Parkite Rob Lea prepares for English Channel swim with six hours in the Jordanelle
Rob Lea, fresh off of summiting Mt. Everest, completed another major step in his ultimate triathlon project Monday by taking a mandatory six-hour dip in the Jordanelle Reservoir.
If the Parkite is to swim the English Channel before his third task, biking across America, the Jordanelle swim was a crucial prerequisite to doing so as organizers require proof of the swimmer’s capability.
Lea started swimming from the Hailstone personal watercraft ramp at 6:15 a.m. on Monday and returned to it at 12:20 p.m.
When he emerged, he had a few choice words about the task.
“That was … hard,” he said.
He had used the freestyle stroke the whole time, which had left his shoulder and pectoral muscles exhausted, but he reasoned that form kept him warmer than if he had alternated muscle groups using the backstroke.
His fiancé, extreme skier Caroline Gleich, had supported him from the dock that day by providing nutrition in the form of powdered drinks and chews and other snacks when he stopped by. He wasn’t allowed to touch the dock, so he treaded water while she fed him.
On the boat ramp, Gleich draped a towel over Lea’s shoulders as he stood shivering, and he proceeded to lie down in the sun on the striated cement.
To prepare for the English Channel, Lea is trying to build muscle and train while also putting on stores of brown fat to keep him warm over the 20-odd mile swim from Dover in England to Cap Gris Nez near Calais, France, which takes an average of 13 hours in 60-degree Fahrenheit ocean water with unpredictable weather and currents.
“He hasn’t been swimming a ton because at a certain point, you will lose the weight,” Gleich said of his training. “It’s a delicate balance.”
Gleich said she will likely ride in the boat alongside Lea when he swims the channel. The boat will escort him through the shipping channel.
“We will probably force-feed him on the front end so he doesn’t ‘bonk’ on the second half,” she said. “Hypothermia is a real concern.”
Lea lost close to 20 pounds over his and Gleich’s month-long ascent of Everest, which culminated with their summiting of the peak on May 23. In the month that he has been back he has put almost all of that back on, and hopes to put on another 10 pounds before the swim. (Because they approached from the southern ridge, they did not encounter the infamous traffic jam that took place at the same time.)
His sponsorships are helping on that front. Gleich is one of a handful of outdoor athletes sponsored by the New Belgium Brewing Company. Lea is also sponsored by Red Banjo Pizza Parlour, which has provided him with bottomless pizza.
“He’s eating everything,” Gleich said. “He’s just drinking heavy cream with everything. And he’s eating carbs before bed and tons of pizza and lots of beer.”
On Tuesday, Lea heard his swim passed muster with English Channel swim organizers. They stipulated that Lea do a six-hour swim in water under 61 degrees. The Jordanelle’s temperature was largely between 59 and 60 degrees on Monday. Lea had no set course, and spent the morning swimming around the wakeless zone near Big Dutch Pete Hollow.
Gleich served as both support and as an official by checking the water temperature and feeding Lea throughout the day.
Lea submitted the information to Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation verifying he had swum the whole time, in water that was adequately cold, and provided a GPS track of his swim.
Lea’s mother, Cindy, joined Gleich on the dock to watch her son swim.
Cindy said she was nervous about her son’s English Channel crossing, but not as much as before he and Gleich climbed Everest.
She said there were so many factors that could go wrong on the world’s tallest mountain.
“We could track them, and I always said I wouldn’t do that,” she said of watching her son and her daughter-in-law-to-be climb Everest. “Because you’re sitting there looking at a computer screen that gets updated every 30 minutes. I knew that Caroline’s mom did that and I said, ‘I’m not going to do that, you can’t sit and watch this dot.’ And I did. And it’s scary.”
She said the channel swim is whole different animal, but with a support craft nearby, she is less concerned. She said she wasn’t surprised to hear of her son’s goal.
“It’s been part of him,” she said.
With Everest done, the Channel is most daunting task on Lea’s to-do list. He is scheduled to swim between July 10 and 16. His and Gleich’s wedding in August will follow, then Lea plans to cycle from Seattle to Nantucket, Massachusetts over the month of September.
“That definitely felt good,” Lea said of putting the test swim behind him. “Now I have to think that I have to swim twice that distance.”
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