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Because my field is  mathematics, some might believe that I am a fairly logical person. I believe this to be true as well and people generally describe me as a logical thinker.

Why then, do I find myself, on a beautiful July evening in Asheville, North Carolina, standing just one inch shy of what seems like the world’s largest hot bed of coals and why, oh why, am I seriously thinking about walking across it?

Bed of coals

 

Let’s back up a little and review a past event. Just 2 short years ago, not quite to the day, I learned a lesson about fire that I thought I already knew. Never, ever, ever…(did I say never, ever ever?)….try to start a fire with gasoline. I wrote about that post on this blog: The Zen of Fire . Since that time, my relationship with fire has been guarded and hesitant at best with avoidance being my primary strategy. I figure, if I don’t mess with it in any form, then I will not get burned.

Well, not messing with fire ever again isn’t very reasonable. I mean, everyone has to at least strike a match now and then and I am no exception. But walking across a bed of hot coals goes WAY beyond even crazy definitions of reasonable.

So what am I doing standing so close to a hot bed of coals, next in line for walking across???

This summer of 2014 has been one of real transition for me in many ways. I am approaching 50, a hallmark age in any woman’s life, and going through some other challenging life changes and events. So, instead of doing my usual, “summer in Idaho” thing, I decided to spend the summer driving across country and visiting friends and family. One of those visits and lengthy, wonderful stops has been in Black Mountain, NC with my mom and stepdad, Charlie.

This past Sunday, I went to church with Charlie and listened to an announcement about a Firewalking workshop. My interest became piqued as I thought about attending and before you know it I was all signed up and sitting (the next day) in a hall full of potential firewalkers. I say, “potential” because one of the things made clear to us in the workshop was that walking would be entirely optional and actually not really encouraged. I mean, it was FIRE after all and fire is HOT you know.

So, there I was, in a room full of 100 anxious folks waiting to see what the night would bring. After a welcome by Dr. John Waterhouse, our host and one of the church ministers, we exited the room and headed to the fire-building area. Once there, we each took a log from a nearby truck and placed it into the fire area in a very precise manner. The goal was to build the fire so it would generate a long and narrow bed of coals. Once all the logs were in place, we sang a song of community and the assigned match-holders lit the fire (I did not volunteer for this role).

Start of Fire

The fire needed time to burn and assemble itself properly so the crowd headed back into the social hall to spend a few hours discussing the different types of fear (in preparation for the upcoming walk). I won’t go into all the details of the workshop portion but there were some interesting nuggets that I wrote down and thought important enough to remember:

  • Fear is connected only to things that could happen in the future. We are not afraid of things that have already happened (unless we think they might happen again). But fear is a future state.
  • When we are in a state of fear, we cannot think and often cannot move (if our fear is extreme).
  • Fear is a state that is created by our mind and very often, in fact most of the time, what actually happens is much less worse than what we imagined or thought about.

Once the discussion was over and the fire was ready (and the waivers and consent forms signed), we went back out into the night and surrounded the fire. By this time, the logs had burned down and a bed of hot coals lined the walking area.  Those who thought they might walk made their way slowly to the west end of the pit. Those who were unsure or just wanted to be supportive stayed on the other sides.

The first person across was Minister John. He walked first to lead by example and did not seem to have any trouble. He then stayed on the end of the pit to catch the walkers. Another minister sprayed their feet with water from a hose.

Up until we got to the pit, I was not sure I was going to walk. The organizers were pretty adamant that you needed to walk for the right reasons one of those being a real desire to do so. Once I got to the pit and everyone was singing and cheering and being so supportive of those walking, I really got into the idea of it and began to have the desire. It helped to watch a lot of others do it and to know that both Charlie and my mom had both walked before.

So, as I watched person after person make their way through the coals and into the arms of the waiting pastor, I diligently made my way to the walking end of the circle. When I saw a chance, I slowly walked out into the ready position. My mind was strangely calm. As I approached the fire, I tried to remember the things Dr. John had taught us about what to do. All I could remember was…don’t look at the fire…look across to where you will end up, pay attention to what you are doing, and when you are ready go for it!

As I looked across the bed of radiating heat, all I could see was Dr. John standing there, all in white, arms open wide to catch me. I took a deep breath, focused my mind, and calmly took the 3 or 4 steps onto and through and out of the 1250F coals and into his big bear hug.

