It began as a solo venture but it ended up bringing a community together.
When Glenn Vickery started planning a swim that would circumnavigate Lake of Bays—a distance of about 210 kilometres—he knew he’d need support, he just didn’t realize how much he’d get.
Vickery wanted to raise awareness for shoreline preservation and, as a lifelong swimmer, a long-distance swim seemed like the perfect fit. He’d swim it in stages over about three months, enlisting support vessels and coordinating landing spots along the way. His wife Arlee was on board from the start, so he knew he’d have her paddling by his side for the duration. He had the early commitment of Captain Bruce Jamieson of Lake of Bays Boat Tours who provided a support boat as needed, particularly for the chilly first stages—the water was just 8°C when Vickery began swimming on May 19. And he envisioned a couple of group swims as he approached the lake’s three villages along with some fanfare at the end of each to help raise awareness. But the support he actually got was unexpected.
On almost every stage of the swim, people joined him in the water for at least part of the five to eight-kilometre distance he swam each time. He heard shouts of encouragement from people on decks and docks and passing boats. Waterfront cottagers and residents he’d never met before offered up their docks as landing points and quite often they’d have a party waiting when he arrived. “We had a lot of champagne at docks,” he said with a laugh.
“The project was born from the spirit of Lake of Bays. I didn’t do it on my own. Any problem I had, people were there to help,” Vickery told the assembled crowd when he emerged from the water at the South Portage dock on August 6 to complete the project, adding that they stopped at about 72 docks around the lake along the way, far more than the number planned. “Every bay on this lake had its own personality, every bay came out and supported us, every bay gave us first class treatment… And I think what that told me is there is a really strong community around the lake, something that I’ve never seen before.”
There was the party with the man celebrating his 81st birthday in Montgomery Bay, which was named for his family who has been on Lake of Bays for 100 years. There was the barbecue at Bondi Village Resort where a bagpiper piped Vickery out of the water and where there was a popcorn kernel-spitting contest that revealed an unknown talent—Vickery sent his sailing more than 25 feet to take second place. There were the official parties in Baysville and Dorset and the unofficial ones hosted on docks around the lake. There were sandwiches and snacks, cake and champagne. And there were many, many enthusiastic people.
In Rabbit’s Bay, for example, a flotilla of kayaks and paddleboarders met Vickery and his support crew. They were invited to a dock—not their end spot for that stage—for coffee and homemade muffins, and other people on the bay paddled over to join in. “A lot had never met each other before, even though they were on the same bay,” said Vickery. “They made new friends and connections. That was really special.”
(Photos above via @glenn.vickery/Instagram and the Lake of Bays Shoreline Preservation Project on Facebook)
And then there were the swimmers, who “really made the journey enjoyable and really gave me motivation to carry on, carry forward,” said Vickery. Some were an impromptu addition to a stage, swimming alongside Glenn until they got a few docks away and then wishing him well. Others planned ahead to join him, usually getting into the water at the half-way point of that day’s swim. There were many who swam with him for two stages or more.
His sister, Francine Vickery, flew in from Vancouver to swim the final five stages with him. No stranger to long-distance, open-water swims—she’s a member of the UBC Masters Swim Club and has swum from Turkey to Greece—Vickery says she gave him the push to get through those final days.
Local swim coach, Jane Wolfe, organized many of the swimmers who joined Vickery and swam eight stages herself. She was determined to swim with him for the last one even though it meant rushing back from the GTA after arriving at 4 a.m. on a flight from Ireland. “She is another big inspiration,” said Vickery. He began doing open-water swims with Wolfe five or six years ago and said she was enthusiastic about his project from the start.
Several like-minded organizations around Lake of Bays supported Vickery’s project—the Andrew Daniels Fish Stewardship Foundation, Friends of the Muskoka Watershed, the Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation, the Port Cunnington Ratepayers, the Lake of Bays Association, and the Dwight Lions Club—helping to get word out, providing volunteers, and raising pledges to help those working to preserve shorelines and water quality in Lake of Bays.
“I can’t think of another place in Canada or the world where a whole lake would rally together,” said Vickery. “The message is clear to me that the people on the lake care about the lake, about water quality, the natural shoreline. They want to keep the lake as it is.”
Vickery isn’t aware of anyone else who has accomplished his feat on any of Muskoka’s largest lakes. He reiterated that he couldn’t have done it alone, and that it was like a military exercise to plan it all. That it all came together seamlessly was due in large part to his wife Arlee. “From day one she said yes, it’s a good idea. She was the lead paddler and lead organizer and lead supporter,” said Vickery. “I couldn’t have done it without her. She was in the background organizing volunteers and groups of people…The best thing that came out of it was for us as a couple, we are closer than when we started. We were close then, but this really bonded us in a common way so that’s really special to me.”
Although the project is complete, Vickery hasn’t yet had time to fully digest everything that happened. “I imagine it will be bittersweet—there are no more stages to coordinate—but I didn’t find it a gruelling experience. The swimming part wasn’t a problem and I still have lots of energy. The biggest feeling is just a real sense of pride for what the community has done and how all have rallied together.”
And he hopes the conversation about shoreline preservation and water quality will continue. “I don’t believe that it will be just one voice, it will be everyone’s voice and everyone’s effort together that will keep this lake as it is.”
Read Doppler’s earlier story about Vickery’s project here—Glenn Vickery is swimming around Lake of Bays to raise awareness for shoreline preservation—and see more photos from Glenn’s swim on the Lake of Bays Shoreline Preservation Project page on Facebook.
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