Xpu-Ha

This is a continuation of my 2008 Mexico Christmas Adventure. You can find a bunch of the other posts in this series in the links below this article.

Palace Resorts has many hotels. The Adventura Spa Palace, where I stayed in 2008, and where my wedding will be in 2010 is but one. It is an adults-only resort; nice for when you want to be away from the little screaming ones.

Xpu-Ha Palace is another Palace resort. It has a jungle theme that you can see in the pictures below. Complete with a full !@#$ing zoo. I mean, where else can you look at a monkey on your right, an alligator on your left, and then go snorkeling in an estuary 20 yards away?

Oh, and everything is of course free with your Bracelet of Power.

The 2009 Cross Bay Swim in Pictures

This past summer, July, 2008 I swam 5.25 miles in open ocean for the Cross Bay Swim. It was excruciating but so much fun.

Here are some pics of the event. Click on the images to see the neat lightbox thing I built!

This post is really a test to see if the nifty dynamic photo gallery software I custom built works as intended. Any comments on what you see, how you see it, are very appreciative. If you can, please include the browser you used to see it and the kind of computer you used.

Ex 1. Windows Vista / Internet Explorer 7.0
Ex 2. iPhone 3G / Safari
Ex 3. Google Reader on Firefox 3.

That kind of data will help me fix any issues you have or attend to any suggestions.

My Cross Bay Swim

My iPhone alarm sounded at 4:30 am, waking me bright and early from a restless sleep. The day had finally come. The Cross Bay Swim for which I had been preparing over the last 20 months was here.

Bleary-eyed, I crept down the stairs to the first floor of my parent’s Long Island home and busied myself making coffee. It was strangely quiet outside. Such a dramatic counter to the stormy day before.

Just yesterday I watched wind stirring up 4′ seas on the Great South Bay over an egg bagel breakfast. The rough seas were enough to give the Tuna Club’s annual tournament pause setting up. After all, who could set up fairway tents with 20+ mph wind whipping in their faces? Heck, I had enough fun getting soaked picking up the rental kayak my support team was going to lead me with. My kayaker was delayed, stuck in a Charlotte airport for hours waiting for the East Coast storms to die down enough for a plane to take off.

I checked my email messages on my phone. No cancellations had come through. I checked the website. No warnings were listed. A year earlier a storm had kept me from even reaching New York. I had learned from the Cross Bay swim website the at the 2008 event had been canceled as I waited for 8 hours on a Charlotte plane that would never depart. It looked like I would really have to do this thing.

Everyone was quiet we ate breakfast. A knock on the door signaled Kevin, my kayaker, had made it. It was time to go.

Time to Go

We drove over the Great South Bay, tracing the route I would take. Crossing the Robert Moses bridges I tried to visualize myself swimming the entire distance. I couldn’t. Heck, it takes nearly a half hour to drive over the distance. The swim didn’t seem real. Somehow I remembered a friend of mine telling me that he had spent the first 30 some-odd years of his life not taking a real airplane flight. He had taken off in 5 planes as an adult and sky-dived out of all of them. When he finally flew down to see me, he had thought the idea of touchdown novel.

We had a caravan of 2 cars. We dropped the kayak off at the end of the road and deposited my 2 kayakers in it, along with such provisions we would need for the crossing – water, sun block, extra goggles, etc. The rest of us drove to Robert Moses Field 5, parked and walked to the Fire Island lighthouse. After about 15 minutes of searching along boardwalks and the bay coast, we found sign up. This was exactly opposite of what most competitors did; brought their kayaks and selves over on the early AM ferry.

There were over 100 people carrying kayaks, stepping over each other, trying to get sorted after getting off the ferry. It was chaos. Our 2 man kayak was one of the larger ones and since we got there earlier than most, we secured a spot directly in the way of everyone debarking. We busied ourselves removing excess items from the kayak. Did we really need a CASE of water bottles? No. Did I really need 2 boxes of granola bars? I had no idea. I hadn’t eaten much that morning so they stayed. Bailout buckets were made ready, life jackets adjusted, and sun block applied. I donned my wetsuit – it’s called a farmer John because it looks exactly like what you’d think a pair of neoprene overalls would look like. I applied a ton of anti-chafing lube to the places the wetsuit would likely wear one me, fitted my cap, selected my trusty pair of goggles, queued up my MP3 player music and was set.