Just like that it was over. To be honest, I didn’t really feel a thing while I was walking. My feet did not feel hot at all. I think my mind was just focused on the destination and not on my feet so the heat did not really hit me. After the water treatment, I did feel a tiny bit of tingling but my feet were not red nor were they hot or sore the next day.

So, that’s it…poof…less than  4 seconds of placing my feet on hot coals and it was all over. Am I glad I did it? Yes!!!! Do I recommend it? Depends on the motivation and desire of the individual.

Now, let me be very clear that I did and still do believe that a) fire is HOT and b) that if I had stood in one place on those coals my feet would have been blistered beyond recognition. This experience for me was not about some supernatural circumstance or miracle or anything like that. I don’t believe that is what walking on fire is all about. If you move quickly and deliberately through the coals, do not remain in contact with them for long, and your flesh is cooled down at the end, the chances of blistering are very small. That to me is physics not metaphysics or supernatural.

But, what was really going on here for me and for others? The walk was about facing our fears and overcoming them. I mean, what normal, logical, sane, rational person isn’t deeply fearful of walking across a pit of hot coals? I certainly was.  The victory for me and for others was taking that first step out onto the bed of burning coals and doing something that did not seem possible.

So yes, I am glad I walked and had the experience. I feel that I have healed my dysfunctional relationship with fire and that I boosted my confidence for the many changes that are approaching in my life. If you have walked through fire then you can generate the confidence to do most anything else in your life.

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** I do want to provide a disclaimer here of sorts that if someone reading this thinks they might want to try firewalking, do NOT try it on your own! Take a class only from a certified instructor (there are such things and Pastor John is one) and be sure you are working with an experienced and knowledgeable and supportive group of folks. Firewalking is not an adrenaline junkie kind of thing. People that did not sit through the evening’s class were not allowed to walk. You have to be prepared and know what you are getting into and you have to walk for the right reasons and not because you feel pressured or forced. The reality is that if you choose to walk you will be walking on HOT COALS and they are hot…there is no doubt…so there is the possibility for injury that you just accept. So, please do not undertake this lightly if you decide to do so.

 

 

 

I recently attended and completed a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation course at the Northwest Vipassana Center in Onalaska, WA (http://www.kunja.dhamma.org/). While I can’t say that I had “fun” meditating for hours each day, I can say that the experience was worthwhile. I learned a lot about myself and others and would consider doing it again.

During the retreat, we were asked not to use our technology devices. In fact, we were encouraged to turn them in to the center before the retreat began. I complied with the request but left mine in my car for the duration of the event.

The retreat began on a Wednesday evening with a light dinner then 8 pm meditation.  Once the 8 pm sit started, our 10-day noble silence began. During the retreat, there were many things that happened that we could not discuss nor could I share them on Facebook as I might usually do. I did, however, take some notes (ok…we weren’t supposed to be writing or taking notes either but I just could not help myself! Maybe next time I will refrain from writing).

FACEBOOK POSTS I WOULD HAVE MADE

Day 0 (Wednesday):

  • 6 pm – last real dinner and talking for 10 days…better make it good!
  • 8 pm – start of noble silence

Day 1 (Thursday):

  • 4:00 am – I KNOW that was not a gong I just heard waking me up at 4 am. Oh, wait, it was.
  • 4:20 am – joined a line of sleepwalkers heading to the meditation hall
  • 4:30 am – first morning sit – this is going great!
  • 4:40 am – oh, now I am getting sleepy…maybe I should have stayed in bed
  • 5:30 am – made it through an hour…heading back to my room
  • 8:00 am – first formal group sit today
  • 11 am – lunch!!!!! and a break until 1
  • 1 – 2:30 optional room sit
  • 2:30 – group sit in the hall
  • 3:30 – 5 optional room sit
  • 5:00 – dinner! Oh wait, nothing to get excited about…tea and a piece of fruit…stomach growl
  • 6 pm – group sit
  • 7 pm – evening discourse
  • 8:30 – group sit
  • 9:30 lights out – first official day is over

Day 2 (Friday)

  • 8 am sit – is someone next to me wearing lavender lotion? Ugh…I can’t breathe!!!! Very allergic!!!! Must talk to course manager. Oh, great excitement to speak!

Day 3 (Saturday)

  • 11 am – lunch – is that a CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE??????? OMG!!!!!!

