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Eat, Sleep, Swim

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When the Long Bridge Swim wasn't enough, the Really Big Lake Swim was launched

You’ve heard some people are born to run, others supposedly are born to boogie, and apparently, as I witnessed July 18 through 21, some people are born to swim. Appealing as a lazy afternoon on Lake Pend Oreille sounds, it puzzles me as to why anyone would enjoy long distance swimming.

While others weed their gardens, or open a good book, perfectly normal summer activities, the “Big Swim Relay” crazies put together another first-ever swim. After spending two and a half days with the swimming enthusiasts, I’m still pondering … why?

Engineering the Long Bridge Swim for 14 years has become old hat to Eric Ridgway, so it was natural that he’d begin thinking ‘bigger.’ Thus was born the Button Hook Bay to Sandpoint City Beach Relay. Yet, even before that first big swim had begun in 2007, Ridgway was eagerly anticipating the next bigger swim.

The relay team included in swimming order Ridgway, newcomer Karen McClelland, Jim Zuberbuhler, Jayne Davis, Courtney Sanborn food coordinator, Eric Mann, Meleah Nelson donations head hunter, Chris Mann, Dave Mann, and our hero, 87-year-old Imre Schmidt. Dave’s duties beyond swimming included manning the safety boat, skippering when needed, and fixing the GPS after someone else touched it. Plus keeping the houseboat skipper (that was me) on course, a full time job in itself.

The ‘Really Big Lake Swim’ began in Hope at Kramer’s Marina, heading south to Button Hook Bay, and then north to City Beach. This is where Imre Schmidt and his lovely wife Anna came aboard for the final leg back to Hope. The event was designed for a certain distance, not for speed, so the team of swimmers mercilessly dogged the kayakers and captain to take a dive too. Both Dan Krabacher and Scott Rulander did jump in, most likely to get the others to give them back their kayak. However, the skipper remained attached to her wheel for dear life, threatening to head to shore at the first opportunity for escape.

This much longer trek proved to be a little more challenging than the previous year’s big swim. They were faced with an intimidating 80-mile course, according to the GPS navigational wiz Dave Mann. Dave was quick to point out, “If you stick to the predetermined course, go off the course and you’re cheating!” This later remark became Mann’s comic mantra during the successful swim.

Ridgway giddily volunteered to be first in the water for the historical swim, with Meleah as his safety kayaker; they set off at 8:08 pm Friday evening into a glorious, photo op sunset. The swimmers soon discovered that Big Pend Oreille can be full of gusto as the first relay transition put Karen into choppy water that quickly turned to large, rolling three- to four-foot swells.

Safety Kayakers Dan, who put in huge hours during the night portion of the swim, and cinematographer Scott, taking the early morning shift, both said they much preferred riding the swells in their trusty kayak over tossing back and forth in the mothership. The swimmers loved their safety kayakers, calling them their heros. Although after a long stretch at paddling Scott sleepily remarked, “No more safety kayaks, safety last,” before passing out in his sleeping bag.

The first night tested the entire team as the relentless Pend Oreille tossed the houseboat, generously donated by Chet and Terri Whitney, making sleeping on board impossible and staying on the ever-important GPS line a challenge. Meleah held cabinet doors shut, while the safety boat was quickly untied and driven ahead by Dave and Chris in rough waters. Eric Mann took the wheel, while the other Eric attempted to sleep but ended up laughing in his sleeping bag as he was helplessly tossed back and forth across the top deck.

One huge wave finally opened all the cabinets, catapulting their contents, as the fridge door simultaneously flew open. Shrieks could be heard as food collided with walls. This came to be known as the horrible pickle incident of 2008. Motion sickness overtook those first upon the scene of the spill, Cindy and Karen, as they swamped up salsa and pickle juice. The front deck became a popular place for those in need of fresh air.

Later, as the full moon came out from behind the scattered clouds and the Green Monarchs stood silhouetted in the night, everyone seemed to get their sea legs and the swimmers their stride. The long night turned into a spectacular sunrise as sleepy swimmers continued through their cycle. Always ready for their turn, helpful with their teammates, ever cheery, and enthusiastic, and playful. Eric M. teased the “Big Swim” could be called the “Big Ordeal.”

“Is it cold, do I need my wet suit? How was it?” were questions often repeated as the next swimmer readied for their plunge. Plus any number of quirks, “keep swimming, your time’s not up, go ahead, take my turn,” all yelled in fun.

With questionable weather, an exploding fridge, a second night a near repeat of the night before, plus a three-hour power failure, everyone remained positive, good humored and excited. Even the sleepless managed their turn in the water. Each swimmer with their own style, stroke, and speed, plus quirks, were very entertaining for those of us watching. Jane Davis liked to lead the houseboat. “Follow me,” she waved while staying on course. “My husband set the course and I can change it!” she hollered.

Karen, ever helpful on board, proved herself to be not only a strong and long haul swimmer, but could turn across the boat’s bow and head for shore quicker than anyone. Luckily as funny as that was to watch, we didn’t let her get away with it.

Meleah has a power kick so lovely that the skipper is thrilled when it’s her turn, as she is easy to sight with her splash - no fear of running her over or leaving her behind. Imre dives gracefully into the water and heads out making it look easy. When its time for him to come in he says, “I can keep going… you look tired.”

Courtney’s now famous “I LOVE SUPER CHOP AT 2 AM!” still makes me chuckle. The Mann brothers, who were expected to swim for hours so the older folks could eat any number of delicious meals provided by Jalapeños, Ivano’s, and the crew, proved they like to eat and sleep as much as the rest of them, maybe more as they disappeared for hours napping in the safety boat.

I recall swimmers musing how “spectacular,” their swim was. “Wonderful.” “The best time I’ve had in ages.” Could it be that long distance swimming takes you to a place of meditative breathing, reflection, and calmness? Or as Eric R. so aptly put it, “Man that moon is beautiful!” so loud the mountain goats were disturbed. People having fun, loving nature, appreciating one another, and all is right with the world.

For me, I’ll always remember salsa and pickle juice don’t mix. When the power is out and they say you have to pee in a bucket, make sure you hold onto the railing, or realize a bucket is for wimps. And an adventure lived is really living.

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