Confessions of a Dumbass (Part 2): Toronto Island Lake Swim

Posted: August 18, 2014 in Races, Swim
Tags: , , ,

So apparently I am no good when it comes to going to these competitions on my own. With Kelly, we get there and organized and I get twaddle off to the starting line successfully, on time, feeling good. On my own, I have the logistical prowess of a newborn baby deer. You might remember my last epic fail when I tried to do something like this in Woodstock last year, so it’s safe to say that today’s planned Toronto Island Lake Swim didn’t, well, let’s just say it was the hardest swim I’ve never actually done.

Come; let me regale you with tales of my extreme dumbassery.

Yes it’s a word.  Look it up.

Anyway, I woke up Saturday morning at 5:45am on the dot (otherwise known as “stupid o’clock”  in our house) to make a breakfast of scrambled eggs and coffee. I’m usually not this ambitious in the morning, but I’m not usually waking up to swim 3.8k in the lake most mornings either. I like to allow for time to let it all settle and drop a bomb in the bathroom before I get on the road to the competition; no muss, no fuss…easy as falling off a log really. And this morning was really no different, just up a bit earlier.   I had already packed my wetsuit and gear (not that swim goggles and a towel really counts as ‘gear’) in anticipation of the early departure (post-bomb, of course) so I was out the door and moving comfortably (and satisfyingly empty) by 8:30am heading for Toronto. Everything was going according to plan.  I was going to do this. How hard could it be?

The trip to Toronto was pretty uneventful and I found parking fairly easily and mad my way to the Jack Leighton ferry terminal. I have never been to Toronto Island before, but the emails from the organizer I had been getting mentioned that there would be accurate signage and lots of “Toronto Lake Swim Volunteers” to point me in the right direction. Again, easy right?

I have to say, it’s kind of fun to take a ferry and as much as I’m not a fan of Toronto or big cities anymore, the skyline from the ferry is pretty impressive. Here is my obligatory tourist ferry pic:

The obligatory tourist shot.

The obligatory tourist shot.

Okay, here’s one more from the island:

Okay, make it two.

Okay, make it two.

My first inkling that something might be amiss is that I didn’t notice any other, well, ‘swim types’ on the ferry. There seemed to be a complete lack of dry bags, wetsuits, competition t-shirts, etc.. It was just all baby buggies and knock-off designer bags as far as the eye could see. I didn’t let this worry me though as it was only a small event (less than 300 people) so I’m sure the athletes were just blending in and I went back to enjoying our taxi ride over to the Island.

The ferry disembarked directly on Center Island, or the main focal point of the island. I looked for some signage as to I go next but, huh, nothing. Then I looked for these volunteers – again, nothing. Huh. I started to get that sinking feeling in my gut.

The instructions I had printed out told me to make my way for the ‘Center Island Pier’, so I located it on a nearby site map and began the 5-10 minute trek over to what I hoped was the staging area. Again, along the whole way there I saw nary a potential “athlete” aside from the casual joggers who , clearly, had a different agenda. I was starting to get nervous. I checked my watch and it was 10:40am; so there was just another 5 minutes to get signed in – my heat wasn’t scheduled to begin until 11:50am though as it had been pushed back to accommodate for the anticipated cold temperatures and wind (more on that shortly. I quickened my pace anyway just a little.

Up to this point, I had still seen absolutely nobody that might be participating in an open water swim. In fact, there didn’t seem to be anybody in the water, like, anywhere. Not surprising given how chilly it was out, but open water swimmers are beasts so I tried to maintain the face that I would arrive at the pier and be instantly welcomed by my fellow loony lake swimmer brethren.

And finally I arrived at the pier, aaaaaaaaand…nothing. Like, nothing. Not a thing. No wetsuits, no registration tent, no signs, no buoys, no turnaround points, no timing chip booths…nada. In fact, the pier was pretty much deserted. My heart did one of those flip-flops. Uh oh!

I approached a bored looking lifeguard and asked about the “Lake Swim”. He looked at me blankly. Clearly, he had no idea about any lake swim, or swim meet, or anything of the like.

“Well, it’s really rough out there today. Maybe they moved the course to the east side of the island at Ward’s Beach. It would be more protected out there”, he suggested.

I vaguely remember an email mentioning that the course had been ‘altered’ to accommodate for the rough water conditions, so I was hopeful that this was in fact the case, so I asked to be pointed in the direction of Ward’s Beach. “It’s down that way”, said the lifeguard as he pointed eastward down the walking trail.

How far could it be, right? I’m on an island for Pete sakes!

I found another island site map and was instantly dismayed to learn that Ward Beach was exactly 3 km’s away.

I was already short on time, so I synched up my knapsack with my wetsuit and gear and started jogging for east end of the island. By now it was after 11:00am, I had missed the official registration period, and I still had 3 kilometers to get there. My heart beat began to rise as the panic began to set in; and I was off running down the trail.

In what might have been record time for me to cover that distance in flip-flops, I arrived at Ward Beach to…nothing…UH-gain.

Shit!

There were some retirees, some fishermen, a few people spread out on beach towels reading, a lazy cyclist or two but, otherwise, nothing or anyone to suggest that a swim meet was about to take place.

I started t craft some’ hate mails’ to the event organizers in my head thanking them for all the ‘signage’ and ‘volunteers’, n’ shit. Shit, at the time I was probably blaming them for homelessness, world poverty and the depleting ozone to boot – I was that livid.  Here I had driven two hours in morning traffic, paid $25 for parking, another $7 for the ferry and it was now beginning to dawn on me that the chances of me ever competing in this thing were fading quicker than Justin Bieber’s teen idol status.