Day 4 (Sunday)

  • 12 noon – this WAS going to be my shower day but the water is out…so…just rough it for another day. It’s not like people around me can talk and tell me I stink. :-0)

Day 5 (Monday)

  • Water back on but big scare this morning – no power = no hot water = no shower!!!! Good thing the power came back on before lunch. I am sure they would have kicked me out for aroma issues.

Day 6 (Tuesday)

  • Can’t believe I have meditated 30 hours in 6 days. That is some kind of record for me.
  • Finally had to ask for protein at dinner. Tea and fruit were not cutting it. Yeah cottage cheese!

Day 7 (Wednesday)

  • Getting antsy for the days to pass a little faster. When you aren’t talking or working on the computer you sure have a lot of time to be aware of the passing of time.

Day 8 (Thursday)

  • 8 days already? Time for another shower. Woohoo!!!
  • Do I see CHOCOLATE CAKE on the table at lunch?????? Right ON!!!!
  • Big meditation breakthrough today – finally realizing that life is constant change – will I remember this in the morning???

Day 9 (Friday)

  • I am so dreaming of pepperoni pizza today…mmmm

Day 10 (Saturday)

  • We finally got to talk today after the morning sit…didn’t really want to at first but my roommate came over and chatted and helped break the ice. Felt weird to hear my voice. Sounded like it was coming from somewhere else.

Day 11 (Sunday)

  • Retreat ended at 6:30 am. Time for breakfast, pack the car, then drive to Idaho. Worthwhile experience!

 

Getting in the Groove - Photo by Sian Proctor

Getting in the Groove – Photo by Sian Proctor

 

I have been an open water swimmer for about 5 years and have completed open water swims of varying lengths from 800 meters to over 6 miles.  I am not a professional by any means but I have had enough time and experience to become comfortable with the open water environment and offer some advice to others.  My experience has been primarily in lake waters since that is what I have access to so my advice will not include considerations unique to ocean swimming (of which there are plenty!). If you are a triathlete getting ready for your first race and it involves an OWS, or if you doing your first OWS as a stand-alone event, I recommend you consider the following things:

1. Wetsuit

  • Use one if allowed.
  • Get one that fits.
  • Rent or buy a used one to save money.
  • Practice in the open water with your wetsuit prior to your event.
  • Lube up around your neck, shoulders (if sleeveless suit), and wrists (Body glide or other).
  • Let it hang inside out to dry and store on a hanger when dry.

2. Goggles

  • Get ones that fit and don’t fog up.
  • Consider smoke color for sun protection.
  • Have several pairs the day of the race.
  • Practice adjusting them while treading in water over your head.
  • NEVER touch the lenses with your fingers.
  • Wipe them out with your tongue, then wet in water to clean.
  • To fit them at the store, stick them to your face without the strap. If they don’t fall off for about 10 seconds, they fit.

3. Sea Sickness

  • Earplugs help with motion sickness
  • Training a lot in open water helps you get over mild sea sickness

4. Breathing

  • Bilateral (both sides) will help you maintain a straight course
  • Waves and other swimmers being close may force you to breathe on one side
  • If water is wavy, time your breaths to avoid sucking in water

5. Sighting

  • Get a feel for the course (overview map) prior to the swim including any obstacles or danger areas.
  • Pick something large that is father away but in line with the buoy to site from
  • Develop a rhythm that seems to work…5 strokes, sight or 10 strokes, sight
  • Practice sighting in the pool by doing “head-up freestyle” drill for 50 – 100 m
  • Learn to sight quickly as part of your stroke and avoid stopping and going vertical
  • You can follow someone else if they are on a good line (and you can even draft)

6. Training

  • Train with longer pool sets prior to your race (1000 m or 1500 m depending on your race distance).
  • Train in open water if possible at least 3 – 4 times (or more) prior to your event. Never swim alone unless you are in an area with lifeguards present.

7. Swim Time

  • Swimming in open water always takes longer than the same distance in a pool.

8. Incidental Contact/Race Etiquette

  • Contact will occur with many people in the water. It is unavoidable.
  • It is the passing swimmers responsibility to go around the swimmer in front. If someone bumps you from behind, stay your course. They need to figure out how to go around you.
  • If you stop, don’t stop right at a buoy or you will get run over. Stop and look around you quickly to be sure you are not directly in someone’s way.

