Kicking Butt Paste in Catalina

“I know I got your relay application, but when am I going to see your solo application?” Carol has a way of nudging you to do what you need to without pushing too hard. This was in April 2017 at the end of a swim camp run by Dan and Sal.

I thought about that conversation and smiled as I swam to shore at Doctors Cove on Catalina Island. I was relieved that I felt much calmer than I had on the “22-minute tantrum” 10 hour swim, and nothing like I did on the disastrous 3 hour turned 30 minute swim just days before the channel swim.

Becky started with me for the first 30 minutes; by then I was relaxed and comfortable. We also wanted to save some of her time as a buddy swimmer in case I needed her more at the end. An hour on and an hour off- Yiga and then Diana rotated in as buddy swimmers. I couldn’t see his face, but I could see his hands churning the water and hear the amazement in his voice as Kevin told him about bioluminescence. This was Yiga’s first time swimming in the channel, and he was loving it. By the time Diana was getting in I was starting to feel nauseous. Doing the math I knew I had been in for a few hours, but it felt like I’d only been in for a couple. My left forearm was cramped, I was nauseated, and I didn’t think I’d gone very far. After Diana got out it was easier for me to swim with my eyes closed. When they were closed the swirling of the bioluminescence stopped and the bait fish weren’t creating anymore fireworks in front of my face. With my eyes closed, though, I couldn’t tell where I was going and as soon as I’d open my eyes to sight on Kevin I felt awful again. I started throwing up. I swam and puked and puked and swam for two hours. I took some Zofran, but shortly after taking it I vomited again.

“I’m half way?” I asked Kevin hopefully.

“You’re more than half way,” he told me.

10 or so more miles really isn’t that far- I thought to myself. That’s just a few more hours. That’s 10-14 feeds. That’s not much. That doesn’t even fill my mesh bag. “Ok, I can do this.”

“Yes, you can. Just close your eyes, and maybe try squinting.” His external calm helped ease my internal combustion.

I put my head down and kept swimming. I replayed a conversation in my mind that I’d had with my grandmother the Thursday before the swim. She told me I’d visited the channel so many times that she was like my second home. That when I got in the water she was going to hug me, and carry me across safely. I felt safe and relatively calm for the entirety of the swim. That’s not to say I wasn’t tired and that things didn’t hurt. They did. But I was where I was supposed to be doing what I was supposed to be doing. This swim was magical. The channel felt alive. Gently holding me and swaying as I rolled with each stroke.

Before the next feed I asked for Becky to get in with me. Having her in made swimming with my eyes closed easier. With my eyes closed the bioluminescence wasn’t there to effect me, and with my eyes squinted I could easily see her glow stick and Kevin’s head lamp without the brightness of either one making me ill. Feeling better my pace picked up, and I was able to make up for some of the time I’d spent puking.

At daylight Kevin got out. As he got on to the boat I hoped there was a cheese sandwich waiting for him. After 8 hours of paddling, and listening to me vomit he most definitely deserved one.

Dan’s calm demeanor and quiet smile were most welcomed. As we swam along picking up trash and yelling stuff back and forth to the boat. I thought about how much I appreciated the weekend I spent at his swim camp. He had Vaseline for me in his pocket and ibuprofen when he heard my forearm had been cramped for most of the swim. Both items were enjoyed very much.

Breathing to the left I saw the boat. I could see my dad standing there. I don’t think he left the boats railing much during my swim. Even at night I could make out the outline of his hoodie. Having him watching me made me feel safe. Paula’s camera was flashing away. Hearing her familiar laugh reminded me of being in the pool. Becky flashed a white board at me, each time with something silly written on it. Later I saw that she took pictures of the whiteboard with her phrases and my responses written down. Carol smiled and yelled, “you’re doing great babe!” I loved that each of the people on the boat was there. They were all a huge part of me doing this. Yiga watched with Becky making jokes and laughing. I loved that they were having so much fun together. I saw Diana texting away. I knew that she was keeping Kyle, and a few others who’d asked, to be updated on my swim in the loop.

