Friday, October 6, 2017

Looking forward started as a project to help me celebrate my 50th year in 2013. The blog chronicled my journey to swim in 50 different pools in my 50th year. At the end of the year, I swam in 50 pools, in 4 countries, in 16 states and swam over 110,000 yards in 353 days.

The blog and project definitely served its purpose at the time-I really enjoyed the writing and the squeezing in 50 new pools in one year.  Nearly, five years hence I am still blogging about new pools and aquatic adventures.

The title of the blog no longer reflects the direction the blog has taken over the course of the last several years and where it is headed in the future.

It pains me a bit to close this chapter but this is the last blog under the heading of

To better reflect what this blog has morphed into; a journal of my reflections, experiences and adventures in the pool or open water it can now be found at my new personal website.

Thank you for following along and looking forward to continuing to share the aquatic ride with you!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

English Channel 2017...Captain of My Soul

Normally, my bouts of blog writers block are infrequent and short lasting. That is not the case this time. This is a big one and I’m not sure where to begin. I’ll start by saying it was an awesome and memorable week, one which I won’t ever forget, let’s see where this blog goes from there...

After nearly two years of work and planning we arrived in Dover several days before my seven day swim window opened on September 11th. The goal was to get acclimated to the time change and settled before hopefully a swim early in the window. Our base of operations was Sea Purse, a fabulous house on the water in St. Margaret’s Bay with incredible views of the White Cliffs, the Strait of Dover and France in the distance.

Shannon and I got the house provisioned up and our intrepid crew, my brother Bill and my friend Maura arrived the next day. Every day we could get up and stare across the water at the prize--France. Little did we know that we would be staring at it for days. Just before we arrived the weather was pretty sketchy and the wind had kicked up the waves in the channel and swimmable seas weren’t in the near forecast. As Maura said with her Irish lilt, “the seas had a little personality”. We started our days by going to “swim practice” in the morning in Dover Harbor. My coach, Chloe McCardel, English Channel swimmer extraordinaire, swam with us as we did laps back and forth in the harbor with other swimmers from around the world also waiting for their big day.

(The Burrow men-Bill, Bob & John)

The balance of the days were spent eating at a pubs, walking around, doing errands and enjoying the views of the
White Cliffs and the Channel from Sea Purse.

I also started to repetitively listen to Tom Petty’s old song~The Waiting (the waiting is the hardest part) and Eric Johnson’s instrumental jam, The Cliffs of Dover. We finally got the call with about 24 hours notice that the waiting was about to be over. Go time was Friday morning on the Viking Princess! Things seemed to move pretty quick then as last minute preparations were made and we reviewed the feeding plan, yet again.

All things being considered in Channel swimming-wise we had a very civil start and met the pilots of Viking Princess, Reg and Ray along with our official observer, Phil at the dock at 5:30am. That morning, my stalwart crew of Shannon, Maura, Bill and Chloe were on their game, as expected. As we motored out of the harbor, they organized the deck with our provisions and they started prepping me for the swim. By prepping me, I mean lubing me up “all over” with Channel grease to prevent chafing. It was very clear that three of the crew had no intentions doing this task. The short straw fell to Shannon.

It got real, real quick when they lowered the zodiac in the water and I hopped on it with Ray and he motored me about 30 meters from shore at Samphire Hoe Beach. I jumped in and swam to shore and awkwardly cleared the water.

I said a little prayer, raised my hands above my head and waded into the water. It was 6:38am. I could hear the cheering from the boat. As I took my first of many, many strokes I thought, "Is this really happening!"

At this point, from the swimmer's perspective there isn’t much to share as your head is in the water and you are stroking away. This however is where the work gets done for hours on end. Aside from watching the waves as I breathed left and my hands repeatedly entering the water there are few items that stick out in my mind.

First, the White Cliffs of Dover are magnificent to look at on land but from the water they are huge and it seems you can see them forever. Try as I might, it was hard not to notice them when I looked to my left when I took a breath. They didn’t really screw with me mentally with respect to distance covered. I bet I could see them at least three quarters of the way across.

