Rhineland and Central Germany

Fall in Germany is beautiful. I was able to experience the center of this nation first hand with my then fiancee (now wife) and it was absolutely spectacular. In this next installment of my Notebook project I give an overview of the trip. The sections below have links to pages with greater detail about that section of the trip. If I left anything out, please let me know!

Why Germany

At the onset of every overseas trip I’ve taken people want to know why I am going there. Jen and I try to take 1 ‘big’ trip per year and we had not yet been to Germany. It seemed like a good pin to put in the Map Project! We both share a heritage with the area – I was especially excited to see the Hessen area. Last name research.

Finally, this was of course coordinated to schedule up with Oktoberfest. You see while my soon-to-be blushing bride and I would explore the romantic castles and vineyards of the Rhineland for a peaceful time together that wouldn’t be the end of the trip at all. For me, anyway. I was scheduled to meet my friends in Munich for Oktoberfest – but that’s a story for another post!

General Impressions

First off, we were very fortunate to be able to go. We were very cognizant of the current economic climate while there – US tourism we were told again and again – had fallen like a stone off a cliff this year. While it was a very welcome break from the monotony of cubicle land, we did appreciate having cubicles to come back to (and finance this little expedition.)

What we found were beautiful places, great people, and an interesting history.
The Rhineland is a gorgeous couple’s retreat. Still, it’s kind of an age-appropriate adventure….for retirees that is! This is the vacation we should have taken when we are 65, retired, and in the relaxing, wine sipping years of our lives. But….. this is what you get when you “Rick Steve’s it.”

Still, we had a great time adventuring by train, stepping back a millennia (or more) in time and not eating vegetables. There are NO vegetables in Germany!

Getting there

We were able to take flight from Charlotte direct to Frankfurt. My flight was free thanks to the accumulation of tons of frequent flier miles on USAir. I would later find out that I could have redeemed all those miles for 2 direct flights but, alas, live and learn!

We arrived and Jen was getting over a cold and I was just getting sick. I didn’t sleep at all on the flight and managed to get through customs bleary-eyed and feverish. Luckily Jen was there to navigate us through the airport and buy the train tickets that would be our transport for the entire week. I remember feeling so sick and not being able to sleep for the continuous transfer of trains. Still, Germany gets superb marks for their national transportation system – cheap though, it is not!

Rothenberg ob der Tauber

Our first stop in Germany was this hard-to-get to medieval walled city. Rothenberg is picturesque German town — yellow houses with dark brown trim abound. The best way to describe this place is living history. The city sits on a raised cliff high above the banks of a river from which the town gets it’s name and grapes for wine. That defensive position and arable land have been desirable to nearly everyone who has come by for thousands of years. You can see this as the former site of Romans, Holy Roman Empire, Catholics vs Protestant wars, and more up. It even played an interesting role in WWII.

Well-preserved from it’s heyday as a regional economic power, once the trade stopped (a combination of church politics, changing of trade routes, and technology) Rothenberg found itself too poor to modernize, so they rebuilt and fixed everything they had. In fact, they did that for hundreds of years perfectly preserving the medieval city for 19th century English aristocrats to find. Entertainingly, it was that Elizabethan tourism that spared the town in WWII from Allied bombing when the commander recognized the town as a cultural center.

And still preserved those medieval houses are. Our hotel, while updated with electricity, internet, plumbing, etc must have been centuries old. As were most of the buildings in the neighborhood. The entire city is a post card and we took many, many, many photos. You know you’re in trouble when you cannot decide on which souvenirs to bring home (and you’re only one day into a 2 week plus trip!)

The most identifying features of Rothenberg are the towers, the defensive wall that encircles the town, and the squares provided. We climbed towers, took tours, ate at authentic restaurants open for longer than the US has been a country. Our favorite part was the acerbic Night watchman tour- given at night with a heavy dose of sarcasm in equal measure with education making the medieval city come to life. We laughed our collective asses off at this guy’s humor. If you’re ever in Rothenberg, check him out!

You can see my first impressions here on this post that I wrote while there. It’s a little darker as I was a lot sicker during the writing of it!

After 2 brief days we were back on the trains again.

Heidelberg

Some guidebooks will tell you that Heidelberg is overrun by American students, military, and tourists and, despite it’s picturesque allure, you’d be better off devoting your time elsewhere.

