John Batchelder - Lake Powell (butterfly)
Dangling Rope Marina to beach opposite the Rincon
54 km (33.6 miles)
28 hours, 0 minutes on 25-26 September 2018
Observed and documented by George Thornton III and Sophia Cordero
- Support Personnel
- Swim Parameters
- Route Distance Analysis
- Swim Data & GPS
- Observer Log
- Swimmer Narrative
- Crew Narrative
- Name: John Batchelder
- Gender: male
- Age on swim date: 37
- Nationality: United States
- Resides: Littleton, Colorado
- Joe Bakel - pilot 1, crew chief
- Mark Johnston - pilot 2
- Chris Werhane - pilot 3
- Jamie Ann Phillips - swimmer communication, feeder
- Cindy Werhane - swimmer communication, medical, support swimmer, feeder
- Lynn Acton - kayak
- Ken Classen - kayak, boat support
- Cindy Hughes - meal prep
- George Thornton III - observer 1
- Sophia Cordero - observer 2
- Houseboat 542 - 59’ DiscoveryXL (Bullfrog Marina)
- 17’ Tracker fishing boat (Bullfrog Marina)
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Equipment used: Swim suit (black, porous), silicone cap (MSF gold), goggles (alternating tinted prescription and clear prescription with attached adventure lights).
- Stroke used: Butterfly
- Body of Water: Lake Powell
- Route Type: one-way
- Start Location: Dangling Rope Marina (37.116910, -111.080117)
- Finish Location: Beach opposite The Rincon (37.324457, -110.796535)
- Minimum Route Distance: 54 km (33.6 miles)
by Karl Kingery
Based on my review of the GPS data points which were gathered along the swim, and which were either on the boat next to John or on the houseboat, nearby, it is my belief that he swam at least 33.6 miles. To the best of my knowledge, I do not believe that he could have swum a shorter route than this and it is most likely that his actual swim track is significantly longer.
I have made several minor changes to the original “shortest possible route” GPS track based on my conversation with Joe Bakel and a review of the GPS points and several photos. I have assumed that the GPS points have a high degree of precision. These minor changes include:
(1) Adjusting the start location. There was not a defined start location since the GPS was offshore in a kayak at that time. The kayak location was known to Joe based on a screenshot photo of the GPS gathered on a cell phone. This point was marked with a pin on the KMZ file. Photos indicate that John started between two small ridges, which can be seen on an aerial image of the lake. I believe the adjusted starting location to be very close to that actual location. Attached is a photo showing the start, John and the Kayak, presumably with the Spot tracker. Adjusting the starting location lengthened the distance by approximately 0.1 miles.
(2) Adjusted the track at 3 bends. I adjusted the shortest route at three bend locations where the recorded GPS point was definitively inside my previous “shortest possible route” and where doing so would shorten the route instead of lengthening it. Since we know that the boat was on the outside of John for all of these corners, we know that at these areas, the swim was navigable and that John could have swam there. These changes resulted in about a tenth of a mile change, reducing the distance by approximately 0.1 statute miles.
All in all, I thought that the “shortest possible route” developed by Joe was very good and required very little change and I agree with his distance of 33.6 statute miles, with my route adjustments resulting in a “net-zero” change in the actual distance. At 33.6 miles, from Dangling Rope Marina to the peninsula across from the Rincon, this is certainly one of the longer butterfly swim efforts in history.
I have received emails from both Joe and John and they both concur with this distance being appropriate.
- Start: 25 September 2018, 19:00:00 (America/Phoenix, UTC-6).
- Finish: 26 September 2018, 23:00:40
- Elapsed: 28 hours, 0 minutes, 40 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (F)||74||79|
|Air Temp (F)||66||93|
Trackpoint frequency: 10 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Nutrition: Various, including Gatorade, water, Nuun+water, baby food pouch, chia seed pouch. Every half-hour.
by John Batchelder
Conception and Planning
After swimming 24 miles in Tampa Bay in April 2017, several friends marveled at the accomplishment and suggested that it must have been the longest anyone had swum butterfly. Nope, it was not even close. It was then that I did a little research and noticed that Vicki Keith had swum just short of 50 miles butterfly many years prior. Ever since, 50 miles was my dream.
It was in October 2017 when I was with Sarah Thomas and a few other friends that the question came up as to if and when I was going to attempt this swim. The suggestion came to swim Lake Powell since setting up a swim there was known with Sarah’s swim the year prior. There really wasn’t much discussion for any other option, and so it was basically decided. Since, to a fault I’m always in a rush to do things, I was going to do it next year, in 2018.
It was in January that I started putting things together. Based on suggestions, I wanted a date close to a full moon, and I wanted it to be after Labor Day for the lower costs of houseboat reservations. It really came down to late September or late October, and I chose September so the water would be warmer. As for swim route, I worked with a friend to identify a course. Many of the initial routes identified were focused on getting me near 100K, but after my Catalina experience in July, I ultimately decided to just stick to 50 miles. We came up with the course of swimming between Dangling Rope and Halls Crossing Marinas. At first, we thought it would be about 53 miles, but when my friend laid out a shortest-distance route in Google maps, it came out to be barely above 50 miles, just barely long enough to work.
As far as crew, I had in my mind that I would need 10-12 crewmembers to support the swim. Getting crew was a struggle for me, since I’m awfully shy and generally too scared to ask, and many of those I did ask could not support. I had an original list of 12 back in January, but in the end only 4 of those 12 remained. I was scrambling with crew revisions up to within a couple weeks before the swim, and it was a real struggle to settle on the final list of 10 who would come support.