Second, I was looking forward to seeing the shipping traffic from sea level. I don’t remember seeing any in the English shipping lane going towards the North Sea. Somewhere in the separation zone I spotted a large tanker in the French shipping lane going towards the Atlantic Ocean. Most likely, I had a long ways before I entered the shipping lane but that’s when I remembered first seeing ships and the massive ferries crossing the Channel. Thinking about their size, what they are carrying and where they were going helped pass the time.

What I looked forward to the most was my feedings every 30 minutes. They were my chance to have human interaction and to get out of my own head. It was fun to watch the preparations of the crew on deck leading up to the feed. Bill and Maura had their routine down pat providing the warm liquids and some solid food. Shannon was in charge of social media and the inspirational whiteboard messages with words of encouragement from friends. Chloe and the official observer Phil checked on how I was feeling, logistical updates and gentle prodding to keep the pace or pick it up. My feeds were quick but provided a morale boost. The crew was great!

So what did I think about between feeds? A lot! I thought about family, friends, coaches, team mates that provided encouragement over months of training, past swims, future swims (can’t wait) and all the many blessings I am so fortunate to bear. I could go on and on and on. Deep into the swim I found a groove that really kept me focused and I think kept my stroke rate up. I would take my feed, recite the poem Invictus* and I would just start counting strokes. When I got to somewhere near 1500-1700 strokes It would be close to feed time which made me happy. I lost count quite a bit.

If you are patient and take enough strokes eventually you see Cap Gris Nez. The problem is when you see it you still have many strokes to go. The key here is to keep your head down and not look towards France. Easier said than done. I did just fair in this arena. Not sure really how far I was from shore when it was time for what ended up being my final feed. The crew was particularly animated telling me to swim I did. I swam longer and farther than expected. Finally, the zodiac was dropped in to guide me to shore. At that point I knew I had made it. I was instructed to swim carefully to this rocky area. It took a couple of tries for the waves to help push me up on the rocks. With some effort I stood up, cleared the water and threw my arms up. I did it--I swam across the English Channel! I enjoyed the moment for a bit hearing the cheers from the Viking Princess and gently slid back into the water and jammed some keepsake pebbles from France into my speedo. Ouch!

It was fun getting back on the boat to cheers and hugs. I was a bit wobbly so they escorted me to a deck chair pretty quickly. Phil, came over with his stop watch and asked me what my targeted time was. I said, “I don’t know? 13-14 hours”. He showed me his watch and it read 10:51:21 on September 15th~much faster than expected. I was pleased.

We all laughed, chatted and shared stories of the day and enjoyed a muted celebration with champagne. It was a 2.5 plus hour trip back to Dover and it was time for me to focus on not getting motion sickness on the Viking Princess. We would celebrate at the White Horse the next day.

The White Horse pub, one of the oldest in Dover, is where Channel swimmers go to gather, swap stories and celebrate their success.

We all met at the White Horse for lunch. It was Shannon, Maura, Bill and I to start. Then came Chloe, Bob our friendly taxi driver, and eventually Maura’s friend Michele. We rehashed the prior day’s swim and looked for the signatures of friends and friends of friends written on the wall. We also looked carefully where I could ceremonially sign my name to the wall or ceiling. The ideal spot was found and I went to ask the owner of the pub for a black marker. He got me the marker and a foot stool and I awkwardly wrote my name of the ceiling with my date and time of the swim and a stanza from my post feed mantra~”I am captain of my soul” from Invictus. Even more awkward than writing on the ceiling is the fact that I misspelled a word and misquoted the stanza and noticed it well after the fact~oh well.

That’s about it from when it comes to reliving the actual swim itself but the overall experience over the past year was the journey itself. It was experiencing new pools and master teams in:  California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Spain. There were new and old open water swimming venues alike: Boulder Reservoir, Platja Barceloneta, Laguna Beach, Nahant, Swampscott, Compo Beach, L Street Bath House and Aquatic Park in San Francisco. Two big and very memorable open water swims helped prepare the way. The Strait of Gibraltar with Grant. Wow-what a fun swim and great trip! And then Anacapa in the Santa Barbara Channel suggested by Coach Chloe. This swim was a huge mental confidence boost in many, many respects.