I can see a little truth in that but…

Other guide books will tell you that Heidelberg is called “everybody’s favorite town” in Germany. Situated on the Neckar River, tourist books will tell you that it “can be explored in a day if you move fast enough. Check into a hotel in the Altstadt (Old Town) for atmosphere and wander its cobblestone streets at your leisure.”

OK, we did just that. And we had a phenomenal time! From drinking squares to climbing to cliff-top castles overlooking hazy rivers I am ridiculously happy that we didn’t skip this town.

Bacharach & Rudesheimr

Our next stop on our train tour of middle Germany was Bacharach. This was to be our base on the Rhine for the next few days – the remainder of Jen’s section of the trip. Barely bigger than the train station it held, per Rick Steve’s notes it was a convenient jumping off point to the rest of our Rhineland adventures.

One of those adventures was a journey only one or two stops away over to Rudesheim to check out that town. Another picturesque medieval village built into a hill and famous for their wine and vineyards. Surprisingly fun!

The Rhine Adventure Cruise

The chief reason for basing ourselves in Bacharach was to avail ourselves of the K-D line – a ferry that would bring us down the Rhine. Anywhere I go I try to get some time in or on the water and cruising this historical and crucial waterway offered not only a relaxing way to travel but provided a ton of insight into an area I had only read about previously. Family theories abound about how we immigrated from Germany to the states. Any way you cut it, it’s likely I wasn’t the first Hessing to make this trip North.

We hopped on and off again visiting castles, eating, drinking, and amusing ourselves for miles. We explored towns like St. Goar and Boppard. We passed the famous Lorely. We took pictures of castles that I could have previously only imagined as part of fairy tales. After ending in Koblenz, we took explored a little more and took the train back to Bacharach.

Trier

Trier lays about as far west as a town can lay in Germany before you start calling it France. We had a decision to make – spend a 2-3 hours travelling by train to a German city on the edge of France positively reviewed by Rick Steve’s or go to a ruined castle that he absolutely raved about and demanded that we see.

Tough decision. By this time we had enough of Tricky Ricky and his guidebook for senior citizens. The hopping on aond off into charming and quaint riverside villages was nice – especially the wine – but it was time for a little more adventure. Time to cast our flag a little further afield. I’m glad we did. We had a great time and as a bonus stopped in for a whirlwind tour of a surprise city on the return. And we can always visit the super-duper-absolutely-must-see-or-your-trip-is-a-waste castle the next time we’re in the Rhineland!

Our week-long adventure through central Germany and the Rhineland ended the next day as we awoke early and caught a train to the Frankfurt airport. After seeing Jen checked in and escorted through customs I was on my way to Bavaria and Munich and Oktoberfest for the Bachelor party to end all Bachelor parties! But that’s a story for another time!

Trier & Cochem

Our last day in the Rhineland brought choices. Would we stay on the Rick Steve’s path of retirement-level excitement exploring yet another 4 star castle sure to be packed full of tourists? Or would we deviate and head far west to a town I had read about in archeology papers. Despite an extra hour of train rides each way plus transfer overhead, we opted for the latter and made our way to Trier with an unexpected stop in Cochem on the way home.

Trier

Trier is about as far West as on can go in Germany before hitting France.. or rather, Luxembourg. Man, I really wanted to extend the train trip just a little while longer to see if I could have collected another passport stamp! The purpose wasn’t to retire that document early but to see the oldest city in Germany founded by an Assyrian of all people around 2000 BC. With Trier having a massive Roman presence (starting around 16 BC) as well as being holding the only Bishop north of the Alps. You can read more depth about that history later. Let me tell you what we did.

Disembarking from the train station we followed Theodor Hess street (I know, so closely named!) to Porta Nigra – an enormous Roman edifice acting as a gate to the city. After taking a few beautiful pictures despite approaching rain clouds we continued into the main square. There’s a great story about Protestant vs Catholic “my church is better than your church” shenanigans here and each tried to out do the other. Neat reading. For us it meant great historical scavenger hunting as we identified this and that while doing the typical people watching that is expected in any European square.

We also visited the Cathedral of Trier, the Palace (or the outside grounds at least, and the long throne room of Emperor Constantine known as the Bascillica Constatine which was more historically impressive than the other two if not far less visually so.

