Five Miles, Five Great Lakes, One Very Long Day!

So we did it! A mile swum in each of the Great Lakes in one day, starting and finishing in Oakville at Coronation Park on the lakeshore.

To recap what we were thinking when we planned this day …

There’s a lot we can do for the lakes just with small changes: reducing plastic use, watching what we put down the drains, biking instead of driving to the beach when we can, supporting groups like Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and the Bay Area Restoration Council.

Still, we can fight all the familiar battles – against pollution and shortsighted planning – but if we cannot get people to imagine the lakes as a vital part of their lives, then those other battles are ultimately lost.

A really important thing, then, that’s easy to do, is to get out and have fun on the lakes: make them an essential part of your recreation and inspiration!

So that’s what we did on Friday and Saturday, September 23th and 24th.

We had so many great adventures packed into one long day, but for me the first swim of our whirlwind tour was the most poignant, swimming out into the dark misty waters of Lake Superior, well before sunrise, with dear friends beside me and the milky way shining above us.

I wished there was a camera that could capture that peaceful, captivating beauty: of the starlit mist hanging over the still clear waters and the gentle lapping of swimmers’ strokes. But we didn’t have any camera like that, and besides we were swimming, so I kept thinking of this line in my head instead (because if there were whales in Lake Superior they’d be Julia Donaldson’s and Axel Scheffler’s whale!)


“… she gazed at the sky, the sea, the land, The waves and the caves and the golden sand. She gazed and gazed, amazed by it all, And she said to the whale, ‘I feel so small.’ …”

14484978_10157416425160654_3722873275903673579_nWe finished the (long!) day at Oakville Coronation Park, where a gang of fellow swimmers swam with us out the buoy. All told a fantastic adventure with some extraordinary people!

And if this inspires you to have another Great Lakes adventure of your own, please consider spreading the word to your friends and colleagues about the Great Lakes Trust!

5 Miles, 5 Great Lakes, 1 Day

How can we best protect the Great Lakes?

We know the familiar things that need to be done: conservation (of wildlife, habitats, marshlands, sandbanks), reduction (of pollutants, poorly planned developments), and better regulation and management of our industries, international shipping, our waterfronts and watersheds …

Again, those are familiar struggles, and we have extraordinary people fighting for those things every day: groups like Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, the Bay Area Restoration Council, the Canada Centre for Inland Waters, the Great Lakes Commons, the Great Lakes Observing System, the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project… to name just a few!

The Great Lakes Trust is designed to support advocates and researchers, activists and artists, in just these kinds of organizations, funding those small but vital steps to improve our home waters.

All good.

But one of the things we love about Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and their Watermark project project is the importance of our imagination. (The Great Lakes Commons is in tune with this also, as are many others, in their distinctive ways.)

The point is this: we can fight all of the familiar battles, against pollution and shortsighted planning, but if we cannot get people to imagine the lakes as a vital part of their lives, then those other battles are ultimately for naught.

So, what adventures can we have that will help make the Great Lakes a part of our inspiration? a part of the vocabulary we instinctively use when we answer the question: “what nutty adventure do have planned next?”

This Friday and Saturday, a small band of crazy swimmers will bundle into a rented Honda Odyssey, and then we’ll swim a mile in each of the Great Lakes over twenty four hours.

Five Miles, Five Lakes, One Day.

We’re doing it because we love the lakes and because, maybe, small adventures like this one can encourage others to see the vast, wonderful heritage we share in these lakes, and to imagine their own adventures in, on, and around the Lakes.

The more we get out and have fun on the Lakes, the more they become a part of our shared sense of who we are, together. And then, hopefully, we’ll all care even more deeply about tackling the many serious problems we face in sustaining this vital heritage.

5 Miles in 5 Great Lakes in 24 Hours

depart Oakville 09/23 @ 20:00

Lake Superior @ Brimley, Mi 09/24 @ 04:00

Lake Michigan @ Mackinaw City, MI 9/24 @ 06:30

Lake Huron @ Brights Grove, ON 9/24 @ 12:30

Lake Erie @ Port Stanley, ON 9/24 @ 15:00

Lake Ontario @ Oakville, ON 9/24 @ 18:00

Come join us at Oakville Coronation Park this Saturday 09/24 @ 18:00 for a swim or paddle to the buoy and back, to help us finish off this Great Lakes adventure!!

