Friday, August 25, 2017

Solo Swim of Lake George with Team 32

Swimming alongside my son, Quinn Simpson.

It has been quite an adventure, both the swim and the astonishing community response-- In a nutshell, as the dreaded Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." The lake had dropped a few key degrees, which I had trained for, but I was hopeful. The first night was cool, but beautiful. Clear sky, I watched the moon rise over the mountains, and made good progress. I did look forward to the sunrise, in hopes that it would make me a bit warmer. 

The first night was so calm and clear, I thought a lot of Sarah Thomas, one lake over, making her way north in Lake Champlain after her first night was so wretched. I wished there were a way to find out how she was doing, but I loved the fact that we were swimming together. Matching diaper cream!!! Everyone should take on that style.

As beautiful as the sunrise was, and the day as it progressed, I did not notice an increase in warmth-- in fact, daylight just let me see more clearly the goosebumps on my arms under the Desitin. I did a few sunrise strokes of Butterfly for my friend Doris Russell back in Maryland-- in her mid 90s, and USMS record holder for a few fly events in her recent age groups. I knew it wasn't going to be an option at the end.

We had a second boat to shuttle in a morning kayaker, and two overnight kayakers departed.  I started daydreaming about warm soup and pizza, one of the men on the boat, Tom, mentioned bringing a Bunsen burner! He warmed up some of my son's blue Gatorade for me-- totally disgusting, but warm. It offered momentary comfort-- and showed how very supportive Team 32 was. 

I could tell it was a beautiful day from the sunshine, and the fact that the team kept taking off jackets and lounging in t-shirts.  Mid-afternoon of August 9, we hit a squall. I worried about thunder, and swam harder to manage the waves and wind. The boat had to back away a bit, but my son Quinn hit his stride as a kayaker- navigating the waves, keeping me on course. I could see him really come into his own, and was so glad he had come to be part of the team. The silver lining of the storm was that I was warm, but knew I could not maintain that pace and warmth for long. 

When Jim C. paddled to the group near Hague to take on the last leg of my swim, he had two water bottles of chicken noodle soup!!! YES!!!!! Warm, warm, warm. He said to take the cap off to get the noodles and chicken, but I had ingested enough lake water by that time (and the first thing I teach beginners is NEVER drink the water- it has feet in it.), and I only drank the broth through the squeeze cap. I was aware of people boating and paddling closer to see what was going on, and Quinn waving people away so they didn't cross my path.

Knowing I was in the Hague area was a mixed blessing. I had swum while Marsha paddled from the Hague beach to Ticonderoga weeks prior in 4:20, and figured I'd need an extra hour to get totally to Diane's Rock, and more to account for tiredness. I could see Anthony's Nose (a sort of peninsula I had to go around) in the distance, and thought I might still finish by full dark. But I just couldn't make progress toward Anthony's blasted Nose. My original training plan involved a progression past 15 miles to 20 and 25, but life happens, and I wasn't able to do more than split a 25 mile swim across about 36 hours. I knew it was a risk, and the last section of the swim might have gone better had I realized a few things would shift for me beyond a certain point.

Things that changed in the second half, or at least last third- I wanted the paddlers much closer, and didn't care where the main boat was. I wanted to throw up often, but worked at keeping steady to not alarm my very novice crew. Letting it go and starting with fresh food might have given me a bit of a boost. My feeding plan was great in the first half, as it mirrored training. Having more time for longer swims would have been smart, but I certainly learned a lot in this swim. (Happy to share, not doing it again.) I was very aware that I was hallucinating, but figured that as long as I knew it, I was ok. I'd take a breath and see black spray paint graffiti on the sky over a paddler's head, and it would be gone in the next breath. My eyes started closing before darkness fell on the second night.

When I finally passed that blasted Nose, and was at Rogers Rock, I knew I was within what should have been two hours. I have no idea of the real time, but it was likely closer to four by the time I got to Diane's Rock. I was shifting to breaststroke and side stroke periodically, and my freestyle count had gone from 55 at the start to in the 30s at the end. But I was moving, and although people who had seen me swim could tell I was very slow, I felt solid for the last stretch while doing freestyle. Odd. But I was flanked by Quinn on my left, and Jim C. on my right. Quinn would yell (I had earplugs), "MOM! Eat this- you need solid food." and hand me a small bite sized piece of a protein bar. Sassy lad, eh? And I was a good Mom and did not spit it into the lake, no matter how my stomach felt. Alternately, Jim would just reach a soup bottle toward me, and I'd roll over to drink some and then swim on.

