It took the rest of February to build back up to where I was in January. In March, I swam great- building up to 3 weeks at 50k the last two weeks of March and the first week of April. Then, I had some travel at the end of April and got sick again after that travel, so I fell way off the last two weeks of April. In May, with the swim looming only 3 months out, I put down the hammer. I had four weeks at 60k/week in May, then kicked off “real” training with the Mercer Island Marathon Swim double the first week of June. In June and July, I swam 85k/week or more, with a few weeks well over 100k. I was sore, tired, but really focused. I lost that 15 pounds and Ryan said I was stronger than he could ever remember me being. I finished my training with a 20 mile swim in Grand Lake in Oklahoma after my sister’s wedding and then went into a really hard taper. I’ve always done better on short tapers, so there was exactly 15 days between the 20 mile training swim and stepping into the water at Lake Champlain.
In those 15 days, I made sure to eat as healthy as possible, relax and sleep as much as possible, and focus swims on high intensity, with a few longer stretch-out swims. Because of travel, I didn’t swim at all on Saturday or Sunday before starting the swim on Monday.
We flew to Albany, NY on Saturday morning where most of my crew gathered at a house I rented in Elizabethtown. On Sunday, we got groceries and made final preparations for the swim. Sunday evening, most of my crew went to load the boat/sleep on the sailboat. The pontoon was also delivered to Rouses Point on Sunday night, so two crew members slept overnight on a pontoon boat. Monday, we got up at 6:30 am and made the 1 hour drive from the house to the start. I had 6 crew members with me for the start, the other 6 were on the sailboat, heading towards us to meet up about an hour into the swim.
At exactly 8:30 am, after my normal Desitin and Lanolin routine, I stepped into the water at the public boat launch at Rouses Point. At Powell, this moment had been terrifying to me. This time, I was filled with anticipation and excitement and knowledge. I knew exactly what was coming ahead for me, from a mental standpoint, and I knew I was ready. I also knew I had trained better than I had for Lake Powell, so I knew that I was physically as prepared as any person could be.
The water for most of the first day was calm and smooth- better than we could have imagined. It was overcast, with only a little sprinkle of rain here and there. The first day went great- everyone settled in, I swam through a swarm of HUGE lampreys without incident, and I covered a lot of ground. Normally, I don’t mind night swimming, but it’s hard to face going into the first night knowing that you have two more to go. I did a good job of keeping myself mentally positive and present, unlike at Lake Powell. It rained most of the first night and the wind picked up into a pretty steady, but not terrible headwind. The headwind did cause my some pain in my shoulders and joints that caused me some worry, but the night was fairly short since the sun wasn’t all the way down until about 9:30 pm and by 5 am we were starting to see the night sky lighten. When the sun came up on Tuesday morning, we had made it almost to the Four Brothers overnight, which was amazing to me. I’d never imagined being able to get that far in 24 hours, so between the sun coming up, the clouds clearing, and the wind turning around to give us a boost- I was feeling really, really good, despite my overnight worries.
We rode the tailwind all the way down the lake the Gardiner Island, the turnaround point. When I realized I had reached the halfway point at 30 hours, I was in shock. That was the fastest I’d ever swum 50 miles and I felt really solid. The little island was beautiful- I got to watch some fishermen catch a pike and really used the moment as a reset. I knew the second half was going to be hard- but I couldn’t believe how great the first have had been so far.
We had lucked out with the North to South wind all day on Tuesday, but I knew that as soon as I turned around to head back, that blessing was going be a major roadblock. And it was- headwinds suck all of the warmth out of you and really drain you mentally. We did the turnaround at 2:30 pm and fought the wind all the rest of that afternoon/evening. We were hoping that we’d get a tailwind around 8 pm, but the wind stayed solidly in my face for a long, long time.