Due to limitations on crew availability, and to maximize the time available for the swim, we set the swim start time to the evening of Tuesday, September 25. On that prior Monday we finally got the full crew together. The swim was getting really close. We anchored the houseboat near Bullfrog Marina for the night, with preparations to start the long trip to Dangling Rope Marina first thing right after sunrise. I woke up on Tuesday around 4am, pretty normal for me, as I’m a morning person. I had a bit of quiet time to ponder about the swim as I waited for the rest of my crew to awaken. It wasn’t long before we lifted anchor and headed out, with an estimated arrival time at Dangling Rope of 2:30. My plan was to sleep as much as possible during the afternoon, but due to a variety of reasons, mainly that I never made arrangements for paying the gas bill when we refueled at the marina, I ended up not getting much sleep. That I’m sure had a big influence on the events that transpired during the swim. The afternoon flew by fast, and it wasn’t long before I was getting all covered up in Desitin and making my way to the starting beach. I rode our rented fishing boat up close to shore, before jumping off and swimming freestyle the rest of the way and walking up onto the dry land.
I stood on the shore for a few minutes before getting my first time check: 5 minutes to start. I would be standing for quite a bit, but I didn’t mind. The water was very warm, the air was hot, and there was no wind, so I was quite comfortable. The signal was going to be ringing the dinner bell from the houseboat. I stood for a while waiting for the time updates. 3 minutes, then 1 minute, then 30 seconds, then 10 seconds. I had expected someone to count down to zero, but I didn’t get it, so I just listened for the dinner bell. Finally, I heard it, very faint out in the distance, and I walked into the water. My swim had begun.
The swim began just like any other, as I eased into a steady rhythm. It’s kind of weird, but whenever I swim distance butterfly, I almost always play a particular sequence of sounds in my head that cycles with each stroke. When I’m not swimming, I can never remember how it goes, but when I swim those sounds play in my head like clockwork. I can’t explain how the sounds go, but they seem to be mostly in tune with when I lift my head out of the water and when I dive my head back into the water. It must be my way of keeping a rhythm that I’ve developed over time. For some of my swims, these sounds are all I have to go on, and my mind is generally devoid of any music or other thought.
Sometimes at the start of swims, and usually only at the start, I get cramping in my legs. I don’t know why that is, but it seems to only happen near the start and never when I’ve been swimming for a while. I kind of expected it to happen for this swim, but this was one of the few times my legs never cramped. I got a little bit of stiffness in my left bicep, which was really unusual for me, and lingered throughout my swim but wasn’t really a bother. I got off to a great start, better than I think any ultra-marathon swim I had done before. Everything seemed to be coming together nicely.
The first few hours went by fast as I swam though the sunset and into the darkness of the night. For the swim, I would have a kayak in front of me at all times leading the way, with a fishing boat nearby for communication and feedings. The feedings from the boat went without a hitch, and I was easily able to track the lead kayak that was navigating the way. With the moonlight, I was able to see well enough, even with my less than perfect vision, that I could make out where to swim during a brief stretch when there was a little bit of trouble with the kayaks.
The first minor setback occurred pretty early in the night, I think, when shortly following a feed I found myself once again with the urge to vomit. Darn! I was hopeful it wouldn’t happen, but it came as no surprise after having trouble with feeds during all my training the couple months prior. But I got no such luck, and very soon up came about a half bite of my dinner. At this point, my stomach issues were more a nuisance and not much of a concern. I continued onward, as there was nothing else to do. From then on I would be giving into the urge to vomit little pieces here and there. Sometimes these little pukes would be 5-10 minutes apart, while sometimes more than an hour would pass. At first they weren’t anything more than a minor bother. I don’t think I even changed my stroke any when they occurred.
In my mind, the first reason towards this swim not going as far as I set out for was my not having a defined feeding plan, at least in term of goal calories per hour. The second reason occurred somewhere in the middle of the first night, and I can’t recall when exactly it was. This was the time when, for the first time in a freshwater swim, I broke stroke to stop to vomit. It came out of nowhere. I completely stopped, lifted my head out of the water, and then proceeded to give five large pukes. It shocked me. Worse, my esophagus burned like crazy, down low in my chest near my stomach and up top near my throat. It died down shortly, but I was stunned. I shook it off and did the only thing I could do, and that was just try to swim forward and forget about it. Yet, I my body would not let me forget. The very next feed, I took a sip of Gatorade, and it just absolutely burned all the way down. It was painful, and I could only muster a small sip. The absolute worse part about this, what really got me going down the wrong path, was I stupidly did not tell anyone. I was stubborn. I didn’t want to admit I was having this issue. I was hopeful it was only temporary (it was far from it). It was foolish of me to conceal this, but that I did. My crew must have known something was up, since from this moment on I struggled to consume everything I tried eating or drinking, often just refusing to eat and usually only taking very, very small amounts of drink. I thought I was okay. For the rest of the swim, I never felt hungry, never felt thirsty, so I thought I was good enough to continue, and continue I did.
Not telling my crew was absolutely boneheaded of me. I gave them little to no chance to help me out. Worse, I point to that moment as the time when my mental judgment started to go away completely. In the moment, I was certain I was fine. In fact, I thought I was doing great, apart from the stomach issues that I just kept ignoring as much as possible. My stroke felt fine. My arms and legs felt fine. I good see well enough and that was fine. But I was not fine. I was losing my mental awareness. I daresay at this point I was beginning to become a danger to myself, and looking back, that is quite scary.
As night was coming to a close, I found myself getting a bit sleepy. I actually caught myself closing my eyes for a stroke or two, but I shook it off and knew I would snap out of it once we hit daybreak. Sure enough, the sun began to rise, and my sleepiness melted away. I was feeling really happy. I had just completed my first ever swim through an entire night, but there was still a long, long way left to go.
The morning sun felt good, as it was nice to finally get to see the canyon walls and be able to look upon more than just my lead kayak. I knew I was only about a third of the way through the swim, so I still had much work to do. Even with the sun, this was where I started to lose track of time. Throughout the night, I kept time track of time by counting the feedings, bolstered by the shift changes that were set for every 6 hours, but during the day I stopped counting. It was probably one of the many signs that my mental capacity was drastically slipping, but in the moment it just seemed normal.
