Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bridge to Bridge 10K Swim

Route: Golden Gate Bridge to Bay Bridge
Distance: 10Km (~6miles)
Flood Tide: 3+ Knots
Finish Time: 1:34:40 (One Hour Thirty Four minutes and 40 Seconds)

It was Murali Krishna (MK) who pushed a bunch of us to register for the B2B10K swim. He sent out an email saying he had signed up! It does not take much cajoling for this group to sign up. Mouli, Chakri and I signed up. We had all trained well enough (Read Alcatraz and back) and were decently prepared for this swim.

We left Sunnyvale at 5:00am and after picking up MK at the ferry building in San Francisco we made our way to Capurro’s for the pre-swim briefing. After parking our car at the end of a nearly empty Van Ness street, a guy gets out of the next car and strikes up a conversation. He proceeds to explain to us that he intends to swim from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to the Bay Bridge…6 miles, he said after an appropriate ‘let it sink in’ pause. After a brief silence we told him we were doing the same swim! He felt a bit embarrassed that he had gone on about his swim, but we all had a nice laugh about his boasting.

Race Meeting

Capurro’s was already crowded and bustling when we got there. We collected our yellow caps and our blanket (No T-shirts, medals, buckles – just a nice warm blanket makes up the race bag) signed in and waited for the legendary Bob Roper to begin the meeting. The meeting was quick and all of us first timers had a bunch of questions. Mark Rosen who was pretty much a co-race director was extremely helpful, very patient and really assuring with is answers. There were some ground rules,

1) Be on the boat immediately after this meeting as we will sail at 7:00.
2) Once aboard, get ready and be ready to jump in upon the our orders.
3) Listen to the kayakers and boat captains, their say is final.

Much to our consternation there was very little information about the sighting and swim path that we had to follow. We were told that the kayakers and boats would help us along the way. Just aim for the Aquatic Park entrance and keep going past pier 39, and the pickup boat will be at the base of the Bay Bridge pillar.

We all walked to board the Bay Celebrations and Stan came by. He said he would be biking around to check on our progress and would stay for breakfast after we were done. Once aboard, we set about getting ready. Mouli was doing the swim without a wetsuit! Crazy guy! The rest of us suited up.

On the boat

Around 7:35AM there was a bit of chop and the calm foggy morning had become a windy choppy morning. 7:45AM the call went out, ‘Jump!, jump!, JUMP!’ I saw MK standing at the jump off as I was pretty much pushed off the Bay Celebrations (even though I was ready to jump). The first few minutes in the water were really disorienting and confusing. It felt like the tide was sucking us out under the Golden Gate Bridge towards the open ocean…there were a few muffled screams and concerned shouts as a few swimmers were on the verge of panic. I managed to look back and see that we were not really going back out, but it did seem confusing indeed. I quickly asked the other two swimmers I was with to look back and calm down, I pointed towards the bay and said ‘We go that way…lets go’. There was a follow up ‘Are you sure?’ and I said ‘yes I am’…off we went. The water was choppy and I quickly found myself alone…not a kayak in sight! I just dug my head into the water and plowed on. About 15 minutes in a kayak came into sight and he gave me a ‘thumbs up’, that really felt good and I just pushed on.

About 30 mins in I saw a swimmer waving his hands. I stopped and asked if all was ok, he shouted back (rather calmly) ‘I’ve been bitten by a seal…I need to get out!’ I saw a boat making its way towards him and so I plugged on (The thought of blood and sharks did cross my mind :-)) . I went past the AP opening, past pier 39 and made a right turn to see the Bay Bridge in front of me. The thing about open water is, no matter how close you think the destination is, it is pretty far :-) - I had to ask the kayak for directions as I could not see the Bay Celebrations and was worried I would head past the Bay Bridge. He said I had caught a great line and I should just keep going…another smile and thumbs up…off I went.

