He took on Tahoe stroke by stroke
KINGS BEACH – It was a typical late-summer afternoon Monday on the north shore of Lake Tahoe: Wave Runners aimlessly hummed in the distance. Parasailors suspended above the lake served as distant lightning rods to the gathering thunderheads. Young boys skimmed rocks off the lake’s surface and vacationers worked on their sunburns.But it was far from a routine day at the beach for Bruckner Chase of Santa Cruz. The 39-year-old restaurant and retail store consultant became what is believed to be the eighth person to swim the length of Lake Tahoe and the first since Laura Colette successfully swam north-south and south-north routes during the summer of 2003.Chase completed the 22-mile endurance test in 11 hours, 16 minutes.”I finish this feeling humbled, not invincible,” he said. “I’m the eighth person, the ninth will be next Monday and then there will probably be a length-of-Tahoe solo race next year.” Chase started his quest from Camp Richardson at 4:33 a.m. with kayaks on both sides of him – nearly 90 minutes later than he had planned, due to a logistical problem with the boats.”It was scary this morning,” Chase said. “We were motoring out and it was pitch-black dark and you couldn’t see what’s in front of you, and you have a whole day.”As the water turned choppy, Chase began to work harder and doubts started to enter his mind as nagging pain continually shot through both arms.
“The pain in my arms and the chop were my lows, but my energy level stayed pretty good. I never felt like my blood-sugar level was crashing and I was pretty alert,” Chase said.Chase never seriously considered stopping because he didn’t want to let down his support crew and close friends. “I’ve never not finished anything,” Chase said. “I thought about getting out, but I didn’t want to let (my support crew) down.”I watched my dad suffer through an illness for 15 years. I’ve got this legacy of people who I admire who endured more than I did just swimming across the lake. I wanted to make sure I could live up to that and until I had given everything I had, I wasn’t about to (quit).”To enhance his chances of finishing, Chase consumed some Oreos dipped in the water and a Red Bull. Without a wet suit, Chase fought off hypothermia and kept his body temperature raised with consistent strokes and a feeding of a liquid energy concoction every 20 minutes.His fiancée, Michelle Evans, did most of the feeding and was going to be the one responsible for stopping the quest if need be.”I didn’t think he’d ever quit, which it doesn’t mean to say that there wouldn’t have come a time where I would have called the swim,” Evans said. “His stroke count remained consistent throughout and as long as his stroke remained strong, it meant he wasn’t fading.”
Evans, an accomplished open-water swimmer herself, resisted swimming alongside her future husband when the conditions worsened.”When it got really rough I wanted to be on the water with him, but I thought my role was better served on the boat,” she said. “I needed to make sure he got enough calories and was keeping track of his stroke count, the distance and time.”When the rough water and winds prevented support crew member Jason Pate from kayaking alongside Chase, he protected and monitored his friend via an oceanic diving scooter.”We were prepared to have someone in the water with him at all times,” said Pate, who was kayaking for only the second time. “We felt we were out there as team. There were no angry moments or sharp words. We were completely focused, calm and relaxed.”As Chase came into view from Kings Beach, brisker easterly winds pushed the boat piloted by Jamie Schou of Tahoe City slightly east of their mark.”It was so deceiving. It looked a lot closer than it was and it felt like I was swimming in place,” Chase said.Pate added, “As it got more difficult out there, we were taking breaks and he was getting himself together and refocusing. That was really impressive because you could see him kind of roll his eyes and think, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and then zero in on the target.”
Fighting off nausea and the excruciating pain in both arms, Chase made his way toward the shallow shoreline. With 30 yards remaining, a purple-hued Chase emerged from the chilly water and summoned one last surge of energy, running to the a sparsely-populated beach. He resisted collapsing on the sand and wobbled like a hurt fighter on several occasions.Chase finally dropped to his knees to catch his breath before Evans wrapped him in a blanket and a long embrace.The feat doubled Chase’s longest swims to date – completion of the 2003 and ’04 Trans Tahoe races and a successful swim of the 10-mile Maui Channel.Ken Harmon of Danville will attempt a similar route on Monday, starting at Camp Richardson and ending at Hyatt Beach in Incline Village. Chase’s advice to Harmon is to start as early as he possibly can.”If anything is going to hit, it’s gonna be in the afternoon,” Chase said. “If he starts at 2 or 3 (a.m.), he could cruise.”Thirty minutes after completing the feat, Mother Nature showed how fortunate Chase was as bolts of lightning danced in the sky and thunder clapped overhead.But with one length-of-Lake-Tahoe swim under his belt, Chase didn’t take long to start thinking about another one. He plans to swim the same north-south route that Colette did in 2003. That adventure, however, will have to wait until he attempts to swim the English Channel next August.