Sometime that morning was the first instance when I stopped fully trusting my kayak and navigators. I remember there being a point way off in the distance where we could either go left or go right. Up until then, the route mostly hugged the left hand walls, but I knew that about at that point, somewhere around a third of the way into the swim, that this would change and we would be going back and forth between turning left and right. So, I was expecting that we would be cutting to the right side of the point up ahead, but my kayak kept me directing me towards the left. As we got closer and closer, I became more and more sure that we were going towards the wrong side, but I stuck with my kayak, until, sure enough, eventually we did turn to head towards the right side of that point. It was one simple moment, and there might have been reasons that I couldn’t see for our route to go as it did, but it didn’t stop me from being a bit peeved that we didn’t take a straight course through that stretch. My trust in my navigators wavered, and it just went downhill from there.
It probably wasn’t all that long after that moment, as in maybe 30-90 minutes after, that we were in a stretch where I thought I saw that the canyon turned to the right, and then after a long while came back to the left. I saw a point way off in the distance that I thought was ultimately where we needed to go, so I swam at that point, and kept going that direction even when my kayaker drifted further and further to the right. I turned slightly right just to keep my kayaker in view, while still focusing on that point in the distance. I fully expected my kayaker to eventually come back to the left. I was self-navigating – dangerous! I should have known better than that, and looking back at this event and everything that followed, all I can do is shrug and say I wasn’t thinking, that I lost all my good judgment and, worse, I didn’t know it and it was going to be near impossible to convince me otherwise.
I was alerted by a whistle from the fishing boat, and was instructed that I was going the wrong way, to follow the kayak and not swim after the buoy. I didn’t see a buoy, but no matter. I obeyed and turned to follow the kayak directly, and soon realized I had the wrong impression about the direction of the canyon walls and that the point in the distance I was focused on was not where I was supposed to go. Looking back, that was a moment where I should have realized my judgment was off and to do something to correct how I was thinking, but alas, that didn’t happen. Worse, that was the moment when I started paying more attention to other little things to gauge my progress and began to question how I was doing. I was in trouble.
Soon, I began to pay attention to the water around me, particularly the direction it was flowing. Of course, since I’m moving forward, the water from my point of view would be moving backwards. Under normal situations I would process this correctly and pay it no mind, but I was far from normal. My brain was not processing the information, and I pretty much panicked – the water was moving against me. I cannot explain why I thought this, only that I did, and my mind took me back to swimming in Tampa, swimming the English Channel, and swimming Catalina, all places where I did experience swimming against a current or tide. I guess I superimposed those experiences onto this one, and that was my reality for the rest of the swim, that the water was working against me. I started looking towards the canyon walls for feedback on how well I was swimming, and they didn’t seem to be moving. Of course not, I was far away, so naturally from my vantage point they wouldn’t move very far, but again my mind wasn’t processing things correctly, and I panicked some more. I picked up my pace to try to fight it. My thoughts went to the end of my Catalina experience where I was instructed to swim closer to the walls, so that’s what I started thinking – swimming closer to the walls would help me move forward faster. So that’s what I tried to do. Against all good judgment, I stopped swimming forward and swam sideways towards the walls. My crew kept whistling at me and instructing me to get back to swimming after the kayak. Sometimes I begrudgingly gave in and obeyed, but other times I was so convinced I needed to get to the walls that I flat out ignored these instructions, only to be quickly whistled down again. I was a mess.
I don’t know how long this first episode lasted. I had lost complete sense of time. It went on for at least an hour. All I do know is that I felt like time was moving fast, that the feedings felt very close together. I do not recall what eventually shook me out of my first panic attack. I think it might have been when we finally rounded the next corner, but cannot remember, but eventually I got back on track, and was back to normal again for a good while. In fact, I don’t think I another panic attack until the next night, but I am not certain.
Throughout the entire day, before, during, and after my panic attack, I continued to not eat very much. My throat continued to burn. I should have been downing some food every single stop, but I couldn’t bring myself to doing so. I truly thought I was fine. I was not fine. My crew knew I was not fine, yet there was no convincing me. I could spend hours and hours going over what maybe should have been done here, but following what I said at the beginning, I’m going to avoid getting into the trap of going over the “what ifs.” The only thing I will say is that maybe at times like these, the best thing to do is to force the swimmer to take a good long break, to give a chance for the crew and swimmer to really talk about what was going on. Easier said than done, especially when dealing with a strong ego as my own, and who knows how it would really work in practice, but for my next long swim I do think I’m going to assign set times to hold such a break, as it would almost definitely be beneficial to both swimmer and crew.
Anyway, pressing on, the day seemed to pass by slowly, and with each passing hour I slipped into more and more of a dreamlike state. It was probably early afternoon, around the time when I had my first and only support swimmer for about an hour, that I began to dream about what was on the other side of the canyon walls, what was waiting for me around the next turn. I kept imaging how the canyon walls would look, how they might twist and turn, and what rock formations I might encounter. I remember dreaming I was slowly swimming up the side of a mountain, kind of like how roads would wind back and forth up the hill. This at least I knew was a fantasy, but it did feel quite real. I had definitely no awareness to time, and that entire afternoon felt like the evening to me with how sleepy tired I was getting, and this was definitely when I started getting in my mind that I was closer to the finish than I actually was. I also was imaging some weird stuff coming out of the walls, such as weird rock formations in the shapes of dragons. I kept finding myself periodically looking all around me just to kind of get a reality check of just how the canyon walls actually looked compared to what I was dreaming. I think this might have led my crew to think I was going rogue again and trying to self-navigate around the corners, but this time I was in a completely different mental state and was just trying to get a control over what must have been my first bout with hallucinations.