Almost done

About an hour and 20 minutes in, a RIB swung by – the lady was waiving her hands and wildly pointing towards the shore…I looked up at the Kayak and he smiled so I just kept going on. The RIB was back in about 5 minutes…she said something to the kayak and he asked me to correct course and make a sharp right towards the shore. Finally I saw the Bay Celebrations! After a bit of struggle I managed to get up that ladder and back on the boat. Most of the swimmers had already finished…and there was a good bit of energy. I grabbed some water and the two folks I had chatted with at the start, came by to say thanks! That was sweet of them. I asked the crew about the weird start and the feeling of being pulled out to the ocean, even though the tide was coming in pretty fast. The explanation was that the boat (Bay Celebrations) was moving into the bay faster than us, so it felt like we were being dragged out into the Pacific!


A note from the organizers:
"Congratulations to all swimmers on an inspiring and fast swim in challenging conditions of 20 knot winds and 2 foot chop.

Thanks also to all of the pilots, paddle boarders, kayakers, boat captains for ensuring the safety of all swimmers. There is no swim without your great volunteer help!

And many thanks to all other volunteers for spotting, check-in and all around help. Special thanks to SF Police and Fire Department for their support."

It was a good swim and a bit tricky at the start. All in all a very well managed event. Big round of cheers to Bob Roper, Mark Rosen, Lee Bruno and all the volunteers!

Press Release

Monday, September 05, 2011

Mount Whitney - September 5, 2011

Chakri had a few open reservations for Mt Whitney and he asked me if I wanted to do it. In I was!

Hike: 22 miles out and back. 6,150 feet elevation gain.

Participants: Chakri, Samanvita “Sam”, Krishna, Stan and myself.

Sep 2nd to Sep 5th, 2011

(I have not proofread this post - corrections will be done anon.)

The Plan: Leave on Friday, stay at June Lake Friday night, Lone Pine on Saturday night. Start the hike on Sunday morning, camp at 12K Sunday night. Monday morning 4:00AM start for the summit and head back to the parking lot by Monday evening and drive back home…and back to work on Tuesday.

Friday September 2nd we left for Mount Whitney, we drove across one of my favorite roads, Tioga Pass, as we crossed Yosemite at 9,900 feet and drove down to 395 at Mono Lake. We spent Friday night at a nice Swiss Chalet at June Lake. Morning of Sep 3rd the gang went to see the sun rise at Mono Lake…I decided to sleep in and only awoke once they were back. After a decent breakfast we headed off to Lone Pine, the city at the base of Mt Whitney. Along the way we stopped, ate and took photographs (of food) and pretty much enjoyed the drive on 395 south.

Once we got to Lone Pine we stopped at the rangers office and collected our passes and WAG Bags. WAG Bags are basically large specifically made garbage bags that one has to collect ones human waste in and carry it back to the trail head for disposal (Mandatory 'Pack it out' program instated by Inyo National Forest). This is done to ensure that the Whitney trail, streams, lakes and wild life are not destroyed by a deluge of human poop. The normal ‘dig, crap & cover’ is not allowed due to the heavy traffic on the trail (aren’t you glad you are more enlightened now). That done, we settled into our hostel room (2 bunk beds and Chakri took the carpet). We sat and sorted through our bags, consolidating the food, fuel and other items so as to minimize the amount to carry up the trail.

Sunday morning (4th), after a good breakfast (which I skipped in lieu of 2 cups of coffee) we drove to the Whitney Portal (8360 feet) which is the start of the trail. There is a lot of bear activity at the Portal and due to the many cars parked there the bears have gotten used to checking and breaking open cars with food left inside. Given that it was my car :-) I made sure everything was removed and packed into the bear lockers. Just as Chakri was directing me into a rather tight parking spot I saw a black bear about 10 feet behind him! I kept waving my hands and pointing & he thought I was asking for more directions! Finally he saw the bear and managed a quick photograph just as it ran into the bushes. Once we were done packing and cleaning, off we went on a nice easy paced hike to Trail Camp at 12,000 feet. The hike was about 6.3 miles with about 3,640 feet of elevation. My backpack was weighed in at 32 pounds, I did not carry my tent as Sam and I decided to share a tent.

