Wednesday, October 15, 2008


So, living in Keokuk isn't all bad, but one does have to get creative at times in finding something entertaining to do. I've discovered that I really do not have a whole lot of free time, especially if I use some of that free time that I have to catch up on some much-needed rest. However, when the creative juices aren't flowing, I'm rested, and I'm not swamped with things to do...I have to figure out SOMEthing to keep me occupied. One Saturday afternoon I realized I just needed to "get out of Dodge". My cosmopolitan side needed some nurturing, so I figured I'd head up to the biggest nearby city and spend the weekend...and that would be Chicago (although St. Louis is actually closer, I figured Chicago was more interesting, plus I had a free room to stay in since my brother was getting trained for his new job up there). Five hours later I was nervously veering through the speeding traffic on the busy interstate system, and just enjoying the pace and speed and intensity and combustion of a big city. It was already really late so I ended up just locating my hotel and getting some rest so I'd be ready to explore the city the next day. I really had no agenda other than: 1) see people, 2) eat ethnic food, and 3) see something interesting for cheap. I checked the first thing off my list by wandering into a Vietnamese section of town and eating some good "pho". Yum! (The only "ethnic" food in Keokuk is a quite average Chinese restaurant and Mexican restaurant...unless you count Taco Bell as Mexican and Pizza Hut as Italian). I then wandered over to Lakeshore Drive and noticed the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline and hundreds of people playing beach volleyball, jogging, picnicing, and enjoying the beautiful autumn day. I decided to park my car about 5 miles north of downtown by Lincoln Park (so as to avoid any exorbitant parking fees) and got out and just started walking toward downtown. I was so impressed by the lively scene along the waterfront and how nice the city skyline was. I ended up walking miles down the shoreline and into downtown, stopped to window-shop at a few stores (even though I had no money to buy anything it was nice shopping at something other than Wal-Mart), and watched street-performers with the same amount of awe and entertainment as I remember doing as a naive and sheltered high-school kid the first time I went to Boston. It was so fun to just be in a city. I ended up probably walking 12-15 miles that day and loved every minute of it. When I finally decided I needed to head back to Keokuk that evening, I realized I had basically just driven 10 hours to "go on a little (urban) hike". I laughed at how it seemed in the past I had to find the perfect time, and have a 3-4 day weekend, to justify a trip down to Arches when I lived in Utah, or to go to Martha's Vineyard when I lived in Boston, or to go to Olympic Peninsula when I lived in Seattle. And here in Keokuk, I hardly thought twice about just getting in my car and heading up five hours just to BE in Chicago. With gas prices what they are, I don't know that I'll make a habit of that, but it sure was fun.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Chris and his Amazing Catalina Crossing

On September 18th-19th, I had the fortunate experience of watching and participating in the most incredible athletic accomplishment with which I've ever been personally involved. The best part about it was it was my 14-month older brother , Chris, who did it. Back in early summer, he casually asked me if I would like to support kayak for him as he attempted to cross the Catalina Channel. I thought it sounded fun, and it was an excuse to get out of Iowa and go to Southern California, so I promptly said "Sure, if I can work it out". I really didn't have any understanding of what it really meant though, and I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to pull it off with my work schedule and finances. However, as his targeted day grew nearer, we revisited the idea and we decided we would really try to make it work. With some help from Chris and a little negotiating at work I was able to get off and fly out to Orange County for the big event. Prior to the big day, I worked three straight 18-hour shifts, then got off my last shift at 11:00 pm and drove 5 hours to Chicago to catch a 5:30 am flight to Orange County. By midnight that night, Thursday the 18th, I was on a boat watching Chris jump into pitch black waters and swim to Catalina Island to begin his Channel Crossing.

My parents and I, along with a support team that included an Ironman triathelete, an English Channel crosser, and the world-record holder for most miles swam in one month, were all there to cheer him on and provide motivation, direction, and nutrition. Because I wasn't as experienced of a kayker as others there, I was told to not go out at night...when the ocean was so dark, vast, and formidable.
But at about 6:00 am, when the sun crept over the wet horizon, I went off the boat onto my ocean kayak to paddle up to my brother who was still just moving along with a rhythmic cadence.
For his swim to be officially recorded and accepted, he had to have an observer there to "officiate" the swim. He was not allowed a wet suit, or any kind of physical assistance at all (no one was ever allowed to touch him, or him use the boat or kayak for support).
Every 30 minutes he would have a "feed" where the kayaker would reach out a water bottle and a little "gu" (power gel) to him. These feedings would last all of 15 seconds before he would get back into his stroke. They were told to be so quick for two reasons, because they didn't want to add on any extra time or have him expend any extra energy that wasn't propelling him towards his destination and safety; and secondly, so that his metabollic heart rate would not lower which would cause his body temperature to decline. The water was usually mid-60s and any stopping would cause his temperature to drop quickly, in which case he would be at risk of cramping and even hypothermia.
The conditions of the swim were good to start, with moonlight casting a glow on the water so that we could see his arms escaping the dark ocean and his head turn for his breaths. However, by mid-morning, winds had started to pick up and the currents had changed as well....not good things for open-water swimmers. The swells and waves became much larger than expected posing problems for both he and myself, the kayaker, and the current the boat was trying to follow had shifted as well. This caused him at one point to be swimming for an hour straight with literally no progress. He was swimming on a treadmill essentially. They had to re-route him to find a current, and after he finally got to a better current, he had lost valuable time and added essentially four extra miles to the swim.
Eventually we saw the coastline and the beach-front hills began to get a little bit larger and larger. My brother continued to go strong, with his arms churning in a steady motion like an oil rig, moving up and down, up and down, for what seemed like an eternity.
We all worried about him, considering how long he was in the water and how much energy and strength he would be able to sustain, but his stamina and perseverence were incredible. We finally made radio contact with an on-shore lifeguard to help us find a place he would be able to safely come into the coast since his landing spot had been changed multiple times to account for the current and conditions. He helped us find a little cove in which he finally, almost literally, crawled ashore....25 miles and just under 15 hours later.

I was truly amazed and inspired at what he had just done. He became the 156th person to successfully cross the channel since 1926. His feat was the equivalent of running almost three marathons back to back to back. I felt blessed to have been able to assist in some way and to share that incredible accomplishment with him. Way to go, Chris!!!
Not only was I so glad to be able to share in that experience with Chris, but it so neat to see my Mom and Dad, Brooklyn and her family, Chris's family, and I even got a 4-hour layover in Salt Lake City on the way home, in which time I was able to meet Sara, Aryn, and Quinn again for lunch and a little visit. It was a WONDERFUL weekend!