And if this inspires you and your friends to get out and have (another) Great Lakes adventure, then perhaps you could also spread the word about the Great Lakes Trust!

We did it!

A tiring, challenging, and really wonderful experience with an extraordinary team.

Starting off from Queen’s Royal Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake at 8:38pm on Monday, August 1st, we arrived at Marilyn Bell Park at 3:13pm on Tuesday, August 2nd. We had almost unbelievably good conditions: a still, starry night after a beautiful sunset, riding the push out of the Niagara River, then a calm, sunny day as we approached Toronto. The official time ratified by SSO is 18hrs 35min 8sec. Slower than I’d hoped, but faster than I’d feared! Here is some of the media coverage of the swim, and a photo montage of the entire experience!


The swim was long, but the conditions ideal – flat, warm water, no wind – and our team worked spectacularly well together. In terms of training, for future swims I’d do far more distance training, more consistently, instead of the gradual build that characterized my training plan the year building up to the swim.

I will note here, in the spirit of transparency and integrity for unassisted marathon swims, that there were three points of incidental contact, with me, by the crew during the swim. After sunrise, Swim master Shaun Chisholm got in the water during a feeding stop to remove the glow sticks that were pinned to the back sides of my swimsuit, off of my hips, while I treaded water. Several hours later, Shaun got in again to spray some sunscreen on the back of my neck, where the zinc had worn off, again while I treaded water. While the sunscreen was a spray application, I believe there was some transient incidental contact while we were close together in the water. A short time after that, during a feeding stop, Madhu reached over from the support boat to put on some vaseline on the same spot on my neck, which I then spread over the back of my neck myself, again while I was treading water. All contacts were incidential, and at no point was there physical support rendered.

I’m simply going to repost much of what I’ve already posted on Facebook and Twitter following the swim, so that those thoughts and feelings of immense gratitude are here for posterity.

So, much gratitude!

Mauro Campanelli managed the whole project and coordinated everything on shore with formidable competence. Our pilots were outstanding: Thomas Dobokay with “Sea Monk”, and Jack and Coco from Boomers Sporting Adventures, with “Veteran’s Dream”.

Navigator and all-around superb sailor and coach Alex McMillin, working with swim master Shaun Chisholm, kept us on course (John Scott, longstanding record holder on the Marilyn Bell route, was our swim master for the trial swim, which was a real privilege as well).

Team doctor Juan Gabriel Acosta watched over everyone. He and the rest of our water crew, Lynn De Lathouwer-Rodgers, Mark Bintley, Christine Hui, and Geoff Farrow, led by the intrepid Madhu Nagaraja, my mentor in open-water craziness, all kept me on line.

Brett Titus got Madhu and I (and all our kit) to Niagara-on-the-Lake on the afternoon of the swim with good cheer. Tracey Ehl and Doug Harrison were kind enough to offer us the use of their boat and had brought it down to the lake, for which I am deeply grateful, even though we didn’t manage to get them in the floatilla in the end.

Thanks to so many friends, fellow swimmers and adventurers, who supported us along the way and joined us at the start and finish: Bud Seawright, France Jolicoeur (who couldn’t be on the boat this time, but was with us in spirit!), Alan Swankie, Steve Ellison, Michael Kenny (aka #SwimDiesel), the extraordinary Greg Streppel (who dominated every major FINA world open water competition in the early 1990s), Duane Bouyea, Jason Hughes, Brenda Lussier-Neumueller, Azim Essaji (who came to see us off with his wife, along with our mutual friend, awesome Aussie swimmer/economist Christine Neill), Shaun‘s dad Tony Chisholm (who also boated out much-needed morning coffee to the lead boat – above and beyond!), Anita Doppenberg and Christine Arsenault (who also offered us their boats – thanks!), Eileen Luxton (who, along with Christine Hui, got me sorted out with appropriate nutrition after the swim when I crashed a bit … who’d have thought a can of coke could do that!?), Mark Luxton, Rob Kent, of LOST and GSS fame (of our recent LongIsland/LakeO open-water relay? he got the shorter leg, but his had sharks, so we’re even), Steve Hulford, of Toronto Island Swim fame.

Jayne Bintley managed our social media updates brilliantly. Vivian Wong has been working tireless on arts outreach and fundraising for the Great Lakes Trust. Together, Jayne and Vivian have been developing some great ideas for supporting the lakes. My friend Daniel Munro followed the swim from Ottawa and posted updates on Twitter, as did my old friend and fellow Hamilton swimmer Catherine, which was a pleasure.

