It is 6:30AM, and Paddy and I are busy prepping for the Piseco Lake Triathlon. Paddy remarks this would be a good sailing day. Translation — it’s windy. The wind gods were ignoring my pleas for calm waters. As we sat on the campsite picnic table – looking out over the waterfront – there was no mistaking that sound. The sound of waves lapping the shoreline – one right after another. I saw whitecaps build on the lake. I’m not sure I can do an open water swim in whitecap conditions. I’m not even sure I can do an open water swim in calm conditions… I start thinking of better ways to spend my day rather than attempt this open water swim. But, this TRI is not simply a “jane pursuit” today — I had convinced Paddy to join me as a relay team. We would be the “Team TRI — Jane and Paddy”. I would do the swim and bike — and Paddy would complete the 3rd leg in the event — the walk or jog to the finish. We are a team. I had to at least…TRY. Paddy was counting on me.
Paddy is happy to be done with the hilly bike ride from the campsite. He takes a rest at the top of the hill, while I head to the water to study the swim course. I’m hesitant to register for the TRI, until I have a chance to see the swim course close up. I’ve only done 3 open water swims prior to this event — and in each case I had a personal swim buddy (or buddies) near my side. Today, I would be by myself. I stare at the course. A line of buoys runs parallel to the shoreline. I make a few mental notes. I could swim to shore if I get in a panic. The winds and waves have increased. There is no denying it – the water is choppy.
One lone race official is busy prepping the swim exit chutes. I ask him a zillion questions. The little people in my head want to know many things. “Is the water over my head” I asked. “Yes – at least 10 feet” he assured me — as if I was hoping that he would say “yeah – it’s nice and deep for you”. The direction of the a quarter mile swim is out-and another quarter mile back. You follow a line of buoys into the waves and wind then turn around and swim with the wind and waves on the way back to shore.. The official assured me there would be big pontoon boats 300 yards apart for the swimmers to grab. In case you need a rest. He assured me there would be plenty of kayaks and canoes for swimmer support. It all sounded well organized. I’m still not sure I can do this — but Paddy and I decide to go and register anyway.
Paddy and I hopped back on our bikes – for a 1/2 mile ride to the Piseco Lake Airport. Registration for the TRI occurs here – at the Piseco Airport grounds. We filled out a form, handed over some moolah – and signed up as a team. There it is. In print. I would do the swim and bike, and Paddy would do the walk / jog.
The Piseco Lake Triathlon is a unique Triathlon. Not that I am worldly when it comes to triathlons – but I have done a few. Here in the Adirondacks, they do not use official “race chips” to automatically time the participants. There are no bike numbers or running bib numbers. As a matter of fact – there are no paper numbers at all. No numbers except the numbers you are body-marked with. The theory is — once you enter or exit each leg of the event – you loudly call out your number to the race official. This is how they keep track of you. I love it. Very low-tech. Very Adirondack.
As we handed the registration form to the race official, the nice lady gave me a green post-it sticky with the number C-42. This is our team number. C-42. We are instructed to take the green postit sticky marked C-42 to the body marking lady – and she will write our number on our arms and legs. Body marking is the only way for the race officials to know who you are. Paddy and I now have C-42 written all over our arms and legs. I think this means we are officially registered.
I am the very last swimmer into the water by a long shot, and I’m hoping that all of the support boats take notice. My message is keep a close eye on me OK? I start swimming. So far so good. No panic, I’m just breathing and getting into a rhythm. I make it to the first pontoon boat no problem – and consider continuing on to the next pontoon boat without stopping. On second thought it is a bit of a distance to the 2nd pontoon boat. I stop for a moment and catch my breath.
It is a LOT harder than I thought. That is, swimming into a headwind, and waves. Due to the curve in the shoreline, the further out into the lake I swam, the the bigger the waves. I’m doing my best to stay on top of the waves – but it isn’t working too well. The waves run close together, and they are breaking over me. I just need to get to the next pontoon boat. That’s my only thought. I am actually passing other swimmers. Pretty rare for me – and I only hope that the support boats are still paying attention.
I arrived at the 2nd pontoon boat – and now I’m breathing hard. Not because I’m panicked, but it is VERY hard swimming in these conditions. Head wind, and waves crashing over your face – unrelenting. This makes my swimming pool practice sessions seem like easy-peasy. But it’s time to let go of the pontoon boat, and head for the next one. A particularly big wave crashes over me and I suck down a bunch of Piseco Lake. For a moment, I panicked. I called out loudly for help. And immediately flipped on my back to try to relax. Get a grip Jane. I don’t need help….I can do this. The big people in my head are in charge of the little people now – and I can do this. I did the back stroke for awhile and this was much easier. Somehow, I made it to the last outbound pontoon boat.
I meet up with a fellow triathlete swimmer – who is clinging on to the final pontoon boat. “Are you ok?” he asks. “Yeah” I reply. “Just need to catch my breath”. He responds – “Come on darlin – you and I will do this together”. At that point, we exchanged names. Meet Hank. My new swim buddy. Hank leads the way to the final orange buoy, and I follow obediently. Hank yells out to one of the support boats — “keep a close eye on us ok?”. Hank encourages me to keep swimming. Suddenly – I was no longer alone. Along with another pokey swimmer in our proximity (Joe) and a lady who was too tired to tell us her name….we had become a uniquely bonded swim team of 4. The final 4 swimmers in the Piseco Lake Triathlon who are in the water longer than anyone else, and pretty damned determined to complete the swim. From this point – until we reached the shoreline, we would be looking out for each other.