For reasons unknown – whimsy, reading INcomprehension, or momentary insanity, we decided to travel to the riverside. I believe we thought we’d find some kind of Roman bridge there. Not so. After a 40 minute walk through what was a very lively small city we came to….nothing! Just traffic and a unremarkable river (the end of which we had seen in Koblenz.) Disappointed we made the long, winding walk back.

Before leaving this neat little city we of course had to eat. The remarkable part of this was that we didn’t eat German food. We were both pretty burnt out on schnitzel and sausage and the Turkish pitas we found tasted wonderful! Even the little bit of veggies on the sandwiches seemed extravagant compared to the lack in the cuisine of the previous week.

Cochem

We had expected to spend a lot more time in Trier so when we saw Cochem coming up on our train ride home we figured – why not stop in?! Here’s a pic on wikipedia. It was late in the day so a whirlwind tour it was. We plowed through tourist stalls, blended into crowds, did some souvenir shopping and ran up and down the winding, hillside medieval roads. While it was too late and too dark to visit the castle of Cochem, there was of course time to sit in the square, grab a few beers, and simply enjoy the moment.

We took the last train out that would allow us to connect in Koblenz for the last ride to our hotel Bacharach. We would be rising early the next day to catch trains to the airport for Jen and to Munich for myself. What a trip!

Bacharach & Rudesheim

Bacharach is a town that went to sleep after the Romans left it. And it never woke up. It’s small and exists solely, it seems, to wrap itself warmly around a train station like a shawl. And to provide travellers a nice cozy spot to stay while daytripping the rest of the Rhine. It has other grandmotherly, qualities, too. One even involving a real, live grandmother and the case of the stolen strudel.

We rolled in to Bacharach on Rick Steve’s recommendations after leaving Heidelberg. Much of the day was spent waiting for, riding in, or changing trains. By the time we got to the town, we were ready to do some exploring. After quickly finding our hotel and checking in to the converted attic (seriously, we have pictures) we did a quick loop around the town and realized that our best hope was to check another nearby town on the Rhine so back we headed to Rudesheim.

Rudesheim

Visitn Rudesheim, being on the far side of the Rhine, meant that we had to take a quick ferry to reach it. No problems there. We wandered Rudesheim’s streets and verified the tour book’s lament that it was indeed over run with tourists. And that is for good reason, the place is replete with bars and offering wine tastings. Both the full-bodied varieties you would expect from the region if you are such a connosier (which I am not) and the offering of the spring wine – something tasting roughly like pear juice, which I loved. A half dozen or so of such tastings and we knew it was time to find lunch.

Lunch was great. Much better fare than we had been used to and we took advantage of the weather to take a steep cable car ride to the top of a hill featuring none other than Emperor William Kaiser sitting on a throne looking forbodingly towards the West. The car ride was great, bringing us slowly and determinely over grape fields originally tilled by Roman hands. Jen didn’t like the heights or the bumps in the cabling. I laughed then but later in the trip fate would get me back.

We spent the rest of the time adventuring up and down Rudesheim’s cobbled streets negotiating the tight quarters with locals in cars and tourists on ridiculously over-decorated trams. A ferry ride and connecting train brought us back to Bacharach.

Bacharach

Like I mentioned before, the town is exceedingly grandmotherly. We tried a few restaurants but came back to one run by a real grandmother. Nice, honest food with a home made feel and of course, the best apple strudel that side of the Rhine. We got to know the owner pretty well after our repeated visits and she told us of life running the shop, the collapse of American tourism due to the economy, and what that meant for the riverside hamlets we were staying in. The most interesting story was about a young German lad she befriended and offered an internship to only to have him steal the secret famliy recipe for her prize-winning strudel! Luckily for her, she said it wasn’t enough to know the ingredients and amounts to add, you had to know the reasons to add them. And for that the thief’s strudel would always be second class. Interesting lesson.

The Rhine Adventure Cruise

Early our first morning we headed over to the KD boat line launch and purchased hop-on-hop-off tickets that would allow us to visit side towns as we wanted to. We would later find that our incredibly expensive
week-long German rail passes would have been accepted but there are no refunds in Germany. We boarded the boat with many other tourists already aboard from further up-river. The conductor played tourism tapes cued to mile markers on the river. The recordings were often difficult to hear as tour guides would preach on incessantly and indiscriminately over languages not on their own. Despite very much enjoying the ability to float down such a famous river, the other tourists made want to jump ship.