As one would expect when someone confuses early afternoon for early evening, the latter half of the day felt like an eternity. I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the sun to set. When the sun did finally begin to go down, when time marched past 7pm, I had, for the first time ever, swam for 24 hours. A monumental feat for sure, something that a very small number of people have ever achieved, and I think only the second to achieve it swimming butterfly. However, I cannot recall the moment it happened. I don’t even recall reflecting at any moment that I had achieved that milestone. That wasn’t the goal. The goal was still 12 hours away, and I was still moving towards it, bad stomach and all.
The Early Exit
I cannot recall the transition into the second night. I have no memories of swimming into the second twilight of the swim or at what time or how exactly I switched my goggles out for something with lights attached, but I do remember, when it was still barely daylight, that I was thinking I probably had somewhere around 15 miles to go, and if so, then at that pace odds were good that I would finish in darkness. I was mistaken. I was way off in how much longer I had left. No one ever told me exactly where I was at or what pace I was holding. I’m not sure how I even got in my head that I was 15 miles away. I should have asked somebody where I was, as at that moment it was important for me. I wanted to have some idea if I would be finishing in darkness or after daybreak, if that could even be determined. But as it was, I swam under the misconception that I was further along than I was.
It didn’t help matters that, just as I had done during the day, I had complete lack of awareness of time. I wasn’t paying any attention to how many feeds I took or to crew shift changes. The darkness was taking its toll on my concentration. I could follow my lead kayak just fine, but I couldn’t tell where the fishing boat was, which played on my nerves quite a bit. For the first few feeds of the night, the feeding time was indicated with the shining of a flashlight right on me. That worked brilliantly. Since I wasn’t looking to my side, the light wasn’t in my face, which would be a concern if I were swimming freestyle. But here, swimming fly, the light only helped to perk me up and to get me on alert for a water bottle about to be thrown my way. I’ll have to remember this for future swims.
When feeding time was over, when the flashlights were turned off and the only thing in the water I could really see was the lighted kayak in front of me, I began to hallucinate, really bad. I guess it was the moonlight bouncing off the water and canyon walls, but I could “see” the shadows of boats all around me. I knew they weren’t there, but still they played with my mind, especially since I could not tell the real fishing boat from my visions. That was scary.
My weirdest thought, however, was that I was certain I saw some sort of platform or something about maybe 3 feet above me, with girders underneath that somehow were floating on the water, and my kayaker was somehow towing this platform behind. It was the most ridiculous thing I can ever recall imaging, but I remember it so clearly. At times, I knew it this was just a figment of my imagination, but at other times, and perhaps the majority of the time, I fully believed it was there. I found myself not swimming straight at the kayak, but off to the side, for the sole purpose to avoid swimming into this imaginary platform. It was the strangest vision I have ever had. It was this hallucination that most definitely somehow made me think the end was near, as if the platform was something that needed to be brought to help mark the finish. It was a ridiculous thought, and even more absurd to know that I was hallucinating yet still using those hallucinations to jump to conclusions. I mistakenly thought the end was just right up ahead. My mind was completely exhausted.
So certain with my faulty logic that the end was near, I remember calling out for someone to grab a light to shine on the shore so I knew where to go. My crew obliged, shining the light onto land way off in the distance, and off I went towards the light. My crew had no idea what I was thinking, so I can’t blame for just trying to help mark where to go. I just kept swimming towards where the light was shining, at times ignoring my lead kayak. I think I got whistled down a few times for again not following the kayak, but I can’t remember for sure. Anyway, I kept looking at where the light was shining, fully expecting to see a boat ramp or something to signify the finish. But a boat ramp was not to be found, so somehow I told myself that we must just be finishing on a beach and not a ramp. I had completely lost all good judgment.
I kept swimming closer and closer to shore, and the light kept getting closer and closer. It got so close. The finish was eminent. But then the light started to move away. The shore began to move away. Of course, it was just my crew shining the light further down the way, but I wasn’t thinking that. I instead thought as I had done the previous morning, that the water was pushing me back. The water was flowing out away from the shore, and I needed to swim against it to get to land. I got whistled down by the fishing boat, because at this point I was completely just fixated on the land and did not have even the slightest care where the kayak was. They tried to get me to correct my course, but all I could do was yell that I was just trying to swim around the current. They told me there was no current, to which I remember distinctly yelling “I don’t believe you!” before pressing on towards the shore. I was so completely brain dead.
The light was still shining on the shore, just right out in front of me. I swam towards it, zigzagging a bit to experiment with fighting my make-believe current. Before long, I finally inched very close to the shore. With the flashlight shining real close now, I saw the mud underneath me and felt a sense of victory. This was also the first realization I had that my mind wasn’t thinking clearly, because as I saw the ground move behind me, I suddenly realized there was no current, that I was going forward at a pretty good pace, and it was silly to think there ever was one. However, I still was fixated on getting to shore. I adjusted my pull as the water got shallower and shallower, until the time felt right to walk out onto land. I stumbled in the muddy ground as I worked my way up and out, until finally I cleared the water and reached dry land. I was so very wobbly and I couldn’t walk straight, but that didn’t matter. I had finished my swim!!! It just was not where I was supposed to finish. Not even close!
In the moments after my swim had ended, my eyes were so exhausted and the night so dark that I couldn’t really see anything. I collapsed to the ground because my legs were so weak, and I just waited there not sure what was going on or what to do next. My crew came and worked hard to try to get me back to the houseboat, perhaps thinking that there was something wrong with me physically to make me exit when I did, but physically I was okay, just mentally drained.
It was a while before my crew informed me that the swim ended about 15 miles short. As soon as I heard that the light went off inside my head: of course I didn’t exit where I wasn’t supposed to; it wasn’t a boat ramp. I was confused how I ever thought that. However, the 15 miles short didn’t quite register, and I thought I must have misheard that part, for in my mind I thought the time was about 4am, not the 11pm it actually was, so I should have been much, much closer. It wasn’t until I got some sleep and some food that I began to slowly realize just how off I was, and that indeed my exit occurred over 15 miles short.