Preparing for the 2nd night was tough, but my crew was so positive and took good care of me. I snagged a few moments just with Ryan in the kayak right before sunset. In a swim like this, you can pretty much only hear your kayaker. I wear earplugs and between boat motors and wind, it’s hard to hear anything more than a few feet away. So far, Ryan had just been on the pontoon boat, so while I knew he was there, it was nice to have a moment when he was in the kayak and I could talk to him without screaming for all the world to hear. He understands me, so having just a moment to express things without worrying about anyone else is just a relief (I sure love him…) and makes me feel calmer, more confident, more reassured. The sunset was stunning and we started warm feeds and 50 mg of caffeine in every other feed just as the darkness fell. The wind stayed in my face until about 11 pm or so, then it slowly started to calm and then turn around to its normal South to North orientation. Ken got in and swam an hour with me and then Andrew got in for about 45 minutes around 2 am. I was expecting Craig to get in with me around 3, but not soon after Andrew got out, the wind really started to pick up. Before long, the sailboat and pontoon could no longer stay back with me because they were getting pushed so hard forward. I was body surfing waves that felt like I was in the ocean. My kakayer was getting tossed and spun all over the place. It was a little scary, but I loved EVERY SINGLE MOMENT of it. I was worried about my mom- she gets really seasick- but those around me assured me she was ok (they lied, for what it’s worth- she puked most of the night and into the next day). The hours from 3 am to daylight are always the worst, but the tailwind we got from 3 am to 5 am was so much fun that I hardly noticed it and we passed back into daylight really quickly.
As dawn approached on Wednesday, the wind lessened a little, but it was still pretty rough going. The lake was pretty choppy, so although I was getting a push, it was still hard. Waves would crash on my head while I was trying to feed. The pontoon boat was stuck a ways head- they were afraid to try and turn around and risk swamping it. My kayaker had a hard time with feeds, so he had to drop the rope on my bottles to avoid twisting and pulling me. I’d drink, and then just drop the bottle, hoping he could find it again in the waves. The sunrise was amazing, but I was a little disappointed in the progress I’d made since my turnaround. The tailwind was giving me a boost, but the 9ish hours of headwind the day before had definitely taken their toll on me. I found myself feeling a little down- I missed Ryan, who was on the pontoon far ahead. The stress of the kayak and sailboat being so often out of my line of sight started to wear on me. I could see the stress in my crew from the night before. I could tell they were getting tired. I’d been up for 48 hours and I was getting emotional. I admit to quite a few tears at this point, though never the meltdown I had at Powell. I was emotional and tired, but never considered getting out. During this time, Craig and Elaine came out to assist the kayaker in the little skiff that came with our sailboat and they helped cheer me up and get me through that really long morning. A random person who had seen us online came to cheer me on- he had written on his skiff (IN PERMANENT MARKER!!) “GO Sarah”. He sang me songs on my feeds and really helped the crew out a lot when we were already so scattered.
As the morning progressed, it got warmer, the sun came out and things started to fall back into place. When we’d done the turn the day before, I’d been hoping for a midnight finish. As I was getting location updates, I started to realize it was going to be well after midnight. I should have been thrilled- no matter what I was going to finish before my 72 hour goal time, but after getting my hopes up for a midnight finish, I really had to struggle mentally to just let it go and tell myself that I was fine and that I’d finish whenever I finished. That 3rd day had been the best day at Powell, so I was having a hard time dealing with the fact that THIS 3rd day was proving to be a bit harder. But again, credit to my crew: They could tell I needed a boost, so they made Evan get in with me, even though he’d previously said not to expect it. Swimming with him was truly and honor. And then, an hour or so later, around 1 or 2, Ryan was able to come back in the pontoon and Craig and Elaine both jumped in to swim with me for a while. Even though the wind shifted to a headwind and I’d spent a lot of the morning crying, all of these positive people around me made me feel a million times better and helped me keep pushing on.
