RTAI 9.23.23

Mid channel to Alcatraz 

Round Trip Angel Island (RTAI)
A month ago now I was walking out of the water (at about the time I'm starting this post) after swimming 7 hours 50 minutes and 9 seconds in the San Francisco Bay. The course was the famous Round Trip Angel Island, one of the Toughest Thirteen according to MSF. Leading up to this swim I was a nervous wreck. This past summer was especially tough. After a successful, but painful, Portland Bridge Swim I had to cancel my planned Three Islands Waldo Lake route to focus on stroke work with Intrepid Water (more later in this post on my work with Shannon at Intrepid Water) and shoulder recovery. I felt undertrained and like I was still mending when my feet hit the water in Aquatic Park at 3AM on September 23. For all those feelings of trepidation, I made it through- in large part to my crew: Sue Phillips, Wendy "Pepper", Vicky Miller, and Sumner Williams; piloted by Tom "Reptile" Linthicum on the Ghostrider and observed by Cathy Harrington. The below video by Pepper gives a good overall picture of the swim. 

Entering the water I remember thinking that it felt warm, but it could be that I had been standing outside in my DryRobe for about an hour waiting for the start. For whatever reason, I am glad it felt warm and comfortable, if I had felt cold off the bat it would have likely been in a poor mindset from the beginning. It ended up taking me quite some time to get to that place. The beginning of the swims was FAST I remember approaching Alcatraz and thinking, "How am I here already?" I felt strong, nothing hurt, it was dark and I was swimming into the dawn- one of my favorite things. I remember the glow of light coming from the east and the breeze picking up slightly, a harbinger of the sunrise. As we continued our approach of Alcatraz a massive barge changed course to avoid us- and it was close- I could feel the water humming with the engine. Sue said I was fine, so I put my head down and kept going. As we reached Angel Island I took a feed and my stomach started to protest all the liquid I'd been shoving down my gullet and I had my first (but not last) little mouth vomit. I hoped this was a one-and-done situation and I wouldn't be sick all swim. Alas, it was the first of many. I would continue to vomit periodically for the next 3 or 4 hours. I stopped eating for a while to let my stomach calm down and finally kept some Gatorade and banana down midway between Angel Island and Alcatraz on the way back to Aquatic Park. Anyway, swimming around Angel Island went so fast that I hardly had time to enjoy the scenery, but I did get serenaded by coyotes at sunrise. 
Raccoon Straits went by without a hitch, I was well aware of where I was because of the buoy and was instantly prepared to be stopped dead in my tracks, but I wasn't! Better swimmers than I have been stalled out at Raccoon Straits for an hour or more on this swim, but the sea was with me and I plowed right on through, minus some of my feeds 🤮. 

CC RTAI Track.rs map
Note: the swim was counterclockwise 

Exiting Angel Island is where everything changed. My legs started cramping and became dead weight, whenever I kicked (which I am fond of to take pressure off my shoulders) my whole body was gripped by extreme cramps. My triceps started to cramp. I remember thinking "I can swim without my legs, but not without my arms" (in the video this is the "I don't think I'm going to make it" moment). I switched to focusing on my rotation and "balancing on a ski" to increase my glide and reduce my effort. Then the Gatorade and banana stayed down, then the flat Coke stayed down and I started making progress again. Oh, yeah, I stalled out for about an hour hardly making any progress, but then I started to move. I was so pissed during that part of the swim, I was trying so hard and going nowhere, but when I started moving I stopped- gave The Rock The Finger, and shouted "Fuck you, Alcatraz!" It was at that moment I knew I would finish. 
Entering the channel between Alcatraz and Aquatic Park my crew told me I had to go faster, I was in danger of being hit with the flood tide and missing my window to enter Aquatic park and finish my swim. I took the last of the flat Coke (might have been something else, IDK) and gave it my all. I sprinted for everything I was worth for that last half mile or so. I felt POWERFUL. After almost 8 hours and very little to eat, I felt like a beast. I cruised through Aquatic Park, feeling good (other than my throat was raw from vomiting for hours, my shoulders tired, and my mouth feeling fuzzy from salt water), and exited the water under my own power. 

Exiting the water
Walking out at Aquatic Park

I cannot describe the feeling of finishing after this swim. RTAI is by far the toughest swim I've done to date. I hated it and loved it, I wanted it over and wanted it to go on longer all at the same time. It wasn't the distance, or time in water that made it hard, it wasn't even getting stopped at Alcatraz- all of these things have happened before to me on swims, it was nausea (that I'm still having a month later), constant hunger (God, I was so hungry the whole time but didn't dare eat), and the leg cramps that made it difficult. But! Now I know I can handle it. I know what I need to work on for next time because there is a next time: Catalina Channel August 2024. 

Left to right: Tom, me, Pepper, Sue, and Vicky

A special thanks goes to Shannon at Intrepid Water. I contacted her 8 weeks before my swim with shoulder impingement and rotator cuff tenderness. I know my stroke was whack after some less-than-stellar coaching over the winter and needed help in a hurry. I completed her 6 week self-paced freestyle fundamentals and it got my stroke back to a good enough extent that I was able to complete the swim with virtually no shoulder pain. I am now working with her in an advanced skills course and can't wait to get my speed back and refine my storke to swim even further- Catalina Channel after all is much farther than RTAI, hopefully less vomit.


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