Tuesday, May 26. 2009
Editor's note: Dr. Keith Bell, Robert Alford, Lynne Smith, Chuck Wiley, David Barra, and Chris Derks. became the first people ever to swim the length of Lake Travis, Texas, approximately 63 miles. Swimming a six-person relay through the night, each swimming 1-hour legs in turn, they completed the Great Travis Trek in 18 hours and 35 minutes. This group was swimming to raise awareness for Swimability, an organization that raises money for the City of Austin Aquatics scholarship fund which pays for swimming lessons for underprivileged children. To donate go to: http://www.greattravistrek.com
We made it through the swim, making it to Mansfield Dam yesterday about noon! We had about a 3 hour delay for heavy lightning after we started Saturday afternoon. Total swim time was about 18hr 45min.
In the beginning, the weather rolled in as we were about to finish the 2nd hour leg. Keith Bell went 1st and Chris Derks was about 7 minutes from finishing the 2nd hour when we decided it was best to pull him and try to seek some shelter. Our safety kayakers marked the spot on the GPS unit and we headed for the boat dock where we'd picked up the pontoon boat that took us upriver from the 46 mile marker to the 54 mile mark where Keith had jumped in.
The water was too low for the 52' support boat we had, and even the pontoon boat couldn't get up the last mile. Keith had to ride up on the back of a jet ski. Anyway, as we were motoring back down river, we were able to contact the other boat and he headed up to meet us, since we were totally exposed on the smaller boat and getting soaked. We transfered people and equipment at about mile 47 and headed back up river to mile 48 where Chris had gotten out. We anchored there and waited out the electrical storms.
After the break, we got back under way about 6:15pm. The decision was made to just have the 3rd swimmer start, rather than have Chris finish the last 7 minutes of his hour. Lynne Smith pulled the 3rd leg, followed by myself, then David Barra, and Robert Alford anchored the 6th. I finished my leg just before sunset, and the clouds broke up for about the last 15 minutes before the sun slipped behind the hills. Then it was pretty dark. There was no moon and the clouds came back to pretty much blot out any star light. It made for an interesting overnight swim.
The bad weather did have one positive effect, it really cut down on the other boat traffic out on the lake. We didn't see many others out overnight. I can tell you my 1:15-2:15 shift was interesting. Like swimming in a sensory deprivation chamber. I did have a glow stick, but couldn't find the pins, so stuck it in the back side of my suit. I found out later that the kayaker couldn't see me at all. Nice. The rain had soaked all the outside seat cushions, so that made trying to find a dry place to stretch out and catch a few winks between shifts difficult. I managed to grab some floor space and sleep about 2 1/2 hours after my 2nd swim.
I was glad the sun was out for my final leg. I jumped in somewhere below the mile 13 channel buoy but before 12. The river channel must really meander back and forth over that area because I remember passing the mile 11 buoy about the middle of my swim and then once back on the boat for about 10 minutes we passed another buoy that I figured must be mile 9 at best. It turned out to be mile 7. Anyway, that certainly made our finish ETA move up quite a bit. I was certain at that point I wouldn't have to get back in for any more, so I just made myself comfortable on the boat and slipped into spectator mode. That, and ate a bunch of the food we had along. It was amazing how low the lake water level was. It's only May, I can't wait until August. The lake may be empty by that time if we don't get more rain. The Pedernales River was almost dry when we passed over it on the way out to the start. I can remember doing training swims up that arm of the lake past the Hwy 71 bridge over which we traveled, and there is no way you could do that today. All the boat docks are sitting on the shore and a little trickle of water seems to make it's way towards the main body of the lake.
Keith did the final leg and swam up and touched the dam just at the edge between the rock/earth part of the dam and the main concrete structure of the dam. It's a good thing we finished early too, because after we unloaded the boat at the park by the dam and got everything loaded into the cars it started raining. And of course, thunderstorms moved in later in the afternoon too.
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