Which is pretty odd, because that wasn't the first time I've swam in Kangaroo Lake. My parents have owned a time share condominium on the opposite shores of the lake since I was in high school and I'd swam across that lake a number of times. As a matter of fact, swimming across open water was a thing among my friends in high school and college.
My first big lake swim was on Hardwood Lake, the main recreational facility for Camp Lefeber Boy Scout camp, twenty miles east of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. In the summer of 1973, I spent two weeks at Lefeber with my Boy Scout troop which included my Dad and my brother, Andy. The goal of the trip was to get as many merit badges as you could so you didn't have a naked badge sash all winter. In what seemed like a four-year stint at that point, I knocked off my rowing, swimming, canoeing, camping, orienteering, fishing, sailing and rifle-shooting merit badges. (Have not even touched a gun since.)
But for me, the big goal of the trip was to get the mile-swim badge. One night just before dinner, I told Andy and my Dad I wanted to do it. They commandeered a rowboat and followed me for an hour as I crawled and dog-paddled my way around the mile-swim course on Hardwood Lake. I got my badge and felt like a real swimmer - until I found diving boards and gave up the sport for life (or so I thought).
Although I never trained as a swimmer, I did live in a swimming pool and discovered throughout the years that I was a fairly effective swimmer. This came in quite handy on any number of occasions because nearly everyone I hung out with was a swimmer. It was fairly common for us to head down to Lake Michigan late at night and swim a mile in the dark out to Love Rock, an old water filtration intake daring us off the shores of Bradford Beach.
Also any time my family was invited out to a Wisconsin lake cottage, my Dad and my brothers swam across the lake before dinner. Some families fished; our family swam across lakes.
The last time I remember doing a lake crossing was after college when I was doing my first diving show and living on the shores of Lake Ozark in Missouri. My teammates from Illinois were training in St. Louis and drove down three hours on a Friday night to catch my show and drink an enormous quantity of beer. When we were about half-way through the enormous quantity of beer, one of us (cannot assess blame at this point) decided we should swim across the Lake. Idiotically we ran off the pier and miraculously made the half-mile crossing and the return swim. The next morning, my teammate Matt Scotty and I decided to do it again just because we were young and inexperienced in the ways of the hangover. What seemed to take us five minutes the night before, now took three-quarters of an hour. Lesson being: always swim distances under the cover of inebriation.
But now thirty years later, I found myself back in a lake, albeit with a much poorer kick. My sister, Nari, my bruther-from-anuther-muther Toys and I had embarked on a booze cruise around Kangaroo Lake on Nari's pontoon boat. It was a beautiful sunny day with enough wind blowing across the water to cool us off and keep us from knocking back more beers than we should.
We circled the lake for an hour then found ourselves not far from my parents' time share about a half a mile from Nari's dock. I popped on my goggles, opened up the swing gate and asked Toys to grab my handles so the chair wouldn't dump to the bottom of the lake. I splashed in, got my bearings and tried to swim a straight line towards the dock. The day before, I flopped in the lake from the dock and tried to swim a bit, but my straight line was a gigantic rainbow. I thought I was going straight, but after a few hundred yards, I had actually turned 90 degrees. It seems the lane lines and the black stripe on the bottom of the pools were doing much more than I thought.
Toys said when the swim team trained in open water they would take 15 to 20 strokes then pop their head up and adjust course. I tried that unsuccessfully the day before, but now with the boat less than 100 yards ahead of me, I was doing much better. Nonetheless, that half-mile open water swim seemed to take even more out of me than my daily mile in the pool - something that is scaring me today as I prepare for three 1500 meter open-water swims.
Aside from the fact that it was REALLY difficult to extract me from the lake, it was fantastic swimming out in nature with no boundaries - something that was nearly replicated in Pool # 19: The Amazon Pool, Eugene, OR.