10. Swim Your Race

  • When race day comes, don’t worry about anyone else.
  • Do your warm-up and be ready when the starting horn sounds.
  • Be sure you know where to start, where to swim, and where to finish.
  • The first few minutes are a adrenaline rush so give yourself a chance to calm down and relax.
  • Find your space to swim where you can be comfortable but be aware of those around you and of the route you are swimming.
  • If you panic, just stop, relax and breathe.
  • If you need to rest, you can do so on a kayak as long as you do not make forward progress.
  • Enjoy the event and all the training and hard work you have put into swimming!

Bali Touring

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I did not get to see much of Bali until the second night of the conference. All the conference participants were invited to visit one one of the palaces of Raja Majapahit Bali XIX, the current king of Bali, and to have dinner with he and other dignitaries afterwards. We drove what appeared on the map to be a short distance north and east of the conference site but that actually took over 2 hours in driving. I had boarded the “slow bus” which not only traveled last in our caravan but actually broke down (out of gas?) along the way. But we finally arrived and entered the palace grounds and walked around the spacious area.

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photo(16)The palace was located in a very lush and hilly area of the country. One section of the grounds contained a bathing area where locals could come and wash away their sins in the local water. Although we did tour that area, I declined to take part in the bathing ritual. :-0)

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A short drive away from the palace took us to our location for diner. The evening was filled with local dancing and speeches by the current king of Bali as well as other dignitaries. We were seated in a couple of rooms filled with history displays about Bali.

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Friday was a full conference day but we hired a great driver for Saturday and made our way from the hotel North and East to the area called Ubud. Our goal was the monkey forest. Along the way, we stopped (and shopped) and toured at a place where batik fabric designs were made. We bought lots of gifts…clothes, purses, scarves, etc… to find a place for in our checked baggage!

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Places in Bali are not that far apart but they might as well be due to traffic and road construction. A trip of 30 km, which in Phoenix might take 30 minutes even with traffic, can take well over 2 hours and such was the case today. However, traveling at a slow rate of speed allows one to enjoy the local sights AND work up an appetite! As we arrived in Ubud around lunchtime, we stopped at a fabulous cafe for lunch and refreshments. The name of our wonderful driver was also Wayan (no relation to the owners) so he posed for a photo outside.

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Interestingly, Wayan ordered pizza for lunch.

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The rest of us ordered Asian food. My selection: Nasi goreng met krupuk udang  (fried rice with seafood).

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We made it to the monkey forest after lunch and enjoyed some fun times with the local monkeys especially the little ones. Can you see ALL the monkeys in the photos below???? :-0)

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Our last stop for the day was the local rice terraces just north of Ubud. A quick stop here, more shopping, then we made our way back to the hotel and called it a day.

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Bali Bound

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Monday, May 4 I left Phoenix, Arizona at 6:39 pm headed, via LA and Hong Kong, to Bali, Indonesia. The purpose of this trip is to attend and present at an international conference (the Open CourseWare Consortium Conference). I will be posting more information about the conference on my professional blog, but wanted to get something started here just for the first part of the trip. I will pick up again here with more trip info when I head to Cambodia on May 12th.

Checking in at Sky Harbor was a breeze and took all of 5 minutes ( as opposed to the hours and hours wait at LAX that I have gone through previously). Not only that, my luggage was checked all the way to Bali! Quick flight on Delta to LA, nice dinner at the Encounters restaurant, and then off to my 15 hour flight to Hong Kong. I did try and upgrade to “premium economy” seating but alas…only coach was available. Fifteen hours, three movies. one meal (I slept through dinner), and hours of sleeping later, I arrived in Hong Kong for a 5 hour layover.

Arrival in Hong Kong was at about 6 am so not much was open except the food court. I immediately helped myself to a bowl of shrimp dumplings soup (yum!) and settled in to wait. Amazingly, a colleague from California was on the same flight from Hong Kong so we connected and spent some airport time together before the flight.

About 30 minutes before we boarded, I dosed up on my usual dramamine pill but also thought I should take my decongestant as well. BAD IDEA!!!! No sooner had I boarded the plane and sat down (thankfully only two rows from the toilet) than I knew I was in trouble of the worst kind to have on an airplane. My seatmate must have thought I was part jack-in-the-box as I kept jumping up and down to squeeze in line between the other passengers as the flight progressed. Finally, I resorted to just standing in the corner by the flight attendant station and alternating between the other passengers as they took care of their needs. What a flying nightmare. Of the 4 hour flight, I think I spent 3 hours and 30 minutes of that time out of my seat. The flight attendants were so sweet and caring and they did their best to make me feel better. Thankfully, symptoms subsided just before we landed and I was able to navigate the landing, terminal navigation, visa and immigration and customs requirements without any trouble.