At the start

The hike was nice and easy paced – the trail was single track and we had to make frequent stops to let people pass as it is a very busy and popular trail. Stan was in his element, jogging around and taking photographs of bear turd (he said it was bear turd...I have no idea...he could have missed his WAG bag for all I know). We met a couple training for their Himalayan Base Camp trek – I kept pace with them for a while, stopped and chatted about what their diet was and how they made this trip here as often as they could in the past few months...they had been up to Whitney several times recently and were testing out altitude sickness pills. The Diamox was causing some side effects and she was not too happy, but she would carry on and see how long the side effects lasted.

All of us stopped for lunch overlooking Lone Pine Lake – it was a nice spot and we spend about 30-45 mins resting and eating. All along I was feeling fine, drinking enough water and moving on at a steady pace. After lunch I pushed on with Stan and after a while I was walking alone (Stan probably stopped to photograph more poop) – after a while I decided to stop and wait for the others. I relaxed and the wait turned out to be close to 30 mins as the rest had stopped to take photographs. I met Steve (Stephen Rodzevik) who was backpacking the John Muir Trail over 15 days. We chatted for a while and since he too was camping at the Trail Camp he said he would meet us there.


As we passed the Outpost Camp site at 10,000 feet I thought we had reached our destination...I quickly dumped my backpack and claimed a decent spot for our tents. Stan came by and smiled, ‘we have a bit more to go, this is the Outpost Camp not the Trail Camp’ so off we went again. We made it to the Trail Camp – some of the sections leading in were a bit sketchy but not too bad. There were a lot of campers out there already, some leaving, some coming, it was a busy place. Stan had found a spot for us and as I put my pack down, I saw a few used wag bags lying around...ugh! Why do people not behave responsibly and carry their ‘shit’ back with them! Disgusting! I shifted campsites, as Steve found us a few good spots near where he had pitched his tent. Once everyone came in, we set up tents. The wind had picked up and it was COLD. We started our stoves and cooked up some dinner. All of us huddled behind a rock trying to stay away from the wind...did I say all? Well all except Stan, he was still in his shorts! The kid is crazy! Anyway, I ate a bit, not too much as I was really cold and tucked in for the night. The tents were really flapping in the wind and around 1:00am I stepped out for natures call...the night sky was spectacular! Reminded me of the star studded skies in Muscat,Oman. It was still breezy but not all that cold.

We were up at 3:30am and after a quick breakfast we started for the summit. We just carried day packs and left our tents and packs at the campsite, the packing up would be done upon our return. There was a long line of headlamps heading up the 99 switchbacks. I had about 3 liters of water on me and some gels. I had on several layers and a jacket but I was still cold! We began the trek real slowly as it was dark. Stan had taken off and was already way ahead of us. The switch backs were painful, you don’t really feel like you are making any progress at all. After a while I could not hold a slow pace as I was beginning to shiver, so I picked up the pace. As I crested the switchbacks the sun was coming up, I was dying for some sunlight and warmth. Stan was making his way back towards me (he did this out and back several times during the day) and saw me shivering, he said something to the effect that the other side is sunny so I should be fine in a few mins. I followed him to a spot that had a superb view of the valley and some much need sunlight. I sat there for about 5 mins to warm up. Chakri, Sam & Krishna were just behind taking photographs.