Most important was the people I met and spent time with in and out of the water that helped and supported me in their own unique way. There were so many people along the way it’s hard to thank everyone. Apologies in advance if I miss anybody, as I’m sure I will. Many thanks to my coaches, Chloe, Bill and Jen--some strokes just can’t be fixed but let’s keep trying. My amazing crew on the Viking Princess, pilots Reg and Ray and observer Phil for guiding the way. Shannon, Maura, Chloe and Bill for feeding me and cheering me on. My long time swimming friends at MIT that I happily start my mornings with:  Hubbard, Ian, Carmen, Eric, Elaine, Katie, Joe, Bob, Dustin, Josh, Sarah, Mike, Carson, Jeff, Chris, Jacki, Phil, Heather, Ali and Solly, the list goes on. New and old friends at the Wayland Community pool:  Elaine, Rachel, Bob, Jeanie, Jeff, Randy, Sonia, the bald guys lane (Larry and Bruce) and “fast Jen” (thanks so much for swimming long with me). The open water gang: Tommy (English Channel swimmer 2017) , Maura (English Channel swimmer 2015), Kate, Amy and “open water Jen” (can’t believe how much time you spent swimming in cold water with me--thanks). The folks at a great non-profit Swim Across America: Janel, Kay, Kitty and friends Rip and Suzi who organized our English Channel relay team (Four Buoys & a Girl) that planted the seed. Thanks to the Westport crew who reinvigorated the open water thing; Andy (spiritual crew member), Mike, Mark and Clay--the Slipper will be mine again one day. And of course my loving and supportive family with a special shout out to my caring, understanding and very, very patient wife, Shannon.

At the end of it all I have two overwhelming feelings. First, an overall sense of feeling “accomplished” and knowing that if you put the time in and do the work you can accomplish great things. Second, a feeling of gratitude that I am healthy and have the ability to explore and pursue new adventures. Also being very grateful for family and friends that love and support me along the way.

This will be hard to beat...I’m not sure what’s next but...there will be something!!! A Burrow Family relay...and more?

*My mantra during the swim~


Black is the night from pit to pole
I thank whatever god maybe for my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance I have neither winced or cried aloud
Under the bludgeoning of death my head is bloodied but unbowed.
In this place of wrath and tears looms the horror of the shade
Yet it finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate
Or how charged with punishment the scrolls
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

~William Ernest Henley

PS--To better reflect the ongoing direction of this blog I will change the name going forward--stayed tuned.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The road to Dover...7 days and counting...

Seven days and counting until my window opens for the English Channel~September 12th-19th.  At this point the hay is in the barn and its a matter of getting rest, eating right and not injuring myself in some way.

There is a ton to write about the English Channel journey the people and experience. That will come in due time. Today however in swim practice I was thinking about the variety of different training venues I have frequented the most in and around Boston.

First up, are the pools.  I guess one would have to say that MIT's Z-Center is my home pool. It is a fabulous indoor 50m by 25yard. I have been swimming there for nearly 13 years under the watchful eye of Coach Bill. I spent a lot of time in this pool training for the Channel. In the winter swimming short course and in the late spring and summer swimming long course.  Arguably, the nicest pool in New England.

The Wayland Community Pool has also become a favorite over the course of the last year. It's a 25 yard indoor pool with a bubble.  The spring and summer is awesome swimming outdoors with the bubble off-love it!  Coach Jen serves up a well thought out tough workout every practice with spot on pointers and tips.  The other swimmers are great and it has been really fun getting to know them.

I often wonder, would I rather swim in a great indoor 50 meter pool on a regular basis or in a 25 yard outdoor pool? With these two pools it's a tough call.

Of course, you can't train to swim the English Channel only in a swimming pool as that would be like training for the Boston Marathon on a treadmill. It doesn't work. The journey has led me to several open water venues that I am sure I will continue to frequent.

