Swimmer conquers Lake George twice in back-to-back slogs
By Alan Wechsler
Charlotte Brynn may have set the record for fastest Lake George swim. But for longest swim, Caroline Block has her beat.
Only a month after Brynn’s accomplishment in 2020, Block, a lawyer from Manhattan, became the first person to swim a double length of the lake. She swam from south to north and back again, with only a short break in between. She accomplished this 64.4 mile task in 52 hours, 24 minutes, 47 seconds, from Sept. 16 to 18, with a support crew of eight people and very windy conditions, including occasional whitecaps.
It was an idea she has had since June 2017, when she completed a single swim across Lake George in 19 hours and 21 minutes. Block is an avid long-distance swimmer with many marathon swims under her belt, including the English Channel, multiple crossings of the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland (including several attempts to go both ways), a race around Manhattan Island, and a traverse of Cayuga Lake.
She’s also a doctor of anthropology and former investment banker who recently completed law school, and she pursued the swim during a break from studying for the New York State Bar Exam.
She departed at about 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 16, swimming north from the village and accompanied by her crew. The water looked calm in the bay, but everyone knew better—it would be a choppy day on the lake.
“I was pleased with the start,” Block recalled later in a written narrative that she shared with the Adirondack Explorer. “I felt strong and settled, and happy not to have succumbed to exhaustion as I had feared I might.”
As she swam into the night, the winds picked up. She did not lose her sense of humor, at one point singing The Police’s “Roxanne” as the boat turned on its red running lights.
There were challenges. Trying to keep track of the boat and the correct direction was increasingly difficult in the dark. Sometimes she would swallow water as waves splashed overhead, causing her to cough to the point of hurting her throat.
At another point, she accidentally rubbed Vaseline (used to prevent chafing) on her goggles.
“I had four spare pairs of goggles on the boat but was not able to effectively communicate my need to replace the ones I had on until after sunrise, leaving me bumping around in the wavy darkness, focusing my sights on a thoroughly smudgy conga line of party glow sticks,” she recalled.
At sunrise, the breeze calmed for a bit, and then switched from tailwind to headwind. Progress slowed to the point that she was staring dejectedly at a flagpole on shore she never seemed to be able to pass. Eventually, she made it to the shallow last 2 miles of the lake, where the water was calm and she reached Diane’s Rock. There, she sat on the slippery rock for a few minutes (rules for a double swim allow up to 10 minutes rest at the halfway point), eating from a drybag her kayak companion tossed to her, before returning to the water for the trip back.
“I was aware that we were not expecting stellar conditions on the way back, but once I decided to start the second leg, I no longer cared what the conditions would be as long as they didn’t stop the swim,” Block said. “Barring an electrical storm, I knew that I would finish.”
The second night was cold and windy, but she persevered. Even during the next day, it was hard to see which way to head. Toward the end, she lost interest in eating as she made for the docks. As she swam to the finish line, some nearby fishermen played Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” on a boom box.
Looking back, Block recalled: “I remember the whole thing as an incredible experience of suspended time, punctuated in 30 minute (feeding) intervals. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of those few days in September, but I’ve caught myself wishing I were back in the swim several times.”
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