166 Swimmers Get Wet at Saguaro Lake

DCB Adventures pulled off the first of five open water events planned for the 2009 Arizona Open Water series at Saguaro Lake on May 2. 166 swimmers turned out for an even showing in the 2K and 4K events. It was a beautiful Arizona spring day, slightly overcast but warm.

I carpooled a crew from Tucson. The drive to the lake took about 2 hours, not including the backtracking we had to do to obtain the required Tonto parking pass. Future event goers: Don't make this mistake! The sparkling lake was in our sight when we learned we had to turn around, drive ten miles back from whence we came and buy the $6 pass. We weren't the only ones. (Knew I shouldn't have neglected to read that detail on the entry form.) Fortunately, we had time to spare, barely.

At 9:30, we parked amidst numerous boat trailers and speed walked to the shore and site of the race start. Check in went smoothly. We were marked and given nice tote bags full of goo and stuff. There was plenty of shade and picnic tables to store our gear as we stripped down to our suits and lathered on the sunscreen. Someone from Swimmotion was offering open water swimming advice over a bullhorn.

I was a little nervous about the water temperature, ever since a park ranger had told me over the phone that it was 30 degrees lower than the air temperature, so I immediately strode up to a Speedo-clad swimmer and asked if she knew what the temp was. She said she'd been in the week before and it had been 68 and bearable. It had since warmed up to 70--perfect for a long swim by my standards. I stuck my toe thermometer in just to be sure. (I'd brought a wet suit just in case.) It felt very refreshing indeed.

I decided to wear two caps as a token of respect for my brain. There's nothing worse than cold pounding into your brain by way of the ears. As it turned out, it was a non issue. I jumped in five minutes before the race and was comfortable in my skin within 10 seconds. I warmed up for a few hundred yards and settled in with the other swimmers, treading water between the green buoys for the start.

The 4K wet suit division had already departed. There were only a dozen or so of us swimming in skin and we listened as the starter, David Benjes, bobbing in the water with us, explained the course. It was straightforward enough, with triangular buoys big and visible. A police boat was patrolling the course to keep curious boaters away, and a few kayakers were positioned to keep swimmers on course. Suddenly we were off.

I forgot to look at my watch. But I wasn't thinking about that. I was trying to set a pace I could sustain the whole way, feeling a bit tight through the shoulders and arms. I attributed it to the cold, and lack of a long warm up. I regretted this instantly. As my biceps started to loosen up, my toes began to cramp. Nothing I haven't experienced before, and much worse, in La Jolla. I flexed my ankles til it went away. At least nobody was kicking me in the head.

Soon I was passing people in wetsuits. We swam through a few places with a noticeable current and wind chop, which stopped some people in their tracks, I noticed. They were doing breastroke. Looking around. Big waste of time. You can't make it up. So, like Dory, I just kept swimming, sighting with my eyes whenever I needed to, rarely having to lift my head out of the water. I was in my stride now, no heavy breathing, just swimming long.

Somewhere around 1000 meters I felt pain in my chest. Is that my heart? I asked myself. Nah, I told myself. Just a muscle. The heart's a muscle, myself told me. Nah. Just a chest muscle. I raised my eyes to see if a kayak was near, just in case. Stranger things have happend. There wasn't a kayak that I could see. So I just kept swimming and the pain went away. Just a muscle complaining in the cold.

Next complaint came from my left wrist. A cramp in my wrist! Never had that sensation before. My hands were both stiff. I tried opening and shutting my fists a few times, without breaking stride, and shaking my left hand around on recovery. After a while, this too passed.

Just before completing the first round of the course, my shoulders were beginning to tire and I remember thinking to myself, this is a hell of a lot easier than swimming the Grand Canyon like those two guys once did back in the 60s. That water was freezing, and they were in it for weeks. They had wetsuits, but they also were latched on to drypacks containing warm clothes, camping gear, food and water. That was really something. I was simply swimming in a lake.

Close to shore, the water got warmer and my mind relaxed at the thought that there was nothing in this lake to fear. Except fear itself. Just then, I spotted off my right shoulder a bright green and pink object. Flotsam. (Or is it Jetsam?) A super soaker tossed off someone's boat, I presumed. Off my left shoulder, something tan floating. A stick? A snake? "They only come out when the water level rises and they're displaced from their desert homes, and they're pissed" a friend had told me. She was swimming somewhere just behind me (my friend, not the snake). Just then, my right hand encountered a huge clump of green algae. I screamed underwater and quickened my pace. Mind games forever. I laughed at myself and enjoyed the adrenalin rush.

The second lap was uneventful. Just long. Surely longer than 4K. Perhaps they'd mismeasured the course, I thought to myself. I passed more wetsuits. I was getting near the finish. Maybe 500 meters to go. I picked up my pace. Started hearing voices. Cheering from the shore. The green buoys of the finish line, and the dock. I showed them my race number printed on my hand. I stopped. My knees ached. A few breastroke kicks to shore and the worst part of the race...climbing out onto the slippery rocks and up a steep hill with wobbly legs. "I hope there are no snakes in here," I said. "Thanks," said the woman in front of me.

That was it. It was over. I have no idea how I did. I forgot to look at my watch and results aren't posted. But I do know that the woman who won, Amanda Barnes, clocked in at 43 minutes plus. My mind can't even fathom it. That's so incredibly fast. Watch for official race results at www.dcbadventures.com. See you at the next event, Lake Pleasant, June 6. It'll be at least 5 degrees warmer. Leave your wetsuits at home. And tell all your friends.

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