Category Archives: What Happened

Ice Cream, Alzheimer’s and a Pandemic

It used to be easy … when I’d go to San Francisco to run an errand and I’d bring my mother with me, we’d stop by the world famous Ghirardelli for an ice cream.  Ghirardelli sits north of Fisherman’s Wharf near the Maritime Museum, Aquatic Park and the South End Rowing Club, where I spent a great deal of time swimming while i lived in San Francisco many years ago.  I moved out of San Francisco to Benicia CA when my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  The apartment in the City was too small to move her in so I could take care of her, so now we live in the ‘burbs in beautiful Benicia.
Even with Alzheimer’s she enjoys the ice cream.  She may forget it 5 minutes later, but in the moment she will be totally focused on the ice cream with occasional pauses to come up for air and exclaim, “This is delicious,” or “This is tasty.”  I get the “Marina” which is raspberry sherbet with the famous and delicious Ghirardelli hot fudge and whipped cream.  It comes with a square of Ghirardelli dark chocolate, which I eat myself.  I choose the Marina because it is the lowest in calories.  I’m conscious of my weight.  To reduce the calorie intake even more, I split the ice cream with my Mom.  OK, OK, the confession is out, it’s not really ice cream, it is sherbet, but the principle is the same.
Like I mentioned, it used to be easy.  We’d go to the City, usually across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Even though it is longer from Benicia, it is a nicer drive.  In addition to the sherbet, we’ll stop for a view or short walk here or there along the way.  Then, once across the bridge we make our way to Ghirardelli where we’d get our ice cream.  Often we’d brave the crowds an eat in the restaurant, but mostly, if it is nice out, we’d eat the ice cream outside looking at the beautiful view of the Bay.
Now, however, is the time of the pandemic!  While this adds a few challenges to the average person, when dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s the challenges are multiplied.  For the average person the rules are to wear a mask, keep social distance (six feet apart) and indoor dining is closed.  The only option is to eat outside and enjoy the view.
For my Mom, with Alzheimer’s, there are the additional challenges.  She will not wear a mask.  She does not understand it, so just winds up pulling it right off.  Also, as an elder, she is a part of the most vulnerable population to the virus, so I want to be extra careful not to expose her to it.  Bringing her inside a public space is out of the question.  The last time we tried the ice cream at Ghirardelli during the pandemic, I attempted to leave her outside within eyesight so I could keep an eye on her and make sure no one got near her and she did not touch anything, while I went in.  However she kept trying to follow me in.  With the line at the register it was going to take too way long for me to be in there.  I finally had to abandon the ice cream dream and go for a walk instead.  If it was a quick in, place order and out while waiting for the order, and then back in to pick up the order when it was ready, I could have pulled it off, but that wasn’t going to happen on that day.  It was too risky!  I did learn from that experience, and was determined to succeed this time!
As we drove passed Ghirardelli, I could see the line.  It looked longer because people are spaced out, six feet apart, all wearing masks.  Ghirardelli is still open during the pandemic because it is considered “essential,” as a food service, but really … ice cream?  I was not complaining.  While it was right there, with all the challenges, it seemed this might not work out.  Everything had to be perfect, to get ice cream while keeping mom safe.
My plan was to leave my Mom in the car.  The trick is to be able to park close so I can have her in sight the entire time and only be gone for a minute or two.   I’m equipped with a handicap placard so this increases my chances.  I was in luck!  There was an open handicap spot right across the street.  The next trick was the line … I had to be able to bypass the line.  I took out my handy smart phone, went to the Ghirardelli website to see if they had online ordering.  I was in luck!  I could order through Doordash.  Of course I had to sign up for an account and enter credit card information.  This took about 5 or 10 minutes in total.  At anytime I could have abandon the plan and no one would have cared.  I kept thinking to myself, “I must really want this ice cream to go through all this effort.”  In the long run and big picture it was not going to make a difference, but at this point, I was not going to quit that easily.
Finally I got to the last part of placing the order, “pickup or delivery,” hmm, could I have them bring it to the car?  No, I didn’t want to complicate things.  I was just across  the street and could be there and back in less than a minute.  The app said it would notify me when the order was ready.  Everything was perfect!  However within 10 seconds of placing the order, I got a notice that it was ready.  Really?  What, do they have Flash employed scooping up ice cream and oozing hot fudge all over it?  I was skeptical.  I assumed they were just saying to was ready because they did not want ice cream sitting around waiting for pickup and that they were really going to make it once I got there.  There goes my quick pick up!  I was going to have to stand there and wait for it while my Mom, without memory would suddenly finding herself in a strange car in a strange place not knowing how or why she was there.  Can you imagine what that might be like?  Whenever possible, even though I know she is safe, I do not like to leave her along very long just because of those moments of worry. Like the ice cream, she will forget the experience within a minute or two, but she still goes through the experience whether pleasant like eating ice cream, or unpleasant lie worrying about where she is and if she is safe.
Parked and ordered, I still wasn’t quite ready for the Ghirardelli dash.  There are still details.  Ideally I leave music on in the car for her to focus on.  In my truck, that is easy because the radio plays without the key.  However today I had my sister’s car.  It’s a much nicer ride than the truck, so I borrowed it from her instead of taking the truck.  No key = no music.  I’ve learned from experience, leaving the key in the car with her is not a good idea.  She likes to touch things an push button.  Can you imagine trying to explain, through a closed window, to someone with Alzheimer’s how to unlock a door that got accidently locked while I was away?  Again, in the truck that is not an issue.  Without power locks it is hard for her to manually lock the door on the driver’s side.  But somehow, with the power locks, she has managed to lock both doors in the past.  In the pandemic, I do not want to leave the window rolled down, as that may expose her to the possibility of some passerby with the virus.  So I’ll take the key with me.
These details seem endless that we might normally take for granted in going to get an ice cream, but now I really was ready to go.  “BRB,” I said to her.  There are only two abbreviations that she remembers, “BRB” for “be right back,” and “RBI,” for “runs batted in.”  Don’t ask me why.  “BRB,” I said, “don’t worry.”  If I’m fast enough, she will not forget those words by the time I get back.  However, I figured that was not going to be likely knowing they probably still haven’t made the ice cream.  My heart was racing as I put on my mask and darted across the street.
There was a pickup table outside the shop, so I didn’t even have to go in.  A woman was just exiting the table with her ice cream and big smile on her face.  The shop employee was still there after helping the pervious woman and was looking me in the eye as I approached.  Perfect, no waiting!  I glanced quickly and smugly at the line of people going into the shop and then back at the employee.  “I have a Doordash order for Jay,”  Without a word she turned back into the shop, grabbed the ice cream that was sitting on the counter (it was ready!), and brought it back to me …  in less than 10 second.  However, I had to send he back in, to bring me an extra spoon.  I may share the ice cream with my Mom, but not the spoon!  I darted back across the street (looking both ways, of course) back to my Mom who was sitting there as happy as could be.
No, my friend, the story is not over.  We still have to eat the ice cream.  While we could just sit there in the car and eat it, but that is no fun.  We are just a few hundred yards away from one of the world’s most beautiful views of the Bay.
While it was January in San Francisco, it was still a nice day.  There was a little chill in the air, but not too chilly for ice cream.  Mom was bundled in her jacket.  I grabbed her by the hand and the ice cream in the other and walked her across the street.  I could feel the warmth of my Mom’s hand on my left and the warmth of the hot fudge through the plastic cup in my right hand.  There were many people out.  I had to pause often and alter my path to keep mom away, more than six feet, from anyone.  I’m glad for all those years growing up that I played Frogger.  This was real life, Frogger.  Then, after we crossed the street and down a path, there it was… a perfect empty bench.  I say her down in the middle of it, where she could not touch the arm rests on either side.  I tucked the ice cream to my side with my elbow to free up both hands and applied sanitizer to both her’s and my hands.  Then the feasting began.  She was loving it.  All the effort felt justified.  I could barely get my spoon is as she held the ice cream tight shoveling it into her mouth.  “This is yummy,” she kept explaining.  On occasion she’d let me hold the cup for a while and I would dive my spoon in, particularly interested in the gobs of chocolate, which were was no longer “hot,” that were clinging to the sides of the cup.  In the end,  I think she had more than I, but I was satisfied.
Finally the last bit of the ice cream was removed from the cup.  She showed it to me that it was done.  “That’s that on that,” she said.  Not convinced, I took it from her and scraped the sides for just a little more chocolate.  I left her there on the bench for a moment as I deposited the much empty cup in the nearby garbage can.  Then back to the bench where we sanitized our hands again.  I held her, slightly cold hand from the cup as we walked back to the car.  Another game of Frogger ensued as we avoided others back to the safety of the car.  Job well done!