Section of the trail

After that short break I started heading back up the trail...there was a downhill section after the switch backs and that irritated me because it meant that there were more up hills coming. I met Steve, he was on his way down! He packed up and left early as he wanted to be on the trail quickly. He looked at me and shook his head, ‘you need to keep moving, you are really shivering’, I laughed (or I thought it was a laugh!) and moved on wishing him a safe trip. Some of the sections were a bit tricky, narrow with a steep drop-offs on one side...I’m not really good with that kind of terrain and the shivering was not helping. There were a lot of folks on the trail and I stopped and gave way to just about everyone. My heart rate was shooting up to 170+ after every few steps! I would stop, bring it back down to 100, and start again. At one point I thought I was beginning to cramp...I sat and massaged it out. A couple stopped and asked if I was ok and looked a bit concerned when I said I’ll be fine. Slowly I made it to a spot where you could see the cabin on the summit (you can see that for a long time). There was a 15 meter section of the trail covered with packed snow, that really bothered me. Stan was at the other end and he shouted out “Get low, stay low”. My running shoes were sliding around a bit, but with some help of a hiker coming down I made the last bit. Stan walked me to the top...phew! I was tired and did not bother to look around much :-). I managed a photograph and just sat down and waited for the others. Stan ran (yes ran!) back to get the others.

Sam @ Snow crossing

At the top

The wheels come off!!

Once we all rested for a bit, I borrowed some water from Krishna, and Chakri said he would stay with me as I was not feeling all that great. Chakri, Sam and Krishna were tired too, but holding up much better than I was. As we headed down I noticed my fingers were swollen and my balance was not all there – bit of a problem but not too bad. We stopped often as I was getting tired and I began to suffer a bit more with some perception issues. My depth perception seemed off, I was reaching for the rocks but I was a few inches off...weird feeling indeed and not too calming when you are on a steep mountain! Chakri was always a few steps behind and kept engaging me in some conversation to keep me focused. I was out of water by the time I had reached the 99 switchbacks, Chakri shared some of his and we made slow progress. There were a few hairy moments but we kept plugging along. Then about a few miles from the camp (It seemed like a few miles!) I saw Stan coming back up! What a dude! He had water with him and he made us drink up and accompanied us back to the camp. I just collapsed for about 30 mins and tried to get some sleep.

At around 5:00pm we started to pack up the tents. I struggled with my sleeping bag and finally Sam/Krishna took over and packed it for me! They also packed the tent as I stood around half dead (Thank you guys!). We loaded up for the 6.3 mile hike back to the Portal. I was fine and my energy was coming back. I started to feel better – it was late and not many people on the trail. We passed the Outpost campsite and I started feeling really was that deep exhaustion you get when your body is saying no to every movement. I stopped at a small stream crossing...stared at the few rocks I was to hop across...Chakri asked if I was ok...I mumble something and just about made it across.

Chakri stream crossing

Five minutes later, I was done! I just sat down and said, ‘guys, you all can carry on to Lone Pine, I need to stop’. There ensued a long debate/discussion as to what needed to be done. I tried to stuff some food into my system, but it revolted. I was done! Finally everyone decided that we would walk back to the Outpost Campsite and stay the night. Krishna carried my backpack and since we were out of food, Sam borrowed some from other hikers coming down from Whitney. Sam/Krishna/Stan/Chakri (Rock Stars!!) set up my tent and my sleeping bag...I just crawled in and tried to sleep. I struggled for a bit with a blocked nose and a queasy stomach before I drifted off to a deep sleep. I could tell Sam was really worried as she saw me sitting up in the tent for a good 10 mins before I drifted off to sleep. What an amazing bunch of folks! I am glad I was with them for they really took care of me. Thanks a million you wonderful people.

I was sure there was a bit of panic back home as Renuka was not sure what was going on and she was expecting us back that evening. Stan and Krishna walked about half a mile from the camp site at night to find cell phone reception and finally called home to let them all know we were ok and would be back the next day.

Morning it was a different me! All the energy was back the fingers had come back to normal! We made our way down packed up and drove back to Lone Pine – All of us called our respective managers for the day off (Tuesday was a working day) then headed back to the hostel for a nice long shower. After stopping at Mono Lake for a quick tour we got back home at 10:00pm!

End! Still leaning on Chakri

It was an eventful trip for me and I must say my first brush with altitude above 10,000 feet was not very good :-) But I am glad I was with the folks I was with, the company, food and all the help was just awesome!

Sam, Stan, Chakri & Krishna you guys ROCK!