Rogers Rock to Diane's Rock passed in a muddled blur, and I had no idea that people were following me in boats, on docks, lining the beach to cheer, and posting all over Facebook about my progress. Many people told me of going from one point to another to keep up. I remember the bright lights of the Baldwin boat launch, and very little else. When I got to Diane's Rock, I slipped and climbed and scrambled my way clear of the water, and hit the stop button on my watch. 28:06. Quinn was kayaking to the end, the boat with his iPhone was back a bit in deeper water to avoid rocks, and so the tracker kept going until he got to it.

I had to scramble back into the channel to climb out a few feet away onto my friend Joan's property-- where family and friends had gathered at her "point" nearby. I was bundled up, someone said it was after 1:15am, and I saw Jim Beaty's boat just past where I was sitting, but did not see any of my team beyond Quinn that night. It was late, everyone needed to get sleep, and I think we were all glad to be in Ticonderoga, and not have to drive from Lake George Village. I had a lovely shower in Joan's house, stopped by a few days later with all sorts of cleaning supplies to make up for the totally rude mess I made (although Mom and my aunt, Martha cleaned it up, and Joan said not to worry about the carpet). Really???? How to be a good guest? Ew. Once I was home, my own garden took a hit before I was settled on that front. Yes-haw. TMI? Your turn may come.

I was up and about the next day, and my son was my driver, as I was feeling a bit loopy. I had jet lag for most of a week- couldn't sleep at night, tried to nap. Got really hungry, but couldn't eat much. Weird.
I was thrilled to hear about Sarah's astonishing triumph-- and glad to see familiar faces at the Betsy Owen's swim in Lake Placid the following Saturday. I wasn't setting any personal best times, but I did the 2 & 1 mile swims and felt great. I knew I needed to keep moving, and going to that swim helped. I really hope I can pull off a 10K this weekend. It's a grudge swim-- it turned into a 7.5 K last summer, but I'm hoping I've done the miles at such a consistent pace for up to 10 miles that I make the cut off for the last loop.

There has been an overwhelming outpouring of support, and I'm still hearing stories of people who came out at all hours to be a part of it. Even this post from Mike, I just saw this morning. In a town where high school football is king, I was on the McDonald's sign, and had August 10 proclaimed Bridget Simpson Day. (No break on my taxes, but there were pretty flowers!). Someone I teach swimming with is planning to focus her daily swims and work toward a 5 or 10K next summer. How cool is that?

I likely had the single most inexperienced team to undertake a swim of this magnitude since Webb swam the Channel in 1875, but we did it!!!! Happy dance!!!! Team 32 got it together and set the bar high. And they were very good sports when I took so much longer than hoped.

Team 32
Jim Beaty- pilot                             
Tom Cunningham- main observer and recorder, backup pilot
Quinn Simpson- backup observer and recorder, tech support for Tracker software
Janet Lawrence- back up pilot, shuttle captain, kayaker
Kayakers:  Virginia Westbrook, Janet Lawrence, Marsha LaPoint, Quinn Simpson, Jim Cunningham


  1. Doors! Possibly the word "portholes" should be used since it was an aquatic adventure! You confronted a door. It was made out of concrete. It had steel reinforcing beams. On the door was stenciled, "LG 32." Not only did you push it open, but you knocked it over! In so doing, you showed Team 32 that there is no door too big for us to push open!

    1. Thanks so much- for swimming, for paddling, for crewing, for soup, and for confidence. Maybe someday, not the whole 32, but the last bit, in a decent span of time. . . ;-) A scenic joyride. Onward!!!

  2. Wow! What a story. Being cold. Feeling nauseous. Being tired. All good reasons to opt for a nice boat ride home.
    You're in good fighting form. A feather in your cap!

    1. The main reason for swimming north was to finish close to home and not need much of a ride of any kind. ;-)

      What a summer to have done my big swim-- in such good company with other fabulous swimmers- Carolyn Block kicked off the summer in Lake George and went on to attempt the first double crossing of the North Channel- a stubborn tide kept her in place for hours, unfortunately, then Sarah Thomas swam Lake Champlain while I swam Lake George, setting her 104 mile world record, Pat Gallant-Charette became the oldest English Channel swimmer at 66, Chloe McCardel just started her challenge to become the first Quadruple English Channel Crosser ever, and Deborah Herridge and I have been Facebook training partners-- her window of opportunity to get an English Channel start tide just opened- she has been using her crossing to do massive fundraising for 5 charities in the UK- just passing a collective 7,000 pounds.

      Dare I say, my head is swimming with it all????! :-D