Yiga and Diana both swam with me one more time each. It was nice to see them both enjoying themselves in the water, and I appreciated their company. Diana only stayed in for half an hour because we were approaching the end of the swim and I needed one hour off so that Becky and Yiga could get in and swim a bit with me at the end.

Kevin got back in the water. I was happy to see him. He offered me some instructions, but I was tired and I could only do what I could do. He smiled calmly and we swam on. I was glad he was in for the last bit of my swim. He’s helped me so much in the last year and a half. I’m constantly filled with self doubt, and he’s always overflowing with kindness and encouragement.

I couldn’t see land, but it was “closer than crap” according to my dad. We were 1.2 nautical miles from shore. Becky and Yiga jumped back in. We swam together like we have 100 times before.

Dan paddled ahead for the landing and took a video. I exited the beach and saw Kyle. I was so happy that he was able to find us. He was there with flowers (as requested). I was sofa king tired by the time the swim was over.

Kevin towed me back to the boat behind his paddle board and we joked that I was flexing my feet to slow him down. Desitin was embedded in my pores, and I was tired. We grabbed a big bottle of dish soap and Becky helped me in the shower.

It was done. I swam the Catalina Channel September 7-8 in 11 hours 45 minutes, 8 hours in the dark, and I raised $3,240 for Sports for Exceptional Athletes to serve as scholarship money for an adapted swim team that I volunteer as a coach with.

Thankful Thursday

In the last few days, I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and hugs. Everyone wishing me well before my swim. People asking how I’m doing and how I’m feeling. The last couple of weeks have been a big mix of emotions. Crying, anxiety, frustration and fear. Today though I’m excited and super stoked to be heading out tomorrow night. My biggest concern? Staying up all night. I’m usually pretty early to bed, so here’s to hoping I don’t turn into a pumpkin!

The last year and a half has been a ton of fun. While it does seem like I was just sending in my deposit for the boat, it’s also been a lot of work. My husband, Kyle, is by far the best partner I could ever hope for. He encouraged me to leave a job where I was very unhappy and explore my interests and passions. When I’ve left the house well before sunrise for training swims he has always made sure that all of our pets were cared for and that I had everything I wanted and needed when I got home.

I’ve had the best support in the water too. Between: Kevin, Becky, Carol, Paula, Dan, and Yiga. I’ve always had someone to paddle for long training swims and encourage me when I’ve been less than sure about all of this!

Today I’m extremely excited and very grateful!

Grandma Knows All

“Hi babes, what’s up?” She greeted me. I told her I was just confirming that I’d be at their house Friday to take my grandpa to his doctors appointment. “Are you sure that’s all?” She asked. No that wasn’t all, and she knew. She always knows. I was nervous. I’d had a mentally hard swim where I cried and didn’t do what I’d set out to do. 9 days away from my Catalina channel swim and my confidence was completely shaken.

“You’re turning it into work, honey. This isn’t work” she reminded me. “This… this is what you love to do. This is your passion. No cell phones, no one bugging you. Just you and the water. You’re going to get in there, put your head down, and swim because that’s what you do best”.

I cried on the phone about sharks. People keep telling me about the damned sharks. “They don’t want you” she reassured me. “How many hours have you spent in the ocean? No sharks, right? You’re fine. Nana is always watching over you too. There’s nothing to worry about. Just go and swim.”

It doesn’t seem like it, but it really is that simple. I need to turn my mind around. I need to get out of my head. I need to stop focusing on what scares me and what I can’t do- it’s not a productive use of my energy. I need to focus on what i can do. I can pull, i can breathe, i can swim 20 something miles. I can do this. I woke up this morning thinking “I’m calm, I’m strong, i can do this”. I have a feeling those words will be bouncing around my head for the next several days.

Encinitas to La Jolla

“What do you mean it’s different water? It’s not a lake, right? It’s still salt water. You’re still in the Pacific Ocean.” Ken was coaching me through my nerves and I appreciated it.

I was scared though. The last two times i was in the channel (kayaking and observing) one was hard for me mentally, and the other I witnessed a woman not much older or different than myself swim for 18 hours and 2 minutes. That’s an enormous physical and mental feat. Am I capable of that?