With nothing to do but enjoy the sunrise, I looked around at the other competitors. The field was some 70% male. Ages widely varied. It looked like some families of 18 years to 50 years old, some couples, but mostly individuals.

I noticed one guy who looked older than God and got worried. Seriously, he had a Dumbledore/Gandalf-esque beard. Most 30 year olds in a race would be happy to try their endurance vs father time. Not me. I figure if you learned to swim alongside Jonah, and are still doing it today on a 5.25 mile open water course you’re either there to meet your maker or your very confident in your ability. Either way, I was steering away from that guy.

Another couple of people had decided to do the swim without a wetsuit. They looked serious. And in shape. Nearly everyone here was in tremendous shape. Including Dumbledore. I had a sinking feeling I was about to get my butt kicked. A lot of people had swim club shirts and college team shirts. Personally, I was wearing my favorite old Hokie sweatshirt. The big difference was that the only time I had spent in a pool in college was evenly divided between a 1 credit life guarding class freshman year and playing the world’s greatest game – Coed Inner Tube Water Polo. These people looked strikingly similar to real collegiate swimmers.

Kayaks in the Water

With 15 minutes left it was time for the kayakers to head off to Farmer Shoals – a shallow point just over a half a mile away. We, the swimmers, were to meet our kayakers at the shoal. It seemed like an easy enough task. The event organizers had stationed a boat on either side of the shoal and asked that the kayakers take up position in between. As my kayakers paddled off I was surprised at how much they had bounced. The water LOOKED calm from my vantage point. I was wrong.

I watched my kayakers paddle until I couldn’t see them anymore. I wasn’t worried. I had swum half mile courses for almost 2 years now. Heck, the first leg of my practice was a half mile stretch from my community park to a multimillion dollar house on the other side. I had run that course so many times that I could do it with ease. This should be no different, right?

My Open Water Swim Team

Open water is a body of water subject to natural elements and all of the randomness this entails. In the ocean or large lakes you have tides, swells, salt, wind and marine life to contend with. The sun can play havoc with you as can boaters. Unless you are very fortunate, open water also generally means opaque water you cannot see in and depths you cannot easily gauge.

There is only one way to combat such an array of forces set against you; you must team up.

My Mentor

Now that I’ve grown a bit, learned a bit, and been around the block, I’ve come to realize, to my great disappointment, I do not indeed know everything. Shocking, right? These days when I seek to conquer something, I pick a mentor. My first stop was contact my Dad’s friend who swam the Cross Bay Swim for his 60th birthday. Let’s call him ‘Bob.’

Bob’s qualifications are much longer, too, than swimming the race at 60. Ignoring his college football career, the guy had already swam the race many times in his youth, winning it at least once. Not a bad resource to have.

Bob and I exchanged emails about practicing and equipment for the first few months I started training. He told me the kind of wetsuit he used (which I ended up buying) and how he trained. By the time we were nearing the 2008 race day, he was all set to spend the next year training to rejoin in 2009! This is the kind of mentor you want to be able to ask questions to. The only way he could have been better suited for me is if we were possessed of anywhere near the same kind of athletic prowess. Writing this post after the fact having swum the Cross Bay in 2009, I can now appreciated the kind of athlete he is. Comparatively, he did absolutely no training for the event! At 60!!! Just goes to show you, winners win. And keep winning.

My Winter Team

After the 2008 race was canceled I found it difficult to keep swimming. Luckily, I started F-Club (see other archives for that explanation), and thus found several friends that wanted to get in better shape and swim. These guys helped me keep focused and having fun while getting my pool miles in over the winter. We must have invented a few dozen oddball training routines to keep the swimming entertaining. This was essential in keeping the training fun and fresh but it also payed great dividends when the time came to swim in open water where new and different muscles are used.

