Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wow! What a ride!

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah - probably the best landscape I've ever been fortunate enough to witness!

Dear Swimmers

I hope you're all doing well and have been good, diligent little swimmers whilst I've been away ;-) By all accounts from Sandy, Sally, Francene, Brad and Carolyn all has been going well despite the cooler winter temperatures. I would like to formally thank all the coaches for their hard work and support whilst I've been away literally having the trip of a lifetime and to all of you for supporting with your attendance in my absence. I'll be back on pool deck this Friday at 5.30am - so watch out!

I'd love to take this opportunity to share a few of our stories and photos from what has been a truly amazing experience driving ~5,000km across the USA from New York City to San Francisco with my best mate Adam.

The route: NYC - Pennsylvania, Cleveland, Chicago, Omaha, Denver, Boulder, Salt Lake City, Nevada, California

That winning feeling! I'm still on Cloud 9.5 three weeks later!

Following our wonderful experience at the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim it was supposed to be time to live it up in New York City and celebrate Michelle's nineteenth 21st birthday, however, I (and by all accounts most of the field from the race) succumbed to "Harlem Belly" after having picked up a bug during the race. The day before was a huge tropical storm which cooled the water's temperature to sub-16ºC and also resulted in massive wash-off of every possible unsavoury bit of trash you could imagine. With my "race face" on I managed to avoid being distracted by most of this at the time, but Adam reported later that it was really not very nice at all. During one of my drink stops I managed to fumble my bottle and dragged it under water without the lid on - upon bringing it back to the surface I saw a load of "sediment" had mixed with my energy drink but torn between asking for another bottle and losing time at a critical stage in the race I decided to knock it back regardless. That was probably a mistake in hindsight. I spent the next two weeks feeling very average indeed!

Having the Sheetz is no fun at all when you're supposed to be on holiday!

B&H Photo - a photographer's "Santa's Grotto"

Before we hit the road we took a pilgrimage to the largest photography store in the world - B&H Photo. Being a photo-geek I've always wanted to visit this world-renowned store and I knew I'd have no problem persuading my partner in crime, Adam. It was truly unbelievable! They had over 300 staff in one store and 700 more working in the warehouse. Incredible. Every single bit of camera gear you could ever dream of was there and in every single size, colour and cost option. I couldn't believe the amount of stock they had. The majority of the employees are jewish and looked very distinctive in their cultural attire which all added to the mystique of the place. Thousands of little conveyer belts ran overhead in every direction, delivering your chosen product to the cashier without need for anyone to run "upstairs" and check what was available. This was camera shopping on steroids - the veritable Santa's Grotto for photographers. I was hugely impressed and somewhat dumbfounded by the place. Did I buy anything? Actually only an iPhone case and a UV filter for my camera, but the experience more than made up for my thrifty ways.

Wild swimming: we stopped at a different lake every day for a mid-afternoon dip - bliss!

It was soon time to hit the road and "Go West!" - our first day took us through Pennsylvania and rather than stick to the main interstate roads we went a little off the beaten track and saw the real America - it was beautiful and incredibly rustic. After an over night stop in Cleveland we were on turbo-charge for Chicago. Unsure of what to expect we were delighted with what we found (below) after we were advised to go for a dip at East Ohio Street Beach in downtown Chicago - the backdrop was incredible and unlike anywhere I've swum before. Definitely a highlight.

East Ohio Street Beach - skies that stretched forever bounded by stunning skycrapers and super-clean water - highly recommended!

The "Bean" - an otherworldly tourist attraction in downtown Chicago

Super-reflective - the photo geeks get down to work!

I took Adam to see the "Blue Man Group" (a crazy acoustic act where all the performers are painted blue - very funny) but after two nights in a crazily expensive hotel in downtown Chicago, it was time to hit the road again...minus my laptop (of course!). I didn't realise that I'd left it at the hotel until three days later! Multiple panicked phone calls ensued trying to retrace our steps. Thankfully the staff at the Crowne Plaza Hotel had put it aside (phew -my life's work is on this computer!) and arranged to FEDEX it over to me the following morning when we arrived in Boulder. Only 16 hours passed from the time that I located it until the time it was safely back in my hands again - how's that for service?! Very, very lucky!

Brother's in Arms - there's nothing better than a 5,000km road trip with your best mate and the tunes pumping, LOUD!

The healthiest town in the healthiest state, Boulder - a whole aisle dedicated to every possible version of mineral water you can imagine!

Sadly, I can't resist my favourite and best beer in the whole world (Leffe) especially when it's a sixth of the cost in Perth: danger, danger!

We were invited to stay in Boulder, Colorado with an old mate 2006 ITU World Triathlon Champion and three-time Olympian, Tim Don. Tim's been a huge inspiration to me over the years and has recently relocated to the US with his wife Kelly and two year old daughter Matilda as his focus turns now to half iron distance events, at which he had just finished 2nd at the 70.3 Ironman UK a couple of days before we arrived. 