Upon arrival in Bali, I was amazed at all the familiar looking restaurants, etc.. that I saw. Starbucks (of course…there was one in Hong Kong as well), Burger King, and (biggest shock of all) Cold Stone Creamery! Go figure. If I had felt better, I probably would have tried it just to compare.

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A short ride through Denpasar and we arrived at our hotel (pictured at the top of the page). This is indeed a lavish place and I am thankful for a very reasonable conference rate for my room! The grounds are immense as they are for all the hotels in this area. We are in Nusa Dua which is really a segregated tourist area. There are security checkpoints for every entrance/exit to this part of the island (south eastern cost of Bali). The streets are very clean and the area lush and lavish with vegetation. I did something this morning that I have not done in Asia yet…I went out for a 2 mile run. I felt very safe and even saw others (tourists and locals) exercising in the area.

In different parts of the grounds there are these signs that I could not immediately figure out (having no personal frame of reference for them). What do you think they mean??? My colleague suggested that they tell where high ground is in case of tsunami. Now THAT makes total sense.

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I saw another sign near the hotel lagoon and thought it too interesting not to share. I had not seen any alligators in the pond as of yet. However, when I went down to breakfast they literally had a fenced off area with a feeding station so people could grab some food and throw it to the exotic birds and the two very small gators I saw. The reptiles looked like babies. I wonder where mama was???

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A trip to this part of Bali would not be complete without access to the beach which is indeed just outside of the hotel. The surf is pretty strong and I know there are some fierce tides so I have not yet ventured out very far. I am thinking I might just stick to swimming laps in the hotel pool and not take a chance on meeting any of the local sea life. :-0)

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Today is time to recover from jet lag, orient myself to the conference, review my notes for my presentation tomorrow, and connect with colleagues that are attending. I am excited at the list of attendees and sessions being presented in an area that I am very excited and passionate about: OER (Open Educational Resources).

 

There is a Zen saying that goes like this…”If you know and you do not do, then you do not know”. This saying was actualized in my life just one short week ago. It’s been difficult to even think about what happened mostly due to thinking about what COULD have happened and how stupid I was. Yes, the story relates to the image of the very burned gas can. Consider this my public service announcement for how NOT to try and start a fire…

Tuesday, July 17, 2012…6 pm

I had invited my 4 and 8 year old nieces down to make S’mores. We have a nice fire-pit down on the lake level and I had yet to use it for S’mores this year. When I got the call they were heading over, I ran down to start the fire.

6:15 pm

Due to very wet weather the previous few days, the weeds and grass and wood in the pit were very wet. Using newspaper and cardboard and tree bark failed to produce a persistent flame. My goal was to have the fire going and ready when the girls arrived. When conventional methods failed, I came up with the idea to add some other kind of fuel to the pit. Here is the thought process that went through my mind.

Stupid Me: “Hey, I will go up to the shed and get some gas”.
Smart Me: “Wait, I don’t think that’s safe. Well, I will just go and see what we have”.

So, I darted up the hill to the shed looking, in fact, for the can of gas that Greg keeps in there JUST for fire starting. This can has a lot of oil in it so the fumes are kept to a minimum. Upon arrival at the shed, I did not see this can. However, I did see a full, 1-gallon can of premium gas sitting there.

Stupid Me: “Hey, I can use that premium gas”.
Smart Me: “Wait, starting a fire with gas is not safe because of the fumes. I have seen flame follow fumes before”.
Stupid Me: “Well, I will just use a little bit so it will be ok.”
Smart Me: “Put the gas in something so you just take a little bit down there with you”.
Stupid Me: “Oh, NO! It’s not safe to put gas IN another container. I will just carry the entire can down to the pit”.

6:30 pm

I hear the girls coming (along with their parents, Suzi and Vinny), and I race down the hill holding the 1-gallon can of premium gas. As I approach the semi-smouldering fire-pit, I swear that time goes into slow motion. The only problem with time slowing down is that my brain slows down and the smart thoughts are just a little too far behind the stupid ones. Kind of like when I was much younger and I thought I could unfreeze my truck camper external lock by putting my mouth around the handle and breathing warm air on it…JUST as the tip of my tongue touched the frozen metal, my brain caught up to my body and I jerked my tongue away avoiding the embarrassment of being stuck to my truck by my tongue by mere milliseconds.

