In September of 2011, Phil White introduced the first Search For Memphre…. a 25+ mile swim from Newport, Vermont to Magog, Quebec. Lisa Neidrauer and I were crewing for John Humenik for what turned out to be a truly insane night. I think there were 11 or 12 swimmers starting at midnight against a 25 knot headwind. Kayakers were getting blown backward, the air temp was in the low 40’s, everything I owned was wet and the wind chill was brutal. Four swimmers made the crossing that day… Liz Fry, Greg O’Connor, Elaine Howley, and Charlotte Bryn… in what were some of the roughest conditions I’ve ever seen an event take place in.
Fast forward to 2012… 2nd Annual Search for Memphre and yours truly had a spot to swim. This year, each swimmer was assigned a 16’ aluminum boat with a 9.9hp outboard. No frills, and not easy for the crew. Mine were Rondi Davies and Christopher Stevens. Conditions were not bad for the first 2/3rds but the winds picked up to 20 knots toward the home stretch. This time a tail wind… fun for the swimmers, but punishing in tiny boats. Despite the gusts pushing us to Magog, this turned out to be the most difficult swim I have completed….
The issue started on the Friday morning before the swim. I swallowed a couple of large multi vitimins while driving to meet Rondi, and found my water bottle empty. It was a good 45 minutes before I stopped for a beverage to wash down these pellets that were burning my esophagus. In retrospect… it was too late and the damage was done. At aproximately 6 hours into the swim it became extremely painful to swallow anything and I had to stop frequently to curl into a fetal position and apply pressure to my sternum. This offered a bit of temporary relief, and enabled me to plow ahead, but I continued to struggle with the pain and lack of nutrition for the next 9 hours.
THE GREAT SKATE
I didn’t know that nordic skating was even a thing until I received an email from Phil White inviting folks to visit the Northeast Kingdom and enjoy the frozen Lake Memphremagog. I think it was Lisa who planted the seed for an international “glide” from Newport to Magog with “I know where this is going?” …Thats it… 6 words is all it takes to inspire guys like Phil White to dive head first into the unprecedented challenge of trying to establish and maintain a 25 mile international skating trail.
I sold the idea to a couple of ski buddies, Erik Wightman and Dave Metzger, and the three of us ordered our skates, poles and assorted safety gear from a shop in Vermont. A few google searches and youtube videos later, we were ready to give it a go, I was surprised how easy it was to get started. The skates use a xc-ski binding, so with boots that were familiar and comfortable it was click in and go. We had a beautiful 1/2 mile stretch of black ice on the Rondout Creek in High Falls to work things out on, and after a one hour session, I felt like I was ready.
We arrived in Newport late Friday night for the Sunday morning event, so we had all day Saturday to get familiar with our surroundings and socialize with Phil and our Canadian co-adventurers. It was clear to us that the ice conditions would not be ideal, but we all remained optimistic… even with the overnight forcast calling for 6 inches of heavy snow. The plan remained to plow the path ahead of the skaters in the morning.
Well, it did snow, and it was heavy, but Phil fired up the ford and plowed away. We noticed that a bunch of skaters that we met on the lake during our warm-ups on Saturday were absent as were many of the other seasoned nordic skaters. Well… I honestly have come to never expect that getting to Magog is never going to be easy. The trail was in pretty good shape for the first five miles… up to the Canadian border, but then it was impossible to identify where the trail was. This was the moment of truth, and it looked like we would be skating back to Newport, but Phil fired up the ford, dropped the plow and headed blindly north. We stood watching him struggle through the heavy snow and when it became obvious that Phil was on a mission we followed Lisa’s lead. Magog or bust.
There were moments of absolute joy, particularly during the stretch of black ice north of Owl’s Head, but the majority of the trail was slow and difficult. A sharp focus just ahead had to be maintained the whole way to reduce the number of crashes which were most likely to occur whenever a small patch of heavy snow was encountered. Still… a bunch of us toughed it out and though it would be a stretch to say that I skated from Newport to Magog I can honestly say I stumbled the distance with skates on my feet.
Phil White the visionary… bravo, my friend! What will you think of next?