To most people, nothing about my plans to swim ‘SCAR’ made sense. I quite enjoyed telling people that I was heading to Arizona to go and swim in the desert, and not just that, I was going to swim at least a marathon distance everyday for four days. But to the swimmers who know me it made perfect sense.
SCAR is an acronym for four man made lakes north of Phoenix – Saguaro, Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt. I first heard about the swim from a kiwi who had done it before meeting one or two others who had swum it while I was in the UK. It was the perfect goal for me – a challenge for me to train for and an overseas trip to look forward to.
Being my first swim event over 20km, I had to step my training up for SCAR. It all looked a bit daunting to begin with. I couldn’t just cruise along and needed to squeeze the training in where I could. Thankfully it helped that the training builds up over time and I only ever needed to mentally prepare for ‘just a bit more’.
I quickly discovered that I wasn’t embarking on a solo enterprise. Thanks to the awesome Wellington swim community and my swim squad, I rarely trained alone. From the start of the season there was a small bunch of us training for long marathon swims making it easy to get longer weekend distance swims in. It was encouraging that for my last big pool set before SCAR, I had a small tag team of swimmers join me and keep me company. I was also fortunate to be able to sit down with Eliza, ex-SCAR american swimmer who had moved to Wellington, being able to get a better sense of what to expect and skyping in Kat my kayaker.
Day 1: Saguaro
The day before it all started we drove to Saguaro to check out the lake and instead of being nervous, I was really excited. During my training and planning, SCAR had always been in the future and now it was in the now.
It’s fair to say that there were a few nerves around however before the first swim. The skype call with Eliza in the lead up to the swim was a great way to calm Kat’s nerves. Hearing some Apache war stories over the welcome dinner however managed to resurrect Kat’s nerves. If I was a bit nervous, I decided I would tried to hide it from Kat.
Saguaro was great for conquering nerves. It also made me more excited about the other swims. We were boated to the start of the swim and were soon off. It was great to be able to get the view of the lake from the boat before the start, it helped us to realise what a magic spot we were in. ‘Wow, look at the cacti’ quickly became my most common comment on the feeding stops – so unlike anything in New Zealand.
I probably struggled the most after Saguaro. Both the water and the air temperatures were warmer than what I had expected. The temperature was probably in the mid-30s at the end – too hot!
Before the swim, I got some good advice from Phil Rush about making sure I planned for my recovery between swims. One of these bits of advice was ‘to make sure you go for a swim after your swim’. At the time I thought this was a bit ridiculous as I was going to be doing plenty of swimming as it was. As it turned out, the pool at the ranch was a perfect way to cool down after Saguaro, as well as helping set me up for day 2 – Canyon.
Also helping the recover (and a food highlight of the trip), was the cowboy cookout at the ranch.
Day 2: Canyon
This must have been the most relaxed day. We all knew what to expect after day 1 and the distance was just a tad shorter than day 1. Added to that, we were once again in a magic spot – swimming through a canyon with lots of cacti.
I was expecting it to take a little bit of time to get my arms into the swing of things but I surprised myself and was soon off. I knew I would have Apache after Canyon but I didn’t use this as a reason to swim slow. I set myself the goal of swimming consistently. The cooler water in Canyon also helped. Kat also enjoyed the shade from the canyon and the awesome views on the kayak.
Other swimmers and kayakers soon got to know us as we passed (or they passed us). This was partly because we had ‘Harry’ the kiwi at the helm for all four swims. I had originally got the idea of a mascot after seeing the kayaker for an Australian swimmer tow a crocodile from Waiheke Island.
From Canyon we drove the Apache trail through to the Apache resort. We were those tourists that stopped at every viewpoint to take photos and then jumped quickly back into the car before the heat became too much. So many cacti! This drive definitely made me excited for day 3.
Day 3: Apache
Through this experience I have discovered how much of a good friend Kat is. Despite not being a morning person, and having no access to a good cup of tea, I got Kat up at ridiculous hours every morning. Before Apache, we must have been in bed by 8.30pm to successfully muster the early meet up. It was lovely for Kent to hand out special ‘SCAR crew’ mugs to the kayakers at 5.30am before the third and biggest swim.
For the first year, the organisers decided to bus swimmers and kayakers to the start of Apache to allow an early start. In previous years, it sounds like the wind has picked up in the afternoon making this a particularly tough swim. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions for our swim, and potentially a bit of assistance near the start (tailwind?).
If Saguaro and Canyon were amazing, the scenery at Apache was more so. Everything was bigger and more impressive. And again, so many cacti! I tried to soak it in on the feed stops.
Despite being day 3, I was feeling good which surprised me. I had expected to be feeling my arms and struggling a bit by this point. If anything, the longer swim was too my advantage. I got into my grove and loved it. Again, I focused on staying consistent. It helped that I was loving it because it helped me to mentally not to focus on the length of the swim.
A couple of times Kat asked if I wanted to know where I was, I said no. I wanted to focus from one feed to the next. Feeding did help keep time and I thought I was going to do a 7 hour swim with the resort as roughly the halfway point. Soon after 6 hours Kat told me to dig in and get to the finish. I was a bit surprised and told Kat that that wasn’t right and we weren’t at the finish. But we were. I was ready to swim another hour!
Before the swim, we had been led to believe that the kayakers would return to the resort via pontoon boat (apparently what had happened the previous year). After a hot day on the lake, Kat was ready to finish when she found out that she would have to kayak the 10km back. It’s fair to say that the kayakers were not happy. A few of us swimmers went and bought cold beverages to meet the kayakers, an attempt to say thank you. Harry the kiwi was also a bit worse for wear, his seams a bit melted in the hot sun.
We decided to move through to Globe after Apache, making a big day. But it was exciting to see the Theodore Roosevelt bridge and finish point for SCAR. We were nearly there. We finished up the day with mexican and Kat ordering a large nachos which she could barely touch so our next two meals were sorted.
Day 4: Roosevelt
It was nice to be able to sleep in before the fourth and final swim. The problem with our early starts however meant that our ‘sleep in’ was more like 7am. We were able to chill out a bit, find coffee (no tea to Kat’s dismay), and nap a bit.
Physically I was a bit tired but still good after Apache. After an exhausting Apache swim, Kat was struggling a bit to muster the energy for Roosevelt. We were both grateful that the meet up at the marina was well shaded for the send off ceremony, where one by one all of us Apache finishers were awarded with the black finishers cap.
This was one of the swims I was most excited about in the lead up to SCAR, being an evening swim. I even got myself night themed funkita togs for the occasion. As it turned out, it wasn’t dark until the end of the swim but it was lovely to see the sun set. Kat got her groove back, enjoying the scenery with the low light. Kat also got to star gaze on the kayak back to the marina.
Harry the kiwi had been resurrected for the fourth and final swim, once again making Team New Zealand easily recognisable.
Before we knew it, we were done! Overall, I came in 7th, in a time of 16 hours, 31 mins and 47 secs. The distance was officially 40 miles/64km but we quickly learnt that distances were a bit meaningless in this event. I would have swum less with expert kayak navigation and Kat would have easily kayaked more.