In the aftermath, physically I was doing just fine. I was sore, but not any more than what I had expected, and in less than 24 hours the soreness would almost all go away. Mentally, I was confused and broken, and it took a long while for me to try to get over it. In fact, a month later and I am still not over it. I am still very confused and very embarrassed with how my Powell swim ended, how I ever got in my mind that the point I exited was the intended finish. It remains to be seen if I can recover from this. I have a habit of making goals that go unfulfilled, and I don’t want this dream of a 50 mile butterfly swim to be yet another one of them, so I’m going to continue to pursue it. Time will tell if I can get a handle on things, mainly to figure out my feeding issues, so I can go make another attempt at it.
Until next swim,
John Batchelder and crew staggered their arrival to Bullfrog, Utah, between Sunday morning (9.23.2018) and Monday evening (9.24) in preparation of John’s attempt to swim 50 miles in Lake Powell.
For those who arrived on Sunday morning, the day was spent picking-up a 59’ houseboat that would be the base of operations for the adventure, and loading supplies onto the boat. On Monday morning, the team picked up a 17’ fishing boat that would act as the go between John (with a kayaker) and the houseboat. Once the fishing boat was launched, the crew moved both boats to anchor on the shore across from the marina. In the afternoon, the crew that had arrived practiced John’s swim with the watercraft, including feeds and communication from the fishing boat. The team planned for a lead kayak to be directly in front of John so he could sight straight ahead while swimming butterfly. The fishing boat would be beside John to keep exhaust fumes away from him, but remain accessible for feeds. The houseboat would stay in the main channel to avoid shallow areas.
Afterwards, a boat pilot took the fishing boat to fetch the last of the crew arriving at the marina that evening. Once fully gathered back on the houseboat, the team had pasta dinner prepared by CindySue Hughes followed by a team meeting led by crew chief Joe Bakel to discuss the safety plan, various emergency scenarios, crew assignments, rotation schedules, and plan for the start / finish locations.
After a night on the houseboat just outside of Bullfrog marina, John and Joe took one last look at the weather / wind forecast at daybreak on Tuesday (9.25) to make the final decision on the direction of the swim. They had leaned towards the Dangling Rope to Hall’s Crossing direction for a variety of reasons, including a finish near a major marina and civilization. However, John would have a head wind in his face for most of his swim in that direction. Looking more closely at the wind prediction, the ever-changing direction was due to almost no wind, causing the official direction to change regularly. They decided to stick to the plan of Dangling Rope to Hall’s Crossing and take the risk of a head wind.
CindySue prepared a hearty breakfast before departure. John was reluctant about breakfast, but did eat some. He later ate two sandwiches for lunch. CindySue also reported John consuming a healthy and small portion of dinner the previous night.
The team quickly pulled the anchors and motored toward Dangling Rope. The team anticipated a 6-8 hour cruise and needed to get there before the gas pumps closed at 4pm. About midway to Dangling Rope, the houseboat had to slow for rangers dredging the lake searching for a drowning victim! Eerie! Fortunately it wasn’t too much delay, and team arrived at 3pm.
With the houseboat refueled for the return trip, the team enjoyed soft-serve ice cream on such a hot day and made final preparations for John’s swim. The team decided to start the swim before dark, and John would start at 7pm instead of 8pm. Some of the crew outfitted the fishing boat with a cooler of feeds and others added lights to the kayaks. CindySue prepared taco salad for an early dinner. John had two large portions with more meat and cheese (for extra protein) than greens, and gauging his other intake the previous 24 hrs, he seemed sufficiently fueled for his big swim.
After a team photo shoot by Ken Classen, Cindy Werhane and Jamie Ann Phillips lathered John with Desitin. Everyone else prepared for his / her first crew assignments, planned as six-hour shifts for everyone but the kayakers. Lynn Acton was out on the kayak first, allowing Ken time to chronicle the beginning of John’s swim (he drew the stick as the other assigned kayaker). George Thornton and Sophia Cordelo observed the swim and worked a couple of hours together to discuss the process of their recording before they alternated their shifts. Mark Johnston piloted the fishing boat and was joined by Cindy W serving as one of John’s interfaces during the swim. Cindy W alternated shifts with Jamie Ann. After each feed, Cindy W or Jamie Ann would radio feed data, stroke count, water and air temps, and any communication with John for the observer(s) to record. Chris Werhane piloted the houseboat, a position that later switched with Joe and Ken. CindySue kept the crew fed, rested, and prepared for their assignments.
Cindy W and Mark shuttled John by fishing boat to the designated start just outside of Dangling Rope marina around 6:50 pm Tuesday evening. John began his swim at 7 pm (MDT), walking into the reflective orange waters, enveloped by the majestic rock walls.
The first two hours went very smoothly. John said he was feeling good (after a brief time of tightness in one of his forearms at the start of the swim). Ken began kayaking and relieved Lynn for the next 4 hrs (a welcome relief as she wasn’t feeling very well, and still feeling some effects of heat exhaustion from earlier in the day).
Lynn didn’t get much rest that first break, and when Joe said it was time to get up, it was a little rough getting back on the water for her second kayaking session. The sleep deprivation quickly went away; John was swimming and following well, and feeding pretty well. John had some stomach issues (Lynn witnessed a stop with 5 large vomits, but thought surely he couldn’t vomit anymore after that), and he seemed better as the night went on.
An hour or two before daybreak Lynn was seeking another break (she really was in pain, and wondering how she managed 17 hrs in kayak for John’s Memphremagog crossing when just few hours seemed to be really bothering her this swim).