6:31 pm

Stupid Me: Too much in planning mode to even have a coherent thought as the gasoline begins to make its way out of the can toward the fire-pit.
Smart Me: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Stop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

6:31:01 pm

All hell breaks loose. Fire explodes up and away from the pit in a big WHOOSH and the flames followed the fumes up into the 1-gallon container I was holding in my hand. All I remember is first seeing the fire in the pit and then looking into the can and seeing flames in the can…the can…that..was…in…my…hand!

6:31:05 pm

Stupid Me: “OH MY GOSH, OH MY GOSH…I am holding a can of gas that is one fire” (as I whirl around in place)…”what do I do? what do I do? Where do I throw it? Oh, in the lake!”
Smart Me: “NO…do NOT throw that can in the lake. The water will not put it out and you will catch the dock and jet ski and boat on fire. Throw it towards the pit” (first smart thought had acted on in the last 20 minutes).

6:31:10 pm

The plastic gas can, full to the hilt with gas, is blazing on the stones around my fire pit. Behind me. some of the gas had spurted and started a small limb and grass on fire. I am frantically running around trying to put out the flames. I throw the limb into the lake and douse the grass fire with a cushion. At that moment, my brother-in-law Vinny comes running down. We both grab a hose and turn on the water. Luckily, we have two spigots and enough pressure to contain the fuel for the 30 minutes it took to burn out that 1-gallon can of gas. That was, indeed, the longest 30 minutes of my life.

7:01 pm

Fire is out, all are safe, no damage to life or limb or property (other than the burned gas can and the indelible images “burned” into my brain).

One-week later

Wow, the lessons learned from this experience are almost too numerous to list but I will try.

  • NEVER, EVER, EVER try and start a fire with pure gasoline. Lighter fluid would work just fine.
  • NEVER let your “to-do” list trump safety. I was so focused on having the fire ready that I threw caution to the wind.
  • ALWAYS know where your fire-extinguishers are. Gosh, we have three of them on the property. Bless me if I could even think where they were even though there was one very close by.

I guess that about sums it up. So thankful my BIL, Vinny was close by and my SIL, Suzi, too. So thankful the kids were not close by (they stayed up on the hill away from danger). So thankful that I was not turned into a crispy critter. So thankful I did not throw the can into the lake and burn up our dock and everything attached to it. So thankful I did not burn up my neighbor’s house, my whole side of the bay, etc… So many, many things to be thankful for.

I figure I lost my fire-marshal status, but at least I did not lose my life. Cheers and safe fire-building!

Swimming for Life

Aug 2, 2011, 6:40 am

The water feels surprisingly warm on my toes and ankles as I step from Jim Thompson’s pebble beach at Kilroy Bay into the waters of Lake Pend Oreille. My sleeveless wetsuit protects my core and legs as I make my way into the lake for my pre-swim ritual; get in, let the water fill my wetsuit at the neck, walk out slowly as the moisture works it way down through my suit and out the bottom, reposition the wetsuit, then repeat the entire process. Standing in the lake looking toward Garfield Bay, I can just make out the trees far, far in the distance. Actually, I can’t see individual trees but more like a sold wall of dark green with one white house at the top. The numbers keep churning around in my head…5.3 miles…8500 meters…340 laps in the long course gym pool back in Phoenix…a solid four hours in the water and farther than I have ever swum previously. I take one last look at Garfield Bay from solid ground, position my goggles, and head out into the water.

Swim Start at Kilroy - Photo by Sian Proctor

May, 2008

I have been a regular resident at our Garfield Bay home every summer since 2001. Every year, the first Saturday in August, we drove across the Long Bridge and headed home to Phoenix. Every year, we would see hundreds of people gathered on the bridge waving and cheering to the swimmers below. I learned that this event was called the Long Bridge Swim and that it took place the first Saturday of August each year. From 2001 to 2006, as we made our way home and the swimmers made their way across Lake Pend Oreille I thought, “there is no way I could make that crossing”.  In 2007 as we stopped to let the buses cross in front of us I suddenly decided that I would try the swim the next year.

Life and work took over and it wasn’t until May of 2008 that I actually entered a pool to prepare. I joined SWAC (Sandpoint West Athletic Club) when I arrived in Idaho late May of 2008. The club has a masters swim group, but I was too scared to join. So, with the help of a couple of books and some YouTube videos on proper freestyle form, I ventured into the pool several times each week and made my way across the pool and back.

