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What does "self-supported" mean?

In a previous life, I dated a randonneur cyclist. Unlike a typical cycling event where riders have road-side support for refills, fuel, and maintenance at pre-determined points or intervals, randonneurs consider themselves "unsupported" and have to carry all of their own equipment and fuel for long distance rides of 100k or more. Although I deeply respect everything about their sport, I deeply disagree with the term "unsupported," given the hours/days I spent as support crew. If my rider had to abandon the ride, I'd have to drive out to pick him up. For multi-day or overnight rides, I wouldn't sleep longer than an hour at a time so I could check the GPS tracking system to confirm my rider was still alive and unharmed. Enough cyclists have been killed in long-distance cycling events that we had a "in case of hospitalization or death" plan written and hashed out.


You might be wondering, "Daniela, why on earth are you droning on and on about boring cycling? This is a swimming platform with incredible swimming accessories!"


My dearest reader, I recognize that open water swimming is an inherently dangerous sport. It's one of the only sports where you can't actually see what you're doing most of the time. You're tiny in comparison to your surroundings. Most of the time, you can't even stand up to massage out a cramp. And when you go swimming, it's likely someone out there is worried about you, making sure you get out of the water in one piece. Even if you're swimming with a group or a buddy, you're still supporting yourself - you have to sight to make sure you're not colliding with anything, you usually need to bring your own nutrition, and you need a way to be assisted and assist others if the situation arises.


There are absolutely ways to reduce your risk swimming in open water, with the major one being, "Don't swim alone." But how realistic is it to expect all open water swimmers to always swim with a buddy or group, or have a kayaker or spotter? And, is there a distinction of swimming next to someone you know versus swimming in a location with other swimmers swimming around, but not with, you?


I may not be the typical swimmer, but I'm not afraid of swimming alone. When I was training for ENDWET, I was swimming at Boston's Pleasure Bay for an hour before work at dawn, and then after work for 2-3 hours, often getting out at dusk when the Boston Police boats came and kicked me out of the beach. I'd swim at Carson if it wasn't low tide, as it provided more yardage than swimming the basin round 'n round at Pleasure Bay.

My commitment to my partner was that I would ALWAYS wear my tow float when swimming, and that I would have a light on me if it wasn't 100% light outside yet.


Circling back to my long-winded intro about endurance cycling:

The majority of my daily endurance training was self-supported. To me, the risks from injury due to not training enough for my SCAR, ENDWET, Kingdom Swim 25k, In Search for Memphre 25 mile swims were higher than the risk of swimming alone. I evaluated my environment and found safe ways to train by myself. As a result, I got the mileage in that I needed and felt prepared for each of my races.

To me, both the cycling events and my swim training weren't "unsupported," but "self-supported." We both had to bring all of the equipment and nutrition using our own steam. This was before the birth of the Quackpacker, so I shoved my small orange tow float full of Clif Bloks and a tiny water bottle, and then refueled every 2-3 hours from my bag on shore. I texted a worrier before I got in and after I got out. Someone always knew were I intended to swim, and how long I was swimming for. But it simply wasn't realistic to be anything other than alone for the majority of my training.


Recently, someone pointed out that some of the messaging on my website regarding the Quackpacker could be perceived as advocating for swimmers to swim alone.


That is not the case.


I am absolutely not pushing anyone to go swimming alone. I'm advocating for having the tools to make the best out of whatever situation or environment you're in. In my case, I felt comfortable and confident training alone, and did so by hauling my own resources. For you, it might be aching to a dip in the ocean while on a work trip, but being worried about leaving valuables in the rental car or on the beach, and preferring to have enough room to bring them with you.


Selkie Sam and I are planning a multi-day swimpacking trip with the current in the Columbia River next summer. We are defining the trip as "self-supported," meaning we will be hauling all of our own supplies, including tents for camping overnights as we island hop. Just as how hikers are self-supported on their expeditions, we intend to be two swimmers doing the same for our own swim expedition.


Swimpacking and swim expeditions are uncommon in the US, but are quite popular in Europe. Here are a few news tidbits:

One of the Quackpacker's competitor products, the RuckRaft, is a low-profile U-shaped lifejacket of a float to hold a large drybag filled with your items so you can swim across a lake and go hike up the mountain on the other side. My goal with the Quackpacker is to accomplish something similar, just with the added convenience of being able to access my resources quickly and without risk to them.


When I was endurance training alone, I had 3 major issues with my setup that aren't solved by the majority of tow floats available on the market today.

  1. I definitely wasn't visible enough. Folks may not realize it, but those little round tow floats are invisible if there are any waves taller than the height of the buoy, which is relatively common.

  2. I couldn't access my feeds quickly, and I'd get cold and tired treading water while trying to unlock and unravel the buoy, wrestle the wrong item out, accidentally have something I wasn't trying to lose (like my keys or phone) fall out of the storage compartment, and then try to get everything back into the tiny and now waterlogged storage compartment.

  3. I couldn't bring enough with me. I'd exhaust my storage capacity with only 1-2 feeds, keys, phone, and wallet. I'd have to get out to replenish my nutrition pretty frequently, and on days when it was windy or cold, I dreaded having to get out of the water... and dreaded getting back in even more.

With the Quackpacker, my goal is to ensure you're safe, whether you're swimming alone or with a group. I've never had kayakers, rowers, and motorboats stop me and yell "thank you for being so visible" until I started swimming with the Quackpacker. The visibility and storage capacity, as well as how easy it is to light it up and attach a GPS tracker, make me more confident in how I'm interacting with my environment, and allows me to truly be self-supported. I feel safe swimming alone (when necessary) in lakes, rivers, and the ocean knowing I have all my supplies attached to me and a massive duck looming over my butt, warding off boats.

If you're able to swim with a group, have a spotter, or have a paddler next to you, relish the opportunity and use those resources whenever possible. If having those support humans around you isn't possible, or isn't in the scope of your expedition, consider how your tools and accessories can mitigate the risk of being in open water. Make sure whatever you're storing your stuff in, it's easily accessible in case of emergency, and that you're heavily visible to non-swimmers, like shore support and watercraft.


If you have any questions about swim safety or the Quackpacker, or want to talk through any points raised in this article, please feel free to email: hello@swimwildwaters.com.



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