My Spring & Summer Team

When the weather got warmer, and I pulled through my foot surgery, it was time to get into open water. Swimming in open water is a much different sport than pool swimming. The water is darker, vaster, and there are no lanes. Hazards are all over the place and you need to use the buddy system.

Kayak Buddies

With boats, current, tides, and things that go ‘bump’ in open water, you need a kayaker to guide you. Sort of a cross between a lifeguard, a navigator, and a pack mule my kayakers were going to make or break my swim efforts. The kayaker acts serves a purpose of keeping me, the swimmer, out of trouble, provides assistance as needed, and gives the swimmer a point of reference. It takes a lot of energy to lift your head out of the water, sight a point on the coast, and correct your trajectory as needed. I was happy to offload this to the kayaker team!

Once they learned how to lead me, I was able to focus all of my energy on swimming efficiently. This is when I had my biggest breakthroughs in training and endurance ability. Not least because my kayakers kept showing up at my house at all sorts of ungodly hours though out the summer making sure I was in the water training!

Race Event Buddies

Swimming with a clock competing with one hundred people is very different from swimming by yourself or even in team trials. Luckily, several friends helped me out by entering half mile triathlon ‘tune up’ swims as well as other local mid distance (2 mile) swims. Swimming against other people in the madness of an open line start is unlike anything else I have ever tried. I am very happy I had a team to help me learn these critical skills.

My Race Team

My race team could be considered my 2 race day kayakers – Kevin who flew up to NY on his own dime and on his birthday no less – and my father. I am incredibly in their debt as you will read in the upcoming week when I complete my account of the Cross Bay Swim.

My team could also be considered those who came with me at the pre-dawn hours to the starting line to see me and the kayakers off and then meet up, cheering us on at the finish line.

My team could consist of my swim mentor and everyone who helped me train – I certainly believe it does. In reality, it took every training partner I have ever had to complete the swim. Each friend that ever went to the gym with me and told me to do ‘one more rep’ or to add a few more pounds to the bar. The friends that forbid me from quitting or slowing at anytime. And I’m eternally grateful.

Have you ever needed to enlist a team to achieve your goals?

What Would Moses Do?

I finished reading Walking the Bible. It was an amazing account of a man getting (back) in touch with his religion by visiting the real-world geographical locations of the Hebrew Bible – the first 5 chapters of the Christian Bible. Starting in Turkey where Noah’s ark is thought to have landed, he traces a route south through Israel, out to Egypt, across the Sinai and Negev, into Jordan and back to Jerusalem.

I have already completed a similar journey through out Israel and Palestine tracing what I believe to be the major sites in the life and times of the historical Jesus. It was amazing. If there is any kind of a demand, I will write about those experiences later.

What this book- once reconciled with my own Israel trip – brought to life was a desire to have an Epic journey out of Egypt like Moses did. Here’s my thoughts on how I could do it in 2 weeks. What do you think?

Highlights.

Part 1 – Cairo, Egypt -(land of the Pharaohs, Jacob, Joseph and Israel during the famine)
-Day 1: Land in Cairo. Acclimate. (Assumes a Day 0 night flight.) Will land shortly afternoon.

-Day 2: Hanging Church (built by the Nile River over the Roman Gate of Babylon.) Acclimate some more.

-Day 3: Day trip to Alexandria.

-Day 4: Day trip to Memphis (aka legendary city of Menes, the King who united Upper and Lower Egypt.)
From a Biblical perspective, Memphis is most likely where Abraham lied to Pharaoh about his wife Sarah being his sister and where Joseph served as second in command.

Part 2 – Nile (Head north to Luxor and cruise back on the Nile to Cairo.
(Floating like baby Moses, except no reeds.)

-Day 5: -Leave Cairo (via route taken by Abraham, Joseph, Moses and the family of Jesus… Debate rail vs air. Trip is 420 miles. Rail is $17 but 10 hours – only 9 hours if we leave at 10pm and go sleeper class!)

-Visit the Valley of the Kings (where many ancient pharaohs were buried) and the Temple of Hatshepsut, the princess who pulled baby Moses out of the Nile River.