I learned very quickly (I mean I know, of course, but I REALLY learned) that humans cannot breathe water! Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson over and over as I could barely swim 25 meters without gasping for breath or swallowing half the pool. Due to my lack of lung power and general lack of knowledge about efficient movement in the water (YouTube videos notwithstanding), I developed a sort of lurching motion that moved me more side-to-side than it did down the lane.

Eventually, I amassed enough yardage and after a few forays into the lake for practice, I felt I could manage the distance of the Long Bridge Swim. I finished the swim that year, using what my husband called “pollywog style” in just under 2 hours.

Aug 2, 2011, 6:45 am

“Wow, it’s really wavy out here, “I thought to myself as I took my first few strokes away from Kilroy Bay. Wind blew steadily out of Hope and the waves hit the right corner of my head making breathing a challenge and navigation almost impossible. Mike Ehredt was on his paddleboard next to me and would be there for the entire swim. I knew the waves were pretty bad when I could not see his feet or ankles on the board when breathing his direction. There’s something about being in the water, though, that makes the chop and waves not feel as bad. I knew I was being tossed and turned around a bit, but I just put my head down and kept turning my arms over. At some point, I saw Kate out of the corner of my eye stroking past me. She had started a few minutes after me and looked like she was settling into the waves as well.

Getting in the Groove - Photo by Sian Proctor

May, 2009

Time to think about getting ready for the Long Bridge Swim (LBS) again. I swam just a little bit during the spring of 2009 and had a few coaching lessons so felt I was making some progress. I was still too scared to swim with a masters group once I got to Idaho so I joined SWAC and embarked once again on my own training program. After doing my own thing for a few weeks, I got up the nerve to ask the masters coach if he thought I would do ok in his class. “Absolutely”, he said and , “we would love to have you”. The rest of that summer until the LBS, I trained with the pool group and hit the lake a few times. By this time, I had started working on bilateral breathing (both sides) and did not look as much like a pollywog, but my form was still very inefficient. I learned a lot from the coach but still had a VERY LONG way to go.  I swam the LBS and improved my time from the year before. However, I had such a bad day at that swim with nausea and feeling very slow in the water, that I decided I hated swimming and would never do it again.

Aug 2, 2011, 7:10 am

Time for the first feeding stop of the day. Mike crouched down on the paddleboard and handed me an open bottle.  We were planning on about 4 hours in the water and stopping every 30- 45 minutes for either water of fuel. My fuel was in the form of a Hammer Gel product called Perpetuem. Mixed with water, the powder provides fuel during exertion and, being in liquid form, allows me to digest it while swimming. Eating and swimming, or should I say digesting and swimming, are tricky things to do at the same time. I learned through training that I a) had to eat solid food at least 2+ hours before getting in the water b) could only ingest liquids during the swim (except for the occasional chocolate covered coffee bean) and c) had to eat no later than the first hour into swimming. Heartburn is a common malady of swimmers and you learn very quickly what you can and can’t eat and how long before you swim that you need to stop eating.

Feedting Time - Photo by Sian Proctor

May, 2010

Time to start thinking about the LBS again, BUT, I wasn’t swimming. The 2009 LBS was the last time I had been in the water and I had set my mind totally against ever swimming again. In fact, I seemed to have lost interest in working out at all and just dabbled in a few activities here and there. Being a competitive athlete in three to four sports my whole life, I was trained to gear up for “events”. Games, tournaments, and competitions kept me going in athletics for years. As an adult, playing on teams and competing in leagues or signing up for events always provided a way to stay active. With no events on the horizon and no LBS on my schedule, I floundered in a limbo of non-activity.  But, just because I wasn’t swimming didn’t stop my friends from swimming. Kate and Jodee, two of my good friends, were heading into Sandpoint at the end of July and both were planning to do the swim. When the day arrived, I shuttled them into town and took pictures from the bridge. Once the horn sounded and the mass of swimmers moved forward, I regretted my decision not to do the swim again. Right then, I planned on 2011 and I think I was the 12th person to register for the next year’s event.

Aug 8, 2010

Sometime shortly after the LBS swim on Aug 7 and before I packed up and headed back to Phoenix, Kate and I were sitting on the dock at our place. From the structure, we look out at the Green Monarchs and can see the houses of Kilroy Bay far in the distance.  Off and on over the years, we had talked about swimming from Kilroy back to Garfield. Usually, the conversation ended with, “yeah, you go ahead and don’t look but I will be right behind you”.  This time, however, the discussion was different. Some plans were made and logistics settled and we made the decision. 2011 would be our year to attempt the swim.