Kirby Cove Swim, 2014

I failed the last time I did the Kirby Cove swim in 2012.  By the time I got to the opening of Aquatic Park I was still a quarter of a mile out.  I had to be picked up and repositioned.  In retrospect I wished I had just swum straight across and let the current do the work to carry me east.  That was my intention this year.   I’d rather end up across the bay early and swim parallel to the shore with the current than end up carried too far east and have to be repositioned again.

But ultimately it is up to the pilots.  We have to listen to the pilots even if we disagree.  It’s an issue of the safety of the entire swim and all the other swimmers.    We can’t get too far spread out, or the boat coverage is not as good.  They may also be aware of other hazard we cannot see with our fish-eyed view.

During the briefing we were instructed to swim directly south until we reached mid span of the bridge.  We wanted to go under the bridge south of mid span.  This is important because at that point the current splits, the southern current heads straight into the Bay.  The north current will start to head north to fill Richardson Bay, flow through the Raccoon Straight and head on up to San Pablo Bay.  If a swimmer is stuck in that northern current it becomes a fight to get across.

After we cross under the bridge, we were instructed to swim east for a while.  The current is stronger the further out we are, but we don’t want to be out too far to make it too difficult to get to the other side before the current carries us to the opening of Aquatic Park.  That is the balancing act with this swim … finding the sweet spot, far out enough to catch the current, but not too far out we can’t get in on time.

This briefing was contrary to my plan, but I had to let that go and trust the pilots and swim organizers.

We had the coverage of one kayak for every two swimmers.  We were to pod up with someone our speed.  I’m pretty slow and had a hard time finding another slow swimmer.  I podded up with someone I did not know too well, but suspected was faster than me.  He asked me how fast I was in the pool.  He said he was about the same … but that’s another story.  That’s the pool.

We swam together for about 25 minutes.  He was backstroking to keep pace with me.  Eventually he started to pull ahead, splitting the kayak coverage.  The kayaker was staying in-between us, with each minute getting further away and I was swimming more alone.

I caught up to him at the bridge.  I crossed under about 100 yards south of mid span, so I was in good shape.  The kayaker instructed me to swim direct east.  I felt good that I made it past mid span and was perfectly OK abandoning my desire to keep swimming south.

From that point on I had the kayaker all to my self, Bill James, a very experienced pilot for our swims.  He told the other swimmer to go on ahead and catch up with another kayak.  Later I learned that he did this with no problem.

After about 10 minutes of swimming east Bill James instructed me to start heading into the shore.  Not directly at 90 degrees, but at about 30 degrees.  I still wanted to get across as soon as possible, but trusted his guidance.

It turned out to be perfect as you can see from my map:


Unfortunately I do not have a GPS trail of my last attempt, but what I think happened then is a failure to cross under the bridge before mid span.  Then I must have got caught in the northern current, which kept me out too far and for too long.

Now, what if I did the swim my way?  Here’s the deal … I’m a slow swimmer, yet I completed this swim mid pack instead of towards the end, like I usually do.  I finished before swimmers that I know are faster than me.  The reason?  After interviewing a few of them I learned that they went too far south where the current was not as strong and even reaching where there is a back eddy near Crissy Field.  If I did the swim my way … that too would have been my fate.  Instead, I had the perfect line.  I attribute this to my highly skilled pilot, Bill James.

Here are GPS details of the swim:

The 3 Day Summary

The event started with the opening ceremony in Corte Madera.  I was a flag bearer in the ceremony carrying the “My Mother” honor flag.  When the spokesperson for the event started the walk by marching off stage and down the center isle, the flag bearers followed and that was it.  The walk had started, I following the spokesperson with the other flag bearers and 400 other walkers behind.

As I passed the opening chute, my badge was scanned to put me in the computer as started and they handed me a “route card.”  I was surprised the route card did not have the route on it at all, just the mileage to each pit stop, and lunch and the various designated cheering spots.  “Where do we go?” I thought to myself.  It wasn’t much of an issue because there were walkers in front of me.  I could just follow them.  Soon it became clear that I was just to follow the arrows at each intersection.  There was also a security volunteer at these intersections to point the way.

Not knowing the route created a guessing game for me as to where we were going to walk.  This was kind of fun and surprising.  The downside was that I could not contact friends along the way to let them know where I would be.

Right away I started talking to another walker and walked with her the first few miles to the first pit spot.  She was a veteran walker, having walked in nine 3-Day events.  I learned a lot for her.  At the pit stop she said, “Nice walking with you,” and we parted ways.  I started to understand how this worked.   You walk with people for a while and then move on, usually at the pit stops.

So the day went, sometimes I walked alone, sometimes with other people, getting to know them and hear their stories.

On this first day, the hardest part was between mile 5 and 9 as I was starting to question myself, “What is this all about?”  I could feel the blisters starting to form on my feet and I was thinking about the numbers of miles and time I still had ahead of me.  I felt depressed.  Wasn’t there something better I could be doing?

At the mile nine pit stop I doctored my feet with Moleskin and fueled up.  Lunch was at mile 15, just 6 miles ahead.  We had the familiar route through the Mill Valley bike path and Sausalito that I had biked many times.  As I drew nearer to lunch I picked up my pace to what I came to know as my “lunch gait.”  This also came with much enthusiasm.

After lunch we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Presidio where camp was.  The last two miles, once across the bridge, was also tough.  My feet were sore from all the pounding and with each step they were being pounded a little more.   I’m sure there was a mental affect as well, know I was so close, I’m sure my mind was finishing ahead of me.

I was happy to finish, but then had to set up my tent in the cold windy weather that we were faced with.  A volunteer helped me, after which I climbed in my tent and fell asleep for a short nap.

When I awoke I explored camp.  I found the showers and took one, ate, and discovered the massage chairs that Bank of America had set up for us.  I relaxed in one for about 20 minutes.  The rest of the evening I relaxed in the dining tent where they had a show for us.  I was back in my tent at 8 PM where I fell asleep.

The next morning I prepared myself for the 22-mile walk that we had ahead of us and headed to breakfast.  I have to admit the 22 miles seemed daunting so I was a bit nervous.

I grabbed my breakfast and a seat alone in the dining tent.  I look around for some people that I might be able to join, but mostly I see people in groups talking to each other, that I don’t want to interrupt.  I went to the far side of the tent where I knew there was a heater and had my breakfast there.  About half way through a youthful lady came up to me with her breakfast, ready to eat.  She commented about me being alone.  I invited her to join me and introduce her to the heater nearby, “Oh,” she said, “now I know why you are here.”

The standard questions we seem to ask each other, “Is this your first walk?” and “What is your inspiration to walk?”  From there the rest of the conversation can unfold … of not.  Like myself it was Jody’s first walk.  She told me the story of her month passing away last year after a battle with breast cancer.   The first part of the story was so similar to my own mother’s; a small lump was found that had spread to the lymph nodes.  Yet in her mom’s case, after it was removed it came back all over her body (stage 4 breast cancer).  “It just a question of ‘how long,’ after that,” she said to me.   This was sombering, as I thought of my mom.  The doctors told us, with the estrogen blockers that mom was taking that there was an 11% chance the cancer would return stage four, like Jody’s mom.  The doctors say, at that point, that there is very little they can do.  Jody lost her mom.  The future has yet to unfold with mine.  We try to increase her odds by focusing on a better diet, but that is not always easy.

Soon Jody’s sister-in-law, Lynn, joined us.  I liked the two of them.  I returned to my tent to make my final preparations for the day and then joined the crowd waiting for the walk to start.  There was Jody & Lynn so I stayed with them as we walked.  I walked with them most of the day.  We had a nice time laughing and telling stories.  They were from out of town so I became their tour guide showing them the sights as we passed them.

It was around mile 15, after lunch as we were walking down the Great Highway that it hit all 3 of us at the same time, tired, sore feet.  We started dragging a bit, yet we still managed to joke and laugh.  One of our ongoing jokes for the day was to try to extend the walk in our minds two miles because the last two miles is always seems to be the worst.  If we extended the walk in our minds two miles then we would “trick” ourselves into not finishing mentally before the end.  But, as Lynn said, “That trick has gone to hell,” as we were already miserable at mile 15 with 7 left to go.  We just had to plug away.

