by Dave Radcliff
Hi Oregon Swimmers,
Nancy and I are just back from a wonderful Open Water swimming experience in Michigan. Early this year I was checking out Open Water swims for the summer. I saw one listed that was called “Swim to the Moon”. That title caught my attention, so I went to their website to find out about the swim. After reading about the swim, I was hooked. A swim through five lakes in the Pinckney wilderness area near Ann Arbor. Just think about that, in one swim you could “bag” five lakes. That was unique, and the purpose of the swim was even more impressive. Proceeds from the swim go to support North Star Reach. North Star Reach is a special summer camp for kids with serious illnesses.
When I found a small cabin for rent on one of the lakes, it was a done deal. I signed up for the swim and we rented the cabin. We had enough miles to book our flight to Michigan. Did I mention the Cabin had an outdoor hot tub that overlooked the lake?
There were four options: 1) 10K, 2) 5K, 3) 1.2 miles, 4) Half mile. My choice was the 5K swim. Now what about that name? All four events finished at Half Moon Lake and that’s where the name came from. The 10K, and the two shorter races all started and finish at Half Moon Lake. The 5K began at the North Star Reach Camp and finished at Half Moon Lake. The 10K race swam up the 5 Lakes to North Star Reach and did a U Turn and swam back. The 10K swimmers actually ran out of the water at 5K and stepped on the timing pad and thus had an official split for their first 5K. There was GU and energy drinks for them at the turn around. One of the most interesting aspects of the races was how they were started. In the 5K and 10K races they had a competive wave that went first. You had to be able to swim the 5K in under an hour and 10 minutes, and the 10K in under 2 hours and 20 minutes, to qualify for these waves. After that, the rest of the swimmers were set off 3 seconds apart. It was an honor system for these swimmers. When we checked in we were given our choice of what color cap we wanted, based on our estimate of how long we thought it would take us to swim the race.
Based on my ePostal 5K and my 5K at Elk (in a wetsuit) I went with the gold cap. The gold cap was for swimmers who thought they would be in the range of 1 hour and 30 to 40 minutes for the 5K swim. There were 290 swimmers in the 5K plus about 25 wet suit swimmers. The competitive wave was set off, and one minute later we set off every 3 seconds. There was a blue cap group before I went in the gold cap. The results at the conclusion gave all of the timing results. I was set off 7 minutes after the wave of the fast swimmers. About 120 5K swimmers plus some 10K swimmers were in the water when I was set off. The system worked really well. The course had some narrow areas, and the 3 second set off based on our predicted time kept the swimmers spread out, and no real crowding problems occurred as the swimmers approached the narrow areas.
Oregon Open Water Swims were by far the best prep for the race. Having done all of the open swims in Oregon (except for the Bridge Swim), I felt ready. The other thing I did to get ready was to live on Eastern time for the week before we left. I was getting up at 3 AM (Pacific Time / 6AM Eastern Time). That seemed to work well and I did not feel any “jet lag” in Michigan.
The people we rented the cabin from invited us to go boating the afternoon after the race. That was great! It gave Nancy a chance to see the entire course and it gave me a chance to really observe and understand the course. When you are swimming you are so busy sighting and watching other swimmers that you do not get to see all of the beauty and scenery around you. All of the pictures are from after the race, so it is the course minus the swimmers.
The start at North Star Reach:
These two pictures show the starting area for the 5K and the turn-around point for the 10K. This starting point is in Patterson Lake. From the start we headed out on a curling half circle course. We kept orange buoys on our left and green buoys on our right.
Round Lake —At the end of the half circle course we came to our first navigational challenge. The swimming connection from Patterson Lake to Round Lake is a culvert. From a distance the culvert did not look too challenging. However, as we got closer it was a little dark and “spooky”.
A Lifeguard was standing in the water and kept us separated from the 10K swimmers who were still swimming up the course. Thanks to the 3 second starting procedure, we had plenty of room to swim through the culvert. As we swam out of the culvert we entered Round Lake. Round Lake had a number of cottages around the shoreline. We swam across Round Lake into Island Lake and then Watson Lake. Island Lake and Watson Lake are in the Wilderness Recreation Area and it was a beautiful swim. As you look at the two pictures on the right, you can see the one place I went off course. You can see a left turn ahead, and I did not see the swimmers in front of me making the turn. I went straight and when I sighted, I did not see anyone. I was soon back on course.
Look at the pictures below and you can see the beginning of the short stream that connects Watson Lake to Half Moon Lake.
This was another part of the course where we were lucky to not be part of a large pack of swimmers. The water was about 2 1/2 feet deep. I swam, but I saw several swimmers running or walking, and that was legal on this course. As we swam in the stream we passed under the “Willie P” bridge. Nancy and I had fun checking out this Bridge. (Thankfully little Willie P was not around doing his thing). We then came out into Half Moon Lake. I had swum to the Moon. Now I just had to swim across the Moon and the race would be over. Half Moon Lake is a large lake and I noticed the homes along the shore. Check out (left) the beautiful “little summer cottage” I saw as I started swimming across the lake. I had almost a mile to go to finish the swim. Finally I was able to see the finish area. I knew I was close as I was passing the special floats that were used for the 1.2 mile race and the 1/2 mile race. One of the floats was a large Unicorn, and I could not stop smiling as I passed that float. As I neared the finish I was able to look up and see the cabin we were staying in. I knew that hot tub was waiting for me. My body was sure looking forward to the Hot Tub. Then I did a quick sight and there was the finish.
Nancy snapped this picture of my finish. My running days are over and now I walk out. It was a fun, challenging and wonderful swim. I swam the course in 1 hour, 29 minutes and 14 seconds. That placed me 103 out of the 290. I was also the oldest swimmer by 11 years. So I felt really good about my time and the swim.
Epic Races, the organizers of the race did a fantastic job. Seven hundred fifty swimmers were entered in the four different races and there was also a wetsuit division in each race. They had 58 kayakers and Stand-Up Paddle Boarders along the course to guide you and watch over the swimmers. The chip timing system worked well. Lap tops were available at the Registration Tent where you could check out your finish, your pace time and your placing. I highly recommend that “Swim to the Moon” be added to your Bucket List.
We stayed an extra day in Michigan so we could play tourist. We decided to visit some of the little villages around Pinckney Wilderness Area. The last village we visited, believe it or not, was Hell. Yes, we went to Hell, and we even ate our lunch in Hell. Hell, Michigan, is an actual village.
In summing up our trip, I can say; I swam to the Moon, I swam across the Moon, I looked at the Moon from a Hot Tub, and I went to Hell. So to all my friends, who in friendly jest are always telling me where to go, I can now say, “I have already been there”.
Special thanks to Bill and Daleen, our cabin hosts and Eva, the CEO of Epic Races.