Evening tour of Temple of Luxor, which was founded in the reign of Amenhotep III, grandson of the pharaoh of the Exodus.

-Overnight hotel in Luxor.

-Day 6: Karnak
-Temple of Karnak (temple of the New Kingdom period) and the East Bank of the Nile. It was during this period that the bondage and Exodus occurred.
-Overnight train ride back to Cairo.

Day 7: Back to Cairo (1000+ years before Abraham.)
-Pyramids, Sphinx, King Tut.

Part 3 – Sinai

Day 8: Mt. Sinai (Sight of burning bush. )
-Travel the southward route of the Exodus through the Wilderness of Shur.
-Arriving in the late afternoon at Mt. Sinai (Mt. Horeb).
-Sleep at St. Catherine’s Monastery.

Day 9: Wake up #@$ing early !!!
-Climb before dawn to the top of Mt Sinai (Dress warmly!!)
-Take bus to the Red Sea.
-A view of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel to the north. Imagine Moses parting of the sea.
-Take ferry to Jordan -> Aqaba (Biblical Ezion Geber) – Solomon’s seaport.

Part 4 – Jordan

Day 10: Petra
-Mountain fortress of Petra (Edomites – the descendents of Esau.)
-Freaking amazing. You have to see the pictures to understand it.
-Stop at the spring claimed to be the place where Moses struck the rock.
-Overnight in Petra to see it @ dark. Hotel in Petra.

Day 11: Petra to Amman, Jordan
-Try to see Fortress of Machaerus, the place where John the Baptist was beheaded on the way back.
-Check in and see Roman Amphitheater, Citadel, Jordan Archaeological Museum

Day 12: Day trip to Mt Nebo, the tomb of Moses.
-Spectacular view across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.

Who’s the Guy in the Wetsuit?

There has been an interesting sighting reported on Lake Wylie this year. This is in addition to Tega Cay gators, imported Asian carp, giant catfish and marauding snakefish. Since the beginning of April early weekend risers and weekday post-commute boaters have reported seeing a dark object in the water adjacent to a blue 2 man kayak.

After 3 months of curious looks on shore and quizzical expressions from boaters and fishermen, I think introductions are in order. That dark object is a man in a wetsuit – me, and the kayakers my support team. Collectively we were training for the July 24th 5.25 mile Maggie Fischer Memorial Cross Bay Swim.

The Cross Bay Swim, held more-or-less annually on the south shore of Long Island, New York since the early 1900s, is an open-water race across a 5.25 mile stretch of the Great South Bay benefiting the Hospice Care Network Children’s and Family Bereavement Program. The race is named for a young area lifeguard who passed away shortly before being able to compete in the Cross Bay Swim. The competition is a testament to her compassion and memory.

The starting point of the swim is on Long Island’s famed Fire Island National Seashore barrier beaches, just steps away from the iconic lighthouse. The nearby Fire Island inlet will be at flood tide at the 7am starting gun, giving the mighty Atlantic Ocean a strong voice early in the competition. After tacking through shoals, support boats, and buoys, the swim ends at an indistinguishable spec on the horizon, Gilbert Park in Brightwaters.

Some of the competitors are past swimming champions. Others are family teams. Some competitors are very experienced having competed over decades. Others, like me are brand new to the sport.

Preparing and competing in the Cross Bay swim has been an incredible voyage. I look forward to sharing what went into the preparations, my observations, and lessons learned over the next several posts. Keep reading!

Why I Entered the 5.25 Mile Cross Bay Swim

I didn’t set out to swim 5.25 miles. It just sort of turned out that way. I was coming off 2 injury-plagued years that had interrupted my regular bodybuilding routines. Even without the forced pause, I had been getting bored with the monotony of the gym. I needed something different. I found that ‘something different’ in February of 2008.

From Bodybuilder to Injured Fat Ass to Long Distance Swimmer

Before I started swimming A short list included, but was not limited to the following; a collapsed foot arch, broken accessory navicular bone in one foot courtesy of flag football; a series of micro tears in my rotator cuff from driving fence posts through red Carolinian clay; and medical poisoning coupled with an awful reaction to poison ivy that had left me roughly 35 pounds over my norm. Finally, having my big toe bent 180 degrees the wrong way tearing cartilage and stretching tendons forced me to try to find something else to do.