We circle up the hill by the Cliff house and through the trails at Lands End.  That was when my left shin started really hurting, shin splints, I thought.  Also I could feel my left calf tightening up.  I didn’t think I would be able to finish.  Jody said something to me that really brought home the purpose of the entire event, she said, “I think no matter what, I would finish.  It doesn’t matter about the pain.  I just would have to think of my mom and what she went through to realize the pain is hardly anything.”  True and that’s is the point.  We are intentionally choosing to suffer to honor those that do not have the choice.  It is a small token of relating with them and hopefully bringing awareness to others with our sacrifice.  Still there is a fine line between pushing through the pain, accepting the suffering and damaging one’s self.  I was not sure where that line was with me.

I made it to the next pit stop and visited the medical tent.  They did not impress me.  They said there was not much they could do.  They could give me ibuprofen and some ice rub to put on it.  They recommended when I get back to camp, still a few miles away, that I visit “sports medicine.”  I accepted what they had to offer.  After a while I felt better, but was aware of the fact that I was just masking the pain.  I walked on gingerly as if it was still there.

Back at camp I ate, showered and spend about 15 minutes in the massage chair before visiting the medical tent.  I had to fill out an intake form, which made me realize this was a serious set up.  It was not just a bunch of amateurs volunteering for an event.  They had chiropractic on one side, massage and taping on the other.  In the tent next door they were tending to people’s blisters.

I expected to go to the massage side where they would work on my calf and tape my shin, but they directed me to the chiropractic side.  I explained the issue and he worked on my foot a bit.  After a few adjustments I could feel the calf relax.  The pain in my shin went away.  I still had pain in my ankle, however.  He told me if it didn’t go away in the morning to come back before the walk.  They would be there at 6 AM.  Overall I felt good and confident with them and happy about it.

As I left the tent I was greeted with my mom, father and brother who had come to visit.  It was nice to see them.  We went into the dining tent and visited for about an hour before they grew tired of the cold and wind and went home.  While the dining tent was protected from the wind, it was still cold and we could hear the wind rattling the tent and howling outside.

The next morning I still had the pain in my ankle.  I was at the med tent right at 6 AM when they opened.  He adjusted my foot one more time and then taped it.  He explained to me that because I was walking on an injury I was favoring one side of the foot over the other, thus creating an imbalance in the muscles.  The tape would help make up for this imbalance.  He had me walk around.  The pain was gone!

Overall I felt enthusiastic about the day.  The bulk of the walk was over.  We had only 14 miles to go today.  While I knew most of that would be on hills and concrete (as opposed to yesterday, where about 50% of the walk had dirt trials), making it a tough walk, it still had the feeling of being nearly finished.  My enthusiasm was high.  As the walk started, however, I discovered my energy was low.  I was just exhousted from the two days before.  That seemed to be the energy with the other walkers, yet we marched on.  There did not seem to be as much talking … just focus on walking.

I did not see Jody & Lynn that morning so I walked alone.  I missed them.  On occasion I would strike up a conversation with another walker … briefly, but mostly I took this day alone.

We walked from the camp at the Presidio, towards the panhandle of the park.  I sent a text message to my friend that lived there, but did not get a reply until after we had passed.

We walked down Height Street and up the hill, half way up Twin Peaks.  I kept wondering if they were going to take us up there, but we turned down the hill towards the Castro.  This was a difficult stretch going downhill on the concrete.  My feet were pounding.

We went through the Castro and wound our way through Noe Valley, getting ever so close to my old neighborhood that I had just moved out of 3 weeks prior.  I sent a text message to my friend nearby, but did not receive a reply until we had passed.

Lunch was at mile 10, leaving only 4 miles to go on the day … on the entire event.  The excitement of being finished began to overpower everything else, the pain as well as the desire to eat and drink.  I spent only 15 minutes at lunch.  I did not change out my socks and moleskin like I did at lunch the days before.  Who cared if I got blisters now?  The days ahead I would be home relaxing!

After lunch I continued on with my pre lunch gait that I had adopted the previous days … maybe even a little faster.  I completely skipped the next (and last) pit stop.  We crossed Market Street passed Geary and wound our way through Japan Town before turning towards the Civic Center where the event would end.  This last stretch was all downhill.  My excitement was so great that if we were allowed to run I would have been.  Instead I was walking at a pace just below jogging.  I kept reminding myself the difference between running and waling.  In walking there is always at least one foot touching the ground.  In running, or jogging, there are points where both feet are off the ground.  I was focusing on going as fast as I could while keeping one foot always on the ground … a walker!

I was passing other walkers left and right as we passed the City Hall and turned the corner.  I could see the finishing line.  I was not going fast enough, but as fast as I could.  I drew nearer and could hear the cheering.  There was a chute of human volunteers leading me into the finishing coral, all cheering for me and giving high fives, I was a bit emotional as I told them, “If were allowed to run I would be.”  I made my way into the chute and finished!

I looked around, the place was empty, but for a few walkers and the volunteer staff.  “Where is everyone?” I thought.  I was one of the first ones to finish.  I had 3 hours to kill before the closing ceremony.  I drank some water and Gatorade and ate a few snacks before heading back up the course a few blocks where I would spend the next two hours cheering the other walkers as they came in, sometimes shedding tears of joy with them having finished such an event.

So I met some friends, heard some stories and challenged myself.  I raised some money that will hopefully do some good.  It’s a small dent in the overall awareness and progress against this disease through our western paradigm.  I believe in progress.  I believe in a time that paradigms will come together and the world can be free of, not just this disease, but also all.

Piloting Stephanie into Raccoon Strait

It was quite a challenge piloting Stephanie into Raccoon Strait from Red Rock in that 4.6 knot ebb:  We have to cross two miles of channel before the current carries us two mile down the channel passed to opening to Raccoon Strait.

The instructions were to swim at a 45 degree angle to get across the channel, but it was clear to me almost immediately after the Red Rock beach start that we would not make the opening of Raccoon Strait if we traveled at an angle.  I instructed Stephanie to aim straight across.  Shortly later Scotty, the captain of our big boat, the Dauntless, came over the radio confirming that decision, “The current it too strong we are almost to Cow City already.  Head the swimmers straight across.”

Stephanie had a tendency to pull a little to the left.  As I keep the kayak in line towards the sighting goal she would veer off, getting further to the left of me.  I thought this was OK.  I was being ultra conservative with the line, trying to get across the channel first and then swimming with the current along Tiburon into Raccoon Strait, so her veering a little would probably still get us there.  I’m never 100% sure about these things.

As we were making progress across the channel I would update Stephanie on a sighting target from time to time as the current carried us passed the last one.  At one point Stephanie made the comment, “I wish I were a faster swimmer so I could swim with the current.  I hate always having to swim across it.”  The faster swimmers were able to make take more of an angle with the current as they would spend less time getting across, and therefor be less affected by it.  I told Stephanie I understood, as I am a slower swimmer as well.   She swam on.

There were three other swimmers near us.  Melissa was with her brother, Teo, in the kayak.  There were further north that us, making a more conservative line.  Joseph and Denys were with kayaker, Rhonda.  They were south of us, taking a more direct line.  We were all about even as far as distance across the channel.  Up ahead I could see more swimmers in the distance, far to the south and closer to the strait.  It is hard to tell how they were doing from such a distance.

I could hear the lead swimmers pilot on the radio commenting about how far from the point on the north side of the strait they should stay to avoid the back eddy there.  I chuckled t myself.  That is something we will not have to worry about … if we make it into the strait at all it will not be on the north end.

As we drew nearer I was never really sure if we were on target or not.  About half the time I thought we were, the other half I thought we were going to miss.    Eventually we were close enough to have a good view of Point Campbell on Angel Island.  This is where the current will split around the island.  We wanted to be past Point Campbell in the current that will sweep into Raccoon Strait.  Otherwise we would be swept around the east side of the island.  We still had a ways to go to be passed that point.

I kept an eye on the swimmers that were way ahead to see how they were being pushed.  They appeared to be in the correct line of current and were being carried to the south side of the strait.  I looked over at Rhonda and her swimmers.  The distance between us was becoming greater.  If I had a question about whether we would make it, I did not think they would make it at all.  I envied Teo and Melissa to the north.  They had a much better line, which was soon to be confirmed as we made the final approach.

Finally the current has pushed us passed the north side of the strait.  I could see the houses along that shore, however we were still not passed Point Campbell, therefor still in the current that was sweeping us along the east side.  Not good!  Teo & Melissa were suddenly ahead of us.  Taking the better route, they were in the correct current stream, which just carried them on into the strait ahead of us.  I began to worry for us.  The opening is about 3/4 of a mile, but that distance can go quick with a strong current.  I knew we had to get across that current line as quick as possible.  But I also knew we were close.