It wasn’t all bad. Reading about how so many Barons, Dukes, and minor nobles set themselves up in mini competing fiefdoms all along the river in order to best extort floating merchants for ‘tolls’ brought history to life. We learned about folklore and imagined tales not dissimilar from the Grimm tales being played out in all of the colorful multitude of riverside castles. It was no wonder the merchant class was the biggest supporters of rule under a single monarch in Germany – they were going broke trying to market goods along the time’s most major thoroughfare!

St. Goar Castle

Shortly after passing the famous Lorelei the tourists became too much and we disembarked for St. Goar. The main attraction here is the Burg Rhiensefeld castle which we thoroughly explored. At one point we bought a candle and matches and descended into tunnels dug centuries ago. As a defensive structure the tunnels were designed as a sort of honeypot for invaders. Attackers would enter the tunnels believing themselves stealthful. A notification systems would alert the castle owners when to light the match blowing the sequestered invaders to whatever God loved them best.

Still, the most memorable part of St Goar was the walk up to the castle – I took the long way and sweated for 45 minutes. And the run down to make our boat. I think we hit a new land speed record to make the boat.

Boppard and Other Stops

I can’t remember now but we got off the boat in Boppard for some reason. Whether that was general annoyance of the tourist-packed boats or disinterest in the cuisine being served we did. Sadly, Boppard was very small and they didn’t really like us at all. That was just as well, the citizens looked like they were just taking down stalls from a wine festival the previous week and there was nothing going on that day. We found a deli and had a good standing meal. Since we had budgeted more time to explore this disappointment of a town and a prepaid unlimited use rail pass, we took the train back upstream to catch the next boat rather than just wait around.

End of the River and Koblenz

Once back on the boat we sat back and watched as more storybook castles passed us as we floated by. The Rhine still does an amazing amount of commercial traffic and it was interesting to watch the long, low-slung boats carry their wares either making their way up from the Netherlands or down from Switzerland and Northern Germany. At this point there were not many people at all on the boat and the trip became peaceful. We snapped photos and consulted guidebooks but mostly just relaxed and enjoyed the moment.

Koblenz

Koblenz comes from a word meaning “confluence” and Koblenz is where the Rhine and Moselle. Sadly, it was late in the day and we didn’t have more than a few hours at the end of a workday to explore Koblenz but it is definitely a working, if not picturesque city. It’s hard to complain about a town not being tourist friendly when all we wanted all day was to be away from tourists so I’ll simply say that further evaluation is needed.

We found our train and took a long ride back to Bacharach. We would visit Koblenz again that week but just to transfer to points further west.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg. The town we never would have went to had we listened to Rick Steve’s. The guy hates it thanks to all the American students, military and tourists the town gets. Normally, I’d be with him. Who needs that? Here’s I’m glad we didn’t listen to him at all.

So, Why Heidelberg?

My friend Christina has led an amazing life working, volunteering, and teaching theatre. Earlier that summer she accepted a position in Stuttgart. Since absolutely no one recommends visiting Stuttgart (Ricky, Christina, or even locals), we made plans to meet up in Heidelberg. Sure, Mr. Steve’s had his objections but our day trips book disagreed. Once we saw the photos Christina took of the city, we had to go.

So off we went. Three train connections later from Rothenberg ob Der Tauber and we were there. And Rick was right. On first impressions, the place was about as foreign to me as Epcot center. We got a taxi and made it to our hotel – a charming place overlooking the Nekar. And very close to the iconic bridge spanning it. Sadly, by that time I had received Christina’s note that she would not be able to join us due to school issues at the very last minute. No matter! After quick shower and discussion with the hotel manager on what to see and do, and we were out exploring.

Impressions

Heidelberg is immently walkable. We criss-crossed cobblestone streets traversing main venues and alleys. The customary stop at a central square and some great beer and wine provided a great spot for people watching. A trip through Germany necessitates repeated sampling beer and wine! Looming in resplendant dilapidation high on a hill above us sat a castle that I might have imagined in my lego building days. Of course we had to check it out! In short order we had found the lift and made our way up. Instead of describing it, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

After exploring for an hour or two we descended and head back to the river side. That provided even more people watching as people headed home for dinner. We spent a while snapping photos and watching long cargo ships pass through the locks of the river. While I tremendously enjoyed the atmosphere and ambiance, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the best part wasn’t when a lady stopped to ask me a question… in German!

