In the next few moments, the most stressful moment (from the boat’s standpoint) occurred. Shortly after I ate at the end of Gulfport harbor, I tucked the bottle under my wetsuit and started swimming again. At this same moment, the boat got one of the ropes to the kayaks stuck in the prop. I, of course, could not have known this. They were drifting in towards shore and I put down my head and kept going. I looked up a minute later and saw the Q-beam light scanning the horizon for me. They had completely lost me. Susan has shared with me that the boat was in complete panic. They did not know I could see them and they thought I could have been washed back towards the piers or worse they would run me over. For 90 seconds or so they searched and panicked. Shelly said to call the Coast Guard, Joey said don’t bother because he said they probably would have jumped in to find me, and the Coast Guard would find an empty boat. I could see they were looking and swam their way and stopped to wave. They finally saw me and we got moving again, but not before Joey tied a light stick to the zipper of my wetsuit. The next couple of hours weren’t too bad. I knew the trip around Gulfport harbor had taken its toll, but I was pretty confident that I could make it. I showed the boat that I had cut my foot. Joey said it looked fine. I ate dutifully and kept going. I passed the Long Beach harbor far enough out that it did not kill me. I told myself, that once I got to Pass Christian harbor I was home free. I could kick the last 5 or 6 miles if I had to.
One thing that was killing me was that the Team had told me how far we had gone and how long I had been going. I was wearing a heart rate monitor and had not looked at the running time at all. Somewhere around 10 hours the team told me I had been in for that long and for every stop from then on they told me the time. I of course had not told them not to do this or to stop doing it, but it was tough to hear it. I could tell we had a while to go, and knowing I had swum 20 miles or that I was hitting the 12 hour mark was not making it any easier. I knew that 20 miles might only mean 18 miles in the right direction and 2 zigzagging so it was not helping me. It was also around this time that Francis said, “You see those lights down there? Those are the lights on the railroad bridge on the Bay, you are getting there.” I looked up and could see them a long ways in the distance. I kept looking at them from time to time to keep focused.
There are only two traffic lights in Long Beach and only one in Pass Christian. I saw the two go by in Long Beach and realized we had passed the harbor without event. The next few miles were basically black but for some streetlights. There was a big cluster of lights that we passed and I thought we must be out further than I thought and that I passed the Pass Christian harbor without event. Now I just was closing in on the red and green lights, the railroad bridge across Bay St. Louis and the finish. I begin to relax a little with the feeling like I am going to finish this thing. I cannot believe it. Something in the back of my mind said, “It ain’t over yet boss. Keep your mind about you.” Another hour passes and all of sudden from the boat I hear, “Watch out for that pier!” I look up and expect to see the Pass Christian harbor, which is no biggie, as I know it is only six miles or so after that. I look up and instead see what I know is the remains of the Penthouse Apartments pier. It was approximately one half mile from my old neighborhood on the Pass Christian, Long Beach border. Four or so miles from this pier to the harbor which as I know is five or six miles from the finish. I am deflated. I am now about 10 miles away instead of less than 6. I realize now that the lights that the Team thought was the railroad bridge was in fact the stoplight at the Pass Christian harbor. I put my head down and try to get over it. I do a couple of strokes of breaststroke and SLAM! I look up and I have just hit a floating section of tree maybe 12 inches around and 4 ft long. I yell to the boat to watch out, and take another couple of easy strokes breast and deduce that I am fine. Ten miles to go. Four hours, maybe.
As I said in the beginning, I tweaked both of my shoulders doing my seven-hour training swim. My left one was far worse than the right, and I was concerned all week leading up that I was not going to physically be able to complete the swim. I felt okay about the mental side of this, but if you can no longer bring your shoulder over the top, you are out of luck. I tried to rest doing breaststroke, kicking or backstroke. Breaststroke and kick can take a brother a lifetime to go anywhere. Couple that with the fact that I was wearing a wetsuit, making breaststroke almost impossible to do fast. This was due to the fact that the suit raises your hips. This is great for freestyle but awful for breast. I would try to do it from time to time to take a break, but it was incredibly inefficient. Backstroke was a no go as well. This was for two reasons. First, I did not have anything to look at to keep going straight, and second the waves were coming from behind me and to the left. This meant they washed right into my face every few seconds. I was going to have to complete this doing some sort of freestyle, no matter how badly it hurt. Up until the ten-hour mark I had little pain in my shoulders. After the Gulfport harbor fight, they both felt like they were going to go at any minute, but nothing happened immediately. I did know that the Gulfport harbor crossing had taken its toll and that I would pay for it eventually. At the ten-hour mark I felt a twinge in my right shoulder. I say I was pain free the whole swim up until this point, and that is factually a little bit of an exaggeration. What happens is that pain comes and goes, but you kind get in tune with your body throughout your training. From doing some long swims, I knew that I would get a certain feeling, call it a pain, in a part of my shoulder and it would go away in 5-15 minutes or so. I am not a doctor, but I assume these are just muscle related. I had had those off and on all night, but I wasn’t concerned about them. The ones I was concerned with were join related. When those come on they don’t go away, they just intensify until it feels like you cannot even move your arm. Your arm stops responding. I began to feel my shoulder joint going. I was somewhat surprised that it was this arm and not the other. I was a little concerned with this because I now thought the left arm would go any minute and the right arm was going. Oh well. I knew I it was going to happen. Suck it up and keep going.