I got Stephanie’s attention and instructed her to power as hard as she could for about 5 minutes towards those houses on the north shore.  I could tell she was a little frustrated.  She wanted to be swimming with the current rather than fighting it.  Once we crossed that line, however, she would be.

It was a little taste of heaven once we cleared it.  “You’re OK now,” I told her.  We stopped and she fed.  The current was now carrying us towards Ayala Cove, inside the strait.  Teo & Melissa were still ahead of us, but no longer pulling away.  Rhonda and her swimmers … well it looked like they were getting pushed passed the opening.  Later I heard Scotty on the radio to her, “Get your swimmers in close to shore.”  They were on the island side, passed the opening fighting the current trying to get back in.   Within a few minutes they decided to swim into the beach, call it quits for the day, take photos, and get back in the boat, both happy with their accomplishment that day.

The current inside Raccoon Strait is a giant “S” when ebbing.  It comes into the strait from the north and pushes across to Ayala Cove.  It then bounces off the island and shoots across to the north to Belvedere Cove in Tiburon, where Sam’s Restaurant is (it’s a pretty good bet that those two coves were carved out by the currents over time).  Then it bounces off Tiburon out passed Angel Island, into the middle of the bay and eventually out the Gate.

Stephanie and I swam with the current to Ayala Cove.  The water started getting choppy as it was reflecting off the island.  Stephanie said she wanted to swim out into the channel a little more to get out of the chop.  I almost told her not to, to just let the current take her ther, but I let her go.  I’m never 100% sure, myself, so I let her do what she thought was best.

After a little while swimming with the current I commented to Stephanie, “See how far in the middle we are now?”  The current was carrying us to Sam’s.  We were still pretty far from it, but were getting close to it faster.  With that, were were starting to get back into another “danger” zone of being swept passed the island.  We wanted to turn right at the end of the island to make it to the west side, Red Buoy #2.  However, were so far north of the island now that by the time we would catch the current bouncing off Sam’s that the current would also have carried us too far west passed the island.  This is indeed what happened.  We watch the island getting further away with no way to really fight the current to get back to it.  “We are going to the Golden Gate Bridge,”  I joked with her.

At this point the Dauntless was nearby picking up Melissa, who was still ahead of us, but on a better line for the island.  Stephanie told me she was done for the day.  I let the Dauntless know.  It was 1/4 of a mile away opposite the current.  Stephanie had to swim against the current to get there.  The Dauntless, however, was drifting with the current towards her.  She was tired and would have rather not made that last effort, but what can a swimmer do, when the boat is way over there!

Lost in the Bay

copyright ©, 2011

I have this big celebration planned for my 99th and 100th Alcatraz crossing next Saturday, a swim from Angel Island to Alcatraz and then to the City.  I have a slew of people organized for the swim and celebration.  The issue is that I was only at 96 crossings.  My plan was to do a bump-and-run (out to Alcatraz and back).  The goal is two fold, to get to #98 and to get a long swim in before attempting the long swim this Saturday.  I need to make sure my swim endurance is up.  It was a few months ago that I did a 3 hour swim, however have not been working out regularly.

The bump-and-run was planned for Monday.  I looked at the current chart and saw a 2.2 flood dying at about 7 AM going into a 4.0 ebb.  I scheduled the swim for a 5 AM jump to avoid the strong ebb.

I lined up a friend to pilot me and emailed a few swimmers that have a similar pace as mine to join me and to help share the cost.  There were a total of four swimmers including myself.  My pilot’s brother asked if he could join his sister in the boat (rigid-inflatable boat or “RIB”).  Of course this is great.  He has kayaked for many swims and it is good to have a second pair of eyes.

The day before the swim, three things happened.  First one of the swimmers backed out.  I attempted to find another 4th, but could not.  3 would be easier on the pilot anyway so I did not mind.  This also prompted me not to ask the pilot’s brother to kayak instead of co-pilot the RIB.  I thought 3 people would be easy enough for the RIB to keep an eye on.  This turned out to be a mistake.  With a kayak the coverage would have been better even for three swimmers.

Also I realized I read the currents wrong.  7 AM was the peek of the 4.0 ebb and not the end of the 2.2 flood.  A bump and run with a 4.0 ebb is a much harder swim.  I remembered just a couple weeks ago 1,800 swimmers did the same as the second stretch of our swim for the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon with the same ebb.  I thought if they could do it, so could we.  Game on!  While a harder swim, it can also be fast.  If fast I might not get in the long swim that I wanted.

The 3rd thing was that I learned another group from the club was planning the same swim, but a one hour later jump.  I contemplated moving ours to jump at the same time.  It is better with two boats and two groups even if the groups are separate.  I elected not to do this because one of our swimmers needed to be back early to get to work in Sacramento.  As it turns out she swam a little longer than expected and wound up late anyway, but I’m get ahead of myself in this story.

The swim was set.  I picked up my pilot and her brother at her apartment at 4:15 and we headed to the club.  We all got ready fast, did a quick briefing and headed out.  Jump at Pier 35, bump Alcatraz and swim into Yacht Harbor.  That was the plan anyway.

The fastest way to swim an Alcatraz crossing is to start at Pier 35 (ish) and swim out during an ebb.  The current does most of the work.  We sight off Point Blunt of Angel Island and swim, almost past Alcatraz until the yellow sign lines up with the chimney.  Then turn into the island being careful not to swim past the yellow sign or the current will carry us around the back.

So that was the idea for the first leg.  I admit I’m a terrible podder.  I have a hard time keeping with other swimmers.  I saw the other two swimmers to my left, but they were getting further away.  I was already in danger of missing the sign on Alcatraz so rather that swim towards them I just kept on course.

I did not make the sign.  I got pretty darn close!  Pilot and brother were cheering me on but the current was too strong pushing me back.  I gave up and reached the island at the rocks and stood there on them.  “Were are the others?” I asked.  “They are on the other side,” she said.  I started to swim in that direction to catch up with them but then she said it was OK I could start swimming back.  This was the last mistake … on both of our parts.  I should have been repositioned to where they were.  It would not have been a loss.  I was already at the island and would not have been repositioned too far away that I couldn’t count the return trip for #98.

So I started swimming back while the RIB zipped off to check on the other two swimmers.  A little while later she returned and instructed me to sight more towards the east.  The current was strong pushing us west rather fast.  I obeyed and she zipped off again.  That was the last I saw of her during the swim.  The two groups of swimmers were getting too far apart.  When she came back to find me again, she could not.  I was on my own.

It took me a while to realize that.  After ten or fifteen minutes without seeing her I started to worry.  I could tell I was getting swept west faster than what could be safe.  The Golden Gate Bridge was getting bigger too quick.  I kept going, but would stop every once in a while to look for her.  Each time I stopped I would lose ground getting across before reaching the bridge.  After a few time and another ten minute I had my little panic attack.

I stopped and yelled for the RIB, a sound that spread out in a circle around me only to die out before it reached any ears, how quiet our voices are at full volume when surrounded by nothing.  I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body.  The shore was still far away and that damned bridge was approaching quick with the current.  The bay seems mighty big when I’m alone in the middle of it, and I was heading right for the center span of the bridge.  I thought if I got swept out there that that would be the end of me.  I would get washed out to sea and eventually drowned.  I contemplated what options I had as I was convinced I was about to be washed out to sea.  Should I risk wasting my energy swimming or should I just sit there treading water until someone found me?  The Marin headlands looked closer than the San Francisco shore, perhaps I could reach there.  I was resigning to the fact that I was going out to sea and even began contemplating my death.  Would this be the end?  Would I be the one South End swimmer that loses his life in the bay?

“Swim … I must swim!” I told myself.  This is all on me now.  I cannot count on anyone rescuing me.  If I’m to survive I have to do it myself.  I cannot afford to panic.  Panic is the real demon here.  It can take a strong swimmer and turn him into a drowning baby in the bay.  I must let it go.  I could also not afford to get fatigued.  All I could afford to do is swim.  I put my head in the water and swam.  I did not look up again for a boat to rescue me.  I did not look at the bridge.  I kept my breathing to the left.  It’s a “Do no look down” sort of scenario.  I did not want to see how close to the bridge I was getting or it might induce more panic.  Knowing how close it was would not help me any.  I was going to cross under the bridge wherever I was whether I knew where it was or not.

