US Masters Swimming

Mountain View Masters

2004 Santa Cruz Pier to Pier

Pier-to-Pier Round 3

August 1, 2004

by Karla Rees

It is time again for my annual story of the notorious 10K swim out in Santa Cruz. This being my third time, preparation should be a cinch. Training? What training? I’ve been working, but I managed to get in 6 training swims. Only 1 within the last 2 weeks of the race. And not recommended might I add.

My source of sunblock with jellyfish repellent had left the country for her 21-mile swim at Loch Lomond. Despite my efforts, I was unable to reach her or find any source of the stuff anywhere within driving distance. The weather was okay. High overcast when my carpool arrived in Santa Cruz. We dropped off a car for one of the escorts and headed to Capitola.

For those that were at the beach this weekend, there were orange advisory signs on the beach warning of the high bacteria level. So swimmers were aware we wouldn’t be landing at Cowell Beach. About an hour after we arrived, we found out we wouldn’t be leaving Capitola. So the “Pier-2-Pier” Swim, became the “Pier-to-same-Pier” Swim, as my escort, Natalie pointed out. This is the first time that the 10K race would be a loop course.

The day before the swim I experienced the “dirty” water. What used to be mostly green was now tinted with brown, this of course being out in front of lifeguard stands 2-5. The water was fairly warm Saturday, probably so the bacteria can multiply more easily. Note to self: DO NOT SWALLOW ANY WATER.

The course:

ALTERED! Leg One: 2 miles out to the Xiantippe, then left, then left, then right. Heck I don’t know, I couldn’t see much past 50 meters unless I stopped. The race did start on time, 40 swimmers on the start line, well actually 39, one had to start in the water, kind of hard to do a beach start with one leg. The water was nice and warm at the start, seemed like 64 to me. I steered clear of the kelp beds. The water stayed the standard green for about 20 minutes, then the brown-green water all the way to the turn boat, but this was completely satisfactory by any means, had I any vision of the future. Visibility: 3 feet. Normal 4-5 feet.

As was typical about an hour after the start I rounded the Xiantippe along with 3 other swimmers, time to get food and drink from our escorts. I have no sense of “please and thank” you during the race so I pretty much bark orders at Natalie, my holiday sister escort, the whole race. Also since she hasn’t figured out how to tell when I’m cold, I keep my orders down to one or two syllable words, so she can’t tell I’m chattering my teeth while talking (i.e. sign of hypothermia). So I take a few swigs of hot energy drink, which of course burns my tongue, Doah! (Remember: Can’t swallow any of the ocean water).

About 10 minutes after I feed, I start to become a little nauseous, I fought it off thinking it’s just a mind thing, meanwhile the water, ewwwwwh, is getting brown-brown with visibility a few inches past my fingertips. I really try not to think about it, my only concern was, where is that stupid sun, and when is it gonna break though the overcast. Meanwhile, the water was getting darker. YUCK, don’t drink the water, don’t drink the water…I can’t see my hand…but the water is pretty warm, this ain’t so bad.

Then in one breath, the brown water…GONE…the water turning crystal clear…green crystal clear, pretty darn clear for the Pacific in Santa Cruz County. Visibility, 10 feet at least. But the water temperature dropped significantly and I monitored my watch to check my next feeding.

I could see other kayakers were out in this area, as it was beautiful (reminded me of Pinecrest Lake excluding the salt). I brought along for the ride, my frog thermometer, and one kayaker checked the temp, surface water 61, a few inches below, it was worse, way worse. At this point I was freezing, there was no WARM brown water around and I suffered another bought of nausea after my 2nd feeding. Perhaps I should have trusted the “use by date” on the bottom of the canister, I mean I did buy this stuff back in July of 2002 (my first P2P swim) but I didn’t figure that out until the night before, so I figured it couldn’t kill me.

I pressed on for another 20 or so minutes in the now well below 59 degree water. When I spot this purple thing swimming below me. Hey cool…jellyfish! The jelly was the size of a football, the first I’d seen. I popped my head up to get the camera from my escort. Apparently these guys do swim because I had to backtrack a little to take a snapshot of it. So after wasting at least a minute, I continue on. Then I realized my body temperature dropped off again. Doah! Shouldn’t have stopped, shouldn’t have stopped. I drank from my thermos one more time just to warm me up and it was only 2hr 5 min into the race, I needed to stay warm for at least another hour and 5 minutes. I tried to take in some more liquid, but my stomach couldn’t handle it, so I spat it out, lucky for me Natalie wasn’t taking pictures.

The last drink did me in, I was really feeling sick and cold, so at that point I said…no more. Hey Knight’s if you’re reading this throw that old stuff away that I left at your house! I suffered though the beautiful crystal green cold water for over an hour, then as luck would have it, the next turn boat was in sight and we headed left again. About 15 minutes later the water got a little warmer…yes it got brown like before too. I finally started to warm up.

The water had to be as high as 67 in some spots, and at times I stopped just to enjoy the heat. It was nice and easy swimming for 20 minutes the water calm, semi-warm semi-green. Then the brown water reappeared and got darker. I can hardly see my arm. Then in one stroke…GONE…hey where’d the light go? The water turned pitch black. Visibility ZERO. Hmm, take a breath….ahh, there’s light. I put my head back in the water….complete darkness. Every other stroke through this black void was NIGHT, day, NIGHT, day, NIGHT day…except NIGHT is not a good thing. Night shall be defined as “Red Tide.” Ewww, disgusting yuck. Sometimes I could see white stuff within the black water. And didn’t know (or want to know) what it was. Yeah the water was warm but you couldn’t see squat. I later found out that water looked much better from the swimmer’s point of view, as we couldn’t see what was floating on top of the water. Bird poop, fish parts, and other debris. The paddles disappeared when submerged a few inches in the water and escorts sprayed themselves with the filthy water if they weren’t careful.

I continued through the darkness for awhile longer, but the sun was out now and as I managed to make it to clearer waters without ingesting anything. Phew! I was still a long ways from the final turn buoy and starving, but I decided not to drink again, I was already concentrating on not vomiting in the water, though I did end up with one loud belch, Natalie thought I’d swallowed water. Now do you think after what I’ve swam though so far that I’d let that happen?

Ten minutes later I could finally see the last buoy and off to the right of me the boats anchored off shore beach, yeah I was almost there. Rounding the buoy I encountered some kelp, the chop also picked up a bit, which was when I noticed my shoulder getting soar, I started swimming some breastroke to ease off the shoulder, but I reached the pier, where some swimmers stood who had already finished the race. Fine, I’ll swim the rest crawling. The water got colder near shore. There were no waves after crossing next to the pier, so it was easy going all the way home. Several spectators and friends line up at the finish. I came out the water without being disoriented and ran up the beach looking only for some bottled water and food.

The food table was empty. Since the change of the finish venue, the food was a little late arriving, well lucky I wasn’t any faster, and I might’ve starved for the extra wait. My tongue was shriveled once again for being in salt water for so long.

Once the other swimmers crossed the finish line it was time for results. New this year, they had real nice framed certificates with a star for each attempt of the pier-to-pier. There were over a dozen first timers, a lot of people between 2-5, but the most impressive was the swimmer who had done it 11 times. My final time, 3:20:53, 4th in my age group. 24th overall—moving up 4 spots from last year!