Shortly before switching with Ken again, Lynn and the fishing boat team (Mark and Cindy W) lost sight of the houseboat. Lynn no longer had a visual or a good line to follow. The landforms merged and in the moonlit darkness it appeared that the team was moving towards a wall rather than following the lake’s path. After asking the fishing boat crew which way to go, and not knowing, the fishing boat went ahead to try to find where the houseboat went. How did it vanish so quickly? Lynn and John zigzagged much of the open lake trying to find the way. While Lynn thought John would pop-up and ask what was going on, he didn’t question, which she appreciated because she didn’t really have an answer. Instead John steadily followed, and visual of the lake’s trajectory eventually appeared.
Soon Ken was on the water to relieve Lynn. As she re-boarded the houseboat, Lynn unloaded her frustration, saying “we need to do better than that; we’re all over the lake right now”. Then she took some meds and got some much needed rest.
The early morning hours went smoothly on the houseboat with Chris piloting, Sophia observing on the houseboat rooftop, and the rest of the crew sleeping soundly. At times the houseboat would creep ahead of the rest of the team and stop to rest, drifting, and spinning calmly in the lake while waiting for the rest to catch up. With the lights on his cap, John was easily visible as a bouncing blue wave in the distance and, when the wind was calm, his rhythmic stroke echoed along the canyon walls.
By 6:30 am the rest of the crew was starting to stir, preparing to change shifts again. Joe began captaining the houseboat, relieving Chris. Mark was the fishing boat captain, Cindy W was the feeder / motivator, CindySue was the kayaker (relieving Ken), and George was the observer.
About 45 minutes into the shift, CindySue noticed John following her a bit to the right of the kayak. A few minutes later, John headed to the right canyon wall. The fishing boat got in between the wall and John. Mark got John’s attention and told him to stay behind the kayaker. John was a bit combative, but relented and followed CindySue. Approximately 15-20 minutes later, John took a 90-degree turn to the left and appeared to be heading into a small cove. He was sprinting! CindySue had to paddle hard to cut him off. The fishing boat stopped him again and said, “John, you’ve got to stay behind your kayaker!” Discussion ensued and John was convinced he was stuck in an eddy. A powerboat had sped by a few minutes prior, and its wake possibly contributed to John’s perception of an eddy. John got behind the kayak again only to make another sharp right turn a few minutes later. This went on for about an hour – he would head to one side or the other of the canyon walls rather than follow the most direct path.
At his next sudden turn toward the canyon wall, the fishing boat stopped John and asked him what was wrong. He replied he was staying close the wall because the current wasn’t as strong there.
Later, there was some crew confusion as to whether to make a sharp right turn or go straight for a bit to go around a big rock formation. Mark told CindySue to follow her line and keep John off the wall. The fishing boat went ahead to investigate the best path. John sprinted towards the left wall. CindySue heard a power boat and to keep John safe, she positioned herself between the boat and John. The boat zoomed by and there was considerable wake. Soon after, the fishing boat radioed for them to head toward them, about 300-500m away to the right. She started paddling toward them, but John continued to hug the left canyon wall. She stopped him and said, “John, you’ve got to follow me. We need to go where the fishing boat is and they are ahead of us to the right.” He replied, “I don’t believe you.” She informed him she was kayaking toward the fishing boat and he needed to follow to be safe. It was a frustrating effort because he was so convinced the crew was leading him in the wrong direction.
At every feed around the 15-16 hour mark, John was drinking small amounts of water or Gatorade and wasn’t eating. He continued his serpentine path across the lake.
Lynn woke up to the commotion on the water. Joe was driving the houseboat (now along side the team in the daylight, rather than out in front during the night). After getting a cup of coffee, she spent some time catching up on the swim with Joe. Then while brushing her teeth, she heard more of the dialogue with John, and got a better idea of what was happening.
John was having perception issues; he didn’t think he was moving forward as the repetitive rock walls never changed (Cindy W later confirmed John’s perspective after buddy swimming with him for about an hour later in the day). In reality, John was swimming smoothly, maintaining his stroke count, and checking off the miles. However the crew needed to get him focused on following the kayaker; he was swimming a lot of extra distance with the paths he was creating. Lynn told Joe she wanted to go out there as a second kayaker to see if she could “squeeze” his line some and get him to follow CindySue.
When Lynn got out there with the second kayak, John’s stubbornness prevailed, and her efforts to wrangle him back towards a better line weren’t really effective. However, the crew found some success trying to hug the shore so John could see the landscape go by. They also avoided long diagonal crossings; they did short direct crossings instead when needing to cross from one shore to the next. It wasn’t the shortest course, but it kept John going roughly in the right direction. Eventually CindySue wanted to retire from her kayaking session, so at the next feed Lynn moved to the point position. During the feed John said the two kayaks were confusing. Before he started swimming again, Lynn said, “You’re doing great, John. Follow the lead kayaker!” And for some reason, after hours of not following, he did.
For the rest of Wednesday mid-day hours, the only significant item to report was the temperature. It was HOT, both the air and the water. But John was swimming nicely, and Lynn finally felt good on the water.
Joe relieved Lynn sometime late Wednesday afternoon (9.26), and Cindy W got in to buddy-swim with John. On the fishing boat, Chris and Jamie Ann did not have many issues with John. He answered the questions they asked, but he kept his responses brief. He swam fine as long as he was against a canyon wall. He reported some vomiting and minimal urination. He ate small amounts of baby food, about an once every two hours or so. He seemed to be doing better in the mid-day and late afternoon hours than he had been in the morning.
The rest of the crew was on the houseboat, and they were in very good spirits. So much so that at one point Ken killed the engine (he was now piloting the houseboat) and everyone aboard took a trip down the slide. Houseboat Chinese Fire Drill! While Lynn was briefly responsible for the radio, Jamie Ann asked over the radio, “Where’s the houseboat Mom?” referencing Joe’s nickname for CindySue prior to the swim. Lynn assured Jamie Ann that there was “currently no parenting happening on the houseboat!” The cool water was welcome relief from the afternoon sun.