My goal was to get to the south tower and hang onto or climb up on it until someone found me.  I learned later this is not a good idea because the currents can pull people under, so it is a good thing I missed it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Once I got over the panic attack I was strong.  I have swum for three hours before.  I knew I could do it again.  I didn’t have water or nutrition, but have also done long swims without them in the past.  I knew I could do it again.  I also wasn’t worried about the cold.  The water temperature had warmed up enough that I could stay in it for a long time.  Being hit by a boat didn’t worry me.  Heck if there was a boat in sight I would be grateful … perhaps for a rescue.

Even if I missed the south tower (which you already know I did), there was Baker Beach.  While it is a ways away south from the bridge, there is a back eddy there.  Once I reached the back eddy I would no longer be washing out to sea with the current.   I had just kayaked some swimmers to Baker Beach just two days prior so I was familiar with these currents.

I began to relax and even enjoy myself.  It is not often I get to just swim without the concern of other swimmers or pilots giving me instructions, sometimes in contradiction to what I wanted to do.  Yes, there was a certain freedom in my experience.

As I swam, I kept my sighting perpendicular to the shore.  I wanted to go in as short a line as possible.  I thought this was better than trying to swim towards the east and fight the current to gain a little time against the ebb, even if that little bit of time gained might help me make my goal of the south tower.  It would be Ok if I missed the tower.

Miss it I did.  I don’t know how long I was swimming.  Even breathing to my left I could see the south tower getting closer and realized I was getting too close to the bridge to reach it.  Under the bridge I went with the current.  That’s OK.  Plan B = Baker Beach.  I was still feeling strong.  The only setback was that the water can get quite rough on the other side of the bridge, making swimming a little more challenging.

Luckily, I was blessed with calm water.  There was only one fright when under the water I sighted the red blob of a nettle jellyfish.  These are the stinging kind!  Just as I sighted it my hand hit it on the top of the head, not where the stinging tentacles are.  A few seconds later I felt my foot kick it … again on the head.  I panicked a bit not knowing how many of its friends were with him.  “That’s panic,” I reminded myself and let it go.

I was still only breathing only on the left side.  Once on the other side of the bridge I could see how much southern progress I was making as I kept eye on the features of the bridge and watched them pass.  This was comforting.  Soon I was passed the south tower, and while later I could feel the water getting choppy.  That was a sign that I was crossing the current line into the back eddy.  Then it calmed down.  I stopped and looked up.  It seemed so still.  No more current rushing me out the gate to a death at sea.  I was happy.

I could see the familiar landmarks of Baker Beach.  Just two days before I kayaked a few swimmers into Baker Beach so I was familiar with the water and landmarks.  “How fun it would be to swim into Baker Beach,” I thought after kayaking those swimmers that other day.  Now it looked like I was going to get my chance.  What I was going to do once I got there I don’t know.  Me standing on the beach with nothing but a swim suit, cap and goggles … earplugs too.  I figured I would hike up to the road and flag down a vehicle.

This plan would not be needed however as I saw a small fishing boat about 200 yards to the left near the shore.  I contemplated “fishing boat or beach?”  I knew there were people on the boat so headed in that direction.  I waved my arms at them and swam up.  “I’m lost” I told them, “Can I come on board.”  They were Asian men.  I wondered for a second that they might not speak English, but the reply came in English, “Yes.”  “Do you have a radio?” I asked as they were helping me on board.  “Cell phone” he said.  I situated myself on a seat in the front of the boat.  He handed me his cell phone and his warm coat.

I immediately called the Coast Guard … 411 first to get the number.  I couldn’t get vessel traffic, who I knew was on the radio and could reach the RIB, so I called the general San Francisco Coast Guard number.  “I’m a swimmer that got lost, I don’t know if I’ve been reported lost.”  They did not have a lost swimmer report.  This made me a little mad.  I explained to them the situation and asked them to call the RIB and the South End Rowing club.  They said they’d do their best.  I learned later from the pilot’s brother that they did report us lost after about forty minutes that they last saw us.  There seemed to be a communication breakdown between the Coast Guard, vessel traffic and the RIB.

After a little while I got a call back from Robin from the club.  I explained to her the situation.  She said she see what she could do.  Not knowing what had happened, I had pictured that the RIB would have picked up the other two swimmers by now and may have given up on me and called the Coast Guard.  I wanted people to call her or the other swimmers to let them know I was alright.  I was not sure how I’d get home though.

The time on the cell phone said 7:30.  We jumped at 5:10.  So I was swimming for 2 hours 20 minutes.  That’s a pretty good haul.  I made it to the shore … or close enough, so I would count this as #98.  Also I got in a long swim too!  My swim endurance seems good enough for the swim next weekend.

So then I just sat there for a while … cell phone in hand.  I was shivering.  Are you OK? The fisherman asked.  “Yes,” I replied.  I knew the shivering would stop soon.  The water was not that cold as the season was warming and I was not too uncomfortable with the post-swim shivering.  “Do you want some water and a sandwich?” he asked.  I took him up on that without hesitation.

It’s funny how I do not know anyone’s phone number.  With cell phones, we do not use numbers anymore, just click on their name and the call is made.  I was sitting there with that cell phone and did not know anyone’s number that I could call.  Tina!  I knew Tina’s number only because when I got mad at her last year I took her out of my contacts.  Every communication we had after that came up with her number instead of her name and I memorized it that way.  I got her answering service.  I left a message about what happened and asked her to call the pilot and the other swimmers and let them know I was OK.

Then I remember 411 again.  I tried to find a listing for the other swimmers, but could not.  I tried our RIB pilot and got her mom.  I explained the situation to her mom and asked for her cell phone number.  She dug it up and read it to me.  I did not have anything to write with (something I do not think to carry when I swim).  I tried to memorize it but did not do a good job and did not connect.  That was the last call I attempted to make … except Tina a few more times.

“How long do you guys stay out here?” I asked the fishermen?  “Until we catch our limit,” He replied.  He told me they were from Oakland.  I didn’t know how I was going to get back.  I could hang out there all day if I needed to.  I might end up sunburned though.  They had an extra fishing pole.  Perhaps I could fish with them?  Oh, but I don’t have a fishing license.  All I could do is sit there.

A lot of time went by before the phone rang.  It was the Coast Guard.  They told me they were in touch with the RIB and let them know I was safe.  A few minutes later I spotted a small craft coming under the bridge.  “That could be them,” I thought.  I heard someone call my name.  “That’s strange,” I thought, “They are too far to be calling my name.  I looked around and did not see any boats near by.  “Jay,” the voice said again.  Then I spotted the two yellow caps in the water.  They were still swimming!  My God, I was out of the water for and hour already and they are still in it!  No RIB in sight.  The fishermen zipped over to pick them up.  They were no longer concerned with fishing anymore and reel their lines up into the boat.  After picking them up they started bringing us in under the Golden Gate Bridge.  I was plenty warm so took off the coat for one of the swimmers.  The wind chill was a little unpleasant on my bare skin, but I could live with it.

The phone rang again.  It was our pilot’s brother in the RIB.  We had contact!  He said they were looking for us near Crissy Field.  I told the fishermen and they steered us in that direction.

There were lots of boats out there.  I learned later the Coast Guard issued a mayday for three lost swimmers.  Boats came out from all over to look for us.

We reunited with our RIB.  There was also the second RIB from the other group that had already successfully completed the very same swim we were attempting.  The RIB came back out to help look.  We divided up between the two RIB \s and departed back to the club.  I was still feeling mad at our pilot so got in the other RIB.

When we were back on the dock I caught our pilot’s eyes and could see the sorrow and regret.  We fell into a tearful embrace.  My anger dissipated.  I learned later that the two groups of swimmers were getting too far apart.  She was moving back and forth between us.  Then one time when she came to find me, she could not.  She went back to find the other two and then could not find them either.  We were all lost!  The current was moving us much faster that she estimated and wound up looking for use too far east while we were getting swept west.  The problem was us being spilt up and/or not having a kayak.  So many lessons to learn!

She told me that while she was worried sick she knew we were all strong swimmers and that we could make it.  She was looking for us by Crissy field.  It never dawned on her that we would go beyond the Golden Gate Bridge.  If you look at the map below it seems unlikely that we would.  The bridge is almost in a straight line directly west.  It looks as though in order to get there that we were making no progress south at all.

I also learned in later conversations that because I called her mother that they were able to get a hold of me.  Her mom called the brother.  The brother said, “I can’t talk now Mom we have a situation here.”  The mom said, “I know you have a situation.”  The brother instructed her how to retrieve the phone number for the fisherman’s cell phone from the records.  That was when I received the call from them.

Back at the club everyone seemed aware of the situation.  I was a little embarrassed and ashamed.  Glad we were all safe though.  Things happen to teach us a lesson.  As long as no one ends up hurt or institutionalized I’m happy to learn the lesson.  I look back at the decisions I could have made differently.  I think next time I’ll error to the conservative side.  Better to be safe to swim another day.