I rounded the final orange buoy in the outbound direction. Hallelulah. We can now turn around and head back. Finally we are swimming WITH the waves and the wind – and it is SOOO much nicer. Our team of 4 – swam from pontoon boat to pontoon boat – together. Here is how it went down. We would all decide we were “ready” to depart from one pontoon boat – and swim to the next. Usually I was the first to arrive at a pontoon boat (go figure that?!)….and I wasted no time locating the swim ladder to hang onto – and catch my breath. Technically, I was feeling pretty good at this point, but I wasn’t going to leave my new friends behind. “Hank – over here – I’ve got a swim ladder with your name on it”, and Hank would always replay “Jane – you’re the best, I’ll be rite there”. Then I would yell – “How are you doing Joe” – and he would check in as well. After a few seconds of rest at the pontoon boat – Hank would ask if we are ready to keep going…and despite how tired any of us felt – we always replied “ yeah – lets do it”.
Paddy patiently waits for me to wipe the sand off my feet – and stuff my bare feet into my sneakers. Paddy’s turn is soon coming. We trot up the hill together from the beach…to the tennis court – where Mr. Huffy Puffy is waiting. I hop on, only to discover that the seat position is set for someone with a height of Michael Jordan. I never realized Paddy was so tall? This won’t work – I can’t reach the pedals. I hop off…and spend a few minutes adjusting the seat height. Off I go.
As I near the turn to head back to the Irondequoit Inn – the road becomes a buzz with race officials and volunteers yelling out frantically to the cyclists – to “go to your right”. Hmmm…this can’t be correct – as I know that my next turn to get back to the Irondequoit Inn (where Paddy is patiently waiting) is to go to my left. Maybe I have to go around some little road for more mileage?
Nope. We are herded into a parking lot at at the Piseco Lake Elementary school. I notice well over 100 bikes just laying about across a field. What’s going on here? Then I see a sign – pointing to the exit for the runners. What? I’m nowhere near the Irondequoit Inn – and Paddy is waiting for me to hand off the invisible “wand” so that he can be the 3rd leg of the triathlon. Nobody told us that the bikers would NOT be returning to the Irondequoit Inn where we started the swim. Instead – we have to start the run leg from a completely different location.
Back at the Irondequoit, Paddy is becoming the information hot line for triathlon spectators. “When will the athletes be returning here” – peeps would ask Paddy. “Soon….the bikers will come back here – and then the runners will take off” – Paddy confidently advised. Tho it sure is strange, Paddy thought — “surely ONE biker should have returned by now”. But, Paddy patiently waits – and tells others to do the same. “They’re coming” he insists.
I drop my bike like all others (at any ol spot in the field) at the Piseco Elementary school, whip off my helmet…and start running. This is crazy. What if I had ridden Ms. Madone with my special clip on bike shoes. I would not have been able to run (or walk) in these. What about Paddy? He is waiting for me back at the Irondequoit Inn! I assumed that the transition area was back where we started???
Paddy trots like a bat-outta-hell…and is walking with big long strides. Beads of sweat form at his forehead….and his t-shirt is beginning to resemble a sponge. Neither of us know what the heck just happened to the transition area…but for some reason – in the Adirondacks, a triathlon means there are 3 separate locations where you can end up. The lady forgot to write this on the green postit sticky with C-42. The first location is at the lake (Irondequoit Inn). The second location is as the Piseco Elementary School – where you ditch your bike anywhere….and start running toward the 3rd location – the Piseco Airport. Oh my.
My swim buddy Hank (who I passed on the bike) – had caught up to me on the run. We shared more high-5s and cheered each other on. We will probably never see each other again – but I can assure you we are tri-buddies for life. I wasn’t planning on running today – and my focus was finding my teammate Paddy – so that he could have his glory moment. And there he is….in his unmistakable orange t shirt. Hustling his butt to complete the 3rd leg in our team relay. I must say, I have never seen Paddy walk this fast. There was a genuine giddyup in his stride, and he was sweating bullets.
As we made our way along Old Piseco Road toward the Piseco Airport – finally a large group of race organizers were in sight – marking the finish line. “What do you think Paddy – should we run in the last 20 feet together” I asked. “How much is 20 feet” Paddy inquired, clearly tired, yet determined to make a good finish. As we got closer – the triathletes who had already finished – were actively cheering in those of us yet to reach the finale. “Come on Paddy – lets run it in”….and with my prodding, the peer pressure of the cheering crowd – and the excitement of the moment — there was no stopping Paddy. He jogged across that finish line – as we held hands high for a spectacular moment for Team C42.
Our triathlon day is not over yet – there is more exercise on the agenda. It’s time to retrieve our equipment – which by now is spread in 2 separate locations. I opt to head back to the Eleementary School and grab Mr. Huffy. It will be a 3 mile walk…but I’ll get there eventually. Paddy heads back to the Irondequoit Inn – for another mile of walking – to grab Ms. Madone. We agree to reconvene at the Irondequoit Inn.
Fortunately for me, a fellow triathlete driving her pickup truck along Old Piseco Road — offers to give me a ride. How delightful. I found Mr. Huffy lying in the field at the Piseco Elementary School– right where I left him – and rode him back to meet up with Paddy. Here we traded bikes. I was reunited with Ms. Madone – and Paddy is back with Mr. Huffy. Paddy and I road our bikes along the remaining 4 hilly miles back to the campsite.
The day was classic Adirondack magic. We are in the heart of the beautiful, tranquil Adirondack Park, where the temperatures are in the upper 70’s and the vibe is fantastic. Paddy completes his first EVER relay triathlon. He did it. He hustled. And finished strong. And if the TRI athletics weren’t enuf, he rides his bike on hilly Adirondack miles – just to show up at the event.