Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Kayaking Freedom Swim 2011

The Freedom Swim takes place here every Fourth of July. This year was the 20th annual swim. In 2008, named the Freedom Swim in its Top 10 Quirky Fourth of July Activities list.

Hundreds of people make the one and a half mile journey across the river. Not everyone swims the Freedom Swim.

We have watched the Freedom Swim for four years from the the river's edge (or standing over the river on a bridge) and last year The Colonel and I made plans to participate in this year's swim.

Our plans never included actually swimming the Freedom Swim, only kayaking it. We made good on our plans this year.

The morning of the Fourth of July dawned with clear skies and The Freedom Swim would begin at 9:00 AM.

G-Pa (The Colonel's dad) and Yam were going to kayak with us too. G-Ma and Darling-Sister-In-Law were staying on dry land to watch and take some pictures.

With the truck bed loaded with kayaks, The Colonel, G-Pa, Yam and I crossed the bridge to get to the north side of the river where the Freedom Swim would begin. Coming off of the bridge, we could see that the roadsides were littered with parked vehicles and people making their way to the river's edge. Some with kayaks and some without. We had a place further up the road picked out to park the truck, but I began to wonder if that would be too crowded also.

There were a few parking spots left.

Once we were all in our kayaks, we paddled our way south to the starting point of the Freedom Swim, at the base of the bridge. Once there, we saw hundreds of people in the water. There were 300 swimmers (by newspaper accounts), several kayakers, a few paddle boarders, one paddle boat and many regular boaters. We were all waiting for the swim to begin.

At 9:00 AM the starting horn sounded and all at once the swimmers began to splash their watery way across the river.

Those of us not swimming had to be very mindful of the swimmers (it is the Freedom Swim after all). There were shouts of, "swimmer behind you" or "swimmer to left or right of you". I had one swimmer call to me and ask a favor of me.

"Hey, could you tell my friend way over there, in the black swimming suit, that she needs to veer to the left? The tide is taking her away from where she needs to be heading."

I broke away from my little kayak pack of The Colonel, G-Pa and Yam to deliver the message. The girl in the black swimming suit (sounds like a Dutch Masters painting) was very grateful.

Message delivered, I rejoined my family.

Kayaking across the river, in the middle of the Freedom Swim, was fun. The river wasn't choppy, so the paddling wasn't tiresome. It was interesting to see the different swimmers and how they chose to swim across the river. Some swimmers wore masks, snorkels and fins. Some had only goggles on. One lady swimmer said it was hard to see where she was going because her goggles kept fogging up. Some swimmers used kick boards to swim with and some used noodles. One man had hand swim fins that made him look like he had webbed fingers to help him through the water.

I saw all kinds of swimming methods deployed by the swimmers: Butterfly, Breaststroke, Sidestroke and Backstroke.

I saw young swimmers and old swimmers. One young girl about 16, asked me if she could hold onto my kayak for just a couple of minutes. I said of course. She needed to fix her goggles before she and her friend could continue swimming.

The newspaper said that a 65-year old man from Michigan, who had had a heart attack just three months prior, participated in the swim. He told the reporter that he had someone in a kayak following him and she had his Nitro-Glycerine tablets with her in case he would need them. I think I passed that man in my kayak. I remember seeing an elderly swimmer and thinking, "I sure hope he can make it, he looks tired, and he has a ways to go." He was being closely followed by a female kayaker who looked as concerned as I felt.

Through the entire swim there was a helicopter overhead, keeping an eye on everything. There were also Coast Guard boats present.

Halfway across the river I passed these people. What a way to travel, being pulled behind a paddle boat, lounging on an inner tube, listening to music and drinking a beer.

The current was a little stronger mid-river. It pushed The Colonel, Yam, G-Pa and I a little beyond where we wanted to land. So we had to paddle just a little harder for a bit. The swimmers were all heading towards the wharf of Fisherman's Village. That was the finish line of the swimmers (a 16 year-old boy came in first with a time of about 30 minutes and was followed a couple of minutes later by his 15 year-old sister) and my little kayak group headed just east of the finish line. Other kayakers had the same idea in mind.

G-Ma and Darling-Sister-In-Law were waiting for us as we paddled our kayaks to the little boat ramp. Darling-Sister-In-Law took a few pictures of us as we paddled in.

Our Freedom Swim kayak trip took us about an hour and a half to complete. We all agreed that kayaking across the river was a great experience and lots of fun.

It wasn't the quirkiest activity I had ever experienced on the Fourth of July...that would have to be celebrating the holiday with some British friends in the Florida Keys. As we were writing our names in the air with sparklers I told Graham, "We are celebrating the day we took our country back and we kicked you guys out." and he replied with, "No, we are celebrating the day we got rid of you lot."

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