Around 5 pm, I found that I was starting to feel a little fuzzy. I wouldn’t call it hallucinations, but the sun and shadows were playing tricks on my eyes that caused me to do a double take in order to figure out what I was actually looking at. Everything started to go a little soft around the edges, and suddenly, falling asleep while I was facedown in the water didn’t seem like a bad idea at all. It caused me some panic, so at my next feed I said I needed my caffeine pills ASAP. They have about 50 mg/pill, which I used to supplement the 50 mg I was already taking with my electrolytes every 1.5 hours. It took a good 30 minutes to feel back to normal, but it did the trick and we were back in business.
The evening was beautiful- the wind started to die down as the sun went down and we were treated to another beautiful sunset. We had a good plan in place for the third night and my crew was great at continuing to keeping me motivated. The fuzzy feeling came back a few times, but we tossed in another pill each time and that seemed to keep me steady. I was so lucky that the last night was calm- it was like swimming through a soft, warm, velvet blanket. The water was maybe a degree warmer for the last 10k and the absence of wind helped keep me warmer than I had been. (The water was right around 70 the whole way, maybe varying a degree or two in spots, but pretty consistent. Normally, 70 degrees is warm, but add in wind and swimming for a few days and it starts to feel pretty chilly after a while. I had a lot less full body shivers and shaking than I had a Lake Powell, so I felt good- but it still gets old being cold/chilly for so long.)
That being said, the last part of the swim was sorta icky, despite the calm conditions. It was really shallow with lots and lots of seaweed that would get tangled in my arms and legs. I was prepared for it, since I’d already swum through it before, but it still wasn’t a blast. I have a few scratch marks from sharper pieces of seaweed and the gunk in my suit started to be known- I was itchy and chaffing all over. The combo of caffeine and sleep deprivation were making me feel a little drunk (or what I imagine drunk feels like, since I don’t drink), so my feeds were getting a bit longer as I wanted to stop and chat about all the fun things I was thinking about. Ryan finally got me out of that by actually telling me it was time to start swimming again. And after that, my crew made a point not to actually engage with me in conversation. It was fine- I knew I needed to keep swimming. I also knew they were nervous because I was dawdling in the land of lampreys, so we all wanted to get on with it. But, after three days of not really talking- I suddenly had a lot to say. But, stroke by stroke, feed by feed, we slowly inched our way toward the finish line. I was happy and calm, but really starting to feel done with swimming.
We had a bit of a hard time finding the landing point, but when we finally got there and I saw the pontoon boat push ahead to shore to meet me, I felt the most relief I’ve ever felt in my life. My Lake Powell swim was filled with joy and happiness as we sprinted toward the finish. This time, I was ready to get out. There was no final surge toward the end- my body and mind had nothing left to give other than my very slow stroke by stroke crawl. As the boat ramp came into focus, I switched to breast stroke so that I could more easily see the ending point and land below me. As grass gave way to cement, I was able to get my feet under me. I took care to remember how slippery the ramp was from the start, so I took it slowly coming out- my ankles and feet tingling below me as they flexed to bear more and more of my weight after three days of being weightless with toes pointed. As soon as I took my first steps out of the water and raised my arms in triumph, my friend Craig was waiting with a towel and he and Ryan took me about 5 steps to place I could sit. As expected, my body began shaking, but I wasn’t cold. Sitting there, with my family and friends around me, celebrating the first ever 100 mile swim is something I’ll never forget. My body was done, my brain was fried, yet I was overcome with gratitude that so many people where there to help and encourage me in fulfilling a dream. No swim of this magnitude could EVER be considered a solo effort, so I’m extremely grateful that those 12 crew members were there to witness, document, and support.
And, for full transparency, I’ll share what happened next. It’s not pretty- so, if you want the happy story of conquering lakes and swimming a 100 miles, stop now.
After a few minutes of sitting (you can watch the Facebook Live feed) Elaine and Ryan took me into a stinky, but warm, bathroom and stripped me down and put my dry clothes on me. Ryan basically held me upright while Elaine took everything off and put dry things back on. She even tied my shoes for me. When we got my suit off, we realized I was covered in terrible bumps and bites all down my front. My right breast had chaffed until it was bloody. Parts of my arms and shoulders were sore to the touch. My back had strange discolorations and welts. The sides of my suit had chaffed me raw in what looked like claw marks. Not a pretty sight.