(currents that day:

Mile Rock to Aquatic Park

MR2AP1The swim was from Point Bonita to Aquatic Park.  This would be my first time swimming outside the Golden Gate Bridge … intentionally.  There was that one time crossing under the span of the bridge that the current swept me west rather rapidly.  I was picked up by the pilot boat as I was drifting out to sea.  This time being west of the bridge would be a part of the plan.

The preparation for the event was half the challenge.  Our club swim commissioner was doing a wonderful job coordinating and making sure the event would be as safe as it could be.  This included putting off the swim for the slower swimmers until June to keep the spread of speeds tight.  As a slower swimmer, I figured I would have to wait until June to take on this new challenge.

Each swimmer was required to have their own pilot either in a kayak or a row boat.  I wrote to the commissioner to offer my services as a pilot for my friend, Les.  I was pleasantly surprised when she wrote back that there was one more slot left and that I could have it if I thought I was the same speed as my friends, Tina & Les.  Normally I’m slower than them, but I knew I could keep up if I wore fins.  I had a choice to make, do the swim now with my friends and fins or wait until June to do it without fins.  You know how the saying goes, “Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?”  Especially if this meant I could swim with my Tina & Les.

MR2AP2Tina, however was not yet approved for the swim.  She had to demonstrate that she could swim for 2 hours.  She and I set out to do a two hours swim 6 days before the event, me with my fins to also demonstrate that I could keep up with her.  We started with the Water World Swim group on their regular Sunday workout and kept going after the workout ended in 50 minutes.  We swam twice around the break water wall and 3 ½ times around the parameter.

So we were both qualified.  The next challenge was finding a pilot.  While the swim commissioner was busy trying to find one for each of us ultimately it was our responsibility.  So the emails started flying!  I emailed everyone I knew that might be available and experienced enough.  Slowly they were returned … busy with something else or already piloting for someone else.  I knew it would all work out, but I had exhausted all of my resources.  Then I received an email from the commissioner that she had me covered.  Tina & Les were still not so we kept searching.  To make a long story short we went from not having enough pilots to having too many.  The pilot that was assigned to me changed twice in a game we started to call “musical pilots.”  Finally it all settled down and along came the day of the event.

My nerves started to build Friday night, but I was able to sleep well.  I woke up feeling refreshed before the alarm clock.  A text message came in from Tina to let me know she was awake and on her way.  I always worry a little.  It’s just funner when she is around.

I drove to the club and got the last parking spot in the front.  Tina’s car was already there.  We were amongst the first to arrive.  I marked with number 2, Tina with number 3.  As more people arrived and things started happening, boats prepared and people getting ready, the thing that struck me the most was all the smiles.  There were about 50 of us gathered together on this morning about to create some magic swimming 16 people six or so miles from Point Bonita back to our “home” at Aquatic Park.

MR2AP3After everyone was ready and we had our briefing we marched down to the boat that would take us out to Point Bonita.  Already some miscommunications and mishaps occurred.  One of the pilots got lost paddling her kayak to the boat.  She never made it until ½ way through the swim.  I guess she paddled her way against the current to meet us.

The boat ride out to a swim always seems so long.  Thoughts go through my mind, “And I’m going to swim all this way back?”  We made it out to Point Bonita where the 4 zodiacs awaited us.  We unloaded all the kayaks and the pilots into the water.  I did not see my pilot.  He was in a row boat and was rowing out to the start.  I did not see him on the way out and I did not see him there.  I would not see him throughout entire event until I was back on dry land!

MR2AP4After the kayaks and pilots were in the water we started getting ready.  I was very nervous and had all the doubt that I should be doing this.  That’s typical before a new challenge.  I knew that I had the ability to complete this, but that doubt does tend to creep in.  Just as we were about to go, we got the word from the Coast Guard that they wanted us to move the start of our swim to Mile Rock, two miles across the mouth of the bay on the other side.  I was a little relieved that I could procrastinate getting in the water a little longer, yet I was also a little worried.   We were already jumping a little late to catch the flood current and this would delay that a little longer.

It was easy for us to get across the opening in the boat, but the kayakers had their work cut out for them crossing 2 miles in the choppy water fighting the current.  A few got behind and were picked up in the zodiacs.  One tipped over and another almost sunk as it took on water.

We decided to jumped before they all arrived.  They would be able to catch up and the zodiacs would cover us until then.  I did not have a pilot.  I was planning to swim with Tina & Les so just agreed to share their pilots.  2 pilots for the 3 of us … it could work?

MR2AP5Finally the inevitable time came to get in the water and the cold shock.  I always hate it, but once I’m in and swimming it is the greatest feeling.  Tina so graciously motioned for me to jump first.  I guess “lady’s first” does not always apply.  I jumped.  Immediately I felt something was wrong.  There was an imbalance with my feet.  One of my fins was gone.  I saw Tina and Les swim on by.  I had to go back to look for my fin.  I started to have visions of swimming with only one.  Perhaps I would swim in one big circle?  The answer to that question would be left for another time as I saw the blue fin bobbing in the water.  I grabbed it and struggled to put it on as the choppy water kept engulfing me.  The task was complete.  Adrenaline was rushing through my body as I spotted Tina & Les starting to get away.  They were waiting, but the current was carrying them.  I swam as fast as I could to catch them.  It wasn’t just that I wanted to swim with them, but that if I didn’t I would not have pilot coverage.

Once I caught them we started our way through the choppy water.  I was not having fun.  I was still on adrenaline and the rough water was difficult.  The three of us were in the center and the 2 kayaks on either side.

MR2AP6We had to navigate our way out into the channel to make it mid span of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The bridge was approaching fast with the current was carrying us towards it.  With each breath to the right I could spy the south bridge tower and could tell from the angle once we finally got past it.  We were instructed by the pilots at that point to swim towards it rather than try to go under the bridge mid span.  This was to get out of the shipping lane as huge tankers were scheduled to come in.  The Coast Guard was keeping in communication with our chief pilot helping to guide us.  It takes a lot of people to pull off a swim like this!

That was when I lost them.  I do not know what happened.  At one point I could see the gray kayak that was covering Tina and the next thing I knew it was gone.  There were lots of swimmers and kayaks converging on that point and in the confusion I started following another one.  The current was still carrying me towards the center of the bridge.  I took a little time to roll over on my back as I went under it to see the view of this towering structure of steel spanning way above my head.  It is quite a sight!  Then the water was sweet on the other side.  Smooth as glass the chop was gone.  I was just cruising, finally relaxed!

I have done the swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to Aquatic Park many times.  I know the drill: swim out in the middle for about 15 minutes and then start to cut in towards the shore.  If I cut in too soon I can get caught in the back eddies near Fort Point and Crissy Field.  Today was different, however, because of the tankers scheduled to come in shortly.

Still the current seemed to want to keep me out there.  At this point I had lost the other kayak that I was with and I was all alone.  I could see the zodiacs zipping around and there was the police boat out as well keeping an eye on things.  I did not feel unsafe.  I was getting a little thirsty, however and thought of my water bottle and energy drink in a row boat, who knows where, somewhere in the bay.  I could see off in the distance, closer to the shore Tina’s gray kayak.  I decided to try to make it over.  About that time one of the zodiac stopped near me and instructed me to get in closer to the shore.  That was exactly what I wanted to do.  They gave me some water and assure me they were keeping an eye on me.  I started heading in perpendicular to the shore.

Even as I was swimming perpendicular to the shore and parallel to the bridge I could see the bridge growing distant with each breath as the current carried me away from it.  I was visited by two more of the four zodiacs asking where my pilot was.  The last zodiac had the swim commissioner in it, “Where is your pilot?” She said.  “I don’t have one.” I replied, “Get in the boat,” she commanded.  We have this rule that as a swimmer you do whatever you are told by the pilots.  No arguing.  So I started to climb in the boat.  As I hung there half way in the boat she could see that I was doing OK.  I pointed out Tina and Les and explained that I was going to hook up with them.  At this point I was in line with them, but about 500 yards ahead of them.  Because I was out in the center of the bay longer, I had a stronger current that had carried me that far ahead of them.  She said I could get back in the water, but not to wait for them.  I would get too cold.  “Swim to them,” she said.  So there I was swimming against the current back towards the bridge and my friends.