Kevin and I got in the water. I lamented that we weren’t in La Jolla and that it was dark. Yes the bioluminescence was beautiful, yes the water looked silky, but it was dark and it wasn’t La Jolla.

I tried telling my self I was calm and that I could do this. It kind of worked. It at least distracted me from focusing on being scared.

The wind picked up and so did the chop. I swallowed a bit of water and threw up. I felt awful. I was nauseous, I was frustrated and crying, and I was only about 6 miles into the swim.

The rest of the swim was glacially slow. Looking at lone dolphins, a guitar fish, and wondering why Del Mar felt like such a long stretch of beach.

We finished the swim. Moonlight beach to La Jolla. It was only 14.5 miles and it took me 10 hours, although, Kevin allocated some of that time to what he dubbed “the 22 minute tantrum”. I had 8.5 hours of swim time on my last long swim and I swam 14 miles. I know currents and conditions play a role, but so did my mood.

I snorkeled the next day with my friend Sarah and that felt good. When things seem to feel ultra awful she has a kind and gentle way of putting them back into perspective. I also talked to Becky and Carol. They laughed as they told me stories about training swims they’d done that had gone awry. Michele reassured me that I was going to be fine. She told me about a time she was running a 100 mile ultra marathon event and crying she begged someone to use a phone so she could call her husband. Because of the hard training sessions, and other various factors they all achieved their goals. They’re four of the toughest women I know.

I thought the next time I’d swim with Kevin as my paddler I’d be in the channel, but i won’t. We’ll be swimming 2-3 hours on Tuesday night.

Catch-up drill

I’m really bad at this whole blogging thing. I want to remember the tedious details of training for this swim because I truly do realize what a privilege this opportunity is.

Since my last post I: cohosted a fundraising event at Lindsey’s salon, my fundraising total is up to around $2,700, I’ve done a 7 and an 8 hours training swim, I kayaked for Becky at Portland bridges (tons of fun), helped kayak for a Catalina relay (where I unceremoniously fell out of my kayak before the swim even started) and just 3 days ago I did a 9 hour training swim.

Prior to the 7 hour swim I had done a 5 hour swim, but my 6 hour swim got messed up due to weather and then Kevin and I both got sick. 7 hours by far was the hardest for me, but it was still fun and a great learning opportunity.

The 8 hour swim was easier, but it still came with its own set of challenges. A couple of weeks prior to it Kevin was injured, so I put out a call for help and had a little bit of a different team to help support this endeavor. I started out swimming with Pearl and Dan kayaked for us, then Yiga got in the water with me (on Kevin’s paddle board) for 4 hours. Dan and Yiga will both be on the boat supporting me for my channel swim, and I so appreciate their time, patience, and help. For the last 2 hours Kevin and Becky got in the water. This is when I felt the best. I was so happy to see Kevin genuinely smiling and back on the water and to have Becky to follow for the last couple hours.

The 9 hour swim though? That was great. We met at 4:30 and Dan was in the parking lot to say hi to Kevin. He left and went and met a swimmer he was kayaking for at the boat launch ramp. We all reconvened in the water until my pace picked up. We swam to the north end of Torrey Pines. The water was a couple of degrees cooler up there and the currents were strong. Some spots felt like I was swimming up hill. By 11 we had made our way back to La Jolla Shores where we looked for Becky, but didn’t find her. After about half an hour we swam towards the cove (where she found us). Then we swam straight out for a mile and then back in. My total swim time was about 8:36 but the missing time (to make it a full 9 hours)was spent treading water while we looked for Becky. I swam 14 miles that day and I felt great.

I know that Catalina will be hard but i am really looking forward to it and I feel confident that I can do it!

Some Swims are Hard

It rained a little almost every night last week. I thought our swim was going to get pushed from La Jolla Shores to Bonita Cove (in the bay). But it didn’t, and at 4:30 I pulled into the parking lot at the shores.