Also following along were some extraordinary folks you’ve read a lot about from me: Krystyn Tully, Mark Mattson, Claire Lawson, and the rest of the team at Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. I came home to find an email about the recent fundraiser to restore their boat, the Angus Bruce. They were successful, and the mailing ended with: “We’ll see you out on the water!” That turned out to be literally true: as we approached Toronto we paired up with the waterkeepers doing a round of sampling across the outer harbour!

After enduring my swimming habit with patience and good cheer, my family waited patiently in the sun for me to finish: Kim and the kids (and the dog), my parents Doreen  and Les, along with my brother Andrew King along with my nephews Julian and Nate. Fantastic also to be greeted by Sondra and Marcus (thanks for the ride home!) and Titi, Tom and Ben. Eileen, Titi, and Kim took some great pictures of the finish, as did Rob, Brenda, and several other friends, for which I’m very grateful. Geoff documented the entire swim, and many of the stunning images of the lake here are his.

It’s humbling, reflecting on the extraordinary swimmers who have crossed this and the other great lakes, all of whom continue to give back to us, several via their involvement in Solo Swims, one of the two sanctioning bodies for lake crossings. Kim Lumsdon and Bryan Finlay followed my training and gave important advice. Marilyn Korzekwa offered her zodiac for the swim. Vicki Keith has built one of the most astonishing legacies in Great Lakes swimming. It was an honour to have her following our swim online.

Marilyn Bell first crossed the lake in 1954, at the age of 16. She is a pioneer for all of us, and she remains deeply attached to the Lake and the community of swimmers she continues to inspire. She and Bryan Finlay were in touch with the crew throughout the swim, as they have been for most every crossing of late. It has been an honour and delight reading her supportive words as we prepared to follow in her … I want to say footsteps, but maybe wake is better! Having her thoughts and words with us helped me get across. Thank you Marilyn.

So again, to emphasize: it was, and is, so humbling and gratifying to be part of such an extraordinary team, with so many incredible friends – along with some fantastic organizations and three great companies – helping us, cheering us on, and believing in the Great Lakes Trust.

Thanks, again, so much everyone, and for keeping up the fight for the Great Lakes!

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper Bay Area Restoration Council Hamilton Community Foundation Solo Swims of Ontario LOST Swimming (Lake Ontario Swim Team) Connors Runners dryrobe Klean Kanteen XTERRA

Swimming tonight!

Looks like we have a clear window for an 8pm start tonight from Niagara-on-the-Lake! Nervous, excited, humbled by the support of an incredible crew, friends, family, and so many of the extraordinary people who have built this remarkable legacy of Great Lakes swimming, starting with Marilyn Bell’s pioneering swim.

I’ll try to do justice to that legacy!

We should have live satellite tracking, so if you’d like to follow along, here’s the link:

Peak Training Weeks, Trial Swim

swimlog-peak-july2016The past two weeks marked the end of my official training plan for our crossing attempt, although the next few weeks might still see one more distance week – we’ll see how the taper goes as we approach the first week of August, when our primary swim window opens. The weekly totals were 40km and just shy of 56km by July 17th, respectively.

The training plan ended with a 10km swim at the North Shore Challenge on the morning of Saturday, July 16th, followed the next day by our trial swim, which we’d planned as a 18-20km point-to-point swim from Burlington Beach to the Oakville shore. The final distance swum was just over 18k covered in 5h52m, from the north end of Burlington Beach to the end of the Navy Street Pier in Oakville.

The core team for the trial had Mauro on shore coordination and logistics; Madhu coordinating on the water with Mark, our pilot, and our SSO swim master; Lynn on feeding, stroke count, and dynamics; and Geoff on camera detail.

Our swim master for this trial swim was none other than the long-reigning record-holder for the NOTL-MBP route, John Scott! And our pilot was experienced Solo Swims escort Thomas Dobokay and his 21′ rigid-hull inflatable Sea Monk.

We had some gentle onshore cross-winds with slight swell for the first part of the swim, but for the most part surface conditions were ideal. The water temperature was a steady at 17C, with a few warmer patches and one brief section of much colder patches, all concentrated around Bronte Harbour.

The swim felt good, although there were some strange elements: for some reason my kicking was completely off. I mean, quite literally: off. I usually only sustain a weak two-beat kick most of the time anyway, but for some reason, this swim, I basically wasn’t kicking at all. Not sure what was going on, but lesson learned: focus on kicking, even when trying to keep the pace slow and steady.