The light at the Pass Christian harbor was now trying to slowly drive me insane. Every time I looked at it, all I could do was run through the course in my mind. Was it four miles to Stanislaus or six? It could have been three. I don’t know. Forget it. Keep pulling. During this time I am also knowing that the Pass harbor could be bad due to the cross chop. I am stopping and slowing. It is taking me forever to get to this light that is not the Bay railroad bridge. Joey and Shelly are asking me if I am okay. My shoulders are throbbing. I am sometimes taking 5 strokes and stopping. I stand up once and my feet hit ground. This is kind of reassuring, kind of not. I take 10 more strokes. I want to stop, but not really, I just want to be able to swim freestyle strong and finish it. I want to get to Henderson Point because then all I have to do is cross the Bay. I can do that Bay in 40 minutes or 30. I can’t remember if the Bay is one or two miles. I get to the harbor and it is not too bad, thought it seems to take forever to get across it. Right passed the harbor Mandy suits up and jumps in. She is swimming beside me or in front and I get a little boost. I am not going too fast as I look up and she watches me with her arm half way through a stroke to make sure I am there. I am struggling but moving. I am swimming towards the end, but it is not getting here very quickly. Mandy gets out and gets in the kayak. I stand and walk 20 yards or so. This does my brain well, and I get back at it. I can hardly bring my arms over and I realize that stopping is not helping. I am passing the beach at Henderson Point.
I look up and Francis is walking over towards me. He tells me, “Pat, you have gone at least thirty miles, the point is a mile or so and then you have a couple of miles over the Bay. Why don’t you get in the boat and ride to the point and swim the last two miles.” I tell him no way. I appreciate it, but I am swimming beach to beach. He smiles and knows it was a futile attempt, but everyone in the boat was concerned about the last Bay crossing. I thought I would have a boost of adrenaline or something and that it would be okay. This was wrong.
As we entered the Bay it was like the crossing of Biloxi Bay I had done some fourteen hours earlier. Unfortunately I wasn’t strong at this point, in fact, quite the opposite. I see Joey get in and start swimming with me. Mandy is in a kayak to my right. I am constantly drifting to my right. I see Our Lady of the Gulf church sticking out as my beacon, a castle-like structure. It is a beautiful church. Right now I just want to be closer to it. I can barely get my arms over the top and the waves now seem to be coming out of the bay a bit as well. Someone on the boat is yelling, “Get him out of the way of the ferry.” There is a ferry that runs from the Pass to the Bay and we are in its path. I hold on to the back as Mandy takes me due north out of the way. I don’t want to but figure she is not taking me towards the finish so I forget about it. I keep on plugging away. I am getting close to the halfway point of the bay. I am going to finish. I knew that I would but it has been a long night. Now the boat is yelling at me to get on the left of some crab traps because of dangerous debris. I have to swim directly into the wind. I am going nowhere but still fighting. Francis is swimming too. I do breaststroke and am still barely moving. I am a mile away and not getting closer. I tell myself, thirty minutes. I can handle anything for thirty minutes. I keep at it. Still not moving much, but at least approaching the crab trap things. I don’t care about debris. I am still three quarters of a mile, and it doesn’t look like it is getting any closer. Head down keep going. I think of everyone on the shore, I think of my Team, I think of God, whom I had asked to make this easier on me. HA! I think about my family and how they must be feeling. I look up two thirds of a mile. I am going SLOW. I don’t feel like I am ever going to finish. At some point, maybe a half a mile, maybe less than half, Shelly tells me to take ten strokes breaststroke, then ten freestyle. I push it and do 12-20 freestyle. The Team counts off my breaststroke when my head is up. Still feel like I am not moving. ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT, NINE, TEN, FREESTYLE. I keep going. I am pushing hard enough now that my shoulder is not killing me. There is a tipping point in my brain where cardio exertion blocks out physical pain. It is happening now and it is welcome. I couldn’t do this all night because I would have bonked two hours in. Now it is all or nothing. I look up and see people. The boat says they want you on the other side where they are waiting. I am thinking, tell their asses to walk 50 feet, I am coming up where I am coming up. I see someone walking out towards me. I put my feet down and I am hip deep. I dive back in for thirty or forty more strokes and stand again. I am done swimming I will walk the last 100 yards. My friend SJ has walked out to greet me. He is ecstatic. I am too; I am wondering why he walked out to get me. I can walk fine. I guess everyone on the beach was concerned I would not be able to walk. I keep trudging in. Everyone is running towards where I am coming in. Forty or fifty friends and strangers, I see my mom and dad are walking out into the water crying, my wife Jeanne is waiting at the shore. I hug my mom and dad, I hug my wife, and I am on dry land. I drop to my knees and let it all out. I did it. I stop my watch and it is 15:50:00. Again, Unbeleivable.
I will post the rest tomrorrow.