It did not take long for them to catch up.  Tina looked at me but then kept swimming.  I just followed.  Eventually I lost sight of her, but kept behind the gray kayak.  She was either on the other side or in front of it, but try as I might I could not see her.  As we closed in on Fort Mason, close to Aquatic Park I finally asked, “Where’s Tina.”  “Oh she is ahead with some other boat,” her pilot said.  Even with my fins she was swimming faster than I.  He elected to stay back with me “the slower swimmer,” he said.  I swam on a little disappointed she got ahead of me, even with my fins.

MR2AP7And so I made my way into the park, slowly past all the landmarks as I was starting to feel fatigued.  I do not know how long I had been swimming at that point.  I know it was over two hours, and could have been closer to three.  I swam past Fort Mason Center … the first building, then the second and that third.  Then past the wall of Muni Pier and into the opening and slowly past the center buoy and the end of the Jacuzzi.  Past the red hull of the Balclutha and past the green tug, inching closer and closer to the beach.  I lined myself up between the two piers. As I passed the end of the dock I could see people pulling the zodiacs out of the water.  The swim was nearly over.  The people on the beach were getting closer and closer.  I could hear cheers as I could feel the sand hit my fingertips.  I always remember what my triathlon coach said, “touch the sand 3 times before you stand up.”  While I this is not a triathlon and I no longer do them, I always remember this, one, two three and then up.MR2AP8  People cheered.  I looked at my defunct GPS unit, which would not pick up the satellite signal to mark my path through the water. It was now reduced to a mere stop watch.  2 hours and 23 minutes.  I headed up to the showers and sauna getting a little emotional along the way.

After I was warmed up I went down stairs to share in story telling.  I found out what happened to my pilot.  He rowed out to Point Bonita.  We were not there.  I don’t know if he got there before us or we had already moved on to Mile Rock.  He did not see us at all.  He had issues fighting the wind and the current and had to call for help.  Eventually he made it back to the club in time for the end of the swim.  My water bottles were sitting there on the bench.  I was finally able to drink and feast on the food that all the swimmers brought for potluck breakfast.

While I did not get a GPS trail this is about what the swim turned out to be.


So what is next?  This is the 5th time I’ve swam for 2 ½ hours.  I want to swim for 3 hours or more.  I think I’m strong enough.  There is a Bay to Breakers swim in a few months.  This is the same start and finish as the foot race, just the water route.  It would be essentially what we did in reverse, but starting about 3 miles west from where we finished today, going on past Mile Rock and wrapping around Seal Rock to Ocean Beach, about 9 miles.  Even with a fast current it would probably take me past my 3 hour goal.  Tina is into it and with her to swim with me the training will be that much more fun.  Onto the next adventure.

(Thank you Cathy Bump and Mary Leigh Burk for the photos)

Epic Battle

Pedro was calling role before the swim to the 20 or so swimmers standing on Hyde Street Pier ready for the Alcatraz crossing.  As Pedro always does when he calls a swimmers name he asks “How many crossings have you done?”  There were a lot of first timers, but when he got to me, “38” was my answer.  I don’t even know if it was my 38th.  Somewhere around there.  And, I was not enthusiastic about it.  I’m enthusiastic when I sign up, but usually the day before, I question why I’m doing this and what fun is it?  After well over 30 times, isn’t there something else I can do?

The weather was cold and overcast, which made the anticipation worse.  I knew at least that water would be warm.  The boat pulled in close to Alcatraz and the captain yelled, “Get ready as soon as we are in place jump!”  Then he started motoring the boat away from the island, and quite far from the island.  “What is he doing?” I wondered to myself.  There was a group of fishing boats and he wanted to position us on the other side of them.  We started actually quite far from the island, about 1/3 of the way to shore already.  I had mixed feelings about this, a little relief that it would be a short swim stirred in with a sense of being shorted the full swim.  We jumped.

I looked at the current charts before the swim.  We were jumping at the tail end of an ebb and just before the start of a flood, however we got a late start.  For sure it was a flood by now.  I sighted off of Fort Mason.

As predicted I got across rather fast.  I could see the opening to Aquatic Park very clear to my right.  I knew I was almost there, maybe 5 more minutes.  I looked at my watch, 25 minutes.  That was hardly a workout.  I start to think that once inside the cove I could swim the perimeter for a little more distance.  Or perhaps I could swim to the end of the break water wall and come in inside.  Be careful what you ask for!

I didn’t really know what the currents were doing, but it did not seem like much.  I guessed, rather incorrectly that we were at slack tide.  So I turned and pointed towards the opening.  After a few minutes I looked up.  “Shit” the opening was now to my left.  The flood had kick in.  I increased my angle to compensate, but every time I looked up the opening was getting farther and farther away.  Soon I was passed the Balclultha and I could see the buildings in the background passing by.

The boat that we jumped from pulled in close to me.  I didn’t want to be repositioned when I was so close … although getting farther.  I could always reach the end of the break water wall and swim in on the inside.  I got closer and closer to the wall and could see the end of it to my left.  The boat left me.  I was on my own.  Pedro knew I was experienced and could make it in from there.  There were many 1st timers out there that needed his attention more.

I reached the wall.  I estimated I was 2/3s of the way down a ¼ mile wall.  This would be the big test if I would make it or not.  I turned parallel to the wall and started swimming as hard as I could, relaxed, against the flood along side of the wall looking up at it with each breath to see if I was making progress against the current.  I was, about a foot with each stroke.  I felt strong and not the least bit fatigued and as long as I was making progress I knew I would make it … eventually.  15 minutes it took me to cover that 2/3rd of ¼ mile, but eventually I turned the corner into Aquatic Park to greet the kayaker at the buoy.  “Epic Battle!” I yelled to him.  I felt so happy.  I gave him my number and swam easily on into the club for a shower and sauna.

Current chart

GPS trail

Gallstone Attack

It started Superbowl Sunday with an upset stomach.  “Something I ate,” I thought, but the next day the upset was still there, accompanied by pain in my back.  Unfortunately I recognized it from many years previous when I had a gallstone attack.  I rested on Monday, but by the evening the pain was intensifying.  If ever you had a gallstone attack you know the pain I’m talking about.  I’ve heard women who have given birth and also had a gallstone attack say the gallstone attack was more painful.  While I can’t make that comparison, I will say, imagine your abdomen expanding to the point just before it is about to explode.  Yes, that is the pain.

I had some vicodin that was prescribed for something else many years ago so I took some of that.  It took a while to kick into gear, but when it did the pain went away and I relaxed.  I could still tell something was going on, so I just rested.

The next morning the pain was replaced with a mild discomfort.  It was still a little much to distract me from work.  Advil seemed to do the trick and I returned to work.  So it went all week.  I popped a lot of Advil.

Friday evening I was getting ready to go to my weekly dance when the pain started to intensify.  I went straight to the vicodin.  Before it kicked in, the pain was intense enough I decided I’d better go to the hospital.  I called urgent care.  The nurse scolded me for taking the vicodin, “We normally do not prescribe that for this!” but invited me to come in the next day … since, by that time the pain was clearly masked with the drugs and I was feeling OK.  “Go to emergency if it happens again before you come in tomorrow,” she said.

The next day I was totally pain free.  Even the discomfort was gone.  I remembered the previous incident from years past where I was pain free by the time I got to the hospital, but went in anyway.  It wound up costing me $3,000 for them to run tests and tell me everything was fine.  But I had a different coverage now.  I knew it would not cost me very much and it would not hurt to see a doctor.

The urgent care doctor was kind.  She agreed with my self diagnosis that it was likely gallstones.  She ordered a blood test and sent me home.  A few hours later she gave me a call.  She was concerned.  My liver enzyme count was high indicating one of the gallstones could be stuck.  She asked me to come in for an ultrasound.

Ultrasounds are kind of fun.  They put a jelly on my abdomen and massage it with a smooth metal probe as they scan the organs with a burst of sound from the probe.  It took a while.  She scanned most of my organs.  She made a comment at one point, “does this hurt?” as she scanned my gallbladder.  “No,” I replied.  “Did they give you pain medicine?”  “No,” I replied.  She seemed convinced whatever she was doing should have hurt, I guess based on what she was seeing.

After the scan she confirmed there were a lot of gallstones and that I should wait for the doctor.  They could not tell if one was lodged.  The doctor said I had two choices, she could admit me so they could run an MRI to make sure one was not lodged or I could go home and if the pain comes back go straight to emergency.  She did say with great conviction, “You will have surgery to remove the gallbladder.”  As I was thinking about my choices she changed her mind and removed the second choice.  No, she was going to admit me for the MRI.  I would be there tonight and all day tomorrow.  Ugh!  A nurse came down to take me to the admittance office and then to my room where I would sit for the next 24 hours waiting for one test.