The trialteam-geoffshoulders were sore, but stable for most of both the 10k on Saturday and for Sunday’s trial swim, but the next morning they definitely needed plenty of rest. My stomach seemed fine with the carbopro and weak electrolyte mix we’ve been training with, but was definitely queasy that night and the next morning, which I attribute this to having a beer at the team meeting afterward (Thanks, Suman, for putting up with us loitering in the kitchen!).

Thanks to everyone for a great day on (and in) the water, and thanks especially Geoff for documenting the trial swim, and to John Scott and Thomas Dobokay for lending their considerable expertise and experience in getting us closer to the big swim, (hopefully) in a few weeks!




Klean Kanteen and our swim!

Thanks to Klean Kanteen for supporting the Great Lakes Trust and our rapidly-nearing crossing attempt of Lake Ontario. I’m honoured to have our message shared on their blog!

We’ll be using their bottles on our crossing, in particular the insulated 355ml wide-mouth bottles (with the new Cafe Cap 2), which are the perfect size for feeding every half hour. Being insulated, they keep warm mixes warm, and even better: they float!!

The Lake Decides

SatIMG_20160522_202649urday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday at the end of May, 2016. Holiday weekend. Warm air, clear skies. A chilly morning dip at Coronation Park in Oakville, and three beautiful evenings at the beach along the Burlington shore …

… and an object lesson in how our Great Lake dictates terms for swimmers, not the other way around!

You swim when, and how, the lake lets you swim.

So, Saturday morning at Coronation Park in Oakville: still cool air (11C) with a breeze, water slightly warmer (12C). Lynn and Christine in the water with me, Ross and Madhu on shore patrol. A short, brisk swim, with lots of stopping and standing.


Sunday evening at Burlington Beach: warm air, cold lake, at about 13C water temperature. Fair enough: it’s still spring, and that’s roughly the water temperature from the day before, further up the shore. Another short, cold swim, and again with lots of stopping and standing!


Monday evening, again at Burlington Beach: against the backdrop of the previous swims, these were balmy water temperatures, ranging from high 14C out at the buoy line to patches of 16C closer to the shallows. I find that, once we’re above 12C, I can actually get some respectable swimming in (… and in retrospect, I should have done a longer swim when I had these conditions, but the kids were getting restless on shore, and the puppy didn’t much like the fireworks folks were setting off on the beach).


Now, Tuesday was essentially an early summer day: clear sunny skies and temperatures creeping up to the high 20’s. You might conclude that Tuesday evening would find a warmer lake, especially at Burlington, with long, forgiving sandy shallows … right?

I mean, if it was 16C the evening before, and warm all day, and no winds and swells and offshore currents. Time for a nice, long sunset swim!

… alas, no such luck. Water temperatures ranged from just below 10C to 12C at the warmest points, averaging just under 11C for the duration of the short, miserable swim.


To be sure, we’ve been in much colder water, and in a past season I swam roughly 3km at Burlington in 12C or so, but I think 45 minutes is about the longest I’ve been in water below 12C, and last night was one of the coldest, most painful recovery sessions I can recall (although you tend to blot those things out after the really cold swims). I’d swum 6km in the pool that morning, and had hoped to match that in the lake.

Again, the lake decides.


Micro-grants against corporate juggernauts?

xenopus laevis (Liz West)

Rachel Aviv‘s story of Tyrone Hayes facing off against the corrupt, cynical actions of corporate juggernaut Syngenta, makes me as furious today as it did when it first appeared in the New Yorker in 2014, maybe even more so.

A core mission of the Great Lakes Trust is making it more difficult for powerful interests to abuse the public trust in this way.

We will fund more transparent, inclusive, and participatory science: projects and partnerships to collect and study evidence from diverse sources, for the public good, without depending on partisan corporate and political interests.

Examples? Check out Lake Ontario Waterkeeper‘s Swim Guide for one way that committed advocates have democratized knowledge and empowered citizens.

Another? Look at the Bay Area Restoration Council‘s citizen science and education outreach initiatives.

Small but vital steps.

Yoga for swimmers, triathletes, and runners!

As I take a few days rest after last week’s long swims (on the recommendation of my physiotherapist!) I have time to do some stretching, running, and think about how to ramp up my preventative course of dryland work on core strength and shoulder stability.

