Two friends make history with 28 mile Lake Wylie swim.
Before sunrise on an early Saturday morning in late September, endurance athletes Mike Guzek and Doug Miller waded into the Catawba River just below Mountain Island Lake. After months of preparation the two friends were ready. The goal: to swim the entire length of Lake Wylie.
The Catawba River from Mountain Island Dam in Mount Holly, NC to the Lake Wylie Dam near Rock Hill, SC spans about 28 miles.
After 15 hours of swimming, including a wrong turn up the South Fork, Mike and Doug completed what is believed to be the very first full-length swim of Lake Wylie.
We interviewed Mike to learn more about their tremendous achievement.
Why did you guys decide to swim Lake Wylie?
“I had recently finished a swim race in North Dakota and was looking for other local open-water swim challenges. I didn’t see any, so I had the idea to make up my own challenge. The Lake Wylie stretch of the Catawba River is closest to my house so I started looking at that.
“I hadn’t done much research at all when I shared the idea with Doug over beers at my house. Perhaps it was the beer talking, but Doug agreed to do it and the idea became a reality. The little info I had at the time grossly underestimated how hard it would be. If we had known the difficulty involved then we might never have decided to do it.”
What sort of planning and preparation goes into this type of swim?
“Oh my, tons of planning! I knew almost nothing about the river when we started this. Is it even legal to swim Lake Wylie? What are the dangers? Where are the currents? When do the dams release water? What is the water temperature at various times of the year? What time is sunrise and sunset at various times of the year? There was so much to learn.
“I researched everything I could find on the internet. I emailed a variety of organizations. I researched all the public boat launches on Lake Wylie. I kayaked a 7 mile stretch, and Doug and I did 2 swims of about 7 miles. That way we had seen some of the river by race day.
“We talked with fishermen and boaters during our swims to learn their experience on the lake. We tried to find contacts at Duke Energy who might have valuable info. For some questions we just had to accept we weren’t going to get an answer. We had to piece the information together as best we could through anecdotal evidence.”
Did you have any sort of support team?
“We had 3 kayakers on rotation. The first guy went 13.5 miles, the second 5.5 miles, and the third went 9 miles. My wife ran land support helping to get people back to their cars and picking us up at the finish.”
How long did it take to swim the length of Wylie? Any unexpected issues?
“The swim took about 15 hours. However an hour of that was because of a wrong turn around mile 15. The second kayaker was running late when we got to mile 13.5. The first kayaker got out of the water. There was no one there to take over and help direct us. This created some panic as we tried to figure out if the second kayaker was coming.
“Of course I was tired and sore. Parts of my body were breaking down. Thankfully the weather was good, and my support team did great except for the one wrong turn. I took a break every 40 minutes to take on some calories. There was no touching bottom or resting in the kayak during the breaks. So even then it required a little work to stay afloat while eating.”
Were there any specific landmarks you watched for during the swim?
“Absolutely. We knew all the bridges and public boat launches. Getting to each one was a huge boost. The Buster Boyd Bridge was the biggest landmark at about mile 18.5. We figured if we could get to the Buster Boyd Bridge we were good. It is located 2/3rds of the way to the end. Nobody was going to quit at that point.
“However, it ended up the section after the Buster Boyd Bridge was really tough. We were 18.5 miles into the swim. The boat traffic really picked up, generating a lot of wake. Also there were no more landmarks to give us a mental boost. After the wrong turn earlier, we ended up swimming the last two hours in the dark. I had hoped to be done near sunset. We had lights on the kayaks, but after 13 hours of swimming, and with 2 hours to go, being out there in the middle of the lake in the dark was a challenging experience.”
How did you celebrate at the finish line?
“My cheering squad at the finish line was my wife standing at the Nivens Creek public boat launch – by herself – in the dark – with a towel! But that was all I needed. I drove myself home while my wife went back to get our car from the starting point at Mountain Island Dam. The drive home might have been harder than the swim. I was so tired! I have done 19 Ironmans, and I felt as badly that night as I had after completing any of those other races.”
What were the most memorable highlights of swimming Lake Wylie?
“Setting off in the dark, following a lighted kayak at 6AM, was definitely the most enjoyable part. After months of training and planning we were finally doing it. Seeing my family at the Buster Boyd Bridge holding up signs and cheering me on was a big boost. But swimming at night, at the end, was by far the most interesting part of the entire swim.
“I was in the middle of Lake Wylie, in total darkness, doing something nobody had ever done before. Of course the finish was the ultimate highlight. It was 9:30 at night when we hit land. I was cold, tired, and hungry. There were no medals or official results to review. We just loaded up the kayak and gear and left, but that’s really what made this so much fun. We didn’t swim Lake Wylie for a medal. We did it to see if it was possible. On that day, for us, it was.”