Tim, Kelly, Matilda, me and Adam: a great four days with a former world champion triathlete! We even ate pizza and drank beer...

It was great to catch up with Tim again and to go for several swim sessions with him. I was feeling surprisingly good after the efforts of the MIMS race and so managed to knock out quite a few hard sessions with Tim and another friend from days gone by, World 70.3 and World X-Terra Champion, Julie Dibbens. 

We were also invited down to meet six time World Ironman Champion Dave Scott (my ultimate hero in long course triathlon) at his pool at the Flat Irons centre and invited by Dave to do some coaching with a few of his swimmers, including Julie - what an experience! Offering a World Champion and someone you've idolised for years some stroke technique advice whilst "The Man" of triathlon himself watches over your every move totally digging what you're doing. A definite "pinch me now" moment if ever there was one!

Here's some interviews with myself and Dave Scott for your interest:

Coaching World Champion Julie Dibbens whilst six time Hawaii Ironman Champion Dave Scott cracks the jokes!

It's fair to say that Dave Scott is the world's fittest, leanest and most tanned 60 year old on the planet - what an inspiration!

Meeting three time World Ironman Champion Craig Alexander: even better was that he knew who we were by name! Happy Days!

Boulder is undoubtedly the true "Mecca" of triathlon anywhere in the world and it was just brilliant soaking in the incredible atmosphere there - in fact I reckon you could just live in Boulder, drink in the limited high-altitude oxygen and get fitter and healthier just by watching all the amazing bodies going about their daily grind in search of athletic supremacy. After 4 days we hit the road again through the Rocky Mountains heading north-west through Utah, Nevada and into California.

Two minutes before we got threatened with arrest for standing on the delicate Tundra - oops!

It's been a long time since I've seen snow! Here at nearly 4,000m of elevation - the views were stunning!

An Elk in all it's majestic glory

These beasts are massive and yet graceful all at the same time!

Boulder Canyon - everything you imagine Colorado to be...and more!

Upon leaving Boulder at 2pm we were on a race against the clock to get to the Arches National Park for a stunning sunset and we were spoiled with an amazing view of the Delicate Arch and surrounds. It just so happened that it was the same night as the Super Moon came up to give us a dazzling end to a wondrous day road tripping along one of the world's finest driving experiences. We took a mad 3km scramble up the rocks really powering along in the late afternoon desert heat but the effort was well worth it.

Whilst I tried my best, even this photo doesn't do justice to the depth and size of these amazing canyons

A couple enjoying a very romantic moment as the sun starts to go down over the Delicate Arch

Rock formations that my sixth-form geology teacher would have been proud of!

Just take a small step backwards...go on, a little more...eek!

The photographic competition was intense between myself and my sparring partner Adam - love this shot of me in silhouette!

Super Moon rising up above the Arches National Park, Utah

It would have been lovely to have stayed a little longer to explore this amazing landscape but alas we were on a bit of a timeline to arrive in California a few days later.

Americans are even more obsessed with jerky than Australians, and that's saying something!

As you may know we write a monthly column for the H2Open open water swimming magazine and Simon the editor had decided to put us in touch with a crazy bunch of marathon swimmers in Salt Lake City, Utah to check out a swim in the Salt Lake itself. By now we'd been on the road for over two weeks and every day Adam made a point of us stopping in totally wild open water locations for a quick dip to freshen up after a long day on the road. After MIMS I personally had no real intention of doing any swimming until I got back to Perth but I'm so glad Adam made this suggestion as these "Swims Across America" have definitely formed the fondest memories of this trip. I love swimming of course, but it hasn't been until this trip that I've really become smitten with swimming for swimming's sake - no plan, no goal, no itinerary, no big race to train for...it's been so refreshing and without sounding too "hippyfied", really quite life changing. 

That all being said though, nothing could have prepared me for the experience of swimming in the Salt Lake - a body of water over 100km long but only about 3 or 4 meters deep and with a salinity the same as that of the Dead Sea. The first thing that hits you is the intense briny smell wafting off the turbulent water before literally thousands of horrid little brine flies attach themselves all over your body, stuck tight to the masses of lubricating wool fat that you need to apply all over your body to ward off the high risk of serious chaffing due to the coarse salinity of the water. Wading into the lake you become immediately aware of the extreme buoyancy that the salinity gives the water - an incredible feeling. By this point it all feels a little weird, a little new but once you dive into that water...oh my goodness! It's unbelievably salty! Your mouth feels like it's instantly swollen and your nasal passages are burning as though you've just snorted a huge dinner plateful of Japan's finest wasabe sauce. Ouch! It burns, burns, burns like a veritable ring of fire!

We proceeded to swim about 3km with Goodie, Josh and Gordon in the massively windy conditions (this made the English Channel look tame!) but it's an experience I will never, ever forget. A busload of tourists met us as we exited the water with deep looks of shock and concern for what we were doing - all we could do was shrug and laugh!