To that end, I’ll encourage anyone in the Toronto area to check out a class by one of our arts outreach coordinators, Vivian Wong, who is also a yoga instructor.

She has put together a great session for Saturday, May 14th, specifically for swimmers, triathletes, and runners. The class is in Studio 2 at The Yoga Sanctuary on Danforth Avenue in Toronto, and will emphasize poses to repair and restore aching shoulders and tight hamstrings and hips.



The session is free, but we are suggesting donations to the Great Lakes Trust. If you’re in the Toronto area, please come out for a great session!



Three solid weeks, and finally back in the Lake!

The plan for the next three months of training, April through June, has been to ramp up the kilometers in the pool culminating in a long, hard week at the end of each month. This evening marks the end of three weeks that I’m reasonably happy with: just under 24km, then 26km, and now this weimageek was just shy of 30km. Here’s where we are, with the blue and red lines the low and high projections for pool workouts, and the orange line the actual distances completed to date.

For the most part the past three weeks have been dominated by long, moderate sets involving 1000s and 1500s, although we’ve also done some shorter, more intense interval work in there as well, often with Lynn leading the charge. I’ve had some great help on workouts this past week, and before that, from extraordinary Hamilton triathletes Austen and Taylor Forbes, and from Bri on the Mac team.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.04.58 PMToday was also our first day back in the lake doing anything like a significant distance. We had a good group arrive at the beach, led by Brenda Lussier-Neumueller, who will be having another go at crossing the lake this summer. Mark and Jayne arrived with their ever-enthusiastic little ones, and Christine and Duane made it out too. Laurence Hanly also came out to join us, and had a great swim.

My first impression, as I sat down to write this entry, was that I haven’t been in the cold water nearly as much as last year, when we were helping  Madhu train for Magellan. Looking back, I see that I’m mistaken: I have been in the lake about as much this season as last, but the swims haven’t been nearly so intense. I was swimming in the lake in the fall, and up to January, but then didn’t get back in until mid-March, when I muddled through a couple of hundred meters at Coronation Park in 4C waters.


Thinking about it, I honestly don’t know if I really enjoy the cold water swimming. A part of me does, I suppose.

There are certainly things about the cold water that draw me back. The camaraderie of doing something sort-of-crazy but life-affirming, outdoors, with good friends? That bit I like. A lot. As Madhu says: it’s really not about swimming.

There’s also a weird, austere beauty to the cold waters, in all their varied moods.

I tell myself I do the cold water training to prepare for how so many swims can turn, especially in Lake Ontario: cold. I went back to look at our temperature readings from swims last summer. One week was telling: in spite of uniformly warm weather, we had a temperature swing in the lake from 24C on July 27th at Burlington Beach, down to below 8C less than a week later at LOST beach!

IMG_20160417_132913Today we had a beautiful spring afternoon, and we discovered that the Burlington Beach waters were at around 13C in the shallows, and 10-11C further out.

For me, 10C is about the temperature where I can actually swim. (Of course as Rob Kent will tell you, it’s also the temperature at which you can start getting yourself in real trouble, for just that reason!) I can force myself to cover a kilometer or two in water a bit colder than that, but once we’re at or above 10C, it doesn’t seem crazy doing a bit more distance.

The water quality wasn’t what I’d like, but we’ve certainly swum in worse. Hell, I’ve swum a race in the Thames, so I’ll say that this wasn’t too bad at all for post-spring-runoff Lake Ontario. Still, I did a lot of backstroke.

Mark, Laurence, and I managed about a kilometre overall, out and back 500m or so, with plenty of breaks to stand and warm up a bit in the sun. Duane also had a great swim, sans wetsuit.

On with the training. The shoulders are still my primary concern right now, but they seem to be reasonably stable after this recent three-week build. In May I’ll be planning some longer pool swims, at least one of which will use the 4-hour early morning long course public lane swims available at the Toronto Pan Am pool.

Speaking of that marvelous pool, and just for inspiration, here’s Ryan Cochrane at the Pan Am complex last week, qualifying for Canada’s Rio team with a 15:00.75 in the 1500m free!

We’ll also be doing some pool swims, probably at the Oakville YMCA, followed immediately by cold water lake swims at Coronation Park. Today we did the 1000m cold swim, had a long rest, and then did another 3800m in the pool. We need to reverse that, and shorten the gap between.