After they got me dressed, they put me in Scott’s truck. Craig offered me some food- I think I ate a few grapes and wheat thins. We had to do some vehicle shuffling, but eventually we were headed south to Plattsburgh and a hotel room. Ryan, Craig, and Alex (my cousin, the paramedic) got me into a hotel room. I was awake and talking for the 45 minute drive. I remembered that my mom’s laptop was in Phil’s truck, so that didn’t get left behind. Yet, I could barely walk when they got me out of the truck. Once we got into the hotel room, I decided I wanted to rinse off in the tub. I should have just gone to sleep. But, I insisted on a bath and Ryan got me undressed and into the tub. It felt so good to scrub off all the nasty, get some soap on my bites, take out my contacts, and to warm up. Unfortunately, I think I warmed up too fast and as we were draining the tub, I passed out. I felt it coming, and gave Ryan a warning- but it was too late. Ryan had to haul me out of the tub- wet, naked, unconscious and still covered in baby oil (which is what gets the Desitin off) and onto the bed. I came to with him in my face yelling at me to wake up. Apparently, I stopped breathing for a few seconds and he had to put me in recovery position on my side. Of course, this all happened in the 5 minutes my cousin had stepped out of the room to help shuttle some cars around. By the time he was back, I was talking again. He took my vitals- blood pressure was normal and my heart rate was 52, which is normal for me. We discovered that I had started my period sometime in the days before and think that the hot water and loss of blood caused me to get extra dizzy. I was able to get myself into bed and fell into a deep sleep. By this time it was about 6:30 am and we had to be out of the hotel by 1 pm. I woke up at just after 12 pm and had to pee. I woke up Ryan and sat up slowly, but again I passed out, in the bed. I was out for about half a second, but obviously Ryan wasn’t pleased. Alex took my vitals again- all was still fine, and I wasn’t bothered by it. I passed out while trying to go to the bathroom after Lake Powell, and despite some awesome period stomach cramping, I felt normal and felt I just needed more sleep and to work on the transition from horizontal to vertical. The struggle is real! Alex and Ryan tried to talk me into going to the hospital, but I’m stubborn and said no. As I sat up in bed, I started to feel a lot better. Alex and Ryan got our things ready to leave and I was able to walk to the car, under my own power.
They fed me a breakfast burrito and a vanilla milkshake and we drove down to the house rental. I put myself in bed and slept again for another 5-6 hours. I woke up, took a real shower, ate some pizza for dinner, and went back to bed. When I woke up on Friday morning, I felt pretty dang good. My throat was sore and my tongue a bit swollen, which made eating and drinking a challenge, but otherwise, I was feeling ok. We all went to breakfast, then relaxed at the house. Friday evening, we did a quick trip to check out Lake Placid. On Saturday, I felt close to 100% (just tired), my throat was better, and we took a day trip to Montreal. And Sunday, we flew home. Monday, it was back to work.
So, there you have it- from beginning to end. Ryan says I’m not allowed to swim 100 miles again- watching me stop breathing, for just a second, was enough. It’s enough for me, too. I know my arms could have kept going, but I know my brain was done. 67 hours of swimming is enough for me. Good thing though: There are an awful lot of swims between 1 and 100 miles that I’d still like to do. I have Swim the Suck coming up in October, nothing major planned for 2018, but a Cook Straight and an EC four way for 2019 already on the books.
Onward, swim friends. More adventure is to be had!
- Financial Times: Sarah Thomas: the woman who swam a century
- U.S. News & World Report: How to Swim for 67 Hours Straight
- 5280 Magazine: A Colorado Athlete Conquers 100-Plus Consecutive Miles of Water
- WCAX (Burlington, VT) local TV news segment: