Monday, June 13, 2016

Swimming in the Canyons

When I told friends and family that I was going on a swim vacation in Arizona I received a number of different reactions. Some thought I was going to swim in different pools every day. Others, when they heard I was going to Lake Powell, wondered if I was renting a big houseboat and planned to party. Neither was true, thankfully, for while I did go to Arizona and Lake Powell, it was on an organized swim adventure, one that I will never forget,

Captain Martin Strel
Back in February during a snowstorm I searched for "swim vacation". One of the first hits I got was for Strel Swimming Adventures, an outfit which mostly operates in Europe but has one trip in the U.S. at Lake Powell. If the name Strel sounds familiar to you open water swimming nerds, yes, it's the same Martin Strel who swam the Amazon, Mississippi, and Yangtze rivers. He founded SSA with his son Borut. His daughter Nina Strel was our guide on this trip along with her father. They were both amazing and we were treated like royalty.

Swimmers are a special breed. While we come from different backgrounds and cultures, there is a shared language in our swim histories and love of the water that connects us immediately. And so it was on this trip. The group - six swimmers and three guides, was made up of an Olympic medalist (UK) from Switzerland, the Captain of a fire house in Rochester, NY, a fashion designer from NYC, a  community leader from San Diego, a researcher/educational leader from Montreal (by way of Scotland) and me. The trip was led by Nina Strel, with Captain Martin and expert kayaker/assistant Janet. The trip was relatively short - three days on the water - but those three days were packed.
Nina leading the hike

The itinerary for each day went pretty much like this: Get up, eat breakfast at the hotel, head to the marina, board the boat. Set out to the first swim of the day (60-75 minutes), lunch, hike, second swim of day, back to hotel, dinner in Page, AZ. Repeat. The accommodations were great, but the lunches out on the lake each day were exceptional. Everything was fresh and healthy. Martin even hand-squeezed his special grapefruit juice from fruit in his yard.

Lake Powell was simply beautiful. I admit I had an image in my head of houseboats, and while there were some at the marina, once we got out onto the lake, it was as if we had entered another world. The canyons were deep and vast, the water clear blue, and we spent most of the first day with our mouths open in awe. Lake Powell is huge - it spans Utah and Arizona, and is actually a reservoir created by damming the Colorado River. There are dozens of canyons off of the main channel, and each day we ventured into a different canyon.

On day two we traveled to the Rainbow Bridge, one of
Rainbow Bridge
the world's largess natural bridges, now part of the National Park Service, though the Navajo and other Native American tribes consider it a sacred site. We hiked up and were fascinated by the history and magic of the bridge. We also swam deep into the canyons on day 2 which proved to be my favorite day. Each day was different but equally stunning. I took several videos but even they can't capture how special this place was.
For those of you who seek a trip where you can get some distance in, you can do so on this trip and will likely find someone who is your speed. Our group was comprised of strong swimmers, even those who were new to open water swimming. The water was clear, clean, and the perfect temperature (high 60s, low 70s). Although I received some unfortunate news about my rotator cuff as I embarked on my trip, that did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying myself. It is amazing how much ground you can cover with fins and one arm! In fact, I saw the injury as a blessing in disguise. It helped me slow down (literally and figuratively) and enjoy the beauty of the place without worrying about how much distance I was getting in.

I strongly recommend Strel Swimming Adventures to all of my swim friends. We were treated so well and the entire adventure was memorable. Once I heal, my next trip is to Europe!

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