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.

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!