24-miles of the Lower Willamette!

UPDATE 2/27/2022: I'm planning to repeat this swim in 2022 using Marathon Swimmers Federation guidelines for documentation, so this time it will be official! For more info visit this link to Everything Lower Willamette and LowerWillametteSwim.com. Currently, planning on July 30, 2022. If you or anyone you know would like to help out, please comment or contact me otherwise. 💖

It's taking some processing and time to sit with the events of last Saturday, 8/21/21. A lot happened, and nothing happened. Let's see. Where to begin? *Most photos are at the end. 
Training for the swim was the easy part. I enjoy long swims and logging miles in the morning before class, and digging into the day's tasks. 

Crossing under the railroad bridge in Milwaukie. Photo: Amanda Cross

 Organizing was a challenge. I decided early on not to have a support boat and instead do the swim with kayak support and someone onshore in a car acting similarly to how a support boat would. I called this a "Point Person," thank you, Leah and Jenn, for acting as my point people and keeping the support side of things running smoothly for my whole swim. 
Passing the Point Person Baton
Point people Jenn (left) and Leah (right) passing the baton from AM to PM roles. Photo: Eivind Hagen

Part of the reasoning for organizing the swim the way I did is because I decided not to submit it for ratification/documentation via the Maraton Swimmers Federation. Doing so would have meant having observers and documentation, and I just wasn't up for the challenge of organizing this all for my first ever ultra-marathon distance swim. Since I didn't follow the MSF guidelines, my swim won't be eligible. In hindsight, maybe I should have. But I'll know I swam the Lower Willamette, and there is some pretty solid casual documentation of the swim (not enough for it to *count* in any of the databases, but it counts with the people who matter in my life.) 
A big part of the planning was finding and organizing the HUGE support crew. Another early decision was to have multiple paddlers that changed throughout the swim; this way, they could stay fresh and attentive and not have to commit to spending too much of their Saturday sitting in a kayak. In the end, the team consisted of seven kayakers (Matt, Amanda, Eivind, Caryl, Christina, Crystal, & Laura), six support swimmers (Doug, Ben, someone I couldn't tell who it was, Amanda, & Eivind), and an escort sailboat for the last 5 miles (Alice the sailboat and crew: Lars and Robin). 
What a crew. Everyone pulled together and rose to the occasion. Lauren came over and helped me make 32 feeds, and Amanda made trail mix, energy bars, and sandwiches for the whole crew. Robin and Lars sailed out and stocked Alice with bribe treats/feeds, and Jenn organized a surprise group of folks from the Ballenas to cheer me on from the water at Daimler. Random people waved to me from almost every dock along the 24-mile route, and my partner's parents even came down to cheer for me. I'm proud of this swim for many reasons, but one of them is the community building that happened along the way. I am also incredibly proud of the greater Portland community, who collectively contributed $4000 to local non-profits: Black Swimming Initiative and Human Access Project. 
Getting in. Photo: Leah Hinkle
The swim itself started a little late. We got in at 5:35 AM and started the watches right away. We also had a SPOT tracker to use with track.rs but had a technical difficulty, and the tracker wasn't active until 8:10, just over a mile into the swim. (Both the track.rs map and Garmin map are below.) I started at the boat ramp at Clackamette Park and exited at Kelly Point park.
Track.rs map showing the route from after my first feed. Strava map from support kayak below. 
The first section of the swim went super smoothly. Paddlers were right on time with all my feeds (every 30 minutes), and since we started in the dark, I got to swim into the dawn, one of my favorite things! The only unpleasant part of the morning was swimming through massive amounts of Duck Weed. It gets a little itchy. The best part of this swim was that my partner paddled next to me, and my favorite support kayaker of all time, Amanda, was there too. I remember thinking about how lovely the water is in the dark and how much warmer my arms were in the water. Eivind joined us at Foothills Park, and support swimmer Doug got in just before Milwaukie Boat Ramp. 
Amanda kayaking, Matty on SUP, me with the buoy, and Doug support swimming. Photo: Eivind Hagen

The kayaker swap at Milwaukie took a little more time than anticipated, and I nearly missed a feed, but it was smooth sailing after all the kayakers were together. The stretch between Milwaukie and the River Hugger fire dock was my first challenge of the day. I got nauseous. Like, a lot. Earlier I had coffee with Amanda, and it went down fine, but the next one did not want to stay down. Somewhere around OHSU, I started having acid reflux that continued to get worse as the day went on. I remember thinking that I had to eat and forced myself not to miss feeds. At mile 10, I celebrated but wondered if I could finish. Already I was tired, sore, and spitting up. I kept my self-doubt to myself, put my head down, and swam on. 
Kayaker swap at the Huggers dock. Photo:Eivind Hagen 

