Thursday, May 23, 2013

Alcatraz Sharkfest

Last spring, my friend Stacey suggested a few of us sign up for an Alcatraz swim for this year, in particular the Sharkfest one that sells out fast.  Well, I've never swum in the Bay and it seemed like a fun idea (in so much as it's a good idea every so often to do something that completely terrifies you) so I said sure.  Fast forward a year and it was time to race this past Sunday.  Stacey, as it turned out, got very sick the week before and was not allowed to race by her doctor, but she came out to cheer for us anyway.  I went to a 50th birthday party in wine country the night before, so Jeff dropped me at Stacey's house at 4:45 am so I could ride with her.  On this day, San Francisco was also hosting the Bay to Breakers (massive crazy run race across the entire town) and the start to the final stage of the Tour of California, so it was critical to get to our location early.

I have to say I got more and more nervous over the weeks as this swim approached.  The current, the bay, the whole long-distance open water thing in a sprint year.    We ran into Pamela before the start and as she's done this event many times  she reassured us and offered advice.  Before long it was time to trek down to the ferry and ride out to The Rock!  After the world's longest wait in the ferry bobbing in the waves near Alcatraz and cooking in our wetsuits, we finally got to jump out of the boat!  Despite all my fear of cold water, I was READY to get out just to cool down.

Stolen video from Youtube - view from the start

Stolen video from Youtube - jumping off the boat

Chris and I jumped out of the boat and swam up to the start.  And then we looked at each other in awe and screamed how lucky we were.  Floating there at the start line with a magnificent panoramic view of the entire SF Bay was incredible.  Alcatraz behind us, the Golden Gate to our right, San Francisco in front of us, and the Bay Bridge to our left on the sunniest clearest day I've ever seen in the City.  I can see why people do this swim over and over.

After again a little too much time waiting *shiver* the horn sounded and we were off!  They had told us to follow the lead boat buoy or aim for a specific point to the left of the Aquatic Park entrance (a small opening in the seawall) because the current would push us right towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  I followed the lead boat for a while and when that vanished into the distance I followed a  couple of guys who stopped every 100-200 yards to take photos and video.  I figured they were sighting well as they stopped so much so I could just follow them.

Stolen video from Youtube - you can see why it was worth stopping to look around!

The swim went fairly well until I got closer to town and then I could not figure out where everything I was supposed to sight off of went!  I was still surrounded by people so...  Finally I asked a kayaker what to aim at and he told me there was an orange buoy off to my left.  A few minutes later I checked in with another kayaker and she said to aim for the masts of a ship ahead.  I did that and swam and swam and when I popped up again...she was still next to me.  She said I wasn't moving at all because I was swimming against the current.  Apparently the current had been far stronger than expected and we all should have aimed MUCH further left; instead we were blown past the entrance to Aquatic Park and most people can't swim against that strong current to make it back.  The kayakers and race personnel repositioned a couple hundred of us back up current and then we swam again.  Eventually I was sucked right into Aquatic Park and just had to swim to shore.

Chris and I celebrated with our spectating friends and then came the fun of trying to pull off the wetsuit and clean all the sea schmutz off our faces.  And then I needed FOOD.

Here is my can see how well that current pulled us all.  If I'd been swimming Escape From Alcatraz, which I think ends at Marina Green, I'd have been right on target!

Finally, I have to say...this race was perfect closure for my time in California.  13 years ago this July, I returned to CA after college/grad school and moved to San Francisco.  I can think of no better way to say goodbye to all those landmarks than with this blockbuster swim!  I feel so lucky to have been able to do it!


Meredith said...

Congrats! I'm so glad you got to do this before you move!

Elayne said...

Ah, doctor's note, I'll have to remember that one.

Looks like a beautiful view. There's nothing so awesome as seeing a city skyline from the water.

Betsy said...

How lucky to get a nice day! I've done Nike Women's twice and once we got a perfect view of the Golden Gate and the other you'd never know it was there if you didn't know. And I had to giggle at you swimming and swimming and then popping up in the same spot. UGH!

Mary Sue said...

I am so incredibly impressed! I know how hard you've worked on your swimming over the years, so for you to do this is just so amazing to me. Congratulations!

Iron Krista, "The Dog Mom" said...

omg! you are so much more brave than I am. How cool, but how scary. great job!

Trishie said...

Awesome !

Sara said...

so crazy.....I was on vacation in CA that day! I was actually in Napa and turned on the news to see if they were covering the Tour and saw that Bay to Breakers and the Alcatraz swim were also happening! I was momentarily sad that I wasn't doing one of those events but then I remembered I was in Napa and had copious amounts of wine to drink... :)