Later that night in pursuit of dinner we explored the university grounds and the main stretch. The weather was temperate so we enjoyed ourselves, and our beer, outside.

Conclusion

I can understand the concerns Mr Steves had regarding Heidelberg. Normally I try to shun anything looking remotely like a tour bus. However, there were no tour busses. All of the people in Heidelberg visiting were there with purpose. While authentically German they might not have been. But the students – both German and American (and their visiting families) – gave the city a young sort of vibe. Something that certainly wasn’t in the Rothenberg – the touristy city that time forgot. And we would miss that energy begining the next day when we took the train again to Bacharach, another very sleepy town on the Rhine the next day.

We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat

Last time I told you about tackling alligators while swimming. Or whatever that unwelcome creature from the black lagoon was. This is the story of it’s bigger, meaner, salt water brother.

We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat

Early in the summer of 2008 I returned home to New York to go to a wedding. I had a little bit of extra time so I stayed with my parents on the south shore of Long Island and took the opportunity to get my kayak team, my friend Kevin and My Dad, out on the Great South Bay for some practice. After all, what could be better than actually swimming in the actual area where the race would be held? There was under 2 month until the race and my kayakers had never kayaked and I hadn’t ever swam in my wetsuit. It was time to get serious.

We woke up early in the morning, grabbed some egg and bagel sandwiches and made our way to the beach. Kevin had rented the kayak the day before so we were all set.

The practice was good, we got a great workout, and we learned about the logistics of how to carry, portage, and manage a kayak. Good information that would prove essential when I actually competed in the 2009 Cross Bay Swim.

You Play How You Practice

Like I said, this was my first time in a wetsuit and in salt water. Both dramatically increase your buoyancy. This led to me bobbing up and down comfortably when I would stop swimming. About halfway through our practice I stopped swimming and stood up on a sandbar to talk with my kayakers. I stood up a little out of the water, feet on the ground, and carried on a conversation.

Then the ground moved.

I remember cold fear welling in my stomach. My feet had just been standing on a sand-paper textured support that was clearly alive. And ridiculously huge. My limbs felt heavy and I was suddenly exhausted. Instinct propelled me to grab on to the kayak. I think part of my brain replayed the ‘visual accuity’ scene of Jeff Goldblum vs the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. ‘If I just don’t move, it won’t be able to see me’ I told myself.

We never figured out what I was standing on. Whatever it was, it was freaking huge! Best guess is that my stance kept my feet about 2.5 feet. My weight was around 200lbs at the time so let’s say that 1/2 of that was negated from buoyancy. What kind of salt water animals do you know that are bigger than 2.5 feet long, feel like sand paper-y, level ground, and can support 100lbs?

Exactly.

I’m surprised I didn’t soil my wetsuit.

Flashback

This episode reminded me of surfing in Virginia Beach early one morning over Labor Day in 2001. I had taken a surfboard and paddled out to calm surf before anyone else had woken up. Although there were no waves, I was happy to be out in the ocean. That’s when the sea came to a boil. There was a ton of bait fish suddenly jumping up all around me trying to escape some predator that was chasing them below my dangling, and very exposed, toes.

It wasn’t the bait fish that stole my breath away. It was what came next.

A single dark fin breaking the water.

I remember going cold, my limbs feeling like lead, and a vague nauseous feeling over come me. ‘Don’t get eaten,’ I remember thinking.

Careful not to lose my balance and tip myself into the feeding frenzy, I drew my legs up on to the surfboard. Visions of the movie Jaws flashed in my head.

As it turned out, the fins belonged to bottle nosed dolphins. That became clear after just a few seconds, but My God, how long those few seconds felt!

Not the last time

That trip to Virginia Beach wasn’t the first nor was it the last time I’d find myself swimming with dolphins. The Cross bay swim training in New York wasn’t the first nor last time I’d swim with large marine animals. In fact, later that same summer my fiance and I would come fin-to-face with a large shark patrolling the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

Sometimes you’ll be out living your life and thinking about that scene in Jaws where they learn the true size of the creature they are hunting and for safety’s sake Roy states “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” I am as certain that I’ve swam along side things I had no idea were there as I am that I’ll run into more critters in the future.