Aug 2, 2011, 9:00 am

The wind had finally diminished and I continued to take one stroke at a time across the lake.  On my right side, all I could see was lake and the mountains around Scotchman’s Peak. On my left, I could make out the houses and cliffs of Talache and knew I was making progress. I could no longer see Kate in from of me, but I could see the paddles of her support kayak coming out of the water on occasion and knew she was somewhere ahead and to my right. Turns out that her initial heading would have taken her to Green Bay off to the right and getting back on track took some time. 

 

Kate Waving - Photo Sian Proctor

One of the most challenging aspects of long distance swimming is boredom. Many swimmers quit during an event just because they get tired of being in the water and don’t seem to be making any headway. Once the initial flurry of activity related to getting in and settling in the water is over, the actual, “stroke, stroke, stroke” can get a little monotonous.  Every long distance swimmer adopts their own mental games and gymnastics to help them get through a long event. For me, counting strokes really helps. I get a sense of how far I have gone and the numbers hold a place in my mind that requires some concentration and prevents negative thoughts and self-talk from taking hold. The mind is such a powerful thing and really comes into play for long-distance swimming. Each number that I count is a stroke set (right-left-right or left-right-left) so if I count to 100 I have really traveled 300 strokes. I know about how many strokes for how many meters so I generally count to 300 and then go as far after that as possible before taking a break.

September 1, 2010

I returned to Phoenix with a sense of athletic purpose and determination related to swimming. This was the year I would really take on the sport and see what I could do. I started swimming regularly at my local gym then, in October, I finally joined a masters’ group near my home. Kate belonged to the same group and having a partner to get up three times a week at 5 am and swim from 5:15 – 6:30 helped a tremendous amount. There were many days that if Kate were not there, I would not have gone and vice versa. I swam with the masters’ group, swam some on my own, entered local events, had underwater filming done to analyze my swimming, and took private lessons from our master’s coach. I increased my mileage during the year and eventually swam a 4000 meter (2.5) mile race in May. Once I arrived in Idaho, I trained with Mike Ehredt. He had me focus on swimming 4 – 6 times per week with increasingly longer training swims each week then work on core and balance exercises on land. By the time the day of the swim arrived, I felt anxious but ready.

Aug 2, 2011, 10:15 – 10:42 am

As I came into Garfield Bay and begin to spot familiar landmarks, I started to pick up speed. Neighbors and family were out on their docks waving and providing support. The Sheriff Marine unit came by and provided a final escort into the beach with lights and siren blaring. As I approached the beach I churned my arms faster and moved as quickly as I could. Suddenly, the bottom of the lake appeared and touched my hands to the sand. Friends and family greeted me and helped me exit the water. Final time for me was 4:02 and for Kate was 3:50. We felt really good and solid with our effort and extremely thankful for all the support. There was no time during the swim that I thought I would not make it even though there were plenty of times I thought about how far I still had to go. My training and preparation had made me ready for the day and the support crews allowed me (and Kate) to focus on just swimming.

 

Sheriff Escort - Photo Sian Proctor

Swimmers and Crew - Photo Sian Proctor

Aug 7, 2011

Yesterday, I swam the LBS for the third time. The event was as fun as ever and, though mentally very challenging to enter the water again so soon after the Kilroy swim, I eventually settled in and had a good time. During the LBS, I thought a lot about this sport of swimming. It is not one that I came to naturally or easily. Though I grew up playing sports, I did not grow up swimming (other than learning not to drown) and there are some movements particular to efficient swimming that are challenging to learn as an adult if they are not ingrained when young. Someone close to me asked if I had “gotten swimming out of my system” and would now let it go. The question really bothered me at first but the more I thought the more I realized it had merit. So, as I stroked my way, one arm at a time, through the LBS this year I tried to answer the question realistically for myself. I thought and thought and swam and swam and as I raised my arms in and out of the cool waters of Lake Pend Oreille, I had my answer. “No!” And again, “NO, I have NOT gotten swimming out of my system. I think what I have done is gotten swimming INTO my system and my plan is for it to never get out!” As Eric Ridgway (LBS organizer) says, “Swimming is for Life” and now I believe that and plan to act on it as well.

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