The surf was bigger than predicted with swells coming from, seemingly, multiple directions. We swam north to the glider port and then turned around and went back to the shores. On our way back there was a pod of juvenile sea lions playing in the water, and likely wondering why I’m such an inefficient swimmer! We were supposed to meet Becky at 8 (3 hours into my swim), but we couldn’t find her. We sat by a buoy for a few minutes and I had one of my feeds. Then we kept swimming kind of to the cove. Kevin kept an eye out, but couldn’t spot her as we kept going.

About 25 minutes later Kevin popped up, she found us! We let her know that it we were just about to finish. And she was just fine with that!

Meli came down later and joined me for breakfast and pedicures.

A night of wellness and self care!

June 23, 2018 I’ll be co -hosting an event at a salon in San Diego, California. We are looking for donations for our raffle and for door prizes. We are also looking for vendors to come and participate. 100% of the money raised from this event will be donated to Sports for Exceptional Athletes. If you’re interested, please email me: ambrrrbaker@gmail.com!

Spring Break Swimming

I swam in the ocean nearly every day for the last two weeks, and it was good. The kind of good where you see the kelp swaying below you. The kind of good where you see the fish swim to the right and then quickly to the left. The kind where you can feel your glide seeming longer and smoother.

The water was cool. Early in the week it was around 57, and then it found its way up to 59. One day we saw three small sharks and another we saw one. I told Becca about the sharks that we saw and she quickly gasped, “wait you actually see sharks? Uhuh! No thank you!” I laughed and she told me I was crazy.

The last two days of spring break I had to do back to back 5 mile swims. Saturday I swam with Becky. We started at the shores and went to the cove then the pier then back to the shores, then to the cove, then parallel with the shore to the main lifeguard tower. We swam a few hundred yards under 5 miles in 2 hours and 33 minutes (or something like that). The real adventure started when we got out of the water, though. Becky’s hands were cold and she pushed the key a smidge too far back into its’ hidey hole. I found sticks and we lay on the asphalt poking and pushing trying to get it out. After about 20 minutes we were both filthy, but the key was out and we were headed to a well deserved lunch.

The First Long Swim

The date of the swim got changed up a bit due to other commitments and then weather but we ended up going out on Sunday (2/18), and Becky came too! Becky weaved back and forth adding extra distance (for her) to compensate for her being so speedy. Kevin Paddled along side me offering simple instructions through hand signals as I swam.

He told me he was proud of me for being brave and not swimming in his armpit like I did last time. He also told me I had some stuff to work on. I had fun, but I was disappointed in myself. I wanted to swim faster and farther. When I looked back through my Garmin app though, I realized that I had done fine. I was swimming faster than I did last year and it was in open water not in a pool.

We went 5.25 miles in 2 hours and 45 minutes. The water was around 59F, the sun was shining, and the sea was calm. It was a perfect San Diego winter swim.

With a Little Help from My Friends

Last year when I was helping Diana with Swim4Vets I organized T-shirt sales to raise money for homeless veterans with Father Joe’s Villages. This year I’m raising money for a different NPO, Sports for Exceptional Athletes. The money I raise will be used for scholarship money for adapted swim lessons and teams for individuals with developmental disabilities.

This year I’m selling silicone swim caps with the Nautical Miles Radical Smiles logo that my friend, Dawn, designed for me. If you’re interested in one please contact me!

To date I’ve raised $658, and my swim is still about 8 months away! The support and love that my friends and family have shown is incredible!

Something else that’s recently been impactful on my life is that I had been working in animal welfare and sheltering for seven years, and I quit my job. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and I’m using this year to fully decide on what kind of credentials I’d like to pursue. In doing this I’ve been working for a small school district as a 1:1 aide in a Special Day Class with some pretty amazing students. I love seeing the authentic friendships being formed and the genuine belly laughs that can occasionally be heard from teenagers. It has been a great experience! The district is in a relatively rural community a bit east of San Diego. I don’t have to take the freeway and my commute is mostly scenic. My colleagues have asked me about plans for the weekend, and they always include swimming. These conversations often lead to talking about my upcoming channel swim, and everyone has been so supportive. They even placed an article in the local newspaper about me!