Twenty-four hours is a long time to have your face in the water with no opportunity to speak except when you pause each 30 minutes for a quick bite and to check in with your crew. Besides “Do you get to stop for a break?” and “How do you stay awake so long?” I think “What will you think about while you are swimming?” is what people ask me most.
I usually joke saying “I like to solve the world’s problems” but what I really think about is everything an nothing.
This will be my first swim in the traditional territory of the Tla’amin Nation. I have never been to the end of the lake where the head of the Daniels River is, or to the valley that surrounds it. The more I learn, the more I realize I will be in a place unlike any place I have seen before.
As I start my swim, I will likely wonder what it was like for the Tla’amin Nation, before there were settlements in their traditional territory. How did they live? Did they often venture down the lake to fish or hunt? Are there any carvings in the forest or other remanence of their presence? Can you see where striped sections of cedar bark were carefully removed from trees for weaving?
And then I will likely count my strokes or repeatedly sing one verse of a song in my head.
As I make my way up the lake and pause every now and again to refuel my body, I will look to the Coast Mountains and wonder, have any of these mountains ever been active volcanoes? And are there ice fields on top? I might even think about PR Lockie and wonder how he was ever able to climb a 6200 foot peak at the end twice a year for 30 years.
And then darkness will set in, and I will try to think of ways to stay awake. I will focus on my crew and focus on for every bit of light around me. I will wonder how Pat and Bill are doing on their boat as they guide me through the water. And I will check with MJ to make sure she is comfortably nestled in her kayak.
I will listen to my breathing and the sound of my arms entering the water. I will watch each stroke, focusing on perfection making sure my mind does not wonder. I will not count my strokes or repeatedly sing the same verse of a song in my head as this will surely put me to sleep.
As I struggle through the night I will think of why I am swimming and how lucky I am that I can. And as we move deeper into the night I will think about Sherry and Jim and wonder if they are close by. The late-night crew change will bring excitement and help keep me up!
And then the light will come, and I will wonder what to have for breakfast – chocolate & peanut butter or cantaloupe? I will be surrounded by water and mountains and not know where I am. But I will know I am safe with my crew beside me.
As I begin to recognize where I am, I might wonder “are there goats on that island?” or where is Elvis? He was here last time I went by. And then I will likely count, and sing, and count again.
When I exit the narrow at the tip of Goat Island I will look for Heather and Jim. And I will look for Elaine. And I will wonder how many canoes have passed through that narrow! And I will be thankful I am not in the ocean on an ebb tide – otherwise I would get pushed right back to the end of the lake!
Once on the other side I will know that I only have 5-6 hours to go and will wonder how I have gotten this far. If I struggle, I will think of the Spirit Orcas. I will think about all of the incredible things I have seen them do, how hard they work, their fearlessness and constant desire to move forward. I will think of each of them, their struggles and moments of bravery. And I will swim on.
And then I will count my strokes and sing and then count again.
When I am 3 hours from shore, I will try to put any pain I am feeling out of my mind and convince myself that I am not tired, and that I only have 3 hours to go. And I will remind myself that I will soon see Ray – he will be with my friend Gerda on shore. It is rare I am away from him for more than 24 hours. I will focus on swimming towards him.
And for the remainder of the swim I will think of all of those who I have meet that have Multiple Sclerosis, and I will remind myself why I am swimming. I will think of what their lives are like and what it was like for them throughout the pandemic. I will think of how so many have been living in isolation for so long. And I will think of what it will be like for them when they meet again and to support one another. I will imagine them meeting for yoga, and swimming, and social gatherings and will think of this until I reach the shore.