High on the list where I spent a lot of local outdoor swimming time was the L Street Bath House in Southie.  It was founded in 1931on Dorchester Bay providing recreational facilities for Boston's working people during the Depression. Today, it is a recreational facility managed by the city serving the local area and Boston open water swimmers.  It has great views of the Bay, the Harbor Islands and the JFK Library.  I have totally enjoyed observing and getting to know the characters that hang out there and make the the Bath House. The highlight was definitely the first day I swam there, it was pretty cold out and I swam for over an hour and Scotty that works the front desk was so impressed that he gave be a L Street Brownies sticker. 

(it ok to shower in the nude though-😉)

Nahant Beach just north of Logan Airport is another swimming area that I enjoyed getting to know. It is a long, long beach jutting out from the Boston Harbor to the Atlantic.  I had a couple really good training swims there over the course of the summer. The most memorable being a four hour training swim with Tommy that turned out to be a six hour swim. That was a big confidence boost that day.  It's a really long way from one end of the beach to the other~or at least it feels that way.

There was only one fresh water swimming hole and that was Lake Cochituate in Wayland.  To shake things up every once in awhile and to avoid a drive into Boston to swim at L Street or Nahant I would head to the lake.  It's a big lake close to home where the Wayland/Weston crew team practices. Most memorable was in late spring when I out there swimming by myself when one of Courtney's friends hit me with an oar from their two man shell.  It certainly woke me up from my swimming day dream!

It has been a ton of fun swimming in new places with new people in and around Boston!

The final preparations of packing are taking place and we are ready to fly to England to get this party started.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

#95 & #96 Long, long, ago...

This blogpost really takes things back to the beginning of my swimming career, like nearly, 45 years ago (gulp-that's hard to type)!

Summer family vacation this year was in Bend, Oregon. Some people were coming to Bend for the solar eclipse however we were there for vacation a family reunion and to celebrate Pa's (my dad's) milestone birthday.

You see Bend is where I joined my first swim team in the early 70's. It was the Bend Swim Club and we practiced at the Juniper Park pool. Back in the day it was a 40 yard outdoor pool-yup 40 yards. I have many fond memories of practicing and competing at Juniper Park with the Walker, Corrigan, Miller and Ellis family's. At swim meets we sat under the tent played truth or dare, ate powder jello-o mix and admired our stacks of ribbons and medals. 

Today, pool #95  is a 50 meter competition pool with a retractable roof to enjoy swimming outdoors during nice weather. There is also an indoor 25 yard indoor pool with an adjacent teaching pool and jacuzzi. The aquatic complex is part of a fitness and recreation center with a weight room and exercise studios. 

It was quite busy with lap swimming and swim team and polo practice in the divided up competition pool. The indoor pool was packed with people doing water aerobics. Pool #95 certainly wasn't what it use to be!

Not fully expecting it I was able to squeeze in another new pool on vacation. Pool #96 is the Sunriver Homeower's Aquatic Recreation Center in Sunriver, Oregon. Sunriver is where we use to train in the winter when the Juniper Park pool closed down. The original pool was  a heated outdoor rec pool with six lanes set up for lap swimming. It was fun to swim in the cold and snow with the steam rising from the pool. That pool was filled-in years ago and moved to another location. The new pool is a big outdoor family aquatic park with water slides, a lazy river with a three lane area sectioned off for lap swimming. Despite the warm pool water for family activities I was able to get several decent swims in.

Water wasn't too far away from several of our vacation activities. There was a fun family tube float down the Deschutes River and kayaking, swimming and SUPing at Elk Lake. 

There was also activity outside the water with the requisite family snipe hunt and a trip to Mt. Bachelor for Sean to do some reconnaissance.

It's always great to hit two new pools in a week especially when they are kinda sentimental. Even better when you can mix in a family celebration! Fun family vacation!

(unusually colorful sunset due to wildfires pic taken from Pilot Butte looking at the Cascades)