While terrifying, you can’t go through life avoiding what scares you. Whether it’s swimming in the ocean, travelling through Palestine, or learning to fly an airplane. Chris Guillebeau over at the excellent Art of Non Conformity has an excellent write up of this concept in his article Beware of Life.There’s no need to retread ground he covers there so I’ll just add my two cents here:

What’s more terrifying? Encountering the ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat’ moment or going through life safe but unchallenged?

Tell us below.

Things That Go Bump in the Lake

This past Spring and Summer (2009) Kevin and I spent a great deal of time practicing on lake wylie. He in my kayak leading me, watching out for me. I swam along side getting my mileage in.

Most of the time we swam in Lake Wylie, South Carolina – the lake on which I live. A previously-flooded Cawataba river, it had over 350 miles of fractal shoreline for me to cover. It is freshwater and it is fed by the Cawataba that starts far north and feeds into the enormous Lake Norman 20 miles north of Charlotte, and makes its way down to a Duke Energy dam just across the South Carolina line that creates the lake.

Swimming downstream of a major metropolitan area you expect to find interesting things in the water. The Cove Keepers, a local volunteer conservency pull all sorts of interesting things out of the lake on a regular basis. Despite the appeal of the Bass Master’s tournaments held on Lake Wylie, you don’t expect to find a lot of wildlife.

That would be an incorrect assumption.

You see, we had to get out on the water early in the AM in order to avoid boat traffic while we practiced. Unfortunately, that’s when things from the black lagoon like to feed.

My parents have visited me before and encountered snakes of various species, sizes, and colors but that is expected in the south. As was the snapper turtle I found swimming from one landing early one morning. Note that his size – roughly equivilent to a garbage lid – was not.

One morning we had been swimming for about 2 hours continuously on a glassy-smooth surface. No one else was on the lake except fro a few die-hard bass fishermen. Everyone else was still asleep. It was beautiful. It was perfect.

We were directly on the east side of the lake, about 50 yards off shore and heading west straight across when it happened. This was the final 1/2 mile stretch and we were aiming for the beach which represented our begining and finishing line. I had been slowing down. Swimming 2+ hours continuously will tire you out! My resting glides on my crawl stroke were getting longer and longer.

One one particular glide I crashed in to SOMETHING!

It felt like I was tackling a slimy punching bag. This something was the length of my arm, which went under the beast, to the crown of my head – which I used to spear the animal. It felt like I was tackling a slimy punching bag.

Instinctively, I reacted how I feel most of you reading this would; I shreiked like a little girl and swung my arm – already in a mid-stroke arc – and connected with the beast.

At one time I was considered a trained fighter, entering tournaments and the like. I know what it is like to punch someone, and connect solidly, in fear, anger and with authority. Believe me when I tell you I punched this beast, whatever it was, and connected.

Completing the hit, I scrabled to the underside of the kayak, wrapped my body around the boat, and said a silent prayer that I wouldn’t get eaten. It took a few minutes for me to regain my composure. All the while Kevin was laughing his a$$ off.

Eventually I was able to man up, let go of the kayak, and swim the last 1/2 mile. I don’t mind telling you that I was more than a little jumpy. Kevin of course mocked me the whole way back.

Once we reached shore, Kevin let me in on something else about this behemoth. Remember how I said that you occasionally run into flotsam on the lake? There was a sneaker floating nearby this encounter. Apparently the creature from the black lagoon saw it, too. As he put it “I didn’t want to tell you while you were swimming, but I think whatever that was tried to eat the sneaker.”

Fun, fun, fun!

Later that week we read that there were (3) small aligators sighted on the lake. The area has a history of gators, the last monster pulled out of a nearby cove reached over 12′ in length. I don’t know what I crashed into but I was glad the sneaker got the worst of it!

Crashing into a lake creature wasn’t the only time I screamed like a little girl and sought the safety of the kayak. No, those series of dance moves were pre-rehearsed. Except that time I was in the ocean. And the animal was much bigger. I’ll tell you about that one next time. Keep reading.