The Salt Lake Swimmers: Adam, Goodie, Josh and me (Gordon's taking the photo)

Pure madness: celebrating our 45 minute swim - Gordon (seated) swam 11hrs in this lake in sub-16ºC to qualify for swimming the English Channel last year - now that is bonkers!

We were quickly back on the road after a swift Taco Bell meal and heading west once again. Adam (being the petrol head that he is) spotted the Bonneville International Speedway track on the map just a couple of hours down the road. This otherworldly salt pan landscape is where multiple world land-speed records have been broken (800km/h+) and where the Top Gear boys regularly go to rev the backside off various test cars. At this point I want to tell you that we had hired a fully-specced Dodge Charger to drive across America and that we got it up to over 300km/h on the 15km straight, but alas that would be fibbing, but we did get our faithful five door Ford Fusion up to over 160km/h on the totally deserted landscaped. It was eerie and thrilling in equal measure!

Like nothing you've ever seen before - this landscape extended for miles in every direction!

Can you tell I'm having fun?!

Jeremy Clarkson has got nothing on me!

The next day was spent speeding across Nevada...more beautiful sites, more jerky-filled service stations - I just don't get the jerky thing?!

Home on the range

A jerky fetish lover's ultimate fantasy

Rule number one of driving across the US should be "never trust an American when it comes to describing an idyllic swimming spot". OK, maybe that's a little harsh, but we were "reliably" informed that the best place in the whole of California to swim was Lake Tahoe. The picture below was as it was described:

Lake Tahoe, apparently

...but this is what we were presented with - 13ºC air temperature, 10.5ºC water temperature, driving rain and massively windy and choppy (and yes, I still got a swim in - brrrrr!):

Lake Tahoe, actually - we were duped! I want my money back! ;-)

Lake Tahoe: it's 39 trillion gallon capacity would cover the whole of California with 30cm of water if it were emptied! I feel another marathon swim challenge coming on...

So after our "mild" disappointment of Lake Tahoe we shot off to hook up with Evan ("from Heaven" as he became affectionately known: our wizz-kid navigator from the MIMS race who had recently relocated to San Francisco). Evan had invited us to swim at Aquatic Bay in the shadow of the infamous Alcatraz Island. Evan hosted us at the historic South End Rowing Club - as you'll see below, the changing room was right out of a Rocky movie...just what we required to get pumped up for a 14ºC 90 minute swim in the treacherous waters outside of the safety of the Aquatic Park itself. The tide changed significantly and swiftly during our swim and made it very challenging to get back into the Cove - thrilling though of course! ;-)

The atmosphere of over 120 years of marathon swimming oozing from every orifice! 

Macho talk...

The view from the post-swim sauna room: magic!

And as quickly as we were hitting the road to escape the Harlem Belly woes of New York, we were into our last few days of our month-long road trip across the US. Finis Inc. (who produce all the funky swimming tools we use on the pool deck like the paddles and tempo trainers) had invited us to Livermore in California to run a 3-day Swim Smooth Coach Education Course from their brilliant HQ complete with every possible swimming aid you could ever envisage and a superb Endless Pool flume tank set-up for testing all their products. I was in heaven! We've been endorsing the virtues of Finis's products for over 5 years and are one of the UK & Europe's biggest retailers of their gear. We promote and sell their products quite simply because they work and we believe in them. No other company is more passionate about motivating swimmers with innovative products than Finis and seeing their 45 staff in action was a true testament to this mission. 

The invite to run one of our coveted 3-day courses with 15 swim and triathlon coaches from all over the US & Canada and then to provide 13 local swimmers with a free 1-day course to refine their strokes, fitness and open water skills was the perfect way to conclude this trip of a lifetime. We also had the opportunity to film and advise eight of the Finis staff, all of whom have been on the USA swimming team - these swimmers were the best of the best - truly incredible. One of the swimmers (Bobby) swam 1m45s from a push for 200 yards freestyle (about 1m53s for 200m) without any major stress at all - it was wonderful to witness!

We are eternally grateful to John Mix (CEO and founder), David Seiler (marketing and athlete sponsorship) and the rest of the staff of Finis for organising this opportunity for us.

Home from home: very similar to Claremont Pool, hey?!

The coaches tasked to the nines on our 3-day Coach Education Course

Wise words...

A true swimming visionary: Finis CEO & Founder, John Mix

OK, I've taken far too much of your time, if you're still reading (thank you!) we took a final dip in Lake Del Valle proceeded by a Corona on the lakeside as the sun went down - bliss! It was then pack up time in the 111ºF heat before a quick trip to see the Golden Gate Bridge and then high-tailing it to the airport to jump on a plane for 15h45 + 11h15 (ouch!). 

The sun going down over the hills of northern California in the Del Valle National Park

El Scorchio!

The Humber Bridge, Yorkshire Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

OK gang - I'm very much looking forward to getting back to it on Friday morning at Claremont Pool at 5.30am - hope to see you then! Thanks once again for allowing me the opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime to the USA and to achieve something in swim racing and coaching I could have never imagined possible in my wildest dreams.


Paul, Dream Wild

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