A reenergized houseboat crew got back on the boat and back to their assignments. They had dinner, again prepared and served by CindySue. Lynn, Sophia, and Mark then gathered on the houseboat rooftop deck listening, watching, and assessing what was happening on the water. The crew was again struggling with navigating John forward. In fact, at one point the crew watched John turn an entire 180 and swim in the opposite direction of the kayaker.
During this impromptu meeting on top of the houseboat as the crew prepared for the next shift change, Lynn was asked if she thought John had enough in the tank to make it. Lynn responded, “Yes, I think he’s stubborn enough to do it.” John was approaching the 24 hr mark and even with all the sporadic swimming he’d being doing, he hadn’t slowed to less than an mile per hour, which he did about 10 hrs into his Memphre swim (he and his two kayakers had weathered a significant storm during the night, so not exactly a fair comparison considering the calmness of Lake Powell throughout the swim). While Lynn still felt that John could make it, she cautioned “this is now an hour-by-hour swim”. Essentially if John kept up the erratic swimming during the night, the chances of making it definitely lessened and the wrangling would be substantially more difficult at night.
The crew was also concerned with the number of hours Joe had been up (he had not slept / rested yet), and while they’d discussed the hour-by-hour game, Mark noted his concern about the long game and the energy of the crew to make it through the night. The crew understood, but John also needed to make it through the next few hours.
Lynn left to rest a bit and prepare to kayak, knowing she may be on the water throughout the night. Ken hurt his back exiting the kayak the night before, and prevented him from continuing to kayak. Joe needed some sleep. CindySue was a backup kayaker only during the day (she had specifically requested no night kayaking prior to the swim because of difficulty seeing at night).
Once Lynn was back in a kayak, she sat there for a few long seconds and took a very deep breath. The second night is what she and the rest had predicted to be the most difficult part of the swim. John and the crew were tired, so Lynn knew it was the beginning of a long night, and she hoped she was ready.
Once Lynn relieved Joe and told him to get some rest, she didn’t move. Not one real paddle in the 15 minutes she sat there. She had done some fake paddling so John perceived movement, but knew John hadn’t gone even 200m in those 15 minutes. Lynn told Mark and Cindy W (now in the fishing boat) that she wanted to talk to John at the next feed.
Lynn said to John: “Relax a minute. We have come a very long way.” John said, “Yes, we have.” Lynn continued, “We have quite a long way to go yet and a long night ahead of us. Do you remember when I stopped you during your Memphre swim to discuss stroke?” John said he did. Lynn strongly recommended John think about stroke technique (feet and butt higher in the water, more floating and swimming at the surface, and a longer stroke with an effective finish at end of each stroke). Lynn finished by saying, “We’re swimming more vertically than horizontally right now. Put your mental energy into stroke mechanics.”
The little pep talk had some effect; John was swimming better, but after a couple feeds he was back to following his own path. Lynn’s frustration with John’s swimming was returning; why wasn’t he following the kayak? Finally Lynn asked him if he could see the kayak. He said he could, and Lynn told him to please follow it. His next comment was the moment when Lynn’s frustration quickly switched to concern. He said he didn’t know where he was going. Lynn explained the process of how the crew was working together, and asked if he could see the blinking lights on the houseboat. He said he could. Lynn said that the houseboat was following the path of lit buoys in the middle of the lake (the way the team had followed them the previous day to Hanging Rope, but now in reverse). Lynn explained she was following the lead of the houseboat, and he needed to follow the lead of the kayak. He seemed coherent through the explanation, and he responded ok, but Lynn understood he was deeply mistrusting the guidance of the crew.
Lynn relayed the mistrust issue to Mark and Cindy W, who agreed with the assessment. Then not too long after that they said they were going back to the houseboat to wake and get Joe. He would be the one to make the call on the swim, so he needed to witness what was happening. While they were away, Lynn again told John to follow the kayak and he said he couldn’t because he was fighting a current. No one was on the lake (other than the team) and the water was like glass; there really was no air or water movement, so the comment was incredibly troubling. Lynn knew she was out of her element with a swimmer in this mental state, and was anxious for the fishing boat crew (especially Cindy W, an RN) to return.
Before Mark, Cindy W, and Joe got back, John swam three sprints, each in a different direction, with breaks in between telling Lynn he was “so tired”. Lynn didn’t say anything, but thought, well of course, he’s sprinting after 27+ hrs in the water. The effort was superhuman, and painful to watch.
Lynn shared John’s remark about swimming in a current to the crew when they returned, and shortly after that John popped up again (he had been stopping every few minutes or so) and got into a bit of a heated discussion with Mark. Watching it all unfold, Lynn noted again how calm everything was, yet John was still fixated on swimming in currents. Mark told John that it was all in his head, and John responded, “You’re full of it”. While Lynn didn’t say it then, after everything she had seen and heard in the past hour, if it had been up to her, she would have pulled John from the water then. He was no longer logical in his thinking, nor could he communicate rationally.
Fortunately for John it was not Lynn’s call. The fishing boat crew had not seen most of this escalation (although it was not new to them, as they had witnessed much of the same in the morning while Lynn was sleeping), and they were willing to entertain continued swimming. John said he couldn’t see, and he wanted a spotlight on the rock walls. The fishing boat team obliged and shined a spotlight. John swam closer and closer to the rock wall, and Lynn became more and more concerned he’d turn into it.
Once past the rock wall, John turned in (to the left) towards a shore. Lynn closely followed, but none of the crew had any idea what turn he may take next. John was leading, and the crew was following.
And then someone on the fishing boat said, “What is he doing?” Followed by a chorus of “I think he’s standing / He’s getting out”. Lynn turned to the fishing boat and said, “Get the time!” and then quickly kayaked to shore. When Lynn got out of the kayak, she sunk into the mud and had to dig herself out before getting to John. When she reached him, John was standing in a typical stance for him – upright and arms crossed. Lynn asked if he was ok (he said yes), and she touched his shoulder reminding her that he had Desitin on and she decided against offering her jacket. She yelled for a towel, but noticed John was not shivering; the water and air temps were about equal at that time.