The Final Miles

The second mile of the swim proved more difficult that the first. Now that we were clear of the small barrier islands, the full effect of the wind became apparent blowing up waves from the East. Coupled with this, the tide started coming in from Fire Island inlet in full force – in direct opposition from the wind – creating a chumming effect. It felt like trying to swim in a washing machine. I had a lot of trouble keeping my body level in that mess as some strokes would lead me to breath in full waves and others would flip me over on to my back. I think I spent as much time swimming forward as I did up and sideways.

I wasn’t the only one having difficulty with the waves. Each time I managed to get a glimpse of my kayakers they were bailing out their tiny ship. I have no idea how Kevin managed to steer the boat as well as he did but we remained parallel for the entire journey. Having Dad and Kevin along side was very comforting as I was tossed around.

The 8 pairs of goggles we brought turned out to be fortuitous as the force of the waves broke several pairs of my glasses. I must have been swimming the wrong way as I didn’t hear of any other swimmers having this problem. Still, fortune favors the prepared and I dutifully retired at least 5 pairs of goggles that day. My MP3 player was attached to my first set of goggles and I never did get the time to re-attach it to the other pairs. It woud have been nice to mark the time but I was certainly not bored. The effort made the swim seem interminable though.

The effects of swimming in that chop were plain exhaustion. Things didn’t smooth out until around mile 4 or so and by that time I was too tired to capitalize on the relatively flat water. It was everything I could do to keep my arms rolling over. I could literally feel the muscles in my rotator cuffs fraying. Having recovered from a torn rotator cuff 2 years earlier I knew the feeling well. Each stroke I had to make a concious decision to keep injuring myself so I could keep going.

Making the swim even more fun was my ‘farmer John wetsuit. This wetsuit is sleveless, like a tank top, and continues to my ankles. Over time the salt and sand kicked up in the chop made their way into my suit. Each stroke was like sandpaper. I began to understand why some swimmers opted to do the race in speedos. Despite the pain and the open sores the suit created along my chest and under my arms I was very thankful for the buoyancy it provided. I am not sure I would have been able to finish with out it. The fish even got in on the act with something biting me on my toe! That was another nice open, bleeding wound for the salt water to creep into. FUN!

Each time we would swim past a marker, I would ask Kevin the time. I would calculate my average speed in my head and the results were not impressive. I figured I was dead last. By the time we were at the 3.5 mile point I could plainly see the masts of the sailing ships in the harbour we were aiming for. Nothing to do but keep heading that way. Every so often I would ask for some water. The salt water had gotten into my mounth and I’ve never been as thirsty as I had been on that swim. Unfortunately my throat was too sore to swallow so I could only swish the water around in my mouth. This provided a little comfort but not much.

I remember being disappointed in myself towards the tail end of the race. I began evaluating where my training went wrong. Did I really give supreme effort in my training? No. Should I have dieted and cross trained? Yes. Why didn’t I hire a swim coach to help my technique? Thoughts that I had wasted, absolutely squandered the last 18 months of my life played through out my head as I slowly made my way to the shore.

By mile 4 I was absolutely defeated. Luckily my kayakers were not.

By mile 4 the sun was shining, the water was flat, and Kevin was obviously having a great time! He had his sunglasses on and a ridiculous excuse of a boonie hat and was working on his tan. Gone from his mind were any thoughts of capsizing or bailing out water. He was on vacation! So Kevin started doing what any training partner would. He started yelling at me to go faster!

I remember being so tired that I flopped on to my back for a minute. I looked out on the horizon, the place I had swam from and I could not see the beach at all. What I could see were a bunch of other swimmers and kayakers! I wasn’t in last place. I was still in a race! And it was time to go faster.

Well, my mind was made up and I put everything I had into finishing strong. I don’t think my body complied with the request to increase speed but I will say that it was a lot easier to swim the final mile and a quarter without those negative thoughts weighing me down.

It was soon after that I was swimming past the docks and I could hear the crowds cheering. I had done it. I had finally finished. A goal that I had set sitting on a plane returing from the Holy land 18 months earlier was finished. It was a hell of a journey. What an amazing feeling. I don’t have the words to describe it. So I’ll let someone else do it for me;

“That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.”

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.

Neuschwanstein castle

Castle from last month in Germany.

Today I’m in a hotel in Durham, NC and the view is not as spectacular. But I wanted to see if I could upload a pic and a post via my trusty iPhone.