It’s true, I was pissed.

At that point, a fire fighter named Troy drove by and I flagged him down to see if he knew anything about the swim. I got the same blank stare and I wanted to scream. Didn’t anybody know about this thing? Troy was actually a top-notch guy and offered to look up the swim’s website to see if any course changes had been made. After all, it was “pretty rough out” he reminded me.

Then I heard those four dreaded words which made my heart retract down into my nut sack:

“What’s the date today?”

I hesitated. “Saturday, the 17th?, I offered hopefully.

I knew what his next response was going to be and Troy gave me that look that said: “Congratulations dumbass. It’s tomorrow.”

Double fuck.

Somehow, someway, I managed to screw up the dates on my calendar. Even though the 17th had been squarely looking at me from the top of the photocopied email instructions I had been carrying, I had placed the event in my calendar at home on the 16th.

Let the dumbassery commence.

I was gutted. I had spent the better part of a week scheming to find someone of babysit the child so I could make the trip to Toronto to do this thing and, now, after nearly $37 spent already in getting here (never mind the price of gas or the original registration fee), there was no event.

Yes, I’m a dumbass.

Well, ‘fuck this shit, I’m swimming anyway’  I thought to myself, so I wandered back to the Center Island pier. Maybe I could still do the course on my own and recoup my day’s plans for an open water swim.

The lifeguard greeted me again and when I inquired if I could go out, he told me the water temperatures and current conditions had pretty much closed the swim course for the time being. “It’s too rough today”, he said. Not surprising I guess as waves were crashing over the breaker wall just beyond the beach. For the past two days or so, the swim’s organizing committee had been sending out regular updates to this effect: “cold weather conditions…high waves…wind warnings…blah blah blah”. It was most certainly not going to be fun, I got that. But then the lifeguard offered a glimpse of hope:

“You could try further down the island at Gibraltar Point”.

So Gibraltar Point it is…just another 2 kilometers away in the opposite direction.

I started walking.

When I got there, the water conditions definitely did not look any more favorable. In fact, there were big waves rolling into the beach and over another short breaking wall stretching out into the lake to the east. There was no one else on the beach aside from two, very bored looking lifeguards.

I asked them what were the chances they’d let me in to swim.

“It’s pretty rough”, they said. I rolled my eyes at them on the inside.

“Yes, I know. I’m okay with that”, I replied.

“It’s cold too”, they warned.

Yes, I’m okay with that as well. I brought a wetsuit so I’ll be good”, I replied again. I was practically pleading by this time.

“Well, okay. I guess. Maybe I’ll just go out with you in the boat”, one of them said.

“Deal”.

I was just excited to get the approval to go out. The problem was, that even though they were going to let me out, Gibraltar Point only existed as a small beachhead between a white marker on the left, and the breaking wall to the east…maybe 350m apart…at best.

In other words, from here:

Point A (west)

Point A (west)

To here:

Point B (east)

Point B (east)

Yeah, not much of a swim really, but I didn’t want the day to be a complete loss so I started to get into my wetsuit while the lifeguard prepped the boat and made her way out into the surf. Likewise, from the pictures above the water doesn’t really look very choppy, right? Well, believe me, they were. I was told later by the lifeguard that in her opinion, the swells were approximately 3ft. in size.

The first thing that hit me however, was the frigid water temperature. Upon my first few steps out into the water my feet turned into frozen TV dinners and I almost packed in my plans right then and there. Of course, by now the lifeguard was out in the boat so I was pretty much committed by this point. I summoned up my best tough guy façade, put my face in the water and started to paddle for the white marker on the left. Almost, instantly, I had brain freeze…over my entire body.

Fuck! This was cold!

I’ve been pretty spoiled swimming in the warm waters of the Flatwater Center this season, so the 11°C/54°F lake temperatures were, well, let’s just call them pretty “bracing”. I could feel my testes instantly retract into my abdomen.

I started my first swim to the breaking wall and was pretty much tossed around by the waves for the entire short distance. At one point I was even thrown on my back. And so I went back and forth under the close scrutiny of the lifeguard for about 45 minutes or so. And in all that time I probably covered, maybe, 1.5 kilometers. I was feeling pretty defeated and exhausted (Probably even more so than my Ironman Wales swim) but still happy that I did something.

Just see how happy I am:

DSCF1920

This is “pre-freeze”

Upon exiting the water, my feet, face and hands were completely numb and it was sometime before I could manage full sentences with the lifeguards for all my chattering teeth. I was actually kind of relieved that the event as tomorrow, because I’m certain that it would have been one bitch of swim had the organizers gone through with it – and I sincerely doubt they would have.

So despite all the confusion and disappointment and shitty ass planning and imminent dumbassedness on my part, at least I got a swim in, short as it was and the lifeguards got something to do for 45 minutes or so.  Just see how excited she is?

DSCF1919

In the meantime, I’ll just have to take a mulligan on this event and make plans to come back next year to participate. At least I could chalk the day up to either a ‘tough weather’ or ‘conditions simulation’, or maybe even a ‘mental toughness’ training day prior to my next competition in September (click HERE).

Whatever I choose to call it, I’m also never…ever…going to plan these things again without Kelly to also manage the logistics given I – apparently – can’t be trusted to do so. Stroke, pedal and run I can do, sure, tough weather and cold conditions…no problem.

Scheduling…clearly not.

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