Issyk Kul crossing, 6 July 2016

OK, so I’ve had some time to rest and reflect. Here’s the first post covering my successful crossing of lake Issyk Kul on 6 July 2016. In this post, I’ll cover everything up to the swim.

Planning for this swim started way back last year after my DNF trying to swim this same route. Last year, due to logistics issues, I couldn’t attempt the swim until the end of September, when the water was cold (for me) at 13C. I learned a lot about organizing a swim like this in Kyrgyzstan, which helped inform me and the crew for the swim this year.

Many moons ago, the big boss offered me the use of her pool. That came at the perfect time, as swimming at the indoor place was getting tougher. Calypso Aqua Club has a two lane pool (with a side section for kids and grandmas) which they’ve turned into a three-lane pool. A really skinny three-lane pool. The only good times (read: fairly empty) to go were between 1000-1400. Hard to get away from the office and put in enough time. Especially when I’d show up and all lanes would be full with grandmas and their swim noodles not wanting their hair to get wet. Hard to do serious laps in such a skinny lane.

So, an indoor pool all my own came at a great time. It is small, so I would have to use the straps, which I am a big fan of if you’re stuck with small pools. I shared the pool with the boss and one other woman in the community, and it was a perfect relationship. I managed to get plenty of swimming in. I averaged 7000 meters per week in the 25 weeks prior to the swim. That’s not a lot for most marathon swimmers, but we must consider that for the last two weeks prior to swim-week, I only swam once each week. My elbow started to give me troubles. (I have arthritis pretty bad in my right elbow from an injury years (and years) ago.) I was afraid that my elbow would flare up during the swim; the pain can be described as a stabbing pain every time one bends the elbow. That’s serious especially when you love drinking beer.

So, take those two weeks out and the average goes up a bit, closer to 8000 meters per week. I also had a good “heavy” week of 18K about 6 weeks out from the swim. I think that helped prepare me for this swim. I like to at least swim the distance plus (depending upon race distance, I aim for 1 to 1.5 times the distance) about a month out from the swim. The swim being 13+K, my 18K week was sufficient to prepare the body. I needed a good long time “horizontal.” I only had one 2-hour swim prior to the big swim. Probably could have used a 3-hour swim prior, but I can’t argue with the results!

Timing-wise, I was thinking July 4th. Wouldn’t it have been great to shoot off fireworks after my success?! Unfortunately, I had to work on July 4th, so that wouldn’t work. Also, I wanted to have a window of possible swim days, instead of choosing one day weeks out and then having to stick to it, like last year. Thankfully, the boat Captain (Kurbat) was so impressed that a foreigner wanted to swim his lake last year, that when Talas called him to beg for a three-day window for my swim, he responded: The boat is Mike’s for as many days as he needs. Wonderful! So I picked 6-8 July, with 5 July as the travel out day and 9 July as the travel back day.

For lodging for me and my crew, I chose the Hotel Aliya again. They took care of us last September, so I decided to stick with them. The hotel is in a good location in Balykchy, right next to where the boat captain berths Appak, and with a wonderful beach and pier. Great place for people to hang out while I’m swimming the lake. Unfortunately, Olya, the wonderful lady who took care of us last year, no longer worked at the hotel. No matter; the owners were great; they and their daughters took care of us well.

Hotel Aliya staff, my family and I
Hotel Aliya staff, my family and I

The crew was easy. Most all of the same folks from last year wanted to come back and see me succeed. Added to the crew was my 16-year old daughter, Maggie, and the Peace Corps volunteer Sarah, former college swimmer who will destroy my time for this same route in August!

sarah and flag
Peace Corps volunteer & support swimmer extraordinaire, Sarah.
maggie on board appak
My daughter, Maggie, responsible for mixing my “feeds”

We drove out to the lake on 5 July, checking in rather late (4pm or so). Once the entire crew was there, we took a trip to the beach where I planned to end the swim, so my wife could see how to get there. (Plan was for my wife and youngest to meet me there at the beach, and be there for others from the embassy who might want to come see my swim.)

Beach landing spot in Toru-Aygyr
Beach landing spot in Toru-Aygyr

After the trip to the beach we went back to the hotel to eat. Dinner wasn’t too good, but I did manage to stick to my LCHF diet. After dinner, we rallied in the hotel lobby by our rooms and discussed the plan. I went over the rules of marathon swimming, and pulled out all the equipment, much of it different from the previous year.

Last year, the plan was for my son, Sam, to update my FB with my location and how I was doing. We brought our internet router on the boat and thought we’d have internet. Well, we learned that in the middle of the lake, the best you could do is 2G. My son last year did his best using up data on my phone to update people, but it wasn’t enough.

This year, I got a SpotGen and linked it to the MSF’s application. This turned out to be a wonderful choice. Due to the GPS, we didn’t have to worry about internet; all we needed was for the little orange wonder to see clear sky. Family and friends from around the world told me they were able to easily follow me.

OK, so back to the equipment discussion. I brought along a solar panel (Goal Zero Nomad 7) and battery pack (Goal Zero Venture 30). I wanted to be ready for any contingency. The battery could power a couple phones, and even more important, it could keep the GPS alive. I went over how I wanted everything to go. I reminded the crew about my safe word. Other personal rules: Never tell me how far I’ve gone or for how long. If I ask for my distance, then I have to use my safe word. In this case, if I’m over half done, go ahead and tell me. If I’m not half done, lie to me. I also made sure everyone on the boat knew that only my observer, embassy doc Chris, could end my swim. (Well, technically, I could by using the safe word and persuading Chris that I was serious. But Chris told me that this year if I asked to quit, he’d just flip me off and tell the boat to speed off.)

Discussion went well and we broke off to go to the local grocery store to get food and treats for my crew. Bought a metric sh!t-ton of water along with carb-crap for the crew. I got my sausages and cheese, should I need any food. We got back to the hotel at around 10pm. With a 4:30 wake-up, I was ready to hit the sack. I read for a little bit, then fell asleep around 11pm. Then promptly woke up again at midnight. Even with melatonin I was having trouble sleeping. Thankfully, I can sleep on the boat to the start the next morning, right?!

Next up, the swim!

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