With my foot problems, running was out. I had spent the last 8 months rehabbing my shoulder regaining range of motion simulating exercises like bench press, pull ups, and curls with a 5 lbs broom handle. Doctors had told me that part of the cause for the injury was that I had not equally developed all three heads of the deltoid and had totally neglected my rotator cuff. Years of bench press, military press, etc will do that to you if you favor chest workouts over back workouts.

I was overweight and had multiple injuries, still, I wanted to get better. My size and my limited mobility had severely impacted my appearance, temperament, and, as a result, my quality of life. I had started to make choices of what I was spending my time doing, whom I was spending my time doing it with as a result of being fat and immobile. Something had to change.

Enter swimming.

I’m not sure exactly what it was that made think of swimming as the perfect solution but whatever it was, I’m glad it got me into the YMCA pool. By swimming I was able to combine resistance exercise with cardiovascular exercise and flexibility training. The motions of swimming require total involvement of the shoulder addressing that part of my rehabilitation. While swimming I was weightless thus alleviating the issues with my feet. The best part about swimming was that it was fun! I had learned to swim at an early age and my best days are generally recounted at some beach or other. Here was a workout that was challenging and I loved to do! Brilliant!

The contest.

Some people say that my proclivity for extremes is my biggest personality flaw. Others see it as my biggest strength. Either way it was responsible for me declaring that I was going to enter the Maggie Fischer Memorial Cross Bay Swim. 5.5 miles from the Fire Island barrier beach to Long Island in open water fed by the mighty Atlantic ocean.

I had returned from an amazing 2 weeks in Israel and felt more like the old me (pre-2 years of injuries) than I had in a while. Travel has an amazing way of opening all sorts of new doors for people and I am no different. Before leaving for Israel I had been swimming for a mere 3 weeks and was still quite awful at it. Talking to my parents before my departure my father had told me about a friend of his that swam the Cross Bay Swim as part of his own 60th birthday challenge. To me this sounded insane. I could barely make 1 lap (50 meters there and back) in the pool without feeling exhausted. I knew I should be able to keep up with someone more than twice my age. And, with my own 30th birthday around the corner, I knew I could not.

In retrospect it should have been entirely predictable that I was going to end up doing the swim. It neatly follows my personal philosophy of Survive Endure Resist Escape. Survive – getting out of the injury rut. Endure – keep with the swim despite all of life’s obstacles. Resist – use the fruits of your labors as a force multiplier (ex compounding interest). Escape – solve a problem for life while doing things most mortals think is either insane or impossible.

Have you ever signed up for a similar challenge? Have you ever challenged yourself for similar reasons?

5.25 Mile Ocean Swim – in Pictures

It is difficult to comprehend how far 5.25 miles over sea is until you’ve been swimming in open water yourself.

Here’s a photo essay that might help:

Starting point:
Passing the Robert Moses State Bridge:
The Robert Moses State Bridge

Size reference: Here’s the Queen Mary 2 doing the same thing:

Past Sexton Island & Captree Island:
Long stretch across the Great South Bay:

Passing the Great South Bay Bridge:

Closing in to the finish line:

Here’s the course. I’m swimming from the bottom of the pic north:

Hacking the Empire State Building

Want to see the Empire State Building?

Want to see it without fighting the crowds?

Then do what the locals do, do what I did when I took my friends to NYC earlier this year, buy the tickets online and save a bunch of time.

Visiting the iconic building is kind of like playing that old arcade game Gauntlet. There are a ton of lines, levels, and demons to fight and this is a great way to get past the first level.

Other time-savers include:

  • Don’t take the photo- skip that line, they always come out like crap.
  • Don’t waste time in the gift shops- you don’t need to carry that shit around the city all day.
  • Take the stairs – if you’re in shape enough to do so.
  • Skip the audio guide – do your research before going, know what you’re looking at and why.