The swap at the Huggers dock was pretty smooth! Amanda and Eivind got in to support swim and Laura, and Crystal took over kayaking duties. Laura has this bubbly, infectious laugh that makes everything better, and Crystal's smile is contagious. The swim to Daimler was easier than the stretch to downtown from Milwaukie. Feeds stayed down, the sun came out a little bit, and as I got well past the halfway point, I started to dream about what it would be like to walk out of the water at Kelley Point. Sometime around mile 18, I remember looking at Laura and Crystal and saying that I thought I would finish. The only unfortunate thing was the amount of GI distress and gas... at one point, I joked with Laura that I was farting so much the farts might be enhancing my performance. We joked about my "turbo boosts" occasionally and made light of an uncomfortable situation. 
Daimler to Cathedral Park is always challenging. Alice and her crew met up with us at the railroad bridge before the St. John's Bridge! I wanted to get on right away and hug my friends, settle down with a cup of something that wasn't homemade UCAN and start grilling a burger (my original exit plan for Kelley Point). But I stayed in the water and powered on. Also, as usual, the St. John's Bridge just never gets any closer. The damn thing is practically a mirage. I'm so used to getting out at Cathedral Park from my bridge swims that it was hard to keep going. There were people on the docks waving and cheering, and I wanted so bad to get out and celebrate, but there were another 5+ miles to swim. 
The "other" side of the St. John's Bridge. Photo: Eivind Hagen
I passed under the St. John's Bridge, and it was like hitting a wall physically and mentally. The tide changed, and suddenly, I was swimming uphill. It was like a treadmill under the St. John's Bridge (video evidence below). My GI distress got worse.  

I was swimming in uncharted territory. Up until passing the St. John's bridge, I had swum the whole river at different points. I had no beta, no landmarks to go off of to judge distance (my watch stopped after 7.5 hours, somewhere around the Fremont Bridge, I think), and my shoulders were hurting. At one point, I looked back at the St. John's bridge and said to Amanda, "I'm about a mile out, right?" She indicated that was a possibility. (It wasn't, I could see the bridge too easily.) I took a feed and floated backward quickly. The following few feeds were terrible. Nothing felt good in my tummy, and my mouth tasted like acid reflux. Amanda bribed me with brownies. They were delicious. I quit taking in UCAN at some point and drank fluids, ate honey sticks, and alternated between muffins and brownies to get the taste out of my mouth. I wanted caffeine so badly, but I knew it was a bad idea after the last coffee at mile 10. 

I was tired. As the sun got lower in the sky and I got closer to the Columbia, the water temperature went down, not by much and certainly not cold, but enough that I zapped some of my energy. I told Lars I was cold. He said I'd been colder; I retorted with, "Yeah, but I've never been this tired." Shortly after that, it occurred to me that Matt might be at Kelley Point with the dogs, and I didn't want them jumping on me as I got out. I asked Amanda to have Matt keep the dogs out of the water when I got out. I think that was the moment when I realized I would finish. I think this was also when I started singing "Today" by the Smashing Pumpkins, which led to putting the whole album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness on repeat in my head for a few hours. It's a great album. After a few repeats of that album (maybe I skipped a few songs here and there), I wrote my own song based on the Animaniacs song that never ends; you can probably guess how it goes. At that point, I had probably been in the water for 13 hours or so. 
Past the channel marker. So close. Photo: Lars Rutkowski 

We passed the channel marker for the tip of Sauvie Island and were slowly approaching Kelley Point. I wanted out. I was ready to be done. Each stroke hurt. Then I saw Matty in the distance and thought, No way. He wouldn't come out here. It's too far yet. But it wasn't. When I could tell it was him, I started crying. I asked him how far we were from the end, a quarter-mile. I cried harder. Amanda said, "Just a few lengths of a pool." I knew I could do it, and I did. 
Slowly starting to stand up. Photo: Robin Donovan
When I got out, Matt wanted to help me, but I waved him off and exited onto dry sand on my own. Then we hugged. I cried. It was over. 
Except for the clean-up. Getting Desitin off is a pain in the a$$. Despite my original plan to exit the water onto the beach and then swim back out to Alice, I just wanted to go home, so I had to walk out a quarter of a mile to the truck. I got dizzy along the way, and my legs wobbled, but I made it to the truck with Amanda supporting me. A half-hour drive and a burger later, I was ready for bed. My day was over. 

Hey! Don't forget! The Lower Willamette swim was also a fundraiser! For more information and to DONATE, you can visit the pre-swim Google site: https://sites.google.com/view/angieswims-swim-a-thon2021

The story in photos:


  1. Yay Angie! Solo and lifted by a team. It doesn't get any better than this. Thank you for sharing it all with us. What a victory!!!

    1. Teamwork makes the dream work. Thank you for your coaching, kindness, and support on my journey. I am blessed to be part of the community.


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