Cindy W jumped in the lake and swam to shore; the fishing boat could not approach any further without getting stuck in the mud. Lynn also had visual on the houseboat, but it was off in the distance. There was quite a bit of chatter happening on the radio, but Lynn had left the radio in the kayak, and she was dealing with John and Cindy W at the moment.
Cindy W got John back in the water (definitely helped keep him warm) and Lynn grabbed a pfd from the kayak and said to put it on John (she was concerned he may start dozing in the water). Cindy W began carrying / swimming John back to the fishing boat, except she didn’t realize they had left to go get the other kayak with a paddleboard to extract John from the water. (Cindy W missed this communication while swimming to shore and Lynn didn’t get the info shared fast enough.) Lynn got back in the kayak and met up with John and Cindy W, and had them hold onto the stern of the kayak. Lynn paddled towards the houseboat (the other kayak and paddleboard would be coming from that direction). It was a lot of work pulling two people through the water. Lynn stopped kayaking for a minute and radioed that the “three are together and safe”. She rambled some more, but emphasized again that everyone was safe and moving towards the houseboat. The kayak had lights on it, so the swimmer and crew were visible to the others.
In an effort to keep John awake, Lynn suggested Cindy W ask John some questions. She asked him if he knew where he was. He said Halls Crossing; it was devastating to hear. He thought he was at the finish, but was not. Cindy W also asked if he knew who she was, and he said Wendy (a monicker unintentionally given by Joe during the team meeting before the swim–it worked to avoid some confusion between the two Cindys). Cindy W said he smiled when he said it, so there was definitely some recognition happening then. However, Cindy W also asked twice who the kayaker was, but he provided no response to either question.
Joe arrived in the second kayak with the paddleboard attached. John was able to climb out with some help from Cindy W, and Lynn told John to lie down flat on the board. Joe towed John to the houseboat.
Most of the crew had been sleeping, except Chris who was piloting the houseboat, George who was observing, and later CindySue who heard everything come through on the radio and the correspondence led her to some stress-eating! When George got news of John’s exit, he announced, “All hands on deck!” so the rest of the crew was now up and ready to help everyone from the water. Once John was aboard everyone available worked to get John dry, comfortable, and resting. Cindy W took vitals: John’s blood pressure was high (150-160/80-90) and his heart rate was elevated (90-100). Cindy W and Sophia (also an RN) continued to monitor him.
A bit to Lynn’s surprise, a lot of the crew expressed concern for her. She was physically fine, but emotionally exhausted. It took a good night of sleep to come down from the stressed-filled kayaking that occurred before John exited the water. Sophia made her a cup of tea, and George and others provided comfort before she finally retired to bed.
The boat pilots worked to get the boats tied-up, fortunately there was an excellent (yet smelly) dock readily available. The team spent the night tied to an outhouse / boat pump! A night docked to a shitter is one to remember!
Cindy W spent the night monitoring John’s pulse and breathing. He frequently exhaled large startled gasps. He never shivered or trembled.
At 2-3am, John woke up clawing his way out of the blankets and warm clothing. Cindy W escorted him to the bathroom. He peed for the first time since the swim. Cindy W removed the Desitin and got him dressed in shorts and a short sleeve shirt. She helped him return to the main couch where he slept another 2-3 hours before Cindy W woke John to eat, drink, and pee again. He slept in the main cabin until sunrise, at which point Cindy W relocated him to the lower bunk. Cindy W wanted to wait at least 6 hours after the swim before moving him (to maintain accessibility to him in case of an emergency); it would have been impossible to reach the lower cabin with a stretcher, and difficult even with a backboard.
As the sun came up, Joe and Cindy W took the fishing boat back to where John exited to get a GPS reading. John and Lynn’s footprints in the soft mud were still very visible and allowed them to accurately determine his exit point. After getting the GPS reading, the crew undocked the houseboat and headed back to the Bullfrog marina. The team left the outhouse just before a ranger saw the team parked there; he surely would have had a lot of questions that no one wanted to answer!
Lynn and others checked in on John for breathing during the trip back to Bullfrog. (That was the most concerning thing following Sarah Thomas’ 104mi Lake Champlain swim, and Lynn remained nervous about it following John’s swim.) When Cindy W checked on him, John was attempting to access the trackr data and check messages on his phone. Cindy W brought him two bowls of peaches that he ate before going back to sleep.
The crew debriefed on the way back to Bullfrog before John was awake. Probably the most significant report was exactly how few of calories John had consumed in the 28 hrs he was in the water; Sophia had counted them up and told the crew only 1090 calories! Ken added that John should have consumed more like 5000 calories. Certainly there was disappointment (regarding the end goal and not being able to properly fuel John), but there were also several victories along the way, and much to be proud of. The crew definitely bonded on the trip, and it was an amazing adventure to experience with them. John’s swim definitely brought a great group of people together.
Mid morning, John and Cindy W sat at the rear of the houseboat and discussed the sequence of events, his audio and visual hallucinations, and compared them to the actual actions and instructions by the crew. This conversation was about 45 minutes in length as he tried to reconcile his truth from the crew’s.
Later John made his way to the kitchen and appeared to be functioning normally. His cognitive skills were back, and it was quite a relief.
Lynn was unsure what John remembered from the previous night and she was not immediately ready to discuss with him. She was still processing and recovering herself. (Instead they discussed the swim at a college football game, Sat. 9/29.)
When the team reached Bullfrog marina, John and a couple others took the fishing boat back. The rest of the team cleaned and readied the houseboat for return. The team worked to load vehicles and before long they were taking a final team picture and saying goodbye.
Click to enlarge.