In the admittance office I was given the contract to sign.  “How much will this cost with my insurance.” I asked.  “$500 a day,” she replied.  I do not have $500.  It was clear to me that I was being admitted just to be on the safe side in case a stone was lodged it could lead to infection.  I did not have I sign that paper.  I sat there staring at the contract for a while until the words came up out of my mouth, “I’m not going to do this.”  Shock and disbelief was what I saw and they called the doctor, “He doesn’t want to do it.”  The doctor was kind to me and said, “You know what to do if the pain returns, go straight to emergency.”  I agreed. I told her that I wanted to wait until Monday to talk to me regular doctor.  It was a slight risk I knew, but I felt good about it.  They had me sign a release that I was refusing treatment and I went home.

I sent my doctor an email that I wanted to see him Monday.  Much to my surprise he called me ten minutes later.  He happened to be in the office, just about to go home when my email came.  He agreed to wait until Monday and repeated the instruction to go to emergency if the pain returns.

I posted a status update on my Facebook page that I had gallstones and to send me an email if any of my friends had experience.  I receive a reply with a natural remedy that involved fasting for two day son apple juice and then drinking a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice.  I love natural remedies, especially if I would be able to keep the parts of my body that I was born with.  As it turned out I was already undergoing a fast, but with lemon juice.  I switched to the apple juice and went to the store to acquire the rest of the ingredients.

I went dancing that night and stayed a bit later than I normally do.  I did have some slight discomfort, but the dance made it go away.  I lasted all day Sunday oscillating between no pain and the mild discomfort.  The discomfort was never at the levels it was the week before distracting me from work so I didn’t have to take any Advil.  I worked a little off and on.  I know it was Sunday, but I wanted to get thing done for my clients in case I ended up in the hospital for a day or two come Monday.

Monday, by the time I saw the doctor, I was completely pain free.  He massaged my belly a little and said that everything seems OK.  He ordered another blood test to check the liver enzyme level.  He expected them to still be high, but lower than what they were.  Then he wanted to schedule an appointment with a surgeon that I can talk about having the gallbladder removed.  I like my doctor, he is very easy going.  He said, “If we do it this way it is not an emergency.  If we wait until it happens again it will be an emergency.  It really is up to you.”  I didn’t tell him about the apple juice fast and the olive oil.

Bottom line, I know that I did this to myself with the food that I eat.  I love rich and fatty food.  This was a wakeup call to me.  If I end up losing my gallbladder it will be because of my own doing.  I felt a conviction like I never had before to get serious about a healthy diet.  I wanted to keep the gallbladder because it would always remind me.  Out of love for that little organ perhaps I could be more conscious about what I put in my body.  If it were gone, I would not have it to remind me and to guide me.

So for the 3rd time in 3 days I had blood removed from my body and analyzed.  I went home to wait for the results.  With this system the hospital has, I get the results via email as soon as they are ready.  Many time I can see them before the doctor does.  Along with the results there are links to information about each test and what the numbers mean.   Very impressive!

Anyway, by the time I went to sleep the result were still not posted.  It was the end of the second day of my apple juice fast and time for the olive oil, lemon juice.  I squeezed the lemons and mixed in the olive oil and drank it.  For pleasure I recommend something else to drink, but I downed it anyway.  The lemon juice was very tangy as it passed over my taste buds and the consistency of the olive oil is not something I’m used to drinking, but down it went, and to bed I went laying on my right side, as per instructions.

I was pretty skeptical this would work, but it certainly was not going to hurt.  The next morning I awoke with the need to use the toilet.  After I looked to see what I had created and much to my surprise there were these little tiny green pellets.  “Could that be?”   I fished one out.  It was very green and soft.  Gallstones, I would expect to be hard.

After a few more trips to the toilet more kept coming out and larger ones, the size of a small pea … and lots of them.  Perhaps that’s why the lab technician was indicating when she pressed on my gallbladder surprised it was not hurting.  I emailed my doctor to let him know and I wanted to have this little pellet looked at so I could be sure it was indeed a gallbladder saving gallstone.

While I was online I notice that my test results were back.  My liver enzyme count, as my doctor predicted, was still high, but much lower.  Eventually my doctor emailed me back.  He is skeptical about the gallstones and thinks I’ll still need surgery to remove the gallbladder and scheduled an appointment with the surgeon for me to talk.  He is open, however to repeating the ultrasound to see if the gallstones are still there … to be continued

Caught Speeding 80 MPH

The cruise control was set at 80. This is works well for most of Highway 5. On occasions I have to slow down on the two lane highway if a car passing another is not going my speed. Otherwise the slower cars are courteous enough to stay to the right to allow me to pass. Most of highway 5 is barren with the occasional small town. Now, however I had entered into the more densely populated area of Redding. I was traveling from San Francisco to near Yreka when my Aunt lived. Not only had the speed limit reduced from 70 to 65, but there were a lot more vehicles on the road. Two lanes became three. My 80 MPH speed seemed a little faster, but I kept it up anyway.
Then I saw it in my rear view mirror. Still about a quarter of a mile away, the familiar look of a vehicle with a rack of lights on top. Busted? I don’t know. The lights were not flashing but he was gaining on me. I reduce my speed and pulled into the next lane. He follow, but behind another car in back of me. He was still quite a ways away. I pulled into the far right lane and reduced to the speed limit. My strategy was to make it to the next exit and hope he does not follow. No such luck. On came the lights as he approach quickly and over to the shoulder I went.

I get speeding tickets once ever four or five years. There is usually enough time in between tickets that I can always go to traffic school and keep them off my record. While traffic school does take up a whole day of my time, I have rather enjoyed it the past three times that I’ve attended. I enjoy hearing the stories from the instructor and I usually walk away having learned some interesting and valuable information. Here is what I learned one time:

In this case the traffic school was taught by a retired police officer. For some reason he seemed intent in helping us to learn how to avoid future speeding tickets, not by driving more carefully, but by having the officer issue a warning rather than a ticket. He told us that it is nerve racking for an officer to approach a car with unknown people inside. If we do certain things to reduce his/her anxiety, that will increase the chance that we are just issued a warning. These things include keeping our hands in clear sight (he recommended on the steering wheel) and having our license and registration out so we will not need to reach into a concealed space to get it. Let’s see if it worked …

There I was on the side of the road I pulled over as far to the right as I could to give him plenty of space on the shoulder. As soon as I reached a complete stop I opened the glove compartment, took out the registration and put it on the dashboard. The officer was already approaching the car on the passenger side so pulling out the registration was all I could do. My license was still in my pocket and the window was still up. I reached to my left for the window control and with my left hand pushed the button to roll down the passenger side window. My right hand remained on the wheel.

“How are you doing?” The officer asked. He was a friendly younger man, about 25. “Good, you?” I replied. “I’m doing good, look, I pulled you over for speeding. I clocked you around 80.” He was very direct. Another thing I learned was to not argue or make up excuses. I knew I was speeding. “Yep,” I said. “May I see your license, registration and stuff?” I took the registration off my dashboard and handed it to him. I had to reach in my pocket for the license. It was loose in my pocket with some cash and a few other cards. I have not been using a wallet. I shuffled through the stack of cards and cash in my hand until I found the correct card and handed it to him. I went to place the stack of cards on the passenger seat, but there was a $50 bill in the stack. I though it might be construed as a bride so I thought twice and put it in the pocket in the door on the drivers side. “What do you have for insurance?” He asked. Oops, I’d left the insurance in the glove compartment. I wasn’t even sure it was there. I paused for a second and then slowly reached for and opened the glove compartment door. There under the vehicle instruction manual was a piece of paper. I lifted the manual. That was it. I picked it up and handed it to him. I get rather nervous easily so my hands were shaking a little. I’m sure he could see. He asked me a few questions, where was I going, why, where was I coming from … nothing too intrusive. Then he said, “Well,” in the millisecond pause before his next word I realized that he could have followed that with anything. Will I get a ticket? I was not sure, “do you think you can slow down?” he continued. He was going to let me go. Enthusiastically I said, yes. He handed me back my papers, wished me a good day and departed. The whole incident took about 3 minutes of my time and I was off on the road again.

I continued my journey with the cruise control set at the speed limit. It is actually rather easy to keep the speed limit with cruise control. There were times when I wanted to go faster, but I was more interested in honoring my commitment with the police officer that was kind enough to issue me a warning rather than a ticket. I kept the speed limit for the rest of my journey and for the entire drive home a few days later.

I do not know if my actions to keep him more comfortable were the reason he let me go. It couldn’t have hurt.