Thursday, September 24. 2009
This past summer 2009 I discovered a new long distance swim thanks to a friend who lives in the area. It is called the Point to La Pointe swim, located in Bayfield, Wisconsin. It was held on Saturday, August 8. The swim is 2.09 miles, a perfect length for any triathlete wanting to train for an ironman-length swim or for any open water swimmer wanting a shorter distance challenge. It’s a good one to train for any of the “Escape” from Alcatraz swims.
It begins on a wide beach, which can easily accommodate hundreds of swimmers, and is a straight line to Madeleine Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands in the southern part of Lake Superior. The weather was perfect this past year with it being overcast; therefore, no sun in your eyes. The water temperature was a “balmy” 64 degrees, which is higher than it can be that time of the year. Organizers of the event required wetsuits; however, I think you could probably swim it without one if you were so inclined.
There was a little current flowing in the direction of the swimmer’s right side. There really were no swells to contend with this year. Not having done a competitive swim race in many years, I had forgotten what a mass start is like with hundreds of competitive swimmers kicking and elbowing you. I was wondering what I was doing at the young age of 61 starting at the front with all the younger, aggressive swimmers. Once in the middle of the pack there is no stopping, so I gutted it out until I was able to eventually get to point I could settle into a normal rhythm of breathing with no one right on me. In the end, I think it helped my time a lot to start out fast. The buoys along the way were easy enough to see without the sun in your eyes, keeping them on your right, and the huge balloons on the island at the finish line were easy to sight about half way there. Several kayakers are out in the lake prepared to guide you in the right direction in case you get lost. Each year the dynamics of the race do change depending on the weather.
The race begins promptly at 7:20 AM for the competitors. Ten minutes later, the “community” swimmers take off, which is a division for non-competitive swimmers. Community swimmers must have a kayak to support their crossing. Competitive swimmers need no kayak support. There are awards for first and second place winners in their age groups. First place was a locally, handcrafted mug filled with fresh blueberries. Sweatshirts were given out last year to all competitors. They were worn in abundance after the cold swim. With 220 registered swimmers they had to turn away some in only its fourth year of existence. I understand that next year they will be taking registrations for 300 swimmers. Food is great, catered by friendly volunteers on the island side. Overall it is a very well organized race. They make it enjoyable for both competitive and non-competitive swimmers alike. It is fun to take in the local sights on the island before catching a free ferry ride back to the mainland.
It is by far one of my favorite races ever. What I love about the swim is that you are swimming from the mainland to an island, having a specific destination and not swimming in a loop. Also, it is nice to not have to deal with the thought of sharks or stinging jellyfish. Having lived on Madeleine Island in 1973, and having done a solo swim in 1990 from the island to the mainland, it was like a homecoming for me. Great to see my friends again!! Also, it was great to return to “God’s Country.” It is one of those undiscovered, beautiful spots in the U.S.A., which has not changed much in the nearly 40 years I’ve been going there. Of course, there are more summer tourists than in years past, but it doesn’t take away from the experience of a fun vacation. There are lots of other activities to do when visiting.
The only downside is that there is limited lodging available in Bayfield. Some swimmers had to camp out. However, there was a Joan Baez concert in Bayfield the same weekend. Maybe next year it might not be so bad. Overflow lodging can be had in Ashland, only 20 miles away. If you don’t live in the area, like me coming from Colorado, you can drive of course, but I flew into St. Paul/Minneapolis and rented a car. It is an easy 4 hour drive. You can also fly into Duluth and rent a car from there, which is only a little over an hour drive to Bayfield.
Visit their website at http://www.bayfieldreccenter.com/Point_to_LaPointe_Swim.html